How To Manage Stress While Studying For & Taking Your Board Certification Exams

Jul 27, 2023 | admin

Navigating the medical board exam landscape is a challenging endeavor. This is especially true for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (OMS) candidates; the comprehensive Qualifying Examination (QE) followed by a thorough Oral Certifying Examination (OCE) requires a level of preparation that may heighten stress levels. However, managing this stress can significantly enhance your performance and, ultimately, your success in earning board certification.

Here, the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (ABOMS) shares ways to effectively manage stress while preparing for and taking your board exams

How stress impacts exam preparation

At this point in your career, you are likely familiar with how increased stress levels can affect both your mental and physical health. In the context of exam preparation, stress can decrease your ability to concentrate, interfere with recall or create memory problems, and potentially cause burnout; these effects can easily hamper your efforts to obtain OMS board certification. 

Recognizing and managing stress early is critical to maintaining effective study habits and achieving optimal exam performance.

How can I recognize signs of stress during my exam preparation? 

How stress manifests in each person is different, so becoming aware of your stress indicators can help you act early and prevent negative effects from escalating:

  • Understand your stress indicators. You may notice changes in your sleep patterns, eating habits, mood, or physical symptoms such as headaches or muscle tension. 

  • Monitor your mental health. Some candidates may find that prolonged periods of studying are overwhelming and can sometimes lead to feelings of anxiety or depression.  

  • Evaluate your study effectiveness. Stress might contribute to ineffective study strategies if you struggle to concentrate, recall information, or stay motivated in study sessions. 

Once you know your stress indicators, you can better implement stress management strategies while you prepare for your exams. 

5 strategies for managing stress during exam preparation

Develop a structured study plan

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows how committing to a specific plan facilitates goal attainment and allows more time and cognitive capacity for other pursuits. This is a concept that can also apply to a structured study plan. Your plan should outline what you need to study, when, and how. You should also break down your study sessions into manageable blocks and allocate specific times for each subject or topic to help reduce feelings of overwhelm and anxiety.

Prioritize physical health

Regular exercise, a nutritious diet, and adequate sleep are crucial to maintain your physical health and boost your mental well-being and cognitive function. These three components have proven to be integral to the overall success of medical professionals.

Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques

Incorporating stress relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help manage stress levels; these practices induce a more relaxed state and improve focus and concentration.

Take regular breaks

Studies have shown that taking breaks from a task increases improvement in task performance, and the same theory should be applied to your exam prep. This article cites numerous studies that explore how different types of breaks and their frequency can positively impact your performance capacity and overall well-being. Incorporate breaks into your study routine, and take time out for relaxation and hobbies.

Seek support

Talking about your stress and fears with friends, family, professional counselors, or support groups can help comfort and keep you motivated, as they show you’re not alone in this journey. If you notice persistent sadness, lack of interest, or excessive worry, consult with a mental health professional to help address the root causes of these emotions and learn how to better cope with future challenges.

6 strategies for managing stress while taking your exams

Managing stress during the exam is just as important for optimal performance as alleviating stress during exam prep. Here are some strategies to help you navigate this critical phase.

Familiarize yourself with the exam format and environment

A key source of exam stress is fear of the unknown, so understanding the exam formats, the type of questions asked, and the overall environment can help reduce anxiety:

  • The Qualifying Exam is a computer-based examination made up of 300 questions covering 10 subject areas to test a Board candidate’s competency in OMS for a total exam time of 200 minutes. The exam will be administered at Prometric Testing Centers.

  • The Oral Certifying Examination is an oral-based examination consisting of three sections with 4 twelve-minute cases to test a Board candidate’s clinically applicable knowledge and judgment for a total exam time of 144 minutes.

Develop a test day routine

A well-structured routine can help create a sense of normalcy on the day of your exam and could include a healthy breakfast, a light exercise or mindfulness practice, and arriving at the exam location well in advance to avoid any last-minute rush.

Use relaxation techniques

While taking the QE exam, you can perform deep breathing exercises discreetly in your seat to help maintain a calm state of mind. During the OCE exam, take a few breaths before responding to give yourself time to fully understand the question and provide a comprehensive answer.

Keep a positive mindset

Maintain a positive outlook during the exam—a little self-encouragement and some positive affirmations can help boost your confidence and keep stress levels under control.

Take care of your physical needs

Remember to eat and hydrate before the exam, and take advantage of the breaks incorporated into the testing process to stretch your muscles, hydrate, and refocus. Keeping your physical needs met can help you avoid additional stressors like hunger, thirst, or fatigue that can keep you from performing your best. 

Plan for post-exam relaxation

Take time to unwind and relax after each exam. Post-exam R & R provides a much-needed respite after high-pressure events and can be a positive motivator while studying and when taking your exams.

Moderate stress is a normal part of the exam process, but it shouldn’t be overwhelming. You’ve worked hard to reach this point, and effective stress management can help you perform to the best of your abilities and continue serving you well throughout your medical career.

Take the next step with ABOMS

The American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (ABOMS) is here to help you navigate the path to board certification with confidence and success.

Ready to take the plunge and become board-certified by ABOMS? Begin the application process here »