Your Inner Critic Could Be Causing You to Fail Your Exams!

It can be confusing if you have studied, memorized and reviewed your materials but despite your best efforts, you still failed. People think you are smart and tell you that you are intelligent. As you matriculated through school, you were told that you were a good student. You did well on your school papers and scored high on quizzes and tests. You’ve written research papers, a thesis and maybe a dissertation. Teachers and professors alike commented on your ability to understand and comprehend concepts and theories easily. So naturally the next step is to go for your license. You learned from fellow students and colleagues the importance of taking and passing this examination. You took the initiative and made the investment toward exam prep workshops, group study sessions, study guides and materials in an effort to get ready for your exam. You demonstrated inner drive by setting aside time to study because you are serious about passing your exam. You created and persistently followed a schedule that outlines the frequency and duration of your study sessions. You practice and reviewed your study material several times a week, several hours at a time. You recited your material, listened to audio tapes, video recordings and took copious notes. You took time to gather what you needed including your books, worksheets, notebooks, textbooks, poster board, videos, audios, index card, markers, highlighters and colored pencils needed for preparation. You’ve done the work, you were ready! So why didn’t you pass your important exam? I know it may sound ridiculous but what you think could be why you are failing your tests! No,wait, I bet the first thing you thought after reading that sentence was something like, “This is B---S---, what does it matter what I think to myself, I’ve done the work and I just want to pass my test! I wish it was that simple. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could simply demonstrate discipline through persistence and tenacity and as a result we would pass all tests with flying colors. Yes, life would be oh so sweet! The reality is, most of us need more than rote study behaviors in order to successfully pass tests. More than likely, you’ve tried this method only to fail, maybe more than once. This article was written for you because I don’t want you to succumb to thoughts that you are a failure. If left unchecked, these thoughts can ramp up your pathological inner critic creating the likelihood of failing again and again. You may be wondering, “What does it matter what I think?” After all, no one truly knows what you are thinking, only you know that. Your thoughts are yours. They represent your very own inner experience, unique only to you. Though it is easy to assume that your own thoughts should benefit you and it seems logical that if you are thinking a particular thought, it should be a loving and supportive one. After all, they are your thoughts. I mean, why would anyone want to think a damaging thought? Why would you want to create a thought that disparages you in any way? What would be the purpose of creating a thought that is harmful or hurtful? Sadly, the reality is, you may have, at some point in time, had self disparaging inner thoughts. These inner thoughts are often in contrast with your outer image. Your outward appearance could convey that you are bold, confident, and brave. Your teachers, professors, classmates and colleagues may think that you have it all figured out. That you of all people can breeze through anything you put your mind to. Yet, deep in the recesses of your mind, you could be putting yourself down and doubting your abilities. Tests, especially those that can determine your final grade or whether or not you get licensed or credentialed, can breed excessive worry. Instead of lifting you up, just like a kind and loving friend would, conversely, your thoughts may put you down and scare you away from taking risks. This worry and fear causes your amygdala in your brain, to run amuck, sending neural chemicals throughout your brain and body, and ramping up your inner critic. Your inner critic has the capacity to make you think, contrary to the evidence, that you can't pass your test! Your pathological naysayer may remind you with memories of past failures to further elevate your worry and fear. This continuous loop sends adrenaline and cortisol coursing throughout your body, sending your autonomic nervous system into the flight/flight/freeze response. So instead of only reviewing and memorizing mounds of material, which by the way are essential ingredients to passing any test. Please also consider putting a little more conscious attention to your thoughts. What you think before, during and after studying matters. So if you are doubting your ability to retain information, thinking that what you are doing is useless, or thinking that you are not smart enough or good enough to pass your test, just take a moment to reflect on your inner dialogue. Take survey of your inner landscape. We know through research studies that what you think can impact your inner and outer experiences. Some argue that the thoughts you think is solely responsible for your life. You see, your thoughts (“I’m such a failure”) impact your feelings (feeling sad or worried) and your feelings impact your behaviors (procrastination, avoidance, lack of discipline). It would be a disservice to yourself if your take-away from this article is that all you need to do is think happy thoughts and you will pass your test. Nope, you must study, review, memorize, practice and do everything outlined in the first paragraph. It’s a mind and body practice involved in eliminating the inner critic. I believe that thoughts are things and thus we can choose our thoughts. Just like we choose thoughts that belittle our efforts, we also have the capacity to choose thoughts that uplift and encourage us. So why not choose to think the right kind of thoughts that slay your inner critic? Here are a few tips you can use right away to help eliminate your inner critic:

  • Practice daily affirmations that remind you of your potential, intelligence and worth.
  • Use your mind to imagine your future after passing your test.
  • Write down the ways that passing your exam will benefit you and your family.
  • See yourself smiling, rejoicing and celebrating after you passed.
  • Stick to your study schedule and make studying a priority.
  • Stay far away from naysayers, gossipers or negative people.
  • Practice positive self talk and steer clear of self disparaging language.
  • See your tests as an opportunity and not a threat.
  • Practice gratitude for all that is right in your world.

Check out this video on how I helped someone pass their exam with hypnosis!

If you are ready for hypnosis or coaching for test anxiety give me a call! 

Gena Golden, LCSW, NBCFCH, is an integrative, anti-oppression psychotherapist and a culturally attuned, board-certified fellow of clinical hypnotherapy. She practices from a holistic, intersectional, liberation-focused lens that seeks to validate your humanity, cultural nuances and lived experiences.