Project Management Institute

Beat the fear

practice and relaxation help manage test anxiety

By Raj Kaushik, PMP

Ten years ago, I joined a new company as a Java developer. Soon after, the organization decided that all its project managers should achieve Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification within two months.

Just to test my mettle, I signed up for a PMP® review course and took the exam with the project managers. We all passed—except for one experienced, highly respected project manager. Anxiety and stress certainly played a big role in this. No doubt the project manager was nervous because of a fear of failing and putting a hard-earned reputation at stake. In contrast, I had no anxiety or fear of failure, because all I had at stake was the fee I paid to take the exam.


We allow fear to paralyze us because we don't like to face it.

Research shows that test anxiety can hurt results because stress limits how well different areas of the brain communicate. As you prepare for a PMI certification exam, follow these tips to reduce fear.

1. Learn relaxation techniques. Breathing exercises such as those taught in yoga can release stress and improve physical and mental health. Sit in a comfortable, upright position with your spine straight. With your mouth gently closed, breathe in and out of your nose as deeply as possible. Make the duration of inhalation and exhalation equal.

2. Sharpen your exam-taking skills. You may have been practicing project management for years, but you cannot expect to pass the exam without studying. So set up a schedule and reasonable expectations for learning the material. Also attend a review course and take practice tests until you get more than 90 percent of the questions right within the time limit.

3. Get in the zone. Exams can be long. A great deal of concentration is required to answer the PMP exam's 200 multiple-choice questions in the allotted four hours. Develop a habit of mindfully checking on your thoughts periodically—say, every 10 minutes. If you catch yourself getting distracted, consciously bring your attention back to the task at hand.

During the test, answer questions you immediately know first and then return to the more difficult ones.

4. Feel the fear. We allow fear to paralyze us because we don't like to face it. But success typically requires embracing the fear, not avoiding it. Imagine you failed the exam. Tell yourself, out loud, “So what? It's not end of the world.” Then take a short break and continue studying.

Fear of failure is natural—but you can conquer test anxiety by relaxing, preparing well, staying focused and facing your fear. PM

img Raj Kaushik, PMP, is a customer relationship management expert with Amdocs Inc., Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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