Phobias: Interviews, tests, and exams

Phobias or fear of interviews, tests, and examinations

Taking part in an examination or interview or doing some form of test puts us in an interesting situation.

What is ‘interesting’ is that, as a reasonably well-adjusted person with a reasonable degree of self esteem, you are voluntarily putting yourself in a situation such as this examination, interview, test, or assessment – where you will be evaluated by others!

You are being judged

In an interview you are entering into a situation where your success will be determined by how others evaluate your behaviour and you do this because it is the accepted way to get a job, further your career, to provide you with the freedom to drive a care, raise a bank loan,  etc.

How you perform in this interview or test is often critically important.

There is a lot riding on the few minutes you have in the interview, on what you say, on how you appear, on what you ask of the interviewer, etc. So it’s no wonder that they are such daunting experiences.

It’s a ‘survival’ situation

It’s our emotions about being judged in this way which makes the situation so stressful. And which causes us to experience a variety of symptoms – sweating, shaking, upset digestion, frequent urination and bowel movements, etc.

The body recognises that a form of ‘survival’ is involved. Will I be allowed to be a car driver? Will ‘they’ deem me a suitable candidate to on to the next level in my education. Will they decide that I am worthy of this job or this promotion?

When our body recognises this it activates the Fight or Flight response and produces these physical symptoms.

(1) Tips for interviews

Mentally rehearse for a positive performance

Do this frequently in the days and weeks leading up to the interview our test. The mental rehearsal is giving your brain a programme or recipe for how to automatically deal with the situation.

Look at it from their point of view

If you were in the interview or one of the panel what would you be looking for? what would you consider unacceptable? If two candidates had the same qualifications what would tip the balance for you?

Get into the right frame of mind

Begin this as far in advance as possible. Make a written list of all the great moments in your life – moments of fun, enjoyment, success, achievement, enjoying socialising, etc. They don’t have to be specifically related to tests are interviews our exams – simply memories it make you feel good about being you.

Just doing this begins to focus your attention on your positive and resourceful history and experiences. You can take it even further by linking it with the next step/tip.

Create a positive anchor

In NLP an ‘anchor’ is a way of enabling us to instantly access a feeling. We re-experience a great moment and then link that to a trigger. Here is an article on how to create a positive NLP anchor and how you use this to neutralise reduce the impact of the negative ‘gut responses’ that you can encounter in life.  (This is our main NLP site and if you put ‘anchor’ into the search box ion the left-hand column you will reach a list of further articles on NLP anchors and anchoring.

Get into the right physical state

Relax! Yes, easier said than done! But relax your body to agree that it is possible for you given the circumstances.

For instance, anxiety about the interview or test or will have been building up in the background probably for days or weeks. This produces a cumulative buildup of physical tension. You can contract this by remaining physically active and, especially, by physical exercise.

Go easy on caffeine. Yes, it does make you more alert – but it’s quite likely that you will be more than alert enough as a result of your nervousness. Further caffeine just makes you anxious. (Read the article on caffeine here).

Have a wet mouth!!  Strange one this. But if your mouth is dry your body interprets this as further proof that you are in a highly stressful situation and further increases the Fight or Flight response. so how is that the water before going in and, if possible, sip or two while in there. Note the word ‘sip’ rather than ‘gulp’ since too much water could result in you having to interrupt the interview to go elsewhere!

Breathe easily, comfortably and shallowly! Ignore the mythology of deep breathing. deep breathing increases anxiety, produces an arousal states in the body, and actually reduces the amount of oxygen available to the brain (because of the Verigo-Bohr Effect – information here). There is further information on breathing in our breathing section.)

In the lead up to and during the interview breathe shallowly and without sighing. in this way you will retain carbon dioxide which has the additional benefit of calming you. And you won’t be signalling your discomfort to the interviewers through sighing or panting or breathlessness.

Smile: It’s pretty unlikely you’ll feel like smiling if it’s a highly stressful situation. and even if the old story about is requiring more muscles to from then smile isn’t true (it’s actually the other way around!) Smiling will both make you feel good and make the interviewers respond more favourably to you. And here’s another strange one – practice smiling well in advance. Most of us don’t do nearly enough of it.

(2) Tips for ‘exam nerves’

The following is based on the assumption that you have prepared for the examination and know your material…

In the final week – little and often!

The time for a heavy cramming is up to the final week before the exam rather than during this week. Yes, we’ve all crammed right up to the minutes before examination and it can work but if you do it during the final week you risk exhausting yourself and/or overloading your recent memory.

The final week of the time for refreshing your memory of all the stuff you have learned. Reading your lists of summary points, scanning chapters rather than reading them in detail, looking at mind maps, etc. And do this for short periods. So you keep your attention fresh.

Mentally rehearse

Have a positive mental movie clip of yourself looking relaxed and comfortable and competently preparing for attending the examination, going to it, going through it, and leaving it feeling a sense of achievement. (Just as in the rehearsal for interviews above, you are giving your brain an automatic program to associate with the examination experience.)

It’s quite important to make this a ‘dissociated movie’ – in other words you need to be able to see yourself going through these processes.

Physical preparation

The same things supply as for interviews – see above. And, because examinations or tests often last for longer than interviews, ensure that you have just the right amount of food and drink to maintain a high and mental and physical level of energy.