Ode to Tests

I wrote this post almost immediately after my graduation exam. I didn’t know test results yet, but was so adrenaline high from the test, and exhausted after months of preparation, that I had to write something about the process. If you are preparing for a big exam, then I hope that this is helpful for you. (And yes, big relief, I passed.)

Ode to Tests

Clinic entrance exam. Clinic exit exam. Graduation exam. And now, coming up, the California board exam. Then, four national exams (NCCAOM). One exam after another, the never-ending march of terror and exhaustion. I greet you with flashcards and chocolate. For you, dear reader, perchance a fellow student, perchance a curious onlooker, I share these test-tackling strategies that have carried me through, and will hopefully continue to carry me through, to graduation, and subsequent licensure. One small win at a time.

Before the Test

Flashcards. Review daily. Go onto www.quizlet.com and make an account. Plug in small digestible snippets of all collected and pertinent information. Organize into categories. Study by category. Do flashcards everywhere. I studied flashcards while hiking backcountry, flying across the country, soaking in steaming baths. I flipped through 100 flashcards pre-dawn before leaving the bed, 100 more before falling asleep, and in every possible open moment: standing in grocery lines, waiting for gas, and even while stuck in hellish Los Angeles traffic. Practice tests. Practice tables. Get familiar with the material from every direction. Talk about it with everyone. Look up what you don’t know. Make it fun, visual, creative. Color-code. Bring it to life. Spaced repetition, dedication. Set a study plan, and follow through.

The Day Before
No cramming. Your last day of studying is 2 days before test day. After weeks to months of accumulated effort, allow yourself to rest the day before the test. Eat well: healthy whole foods that will energize you all through the next day. Go for a hike. Do what gives you joy. Flip through a few more notes to ease your mind, but remain calm. Before bed, have everything prepared for your test day: clothing, food... everything. Visualize your plans for the whole test. Picture success. Feel it. Sleep early.

Day Of
Stretch in the morning. Eat well. Maintain a relaxed focus. Enter the zone. Get there early. Game on.

During the Test

Food and Drink (this worked at school, but board exams will only allow water)
If the test allows it, then bring ample fuel: relaxing tea for nervousness (Kava, Rose, Passionflower), stimulating tea for the easily bored (Green tea). I had tea bags of both. Coffee or wine for the decadent (I like chocolate covered coffee beans). Chocolate for joy, comfort, and energy. Oranges for an energizing wake-up call. Roasted sweet potatoes for satisfying long-lasting energy. A protein bar to quickly satiate true hunger. Cookies for true decadence. A dropperful of a relaxing or stimulating tincture (relaxing for me) beforehand, to get things started on the right foot. An extra secret squirt into the tea, for extra good luck.

The Test
Start with what you know: I scribble out a few reference tables before starting the test itself. They smile at me with my test and food, helpful for when I get overwhelmed, reminding me of the basics. Flip to the section of the test that is easiest, and finish it. Build confidence. Return to a hard section. Alternate back and forth: build confidence, tackle something challenging. Note the time. Move quickly. Let go, if something is too difficult. Mark the page to return later. Trust intuition: first thought is often correct. Bubble it into the answer sheet. Mark what I’m unsure about, to double check after completing the entire test. Only double check those answers. Onwards.

Get up to to “pee” at least once an hour. Give your brain a break. Pace around in the bathroom or hallway for a little bit. Get some blood flowing into the body and brain. Take a breather. Swing your arms around. Then return to the testing room.

Maintain focus, but rest as needed. Close your eyes. Take slow deep belly-to-chest breaths in and out of the nose. Remind yourself, “It’s okay,” with palms facing up under the table, or pointer finger and thumb meeting in “anjali mudra.” More relaxation for more success. Then, back to it.

After the Test

First, rest. It’s been a journey. Celebrate both wins and losses. Review the test. Learn from mistakes. If there’s more tests on the horizon, then make more flashcards from fresh test material. Re-strategize as necessary. Onwards. 


Other Resources
Here's a podcast on high-level performance under stress, from Scott Weingart.
(image from Scott Weingart)


Crux Yoga

Your crux move is the hardest part of a climb. Hands sweating, feet shaking. Breathe. Stabilize your core. Root down through your feet. Trust your body. Each move, and the space between each move, is deliberate, intentional, precious. Your body is strong, yet relaxed. Toned, yet supple. Send it. 

The devil's in the details. Drop your tailbone. Relax your shoulders. Deepen your breath. Activate through your feet and hands. Root down, to rise up. Move with controlled precision. Return your mind and breath to the present moment. Focus.

Crux yoga prepares you for your crux moves, be they in the gym, on the rocks, or in your life. Find your edges. Meet, explore, and expand them.

Come practice with us at Ventura's Boulderdash climbing gym!