MBLEx - adult students at computer terminals

You’ve made it through massage school, and now it’s time to take your licensing exam, which in most states will be the MBLEx: the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination.

If you’ve attended all your massage school classes and studied, you may feel pretty confident about passing the MBLEx. But if you’re feeling stressed about the test — or if you believe you’re just bad at taking tests — here’s help for calming your nerves so you can do your best.

Tip 1: Know That Nervous = Normal

Just because you’re nervous about the MBLEx doesn’t mean you won’t know your stuff on test day. Almost everyone experiences at least a little anxiety before a test, says Jelterow McKinnie, Jr., an author and teacher with more than 18 years of experience teaching K-12 and college students.

“You are taking people out of their natural, relaxed frame of mind when you tell them they are taking a test — it’s a natural response,” McKinnie told MASSAGE Magazine. “It’s the pressure of being evaluated and judged that makes a test generate anxiety in people. It’s just that some people are better at ignoring that pressure and judgement than others.”

So, if you’re nervous about taking the MBLEx, know that you’re not alone.

Tip 2: If You Hate Tests, Pretend You’re Good at Taking Tests

Or at least, stop telling yourself you’re a bad test-taker — because that will just make your anxiety worse, McKinnie noted. That belief can result in a lower grade, even if you know the material well.

“When a person believes they’re ‘bad’ at anything, they direct their unconscious mind to make it true,” said Bara Sapir, founder and CEO of City Test Prep. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Tip 3: Pretend It’s Not an Actual Test

McKinnie suggests thinking of the test as a regular lesson or activity, rather than focusing on the fact that it’s a test. “I’ve found that most people have success when they can change their point of view of the test, either before the test or during the test,” he said.

“I once had a student get very upset about a test — she couldn’t even get her name written because she got so anxious about it. I told her to just think of the test as another lesson or activity that I was giving her to complete. She eventually stopped fretting … as she just breezed through the test. For her, [that approach] worked.”

Tip 4: Take Practice Tests

“Taking diagnostic practice tests before taking a real test typically desensitizes the experience and helps the student become more familiar with the content, logistics and strategies they need for test success,” said Sapir.

Taking practice tests can be especially helpful if you are unsure about working with computers, as the MBLEx is a computer-based exam.

“After you have taken a number of computerized practice tests, the real test will be much less intimidating,” said Anna Moss, who runs test prep company Mind the Test LLC.

Tip 5: Have an Emotional Rehearsal

When you study or take practice tests, you’re mentally rehearsing for the test. You may want to try an emotional rehearsal, too, if your test anxiety is high.

“When you rehearse — imagine or daydream — about how you’re going to feel when you’re taking the test ahead of time, you create a flow of energy to the future time and place and set the stage to feel that way when you’re actually physically there,” said Alyssa Malehorn, a former massage therapist and instructor and current Certified HeartMath Professional Trainer and energy healing teacher.

“You can also use this technique to future-pace to the time after you’ve aced the test. How will that feel? Let yourself really feel how awesome that feels now,” Malehorn said. “Again, this projects the energy into the future — and it works!”

Tip 6: Reframe Your Anxious Feelings

Practice thinking of your anxiety as a positive thing — excitement rather than fear.

“‘Test jitters’ are almost identical to feelings of excitement and alertness; the main difference lies in whether we frame the feeling as negative anxiety or positive anticipation,” said Moss. “While attempting to inhibit nerves taxes working memory, reframing these feelings as excitement or alertness does not.”

Once you stop expending mental energy trying to keep yourself calm, you’ll have that much more energy available to focus on recalling material for the test.

Tip 7: Take Your Time — and (Very Short) Mental Breaks

You’re allotted two hours to complete the 100 questions on the MBLEx — a time frame which includes five minutes at the beginning for a confidentiality agreement and five minutes at the end for a survey. The questions are multiple-choice with four answer choices per question.

It’s to your advantage not to rush through the test, skipping questions you don’t know the answers to, because the computer will not allow you to flag questions and come back to review them later. Once you’ve answered a question and moved to the next, you can’t change your answer; and since you’re scored on the number of correct answers, if you don’t know an answer, it’s to your advantage to guess instead of skipping the question. You have a 25% chance of being right, more if you can eliminate one or two of the options.

According to the FSMTB, you’ll be able to see how much time is left via a progress meter on your computer screen. (You can toggle the timer on and off if having it visible all the time stresses you out.)

If your anxiety is high, you may want to allow yourself a short mental break, even just a few seconds for a few slow, deep breaths, as long you’re not running short on time.

Tip 8: Try Tapping

Malehorn suggests EFT — also known as Emotional Freedom Technique, or simply tapping — to ease MBLEx anxiety. In EFT, you tap lightly on specific acupressure points on your body to promote balance, enhance calmness and reduce stress. Read more about tapping here.

Ready to try EFT? Malehorn recommends the following 8-step sequence for anxiety. And don’t worry, she says, if it seems to make you more anxious at first.

“With EFT, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the anxiety and not try to repress it, while you’re doing the steps,” she noted.

“It’s somewhat common for some people to experience a very temporary heightening of anxiety when first beginning this process,” she continued. “Keep doing the tapping, and it will go away. You’re clearing the anxiety-energetic-structure from the energy body and the physical body.”

1. Start by tuning into the anxiety, and where you feel it most in your body (chest, belly, head or all over).

2. Next, using the tips of the fingers on your dominant hand, tap the outer edge of your non-dominant hand, about 5-10 times. Use some force where you can feel it, but not so much that you’re hurting yourself. While you’re tapping (for each step) say silently: “Even though I’m full of anxiety, I am safe.”

3. Then, using index, middle and ring fingertips of both hands, tap on the crown area of the head, on either side of the midline, both sides at the same time. “Even though I’m full of anxiety, I am safe.”

4. Now tap on the area directly below the bony prominence of the collarbone, on both sides at the same time. “Even though I’m full of anxiety, I am safe.”

5. Crossing your arms in front of your body, tap on the area under the arms (where a bra strap would be for a bra wearer). “Even though I’m full of anxiety, I am safe.”

6. Back to Step 1, tapping on the edge of the non-dominant hand.

7. Breathe slowly, and drink a sip of water to help integrate. You’ve completed one round of test-taking anxiety relief.

8. Repeat all of the steps again as many rounds as needed.

Tip 9: Use a Relaxation Exercise

Try this three-step exercise to help you relax prior to the MBLEx, said Malehorn.

“The HeartMath Institute conducted studies of self-described ‘bad test takers’, that scored on average 15% lower on tests than before they learned [this] very simple heart/brain coherence technique,” she noted. “An increase of 10 to 25 points on average was seen in the test results after practicing the technique, along with 75% of participants in the study report[ing] a significant decrease in overall test anxiety.”

1. Focus your awareness on the center of your chest, behind your sternum. (There are sensory neurites there that like your attention for this exercise.)

2. Slowing down your breath, imagine or intend that you’re breathing directly in and out of the heart center.

3. Begin to bring up an elevated emotion, like appreciation, love or gratitude — for something, someone, the sunny sky, your dog, whatever. It doesn’t matter what it is; the idea is to bring up a feeling of gratitude or another high-vibe emotion while you’re focusing on the area inside your chest, and breathing in and out of that area. This shifts/reboots the nervous system and allows you to relax, but also allows you to access your database of information, which positively influences recall.

Ready, Set — Pass the MBLEx

Studying, taking practice tests and dealing positively with your anxiety will help set you up for success on test day. Good luck!

About the Author

Allison M. Payne is the associate editor of MASSAGE Magazine and Chiropractic Economics.