Tips for Repeat Test-Takers

So, you didn’t pass your exam and it feels like a punch to your stomach. If you are human, you are likely experiencing a wide range of emotions from disappointment and anger to despair and inferiority. You may start to ruminate on the negative impact this failure could have on your future career and grieve the years you spent in school only to get stuck on this last hurdle. But rest assured, you are not the first person to have a failed attempt on the exam and you won’t be the last. While a painful blow to morale, your situation is not hopeless and many people go on to successfully pass in future attempts. If you have failed and are not sure what to do next, here are a few suggestions.

1. Write down the content areas you did not recognize on the exam

No matter how much you study, most people feel like many of the concepts and questions were unexpected. While the information is still fresh, write down the areas you did not recognize or realized you needed to master in deeper detail. See this as an opportunity to grow, identify weaknesses and you will be more prepared the next time you write the exam.

2. Take a break

I know you have studied hard and are probably worried you are going to forget all the content you crammed. However, your mind is stronger than you give it credit for and you will have plenty of time to refresh on what you learned. Take a week off to process the emotions you feel and spend time doing some of the enjoyable activities may have put off to study. Go to dinner with your friends, take your kids to the park, or go see that movie. You want to come back refreshed and not working from a place of deprivation or desperation. On that note, do not reschedule your exam for at least 30 days. Laws regarding rescheduled will vary state to state.

3. Address your mental game

Arguably one of the most difficult parts of studying again is addressing the psychological element of not passing. You may start to doubt your abilities or become embarrassed when well-meaning colleagues ask how the exam went. You may become angry at the test and claim it is unfair or irrelevant. Whether right or wrong, that does not change the nature of the exam and only serves to demotivate you. One studier I worked with described an attitude of “radical acceptance”. She made no excuses, recommitted, and successfully retested with an increase of over 100 points. Maintaining an internal locus of control, positive attitude and acknowledging that this career is a privilege can go a long way.

4. Recommit to a structured study schedule

You need to tackle studying with tenacity as you will be tempted to stall. Often people feel like they have already given so much to studying that they lack the time and drive to double down. However, we want to be wary of confirmation bias and the subtle ways we may self-sabotage to ensures we don’t pass again. Once you have recommitted to studying, you need to build it into your study schedule and minimize the number of times you start and stop. Create a structured study plan that outlines what content you are studying and when. Comb through your study materials and seek to learn new information. By now, you likely know the bold terms and themes, so focus on refining the details and connections. No matter how many times you read your books, there is always something you can learn. Look at the materials with fresh eyes, use the internet to look up concepts you don’t fully understand and keep going.

5. Don’t compare yourself to others

When you are restudying, it can feel like the whole world is passing whether that is true or not. Do not spend hours googling the horror stories of others who have not passed and fuel your fear of the exam. Likewise, do not compare yourself to those who passed easily the first time. It can be disheartening to hear a friend say they “barely studied” and passed with flying colors, but comparison is the thief of joy. People have different strengths and weaknesses and this exam does not determine your effectiveness as a mental health professional. While estimates of how many hours you should study provide helpful guidelines, many people are so far above or below those hour suggestions. If may take you longer and that is perfectly okay.

6. Get additional supports if you need them

There is no shame is getting a little help, whether or not you have needed it in the past. Additional supports come in many forms. AATBS provides coaching with many study packages so you can access support during this time. You may want to attend some workshops or hire a tutor who can help you with specific domains or test taking skills. If you found yourself struggling with anxiety, attention or other test taking factors, you may consider talking to a healthcare provider. Many test takers seek counseling and occasionally medication to help mediate these symptoms. In addition, a letter from your doctor may bolster support if you seek accommodations from the licensing board during your retest, which usually comes in the form of additional time.

Remember that this test, while monumental right now is not the most important thing in your life. In a few years, this seemingly overwhelming moment will likely become just a small catch on your overarching professional journey. You are smart. You are capable. You can do this.

Dr. Nikki Johnson is a licensed psychological, professor and remote coach outside of Seattle, WA. She holds a PsyD in Clinical Psychology from Azusa Pacific University, an APA accredited school in Southern California.