It’s a rare person who can prepare for and take one of the social work license exams and remain pretty relaxed. Anxiety is a reasonable response to accomplishing a goal – passing the test – that is so essential to your career. If you have taken it and failed, then anxiety is likely to increase. So what’s in danger of being lost when you are full of worry and doubt? Your ability to focus and concentrate.
It’s quite a challenge to prepare for these exams. You will need to read, analyze, understand, memorize and then be able to dig up the specific concept being tested. And repeat this without a refresh button, 170 times in 240 minutes, that’s what the ASWB license exams require of you. So you have to have a clear head, be able to focus, to rid your mind of anxious thoughts, or any irrelevant thoughts. So how do you accomplish this? Is it a total mystery?
Fortunately, for prospective test-takers, ancient wisdom can help us. Apparently our ancestors were worriers, too. Meditation or more specifically, mindfulness, describes exactly how to first, notice unwanted thoughts that are taking up your attention and then to move them aside. And while mindfulness is derived from Buddhist practice, most modern versions are secular, not connected to religious language or rituals. While “simple” to do, it does take discipline and practice. It doesn’t work if you do it occasionally.
I have just finished reading a down-to-earth, and entertaining book on the subject: 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story by Dan Harris, an on-air news correspondent for ABC news. He has convinced me that practicing meditation can make a difference in the ability to focus, concentrate and pay attention to what you are doing. And that it doesn’t require sitting with your legs crossed, listening to chimes or chanting unfamiliar words. He makes it seem simple and straightforward, as in “just give it a try, and see for yourself”. This is just one resource.
If you are already committing many hours preparing for one of the exams, think about adding ten or fifteen minutes each day to practice mindfulness. You can find basic instructions all over the web. Here is a link to several brief meditations from U.C.L.A.’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center: http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22.
So if you are looking for an antidote to the potential damage caused by anxiety on your test preparation and performance, learn a little more about mindfulness and see if it is right for you. And let me know what you think!