With that in mind, this week’s post focuses on the NCCAOM exams and the aura of fear that usually surrounds them. The NCCAOM exams are the national board exams for acupuncture and Chinese medicine students. There are four exams: Acupuncture with Point Location, Foundations of Oriental Medicine, Biomedicine, and Chinese Herbology. Most states require successful passage of the first three “modules,” while some require all four in order to become a licensed practitioner.** The fear and concern over passing these exams is understandable, because passing is ultimately the last hurdle to the dream of being an acupuncture practitioner. But I would like to help dispel that fear, for past, present, and future students alike.
Standardized tests exist for many licensed professions. Doctors, nurses, and lawyers all have to take exams to prove their readiness. Remember the SATs and how much fear surrounded those scores? Somehow, these tests reduce our futures to mere numbers that are supposed to speak for us. It’s no wonder then that passing can take on an “all or nothing” quality. In reality, though, the tests are simply part of the regulation process (a rite of passage, so to speak). To keep from letting the “threat” of the exam grow too big, it’s important to keep in mind what the exams are actually testing: how academically prepared you are and how psychologically ready you are.
Passing the NCCAOM exams requires having both the necessary knowledge and having effectively studied. AFEA is a Five Element school and the exams lean heavily on TCM theory. Prospective students always want to make sure that our curriculum provides the knowledge needed to pass a TCM-oriented test. While taking our program in Chinese Herbal Studies helps with this, our Master of Acupuncture curriculum is also continually being refined and updated so that the course in TCM Concepts and the NCCAOM Prep Course teach students to understand the material and how to organize it for later study. Our Western Clinical Science Review course is set up so that students know what and how to study for the Biomedicine exam. And with the precise point location expected of Five Element treatments, it’s really no surprise that the Acupuncture with Point Location exam is one in which our students continually surpass the national average. The information is there, guidance in organizing one’s study time is there.
But testing isn’t just about knowing the material: it’s also about being able to apply it under pressure. Think about the phrase, “grace under pressure.” How many mistakes have you made in the past because you didn’t know the answer, and how many were simple mistakes? Can you stay calm enough so that fear doesn’t block access to all of the information you DO actually possess? When preparing for this sort of exam, figuring out how to deal with the anxiety of the moment should not be an overlooked aspect of preparation.
There’s a certain amount of self-confidence and faith involved in this process. One additional aspect of our curriculum that helps prepare students is the focus on the inner development of the practitioner. The idea behind this is that an effective healer must be healthy in their own body, mind, and spirit before helping others. Having faith in one’s own abilities is a huge component of being a successful student and a successful practitioner. Our students are allowed the time to focus on themselves and be the healthiest they can be when they step into the treatment room. In turn, they should also believe in their knowledge base and that they have the ability to pass their exams. This is very easy to forget in the midst of the worry.
Students sometimes look at me funny when I remind them to get plenty of sleep, to remember to breathe regularly, and not to drink caffeine (or too much liquid in general) before the test. It’s easy to give advice when one isn’t taking the test. But the simple concerns like sleep and proper nutrition are some of the first things we forget when we’re anxious. A quick story for you, a former student of mine once admitted to drinking 5 cans of Red Bull before taking his TOEFL exam. Not only did his hands shake and his concentration nose-dive, but he had to go to the bathroom only half an hour into the four hour test (remember, no bathroom breaks). He couldn’t think straight and he did very poorly. My point: there are very simple things you can do to stay calm and focused so that the test doesn’t beat you. Be practical in your preparation and remember to nourish yourself in the process.
And so, I say again to our recent grads: good luck! We’re still here supporting you. And to our future and current students: you will be ready when the time comes.
**As all states have different laws and rules regarding acupuncture licensing, please review the laws for your state for the most accurate and up-to-date information.