How to Manage Test Anxiety with Narrative Therapy

By Robin Gluck on August 30, 2018

Writing a new story on test anxiety

Each month, I write a blog that focuses on strategies to manage test anxiety. This month, we will discuss different narrative therapy techniques that can help us deal with test anxiety. I started this blog in response to what appeared to be a pervasive feeling shared by many associates preparing for their licensing exams. I’ve worked with hundreds, if not thousands of test takers, and common refrains I would hear included:

  • I am a terrible test taker.
  • I have severe test anxiety.
  • If this were an oral exam, I would do much better.
  • If this were an essay exam, I would do great; but I’m awful with multiple-choice.
  • The structure of this exam is the antithesis of how I work in this field and how I think. I’m incapable of succeeding.

Let’s face it, most of us in this field do not think in terms of multiple-choice options, nor do we feel compelled to make decisions in less than 90 seconds. But that is expected of us on the exam, and this dissonance between what we do, how we think and act, and how the exam tests us can be quite unnerving. So how do we make this shift from therapist to successful and confident test-taker?

For this month’s blog, let’s take a few chapters out of Narrative Therapy’s playbook to help in overcoming test anxiety and feeling empowered (bonus: you can even use this blog in your studies).

Narrative Therapy Techniques for Test Anxiety

Following are several Narrative Therapy Techniques. It can be helpful to enlist the support of a friend, family member, or even your therapist to try these out. These techniques for narrative therapy are not magical; they will not make your anxiety completely vanish in an instant. However, by engaging in these activities, your anxiety could become more manageable and your confidence can grow. So, grab a piece of paper and try out these narrative therapy techniques.

1. Externalizing the Problem.

If you look at the statements above, most of them point to an internalization of anxiety and portray the test taker as being the problem. Through the process of externalization, you are able to create distance from the problem, and increase your ability to take action as opposed to feeling overwhelmed or defeated. As a Narrative Therapist would say, “you are not the problem, the problem is the problem.”

Use this narrative therapy technique to take a few minutes to challenge how you conceptualize and describe your relationship to anxiety and to test taking. For example, rather than saying, “I am a terrible test taker,” you might rephrase/reframe it as, “Some exams in my life have been difficult to conquer.” This may seem like an oversimplification at first. However, if you can view the test as the problem, rather than you as the problem, the possibility of developing strategies to conquer this external challenge becomes more tangible.

2. Identifying Unique Outcomes.

Narratives develop and strengthen overtime. And sometimes the stories we develop become so entrenched in our psyche that it becomes hard to believe that they may not be 100% accurate. What are some of the problem-saturated stories you’ve developed about yourself in relation to standardized exams, multiple choice exams, or tests in general? What are the stories you’ve developed regarding anxiety’s ability to interfere in your exam success? Is your narrative similar to any shared in the bullet points above? Take a moment and consider the narrative you’ve developed.

Now, take some time to consider exceptions to these rules/stories you’ve developed over time. It may be hard to find these exceptions, so reach out to people in your life who might be able to help. Were there times that anxiety didn’t knock you down during an exam? Were their exams you were able to successfully defeat, ever?

The goal of this exercise is not to minimize or disregard any challenges you’ve experienced. Rather, it is to help you recognize there are likely data points that run counter to the dominant story you’ve bought into. It’s important to incorporate these data points into your narrative, too. Through this process, you will hopefully develop a more balanced understanding of your relationship with anxiety and exams.

3. Re-authoring.

Through the above narrative therapy exercises, I hope you were able to create a bit of space between yourself and the problem, and were able to identify exceptions to the dominant narrative. Now, it’s time to really take control and rewrite your narrative. The stories we tell ourselves influence how we behave and how we feel. My hope is, through externalizing the problem and identifying unique outcomes, you can now move forward with a new story.

Take the time to write this new story down on paper. Following are a few prompts to help:

  1. When did the problem threaten to take over, but failed to do so? What was different that time? How did you overcome the problem?
  2. What past experiences run counter to the problem existing? How did you approach the problem during that time that allowed you to successfully beat it?
  3. How can you use the experiences of past unique outcomes to guide you this time? For instance, the time you were successful on the exam, what was different? How did you approach it and what from that experience can help you now?

The licensing exams can be challenging; but they do not define who you are as a person or as a therapist, and they do not dictate what you are capable of achieving. The stories we tell ourselves have a powerful influence on how we act and feel. Take the time to create a new and healthier narrative for yourself. This act will help you feel empowered and in control throughout the exam process.

And remember, if you struggled with these activities, ask friends, family, or your therapist for additional support.

Therapist Development Center offers strength-based programs designed to assist you in creating a new and powerful narrative, one where you will be successful with your exams! We will teach you all that you need to know for your  LMFT or LCSW exams!  Amanda Rowan has helped thousands of therapists and social workers pass their licensing exams. Are you our next success story?



Commenter Name
December 2, 2018

Thanks for this Narrative therapy session. I took the lcsw exams few times in early 2000 and failed because I didn’t have the right type of study materials and of course I was busy with my 3 babies one yr apart . Therefore my hours accumulated expired . So I changed jobs and had an opportunity to gather supervised hours and heard positive comments about TTD.
I took exam for 3 times . The first two times I didn’t have the right materials ; thee fire the 3rd time I heard about TTD and colleagues passed the exams . I purchase the Law and Erhics exam and passed in the 3rd time .

I listened to Ananda Rowen ‘s pep talk many times and I believed in her and bright her to my exam. I read the exam questions carefully and when I stuck I ask myself self how would Amanda answer this question and the right choice is the “ah ha” moment .
I imagine Amanda was talking me.
I was in tears when I passed the Law and ethics exam .

I can use the same technique for my
LCSW exam .
Thank you for reinforcing and help me to reduce my anxiety by using Narrative Therapy.

Through this process I also find out that I am a morning person. I get up at 4:30 am to study an hour then do my 20 min exercise then eat my healthy breakfast and go to work. Also after work I play basketball for 30 min 3x/wk .
Amanda taught me exercise can help me study bettter and reenergize . I totally believe in her words .
I lost about 8 # in 3 moths and my belly lost 2 inches . I feel healthier and have the motivation to continue to study. I am inspired by her great work .

I am planning to take the exam in 2-3 months . I hope to pass the exam . It will be the best gift for my self and the highest achievement in my +20 yrs in my career before I reach age 50 in 2 yrs .

Commenter Name
April 12, 2019

I have taken the LSW exam 5 times starting in 2015 with last exam taken on 3/20/19. I have failed all of them. Exam one)10p exam 2) 2p exam 3 ) 7p exam 4) 3p exam 5) 9p. My problem now is hitting the button to see fail again! Even when I feel confident that I passed “this time”
I have spent crazy money on books, practice tests, apps,podcasts, live study classes,etc. I am at a total loss! I don’t want to even pick up another book again because I feel the same fail will appear. I have studied my heart and always feel confident that I will do well. Any suggestions? I appreciate your response.

Commenter Name
June 15, 2019

Does your site have a contact page? I'm having a tough time locating it but, I'd like to
send you an e-mail. I've got some ideas for your blog you might be interested
in hearing. Either way, great site and I look forward to
seeing it develop over time.

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