3 tips to overcome anxiety before your dental assisting exam
Taking tests can be nerveracking. No one wants to flunk their dental assisting exam and have to take it over again. Here are some steps to help you prepare for your exam and boost your confidence level.
Even some of the brightest students have failed their board exams. That’s scary, I know. What’s the problem? I believe it’s related to anxiety.
You’re about to take one of the biggest exams of your life. After spending all of those semesters in dental assisting school, you may still be unsure about your ability to pass a dental assisting exam, for example, DANB’s (Dental Assisting National Board Inc.) Certified Dental Assistant exam. As the founder of SmarterDA, I’ve coached hundreds of students to help them pass their board exams. Here I will share some tips that helped these test-takers reduce their anxiety.
The acronym we use is PIE.
P for plan
The number one reason anxiety kicks in before tests is because someone doesn’t know how they should get organized and whether they have enough time to prepare. Imagine that you’re planning a wedding, but you don’t have a plan in place. You have the date, but no to-do list or timeline. If you’re scrambling to get things done without even knowing what needs to be done, it becomes a chaotic preparation process.
The dental assisting boards require those taking the test to study . . . a lot. Topics include infection control, general chairside, dental materials, and radiology. Each of these has a lot of information that needs to be learned and memorizes. To tackle the task, try the following:
• Get a calendar.
• Mark your exam date. If you don’t have one, find out the potential exam date.
• Count how many days you have left to study.
• List the subjects you need to study.
• Next to each subject, list how many days you need to review the entire topic. An example is radiology 10 days, or infection control 18 days.
• Mark on your calendar what days you will review the subjects. For example, January 10–20, review radiology, February 1–18, review infection control.
• Make sure you build in dates for any vacations or other obligations.
• Assess whether you have enough days to cover all the subjects before your exam date. If you do, you can feel more at ease. If you don’t have enough time, re-evaluate your exam date or your vacation plans.
Planning takes time and effort. But once you have an action plan, you will feel comfortable that you’re on the right track.
I for imagine
Our minds are creative and very powerful. We use our mind’s powers to become successful. I’m a big fan of Michael Phelps’ training story and what he did to win medal after medal. From what I’ve read in various articles about Michael, he trained to visualize (imagine) his swimming every day. At night, he imagined the pool, the water on his skin, the kicks and strokes, the speed, and finally the goal. At the Beijing Olympics, he faced a nightmare. His goggles were not resting tight enough on his face. Water started to come through to his eyes and his vision was compromised. While this challenge might have completely thrown off other swimmers, Michael kept going. Because he had visualized numerous possible lapses in the pool, he knew exactly what to do. And he won the race.
This illustrates how we can train our minds to overcome anxiety. As a test-taker, this is what you can do:
• Imagine creating a study plan, with details and deadlines.
• Imagine signing up for the exam.
• Imagine arriving at the test center, even if you don’t know what it looks like.
• Imagine reading the instructions for the test.
• Imagine starting with question number one and staying strong through question number 100.
• Imagine taking your break, feeling refreshed, and coming back to the testing room.
• Imagine feeling accomplished at the end of the test.
The more detailed your imagination is, the more powerful the connection will be. For example, you can visualize the clothes you will wear for the exams. I think you get the idea! Channel Michael Phelps for success. Create all the possible scenarios in your head, and then give them life!
E for emergency brake
There will still be times when you’ll be afraid and anxious. This can happen while you’re studying for the exam, during class, the day before the exam, or during the exam. Anxiety has a snowball effect. It grows and grows with imagination to the point where you might want to give up.
You need to know how to activate your emergency breaks before the negativity takes over your whole exam or your life. As an example, you might use this phrase: “When I start feeling like I don’t know anything, I will think about my family vacation and how we swam in the ocean.”
In my case, I use, “When I start feeling like the world is on my shoulders, I think about all the students who have emailed me about their successes.” I know this is generic, but sharing my personal life with you is what I do.
This simple act of reframing your brain acts as an emergency brake when something goes wrong. The idea is to master your emotion and mind. Exams can be very difficult and challenging. Students can prepare by using board review prep courses, but that’s only half the game. As I mentioned, even some of the brightest students failed their exams. This means it might help to work on your mindset.
Practice PIE starting today! The goal is to pass those exams! Believe in yourself!
Claire Jeong, MS, BS, RDH, is an entrepreneur, author, educator, researcher, and international speaker. She is the founder of SmarterDA/StudentRDH–dental assisting and dental hygiene exam prep solutions. Through her live and online courses, Claire has helped thousands of people gain valuable dental knowledge and clinical skills. She authored the e-book WakeUp Memory, which teaches how to use the brain and remember anything. Claire is regularly invited to podcasts and conferences as a key opinion leader. She also provides guidance to companies to reach the younger generation of dental professionals. Email her at ClaireJ@SmarterDA.com.