I did not used to have test anxiety. But the fast-paced, high-stakes testing environment of veterinary school is a lot to handle, or handle confidently 100% of the time. On a busy week, I could have 3-5 exams or quizzes, multiple labs, and of course my lectures in my other classes don’t stop just because I have a test in another class.
The wealth of knowledge we learn in veterinary school is relentless and vast; our first-year anatomy professor told us that vet school kind of felt like trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant.
So I found myself sitting down to take an exam, and all that volume of information swirling around my head, instead of being able to be put down onto paper and answer the exam questions. I’d make silly mistakes on questions I knew the answer to, but the information eluded me during the exam.
So I started looking into techniques for focusing and test anxiety, and found a lot of meditation-type techniques. I was fairly skeptical, but I needed to figure something out, and it was worth a shot, right? I was willing to try just about anything.
I love Grey’s Anatomy, and remembered a scene where one of the neurosurgeons employs the use of the ‘superhero’ stance to gain confidence before a tricky surgery. I researched this topic as well, and found the study that upholds the theory. The researchers looked at the power of open body positions (like the superhero or superman pose), and how it affects our brains. Evidently, utilizing an open body position for just 2 minutes has noticeably impact on performance of a task completed thereafter.
I am also a big believer in using music to pump myself up for other activities (mainly for horse showing before I go into the ring), so I decided to combine these 2 techniques for my vet school exams.
My favorite superhero is Batman (for a variety of reasons thanks to my family; my first word was even ‘Batman’ – and yes, I am totally serious), so I decided Batman (or BatVet) would be my test-taking muse.
On the day of every test, I make sure that I have some type of Batman apparel on – Batman socks (I even have ones with capes on them), or a Batman shirt. Before the start of every exam, I grab my phone, queue up my pump-up song, and strike my superhero pose, right in the middle of the lecture hall. My classmates have gotten used to my roommate (who also utilizes these techniques) standing before every exam, but it definitely felt weird the first few times.
But you know what? I notice a difference. I take those few minutes to calm my brain, stop the swirling of information, trust that I have studies and know my stuff, and I sit down to take my exam more confident. During one exam, I started to curl my shoulders when I was debating a few questions and started spiraling into questioning all my answers and generally panicking. However, I recognized it. I stopped, opened up my body position, and marked those questions to come back to later. I was able to navigate the rest of the exam, and come back to those problem questions with a logical and rational mindset to reason through them. Just the change in how I was sitting was enough to put my brain back on track.
And since I have employed these test-taking strategies, my grades have improved overall.
I might be a touch overly-superstitious, but if they work, who am I to argue with it? Using the power of positivity, my favorite songs, and channeling my inner Batman keeps me confident and able to tackle whatever exam is headed my way.