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Managing Anxiety for the Biggest Test of Your Veterinary Career

Posted by Cathy Barnette on Aug 19, 2019 8:00:00 AM
Cathy Barnette
Cathy Barnette is a practicing small animal veterinarian, freelance writer, and contributor to XPrep Learning Solutions. She is passionate about both veterinary medicine and education, working to provide helpful information to veterinary teams and the general public. In her free time, she enjoys spending time in nature with her family and leading a Girl Scout troop.

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If you’re like most 4th year vet students, you’re probably nervous about the upcoming NAVLE®… and that’s okay! Having a small amount of test anxiety is a good thing, because it will motivate you to study and prepare, ensuring that you do your best. 
For some students, however, test anxiety can actually hurt their performance on high-stakes exams. This anxiety, often caused by fear of failure, can lead to physical, emotional, and behavioral/cognitive symptoms,(1) all of which can interfere with optimal test performance.  
So, what can you do to overcome test anxiety? There are actually a number of different strategies that you can use before and during the NAVLE® to control your anxiety and help you perform your best.

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In the next few months...

Begin studying early.
Attempting to cram the entire field of veterinary medicine into the last few weeks before the NAVLE® is a surefire way to reach test day feeling unprepared and anxious about your performance. Plan ahead to ensure that you will have time to study everything, so that you can enter the test feeling confident in your knowledge. 

Clarify anything that you are unsure of.
If there are specific topics that you’re struggling with, take the time to look into these topics. Do additional reading, talk with a classmate, or ask a professor. Ultimately, this is a far more effective approach than just crossing your fingers and hoping these topics won’t show up on the NAVLE®!

Learn relaxation techniques to use on test day. 
There are a number of simple relaxation techniques that are known to help manage test anxiety. In the Tensing and Differential Relaxation Method, you tense all the muscles in your body (grasping the underside of your chair and pushing your feet into the ground) and then relax, repeating this process two to three times.

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In the Palming Method, you cup your hands over your eyes (with your fingertips on your forehead and palms on your cheeks) and envision a relaxing scene for one to two minutes. Either of these techniques can easily be performed at the test center during the NAVLE®. Practicing before the exam will ensure that you are comfortable using at least one of these methods on test day. 

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Get directions to the test center. 
Print them out or write them down, so that you have a backup if your GPS is down or your phone battery dies on test day! Ideally, you should make a practice run to the test center, on the same day of the week and at the same time of day as your test, so that you can get a feel for traffic and know how much time you need to allow. 

The day before the NAVLE ®...

Don’t study (too much).
It’s okay to review your notes on a few key topics, but don’t do a lot of studying the day before the NAVLE®. Last-minute cramming won’t result in successful learning, but it will raise your anxiety level! 

Whether it’s watching a favorite TV show, taking your dog for a walk around the neighborhood, or fitting in a favorite workout, take a break from studying and spend some time doing something enjoyable. 

Prepare for test day.
If you’re driving, make sure that your car has plenty of gas (or a full battery). Figure out what you’ll eat for breakfast and what you will take to the test center for snacks and lunch. Lay out your clothes…and remember to wear layers, because the test center could be hot or cold! Set out your keys, wallet, phone, and anything else you might need, in order to ensure a smooth and stress-free morning!

Go to bed early.
A good night’s sleep will improve your test performance! I know it sounds silly, but it’s true. It’s hard to cope with anxiety when you’re exhausted. 

On the big day...

Eat a healthy, tried-and-true breakfast.
It’s important to fuel your brain, but this is not a great time to try a rich new meal that might not agree with you! Eat something simple and filling. Drink coffee if you normally do so; but, if you’re not a coffee drinker, today is not the day to start! 

Get to the test site early.
Once you arrive, however, avoid the temptation to sit and talk with classmates that may also be there for the NAVLE®. Their anxiety might rub off on you. Instead, sit in your car or find a quiet area at the test center where you can sit undisturbed.

Use relaxation techniques before and during the test, as needed. 
Before the NAVLE®, you learned to use Palming and Tensing and Differential Relaxation to alleviate anxiety. When you sit down at your computer, use one or both of these techniques before beginning the exam. Repeat these techniques as needed throughout the day! 

Take periodic stretch breaks.
Every 10 or 15 minutes, look away from the computer monitor. Roll your shoulders, stretch your neck, close your eyes for a minute, and take a few deep breaths.

Remember, a little bit of test anxiety is completely normal and will increase your motivation to study effectively for the NAVLE®. If you feel that these techniques do not adequately allow you to calm down and focus on the exam, don’t try to go it alone; consult with a therapist or other mental health professional for additional strategies and treatment approaches that may work for you.
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  1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Test Anxiety. 

Topics: Stress Management, 4th Year, Test Taking Tips, NAVLE

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