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I’m no stranger to test-performance anxiety. I have two degrees in music and in my student days I dealt with taking auditions and playing performances. I clearly remember my first time playing a solo in Keller Hall, the recital hall at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. The music department had weekly student recitals on Thursday afternoons and during my second year it was my turn among the undergraduate trumpet students to play something. The piece I chose was a pretty straight forward Baroque number accompanied by piano. I practiced the work backwards and forwards getting it down the week of the recital. But in the back of my mind there was always a cloud of doubt that I would somehow completely melt down in front of a live audience filled with a lot of people I knew thus suffering some degree of embarrassment and/or complete humiliation. 

The morning of the recital was an eternity of wondering if a change of wardrobe would be needed at any moment and, for lack of a better term, panic in varying degrees. The reptilian part of my brain was working overtime. I can only imagine its very fuzzy logic as in, “You know, playing the trumpet in front a group is dangerous. You could be injured or killed instantly and the only thing for you to do right now is to run away as fast as you can as far as possible. Screw these people. Someone else can play.”  Isn’t live music performance lovely? Clearly I lacked game day skills.  In the end, the piece went fairly well with the usual minor mistakes and certainly no one got hurt including me. But it was a tortuous process where the relief of getting through it was almost as magnificent as the pregame nerves were perilous. 

In the years that followed, my having to deal with the nerves/anxiety in auditions and performances was a huge advantage when I took the MS exams—especially the Master’s exam. But not everyone taking the exams has the luxury—if you want to call it that—of previous life experiences that involve the nerves of an audition situation. Nerves will always be part of the exam process and to a great degree an individual’s chances of success during an exam is indirectly—or very directly—related to how well they function under stress. Suffice to say that some students deal with stress and test better while others don’t test well at all—and thus have slim odds of passing regardless of their level of preparation.

Since the beginning of the year I’ve been involved in a project with a group of Advanced and Master’s level students pertaining to test anxiety. The purpose of the project is twofold: first, to find the best strategies to help deal with test anxiety; second, to find best strategies for bringing one’s “A” game in the moment whenever needed. 

I look at test anxiety as an energy imbalance which is the result of the brain sensing danger in a specific context (like my experience of the recital), in this case an exam. The brain then overreacts and goes into “fight or flight mode” sending too much energy into the nervous system to comfortably and/or appropriately deal with the specific experience. But then the brain goes one step further by generalizing this perceived danger to the point where even the mere thought of an exam causes stress, worry, and fear—and even more! The question then is how to quickly restore balance to one’s energy systems and interrupt the brain’s pattern of massive generalization of anything even remotely resembling an exam in the future.

Enter EFT

EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique, works to resolve imbalances in the body’s energy systems by tapping on acupressure points. The technique is based on the Chinese practice of acupuncture which has been effectively used for over 5,000 years; a practice that is now widely accepted in traditional western medicine as effective in treating a wide range of emotional and physical challenges.

EFT was first developed by the late psychologist Dr. Roger Callahan over 30 years ago. Callahan would go on to do extensive work with tapping on different parts of the body and developed a series of algorithms or sequences of tapping on specific pressure points. Gary Craig, one of Callahan’s students, determined that the sequence of tapping wasn’t as important as the simple act of tapping itself. Craig developed a single sequence which he called EFT for Emotional Freedom Techniques. Craig’s EFT sequence included all the body’s major energy meridian points and could be used for any issue. Further, over time Craig developed a global community around EFT teaching it and documenting the results of using EFT for a wide range of challenges—from chronic pain to phobias to PTSD. Today EFT has reached a critical mass tipping point; it’s being widely written about by multiple sources as well as being gradually accepted by mainstream medical and psychological communities. 

EFT is not without controversy. It’s important to know that certain factions of the traditional psychological community are dead set against EFT for whatever reason. Thus if you go online and search on EFT you may come across negative information—in large part MIS-information–concerning EFT and any other form of energy psychology. Wikipedia—specifically—has categorically refused to recognize the benefits of EFT and other forms of energy psychology. Be forewarned!

Using EFT: How it Works

There are four steps to EFT:

1. Calibrating the issue

2. The set up

3. Tapping on acupressure points

4. Recalibrating the issue

Here’s a simple explanation of the basic EFT technique:

1. Calibrating the Issue:

Get a sense of your anxiety/fear around a previous exam or upcoming exam. Rate the intensity on a scale of 1-10, one being no stress/anxiety and 10 being maximum. It’s important that you rate the level of anxiety before doing the tapping because you need a starting point to be able to calibrate any changes in the level of intensity after you do the tapping. 

2. The Set Up: Formatting Your Set Up Phrase

The set up phrase acknowledges the problem you want to deal with (in this case anxiety surrounding exams) and then follows it with an unconditional affirmation of yourself as a person. Here are some examples:

“Even though I feel this anxiety, I completely accept myself.”

“Even though I’m anxious about my tasting exam, I completely accept myself.”

“Even though I panic when I think about doing the service exam, I deeply and completely accept myself.”

I think you get the idea. Put together a set up phrase that works for you.  You can change it in any number of ways later as you need to.

Doing the set up with the phrase:

With two fingers on one hand tap the Karate Chop point on your other hand. The Karate Chop point is on the outer edge of the hand on the opposite side from the thumb. Repeat the set up statement three times out loud while tapping on the Karate Chop point.

3. Tapping on the Eight Acupressure Points

Now begin tapping the acupressure points in the sequence listed below. Use a firm but gentle pressure when you tap as if you were drumming on the side of your desk or testing a melon for ripeness. Tap with your fingertips and not your fingernails. The tapping sequence begins at the top, works down, and ends by tapping (gently!) on the top of the head. Tap 5-7 times on each of the eight points in the following sequence in the illustration below (from www.thetappingsolution.com). As you tap on each point, repeat a simple reminder phrase, such as “my anxiety” or “my tasting exam” or “the service exam.”

*Personal note: when I do EFT I spend more time on each of the acupressure points and tap about 20 times. Works for me.

Here is more specific information about each of the acupressure points:

1.Eyebrow (EB): the inner edges of the eyebrows, closest to the bridge of the nose. 

2. Side of eye (SE): the hard area between the eye and the temple. Use two fingers. Feel out this area gently so you don’t poke yourself in the eye!

3. Under eye (UE): the hard area under the eye, that merges with the cheekbone.

4. Under nose (UN): the point centered between the bottom of the nose and the upper lip.

5. Chin (CP): this point is right beneath the previous one, and is centered between the bottom of the lower lip and the chin.

6. Collarbone (CB): tap just below the hard ridge of your collarbone with four fingers.

7. Underarm (UA): on your side, about four inches beneath the armpit.

8. Head (TH): back where you started, to complete the sequence.

9. Head (TH): the crown, center, and top of the head.

4. Recalibrating the Issue

Take a deep breath. Now that you’ve completed the tapping sequence focus on your test anxiety again. How intense is it now compared to before doing the tapping sequence? Give it a numerical rating on the same scale you used in the beginning. Note any changes.

If your anxiety is higher than 3-4 do another round of tapping—or several. Keep tapping until the anxiety is as low as you can get it in the moment. You can change your set up statement to take into account efforts to resolve the problem:

“Even though I have some remaining anxiety about the exam, I completely accept myself.”

“Even though I’m still worried about the tasting exam, I completely accept myself.” And so on.

5. Next Step: Targeting Different Criteria with EFT:

Now that you’ve had a chance to play with the basic EFT recipe it’s time to delve a bit deeper. We’ve started by tapping on the simple “fear factor” connected to exams. I’d like you now to be more thorough about the different sensory criteria around any anxiety connected to exams. In particular, tap on anything visual, any sounds or conversations, and any other feelings (doubt etc.) you may have surrounding taking MS exams or any exams for that matter. Tap on each criteria separately adjusting your set up phrase as needed and get the number as close to one as possible. 

*If you’ve not been able to get your recalibration number down to below three, it might be a good idea to ask yourself the following:

“What stops or prevents me from getting the number even lower?”

The answer may be any number of things: a source of stress in your life right now (job, living situation or a person) or a previous bad exam experience—an MS exam or other. Tap on whatever it is separately with the appropriate set up phrase and get the number as low as possible. Then go back to your original statement, go through the tapping sequence, and recalibrate. Odds are your number will be noticeably lower. 

6. Further Tips:

Here are some tips/reminders:

· Remember to calibrate your anxiety/nervousness around exams on a one to ten scale before you start tapping

· Set up phrase: be specific in targeting your phrase as in:

“Even though I get really nervous even thinking about the exam, I completely accept who I am.”

“Even though I do well in tasting practices I get really nervous in the exam, I totally accept who I am.”

“Even though _______ examiner really makes me nervous, I completely accept who I am.” 

“Even though I got really nervous and didn’t do well in my last service exam, I totally accept who I am.”

· Remember to use a key word or phrase as you tap through the sequence of eight acupressure points. It could be something like “test anxiety” or “tasting exam nerves” or whatever.

· Gently tap a minimum of 10 times on each acupressure point (I do about 20 and go through the sequence three times)

· Once you’re through tapping be sure to stop, take a deep breath, and recalibrate the scale again. Note if it’s changed and if so, how much. 

· Be sure to separate exactly what makes you nervous about the exam—even if it’s as basic as fear of failure. That’s a good one to start with in a session.

7. Core Beliefs:

After you’ve had a chance to work with EFT surrounding your exam experiences/worries, it’s useful to consider looking at some very core issues.  Consider the following phrases:

“I am more than enough.”

“I am worthy to pass the exam.”

“I deserve to pass the exam if I study and do the work.”

I suggest you say those three out loud or at the very least to yourself. If you get any emotional charge at all with any of the three you need to do some rounds of EFT on them. In fact, I would strongly suggest doing EFT on them until saying all of them feels right internally. All three are core beliefs and any emotional charge associated to them could potentially create an internal conflict and make it more difficult to perform well in both studying and the actual exam. 


I strongly recommend picking up a copy of “The Tapping Solution,” by Nick Ortner. It goes into EFT in much greater detail. Ortner’s website is also a very good resource for everything EFT:


Have fun with it!