Top Strategies for Obliterating Anxiety on the Project Management Professional (PMP) Exam

  • 18 September, 2020

The vast majority of people have some form of exam anxiety, and the intensity can range from just a little nervous to paralyzing or crippling impacts. Exam anxiety is even more common for an exam as challenging as the Project Management Professional (PMP). If you have considered pursuing this globally recognized credential, you have likely heard that the 200-question exam is not for the faint of heart. In addition to the difficulty, most folks spend a lot of money and time preparing for the exam, and some also face the additional pressure that their credential is a job requirement. This can significantly add to the pressure you may feel going into the exam, which, in turn, increases the probability of experiencing exam anxiety.

What is exam anxiety?

Unfortunately, the same beautiful brain that is going to enable you to pass the exam may also fight against you based on core biological behaviors that are hard-wired into us from our caveman days. Within the deepest mechanics of our brain lies the limbic system. As the central gatekeeper and communication system, the limbic system signals the fight-flight-or-freeze response when it perceives danger.

While we know that the PMP exam can't kill us, our limbic system perceives it as just as much of a threat as a grizzly bear. Stress hormones get released, blood flow is redirected to your large muscles, your pupils dilate, and your heart rate and respiration increase. Your body is preparing you physically to deal with the threat while bypassing the logical (or executive) portion of your brain. This can be trouble on an exam that desperately requires your logical brain to be successful.

How can I reduce my anxiety?

The good news is that it is possible to curb your anxiety and decrease the negative impacts of being in fight-flight-or-freeze.

Top Strategies for Obliterating Anxiety on the Project Management Professional (PMP) Exam

  1. Name your emotion - as silly as it sounds, when your limbic system is being hijacked with anxiety, merely stating your emotion, out loud, invites your logical brain back to the party. This is extremely simple and yet extremely effective! If you are feeling nervous, say, "I'm feeling nervous about this exam."
  2. Be prepared and be early - do your research and know what to expect before, during, and after your exam. The unknown is an intense fear provoker. Plan to arrive at the test site early, not giving yourself any extra stress from running late.
  3. Visualize success - the law of attraction is very real. What you put out is what you will experience, so see yourself being successful! Visualize sharing your success with your friends, family, and co-workers.
  4. Hydrate - while it may be tempting to skip the water to minimize bathroom breaks, trust me, you will want to be well hydrated! Optimal hydration is imperative for the functioning and processing of our brain and the transmission of information. Plus, because your brain is made up of more water than your body, by the time you are feeling thirsty, your brain is already dehydrated.
  5. Get rest - staying up all night before your exam will not increase your chances of success. In fact, lack of sleep can be incredibly detrimental, especially for memory recall and analytical tasks. Do yourself a favor and get some good sleep the night before your exam!
  6. Cycle through your questions - your PMP exam will be split into two sections, with an optional break between the sections. As you start your section, move through the questions at a good pace, answering any that you can answer within a few seconds. Continue to cycle through, answering more with each round. This low-hanging-fruit technique minimizes the fear of the unknown while also burning your adrenaline down to a more functional level. Do not sit on any one question for an extended period. This will simply increase your anxiety.
  7. BREATHE! Lastly, do not forget the importance of some nice deep breaths! The oxygen will do your brain and your body good!

While exam anxiety is a common concern, there are strategies that you can easily put into place to ensure that the anxiety does not prevent you from passing your PMP exam!

Project Management Professional (PMP) and "PMP" are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

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