Why So Many Medical Students are Terrified of their Board Exams

USMLE Step 2 Test Prep

Medical students experience myriad emotions during their time in school. These range from sheer exhaustion and apprehension to outright fear of failure. The driving force behind fear, at least for many students, is the board exams – the very exams that provide you with the licensure you need to put medical school behind you and step out into the world as a physician. Here’s what all medical students should know about overcoming the fear of failure.

The Problems with Fear

Some fear throughout your life is perfectly normal, and in many cases, it’s even beneficial. According to an article in Psychology Today, fear is necessary for keeping you safe, but too much of it can be incredibly counterproductive. In some cases, medical students experience such fear and dread surrounding their board exams that they simply cannot study effectively, and then when exam day comes, they stare blankly at their screens, paralyzed by the fear that they will not succeed.

Why the Boards Cause Fear

The boards induce stress in medical students for a variety of reasons, but stress seems to be the most common. The boards are the culmination of years of studying, years of sleepless nights, and in many cases, years of social life put on hold to prepare for a future in medicine. In some cases, students’ parents or guardians mortgage their homes or take out massive loans to finance their educations, so the fear of letting down their loved ones is also very real. Finally, there’s a fear that failure will prove students inadequate; if they cannot pass the licensing exam, perhaps they were not meant to be doctors after all. These fears can all be overcome.

How to Put the Fear Behind You

Every medical student experiences some degree of fear related to the medical licensing exam, but the good news is that there are several ways in which you can overcome it and succeed.

  • Study Often and Effectively – Whether you choose to utilize textbooks, printed materials, your own notes, or question bank software, make sure that you’re studying as much as possible, and make sure that you are utilizing different study methods to help ensure comprehension.
  • Eat and Stay Hydrated – Believe it or not, a poor diet and lack of hydration can not only make it more difficult for you to comprehend and retain information, but it can also exacerbate feelings of fear. Eat a healthy mix of proteins, complex carbs, and good-for-you fats, and make sure you’re getting your 64oz (or more!) of water each day.
  • Learn Self-Calming and Relaxation Techniques – Finally, you can actually train yourself to respond to fear in a better and more productive way through deep breathing exercises, meditation or prayer, and even progressive muscle relaxation techniques. The more you practice these, the simpler they become, and eventually you will find yourself able to relax in even the most stressful of situations.

Fear is not your enemy. In fact, it’s a perfectly normal response to stress and danger that could very well save your life at some point. It is also perfectly normal to experience some fear and apprehension related to your board exams, but it is critical that you learn to overcome it. Preparing yourself for your exams, keeping your body healthy, and learning how to relax in the face of fear can help you do just that.