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Exam Prep and Anxiety Management for Certified Food Protection Managers

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Trust20 Contributors • 13 minute read

As a manager in the foodservice industry, passing an accredited Certified Food Protection Manager (CFPM) exam is essential to your success. It can also be incredibly stressful and anxiety-inducing. Fear not, though–you don't have to go through this alone!

Multiple resources are available to help you prepare for your exam and manage your anxiety. Read on to learn about some tried, true, and tested resources to help you pass your next food manager exam with flying colors. 

In this article, we will cover:

Test Anxiety: A Recipe for Disaster

What to Do Before the Test to Manage Your Anxiety

How to Manage Anxiety During a Test

Other Resources for Exam Prep

Test Anxiety: A Recipe for Disaster

Test anxiety is a common phenomenon that many people experience, regardless of age, profession, or intellectual ability.

It is usually associated with an intense fear of failing exams, interviews, or performance evaluations. If left unchecked, test anxiety can severely impact your physical health, emotional well-being, and, ultimately, your professional success.

If you think you might be experiencing test anxiety, there are several signs to watch out for. The signs of test anxiety can include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed

  • Being easily distracted

  • Having negative self-talk

  • Struggling to concentrate

  • Nausea 

  • Headaches

  • Muscle tension

  • Sweating

  • Shaking

  • Rapid heartbeat

You may avoid testing situations entirely - or become excessively preoccupied with preparing for the test. 

You may experience all or just a few of these signs and symptoms. They can interfere with academic and career success, so getting help is essential.

Several factors, including past experiences, thought patterns and personality traits can contribute to test anxiety. People who have had negative experiences with tests, such as failing or scoring lower than expected, may develop a fear of repeating those unpleasant experiences. 

Others may have unrealistic expectations of themselves or be overly critical of their performance, leading to constant worry and self-doubt. 

Perfectionism and a lack of self-confidence can also contribute to test anxiety, as can physical or emotional stressors such as sleep deprivation, illness, or personal problems.

While some levels of nervousness may actually improve test performance by increasing alertness, focus, and motivation, too much anxiety can be detrimental. 

When anxiety levels become too high, they can interfere with memory, attention, and reasoning, making it difficult to recall information, think clearly, and solve problems effectively.

What to Do Before the Exam to Manage Your Anxiety

A passing score on a Certified Food Protection Manager is a critical step for someone looking to advance their career in the foodservice industry. While preparing for the exam can be overwhelming, dealing with the accompanying anxiety can be even more challenging. If you're one of those who experience test anxiety, it's essential to take action to optimize your performance.

Read on for some tips and resources you can tap into before your exam to help you manage your anxiety. 

Look at the Test Format and What You Need for a Passing Score 

Familiarizing yourself with the test format and knowing what you need for a passing score can help manage test anxiety. 

Find out as much as you can about the exam's structure, including how much time you have, how many questions you'll need to answer, and the passing score that might be required.

Learn About the Types of Questions That Will Be on the Exam

Knowing the types of questions that will be on the exam can also help reduce test anxiety. You can get this information from the exam's official website and review materials. 

Understanding how questions are phrased and structured can help you manage your time and boost your confidence during the exam.

Ask Yourself - Can You Retake the Exam? 

It is generally common to only have one attempt to pass an accredited Certified Food Protection Manager Exam. However, if you fail the exam on the first try, most providers will share a breakdown of the topics you'll need to concentrate on to improve before your next attempt. 

While retakes are uncommon, many providers offer training courses and practice exams that help you review critical information and simulate taking your exam.

Gather Information About State and Local Regulations 

The FDA provides federal food safety guidelines, but food safety regulations for the certification process generally differ across states and localities. 

For example, to become a certified food protection manager in New York State, you must complete eight hours of training through an approved provider, but passing an exam is only optional (though beneficial).

Understanding the laws that apply to the state you intend to work in is important. Being aware of these requirements can increase your level of confidence while taking the exam. 

Reach out to relevant regulatory agencies or professional associations, as well as the testing organization, and ask for advice or study materials. A solid understanding of what the rules are can put you at ease during the exam since you might not need a perfect score - just a good enough passing score.

Talk to Someone

Talking to someone is one of the most effective ways to manage pre-test anxiety. Whether it's a family member, a friend, or a counselor, sharing your thoughts and feelings can help you feel more relaxed and less stressed about your upcoming exam. 

Speaking to someone you trust and who understands your situation is important. Talking about your exam-related worries can be cathartic and can help you view things through a different lens.

Don't Cram at the Last Minute - Have a Solid Study Plan in Place

One of the biggest mistakes students make is leaving all their studying until the last minute, which inevitably leads to more stress and anxiety. 

If you create a solid study plan and stick to it, you'll be less likely to feel overwhelmed with the amount of material you need to cover. 

Breaking up your studying into manageable chunks and setting achievable goals can help you feel more in control. Having a plan in place leaves you with ample time for revision and makes you feel more confident in your knowledge.

If you're not sure where to start, here are some sample study plans you might consider:

Remember that long periods of studying can be tedious and detrimental to your ability to retain information. 

You may find that studying in 50-minute blocks with 10-minute activity or nutrition breaks is most helpful. The 50/10 rule is effective in enhancing productivity and keeping your brain active. 

Use these breaks to stretch, take a walk, eat, drink, or complete a small, non-studying-related task. These breaks will help you refocus and give you the stamina required to keep going.

Try the Pomodoro Method for Studying

The Pomodoro method is a time management technique that encourages you to break your work up into smaller intervals or blocks of time, typically 25 minutes, separated by a five-minute break. 

Suppose you feel anxious about the amount of knowledge you need to cover in a particular subject during your study sessions. 

In that case, the Pomodoro technique could make your study sessions more manageable and less daunting. Breaking your studies into shorter intervals and taking short breaks can help refresh your energy levels and enhance your focus.

SQ3R Method/PQ4R Method

One effective strategy for reducing anxiety before an exam is using a structured study approach. 

The SQ3R (Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review) and PQ4R (Preview, Question, Read, Reflect, Recite, and Review) methods provide a framework for organizing your study materials and comprehending the content. 

By breaking up the information into smaller segments and absorbing it bit by bit, you reduce the risk of information overload and increase retention, boosting your confidence in the process.

If You Need Accommodations, Ask for Them 

If you have any disability or other medical condition (including diagnosed anxiety) that affects your test-taking abilities, you may be eligible for testing accommodations

Learn more about the accommodations available and how to apply for them. Examples of accommodations include extended time, a quiet testing environment, or assistive technology.

Recognize Your Anxiety Triggers and Address Them

Everyone experiences anxiety differently. You may feel nervous about taking a test due to visual triggers, auditory triggers, thoughts, or physical feelings. Identifying your triggers and addressing them beforehand can help reduce anxiety before and during the examination. 

If you are prone to visual triggers, avoid looking at your peers during the test. If you are affected by auditory triggers, bring noise-canceling headphones to create a quiet bubble around you. 

Positive self-talk can also help counter pessimistic thoughts while breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation can reduce physical tension (more on this below).

It's easy to fall into negative thought patterns when you're feeling anxious. Instead, try to reframe your negative thoughts into positive ones. For instance, instead of thinking, "I can't do this," try thinking, "I've studied hard for this exam, and I'm ready to do my best." Reminding yourself of your strengths can help you confidently approach the test.

Try Visualization 

Visualization is a powerful tool many athletes and professionals use to help them achieve their goals. Visualization involves creating a mental picture of what you want to achieve. 

Before your test, visualize yourself, sitting down, feeling calm and confident as you answer each question to the best of your ability. This exercise can help reduce your pre-test jitters and put you in a more relaxed frame of mind.

Give Meditation a Try

Meditation is another technique that can help calm your nerves before a big test. 

Find a quiet place to sit and focus on your breath, inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring your focus back to your breath. Meditation can help ease your anxiety and increase your overall sense of well-being.

Here are five meditation techniques you can try before and even during the exam to help you stay grounded.

Do a Dress Rehearsal

If you're taking a proctored exam at a test center, it's a good idea to do a dress rehearsal before test day. 

Drive to the exam site and take note of the route, parking, and entrance. Doing a practice exam at the test center can help familiarize yourself with the testing environment and put you more at ease on test day.

Understand That Online Test-Taking is Different

If you're taking an online exam, it's important to understand that test-taking differs from traditional paper-based exams. 

Make sure you have the software and computer requirements installed on your computer. Close all unnecessary applications and disable your pop-up blocker. 

Ready your test-taking space, including a quiet and well-lit area where you won't be disturbed. 

Read and reread all instructions before beginning your exam. And, of course, be sure to have a plan in case of technical difficulties.

Here are some more general tips for online test-taking.

Take Care of Yourself Physically

Taking good care of yourself physically leading up to and on the day before the exam can dramatically improve your performance - and help reduce any test anxiety you feel. 

Get a good night's rest the night before the exam so you wake up feeling refreshed and energized. 

Exercise is an excellent way to relieve stress and tension, so try to get outside for a walk or do some light yoga to relax. Drink plenty of water and eat a nutritious breakfast to help nourish your body and maintain stable blood sugar levels.

Plan a Reward for After the Exam

Having something positive to look forward to can be a powerful motivator to help you manage test anxiety. 

Plan a reward so you have something to look forward to after the exam. It doesn't have to be complicated–it can be as simple as treating yourself to your favorite lunch or relaxing with your friends or family.

How to Manage Anxiety During Your Test

Most people find that their anxiety ramps up during–and not before–a test. As you might expect, having some strategies in place to manage your anxiety on test day is just as important (if not more so) than doing the prep work beforehand. Here are some tips. 

Get to the Test Site Early 

One reason test anxiety is common is due to the fear factor. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of running out of time, fear of noise outside the test room, fear of stress, and so on. To tackle this, it's best to get to the test site early, if you're taking an exam outside of your home. 

This enables you to familiarize yourself with the environment, settle down, and acquaint yourself with the surroundings. Arriving early will help reduce the anxiety that comes with navigating a new environment. Doing so not only helps you feel more cool and confident but also lets you prepare and perform better.

Adjust Your Attitude

Positive thinking helps to reduce anxiety in test-taking. One effective way to adjust your attitude is by facing the test head-on like a challenge, instead of a source of anxiety. 

Define the most challenging aspect of the exam and decide to tackle them step by step. Focus on your strengths, don't be intimidated by others' abilities, and concentrate on your own progress. Remember, you are better than the anxiety that tries to bring you down.

Change Unhelpful Thoughts

Negative thinking sends us into an anxiety spiral. We begin thinking about awful outcomes and focus on everything that could go wrong. Text anxiety can cause us to compare our results to others and forget about our strengths. 

Instead of thinking about how bad you'll do, flip that thought and imagine yourself succeeding. Think about your skills and your ability to do a great job. When you practice positive self-talk, believing in yourself is easier, even when battling anxiety.

Wear a Watch to Monitor Your Time (if Allowed by the Proctor)

Many tests come with strict time restrictions, which adds to test anxiety, especially when people struggle with time management. 

Wearing a watch helps you keep track of the time and gives you a sense of control over the test. This reduces the anxiety tied to failing to finish the questions in time or rushing through them. It also enables you to anticipate how much time you have ahead of time, helping you control the situation more.

Ensure you check the rules before you take your exam–and even if you’re not allowed to wear a watch, your proctor and/or the testing platform should provide you with updates about how much time you have remaining in your exam session.

Use Progressive Relaxation Techniques

Progressive relaxation techniques can help calm your mind and reduce tension. First, find a comfortable spot, take deep breaths, and focus on relaxing your muscles from head to toe.

You can start to practice progressive relaxation ahead of time, even before the exam starts. Trying using an app like "Calm,"  "Headspace," or "Aura" to help guide you. 

Wear Layered Clothing to Control Your Temperature

Wearing layered clothing can help regulate your body temperature, which can help regulate your emotions. Comfortable clothing can go a long way in calming your nerves and ensuring you're prepared for any temperature changes during your exam.

Do a "Memory Dump" of Information You're Afraid You'll Forget

Worried about forgetting the answers? 

Once the test starts, take a moment to "memory dump" everything you wrote on paper or flashcards. This technique helps free up mental space, and you can refer to these notes later to help jog your memory. 

**Please note that proctoring rules vary, but if you verify that a piece of paper is blank before the exam begins, you should be allowed to have at least one sheet of paper available to you for a memory dump.**

If Possible, Start With Questions You Know

It's easy to get flustered during a test, so it's best to start off with questions you know well if the exam format allows you to skip around a bit. Getting a few answers right can help you build momentum, and alleviate anxiety. 

**Please note that online testing platforms may not allow you to skip around. Confirm with your proctor whether or not this is an option before your exam begins.**

Take 30-Second Mini Breaks

Take a moment to roll out your neck and shoulders and relax your jaw. Moving around can increase blood flow, reduce anxiety, and help you refocus. Keep these breaks short, around 20-30 seconds, so you don't lose concentration. 

Practice Deep Breathing

Close your eyes, inhale deeply through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat this process for two to four cycles, and you should notice yourself becoming more relaxed. 

Give Yourself a Reality Check

Finally, before going into an exam, remind yourself, "It’s just a test." Although it's important, it's not life or death - your life doesn't depend on it. Put things into perspective and keep a positive mindset. This technique can help you feel more in control and better equipped to manage exam anxiety.

Other Resources for Exam Prep

As you might expect, the best way to reduce test anxiety is to make sure you're as prepared for the test as possible. Taking a training course, particularly one that includes a practice exam can provide you with the right study materials to feel confident on exam day.

It can be tough to know just how much to push yourself as you're studying and prepping for an exam, but ultimately, know that you can't be over-prepared. How much you choose to study will come down to your available time and willingness to commit to your studies. 

Ultimately, the best way to reduce exam anxiety is simply to be prepared. And trust us–you've got this!

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