I was on the final question of my exam when my heart started pounding. As I wiped my sweaty palms on the thigh of my pants and tapped my nervous feet, I realized just how frightened I was. “Shit. I’m about to find out whether or not I passed this test,” I thought to myself as I pondered how to best assess the effectiveness of a therapy group.
Over the course of the previous 6 weeks of studying for the NCMHCE, the passing of which would earn me the ability to bill insurance independently as a mental health professional, I had not been so anxious for this exam as I was in that single moment - not when I registered, not when I failed my first practice exam, not when I failed my twentieth practice exam, and not even when walking into the test that morning. I worried, not only that I would be heading to Cancun two days later feeling like a massive failure, but that I would return from my trip looking forward to a repeat of the hellish roller coaster that was the past two months.
I selected the best response to that final group therapy question and sat patiently in my seat, hand raised, awaiting the proctor who would relieve me from my testing cubicle. I considered how good I felt about the test--barely any incorrect answers it seemed. “Pretty easy, in fact,” I thought, “but I must’ve missed something!” I also thought all of the practice exams were “pretty easy” but failed nearly all of them! Only one way to find out how I did… I walked up to the front desk of the testing center and was handed my score: 118. Passing score: 101...
“Wait..so I passed?” I asked of the proctor.
“You passed.” She replied monotonously. She must deal with a wide range of testers’ emotions more often than she’d like.
I screamed and shouted and jumped up and down, stomped my feet and waved my arms in the air-- exactly as I had imagined myself doing the two days leading up to the exam. I was shushed by the proctor just before she whispered congratulations, and I was on my way. Heading to work for the first time as a Clinical Professional Counselor.
Now, why is it I feel I need to share this story with you? Somewhat because the weeks leading up to this exam were grueling and I just want to vent about it and pat myself on the back. But mostly and most importantly, I studied and prepared for this exam the same way I teach my clients to reach their goals: at a slow and steady pace, with consistency, and with belief in themselves.
Slow and steady wins the race!
My clients, I'm sure, get sick of hearing about the infamous turtle who beat the hare by not exhausting himself. That tortoise knew what he was doing! In weight loss, I teach that going too hard in exercise leads to burnout and injury, so I knew I had to study for my exam the same way. I focused on either reading 10 pages of my study guide or 1 hour of other studying each day. I did a bit more when I had the time and energy, but I knew that if I tried to do 8 hours a day on weekends, I would dread my days off and probably not retain much information. I would also likely procrastinate what’s necessary and wind up cramming, filled with anxiety the day before the test. Not a good recipe for success.
Consistency is key!
Of course, there were days that I just could not fit in studying because I was too busy, but 4 days of not studying out of a total 45 days is not too shabby. Similar to what I teach my fitness clients, if you want success in what you're doing, focus a little on it each day. The goal at hand does not need to consume your life. But if you skip a week here and there, you'll never get the results you want. If I couldn't fit in an hour of studying, looking through my flash cards for 20 minutes on the train kept my brain in the game and kept me focused on my goal.
Believe you can!
It's pretty safe to say that I failed 70% of my practice exams, and the ones I did pass were close calls! I was convinced (and telling everyone around me) that I was going to fail. I would take a practice exam and feel that I did really well on it just to find a failing grade at the end. I was at a point in my final week when I didn't even know what to study anymore! And then it hit me: what would I tell a client who was trying to lose weight and continuously told me it wasn't possible for them? I'd say, “Of course it isn't with that outlook!” So why was I sabotaging myself? The last two days before my exam I began visualizing myself receiving a passing score. I’d imagine myself screaming and shouting and jumping up and down, stomping my feet and waving my arms in the air. I began telling everyone I crossed that I was going to pass, even after another failed practice exam, and another, and another. I began telling myself, “It's okay, I'm going to pass. Just keep practicing…The practice exams are harder than the test, of course!” And what do you know? Turns out I was right!
I can apply this same methodology to anything and get the desired results. And if those results don’t come right away-- say, for example, had I failed that exam-- my commitment would carry me through to the next success. For now, it’s time to take that commitment, consistency, and belief and apply it to the growth of my private practice. I’m so excited for all of the failures and successes that I will be encountering along the way!