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Taking Industry Exams


When I began telling friends and family that I might be tied up for a few weeks/months preparing for an industry exam, I would sometimes get the question, “Do you get test anxiety?”

It got me thinking: really, who doesn’t get test anxiety? Unless the exam does not matter to you, in which case there would be no reason for taking it, you should have some anxious feelings. These feelings are like a wave. They can push you forward and provide momentum and motivation to prepare for the exam, or they can drown you. Channeling these feelings can be a struggle. I am no expert, but here are some tips that I am hoping will work for me:

Effective study techniques: These can depend on the person, but overall, most people will not benefit much from reading and rereading textbooks. Reading information once is a good first step, but usually you will need to do something with this information or you will not really own it:

  • Ask and write questions about what you are reading while reading.
  • Stop reading to do a google search and answer your questions.
  • Fill out flash cards while reading. Try to write the answers in your own words and not just copy them from the book. If you are not sure, search for answers before completing the flash card.
  • Don’t just use flashcards made by someone else. You will miss out on the process of making the cards, which is an important part of the learning process.
  • Teach to the wall or teach your dog the material. Actually explaining the points out loud in your own words is often the best way to learn something.

Every exam is a new day! Don’t let the ghosts of past exams haunt you. Feeling so much anxiety about an exam that you blank out and can’t remember anything, or miss questions that leave you kicking yourself later, has likely happened to most of us. It is not helpful to think of this as a permanent condition. It is just something that happened before, that doesn’t mean it will happen again.

Know what to expect, as much as is possible:

  • What types of questions are going to be on the exam?
  • How many questions will there be? Examples: multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank etc.
  • How much time will you have per question?
  • How many questions can you get wrong and still pass?
  • Are there trial questions which will not impact your grade mixed in?
  • Will you have the ability to mark the question and come back to it? (if the exam is on the computer, which many are these days.)
  • Are all the questions worth the same number of points?
  • How is the exam graded? Do missed questions cost you the same whether you fill them in with a wrong answer or leave them blank? If so, if you run out of time it is better to randomly fill in missing answers than to leave anything blank.
  • Find out as much about how the test is made as is made public by the exam designers. This can sometimes help you infer answers about what to expect. -What can you bring with you to the exam?

Most of these exams do allow you to retake them: -It may cost you time and money, but this is likely not your only shot. While this is not what you will think about while preparing, this can take the pressure off on exam day.

If you are taking an industry exam for your first time, this is a learning opportunity:

  • If you end up being completely surprised by a lot of the questions, take a step back and think of a way that will help you organize the gaps in your knowledge. Maybe there were a lot more questions about a certain topic. Do you best to take mental notes, so you can use this experience for next time.

So long as the test is not over, you have not failed: -Say that you just find yourself part the way through the exam and you are bombing. Stop for a moment, and take stock of what is actually happening. Maybe you did not know anything about 3 questions in a row. You start to worry that this means you are completely unprepared, and you’re going to fail. Not so. Stop yourself here, and remember that there are going to be questions you don’t know the answers to, but you may know the answer to the next one, if you take a deep breath and just focus on the question in front of you.

The day before exam day, prioritize sleep over studying.

  • Eat healthy meals and go to bed early. You don’t get extra points for being frantic, and it will only hurt your chances.
  • Visit the exam location before the day of, so you know the way there, the building and the room you are going to.
  • Prepare to be there early.
  • Have your bag packed with the things you need the night before.