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How to Cope with Test Anxiety

Katherine M. Bennett

Taking an exam, such as the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) exam, doesn't have to be a heart-stopping experience. The key to coping is to recognize that anxiety is a normal part of the test-taking experience—in fact, anxiety can work in your favor, boosting memory and augmenting your ability to think on your feet. 

There are a few tips, however, that can help you banish unnecessary stress on test day, including the following: 

Plan ahead: Check the date, time, and place of the exam. Mark your calendar and, if possible, find the location in advance. Make sure you understand the scope of the exam, the purpose of the test, the format of the test, and the materials (a calculator and no. 2 pencils, for example) you need to bring with you. 

Manage your time wisely: Plan your study schedule. Use your most productive time of day to study. Develop a time chart, and follow your progress. Think in small increments of time. Plan and organize small learning tasks that can occur in blocks of time. 

Use study aids: Define important terms, and create charts of questions to help you learn. Participate in study groups. Be sure to take advantage of books, such as the Pharmacy Technician Certification Review and Practice Exam (ASHP, 1998), and online programs, such as the PTCB Practice Test (, that review test-taking strategies. 

Prepare for success: Review and summarize your notes the day before the test. Be sure to be well-fed and well rested as you go to your exam. Relax! After all, the test exists to help you advance professionally. 

If your anxiety on exam day is moderate, there are several relaxation techniques that are helpful in quelling that beast called anxiety. 

Physical relaxation is one technique. First, sit comfortably with both of your feet on the floor and your hands resting on your thighs. Release all your body tension, and close your eyes and count backward from 10 to 1. Count only on each exhalation, and breathe very deeply from the abdomen. (This technique is recommended by Heiman and Slomianko, Success in College and Beyond, Allston, MA: Learning to Learn Inc.; 1992.) 

Another physical technique is to clench your hands tightly for 5 to 10 seconds and then slowly relax your hands. Repeat this process throughout the muscles in your entire body. Complete your relaxation exercise by taking a deep breath and tensing your entire body, then relaxing it. 

Now that your body is relaxed, try to relax your mind as well. One popular technique is to imagine yourself in a peaceful setting. Picture a pleasing situation, whether that may be a favorite beach, in your backyard with the sun shining, or taking a walk in a park or along the lake. Summon those peaceful images when you are feeling particularly stressed. 

At all costs, avoid thoughts that generate fear. Do not focus on the negative consequences of the examination; instead, focus your thoughts on the positive outcomes. 

[Parts of the above news article were excerpted from Fjortoft NF. How to Take a Test. In: Pharmacy Technician Certification Review and Practice Exam. Bethesda, MD: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists; 1998.]