The turbulence of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all in many different ways. Many students’ education has been impacted — affecting some more than others. The athletic training BOC exam is a practical exam to assess a student athletic trainer’s knowledge across the five domains of athletic training.
Many students prepare long and hard for this exam, but when the final verdict comes in, it reads ‘F’ for Fail. This failure is disappointing, crushing, and embarrassing. A predominant culture in healthcare is to ‘show no weakness’ or to be viewed as perfect – meaning there is no room for failure at any moment. Failure is considered something to be ashamed of. Healthcare professionals fear this is an attack on their identity, reputation, and self-perception – many find it challenging to separate who they are from their profession. As a result, mistakes, errors, and failures are stigmatized. It’s only a matter of time before those thriving in this culture show signs of burnout.
But failure is a part of life. We all must be comfortable with losing occasionally. So many students beat themselves up, ruminate, or believe they have let everyone down when they experience a failure. Failure is not the end of the world.
Athletic training students tend to be highflyers academically. For many, the BOC exam was or will be the first exam they’d ever failed; it can be a shock to the system and a reality check
When it comes to exam preparation my philosophy is: don’t start too early but don’t start too late — this is 100% applicable to the BOC exam. It is important to peak just in time for the exam. If you peak too early you have to maintain the same consistent effort so you don’t forget things. There’s no point spending longer than is necessary preparing for something and performing just as well if one had spent less time — that is a potential recipe for burnout.
Step 1 – Process your emotions and change your mindset
You’re going to have an emotional response. For some, thoughts such as: ‘I’m not cut out/good enough to be an athletic trainer or ‘Athletic training isn’t for me’ may pop up. Engage with your emotions in so far as they a useful to help you move forward. Give yourself the space to process your disappointment. You may not be used to these emotions, so take your time and slowly detach your feelings from your exam performance. Then, you can start planning your comeback. When your emotions are in check, it’s time to detach them from the situation and view it objectively. Identify the positive aspects of your performance – don’t forget to acknowledge the things you did right. We have a tendency to think negatively, so it might take some effort to see the potential to do better next time. You will regain your self-esteem, get out of your mental rut and be more determined to pass the second time.
Step 2 – Be willing to accept and embrace failure
Eventually, everyone will make mistakes, big or small – that’s a mathematical fact. If you fail, own it. The outcome may have been affected by uncontrollable circumstances.
It’s still up to you and me to turn things around. As soon as you accept this, the greater your chances of success. Don’t worry about what you can’t control, focus on what you can.
It’s not a written or unwritten rule that you should achieve success on your first attempt. Patience is crucial for success.
The main reason we normally succeed after thorough preparation is the fact that the blind spots, which you will always have, don’t significantly affect performance to the point of failure. Blind spots are like microscopic holes in a bicycle tube that you will not notice until your tire suddenly goes flat.
Preparing for BOC exams relies on identifying blind spots, but you can’t prepare for every one of them because human beings are not all-knowing. In boxing philosophy, you get knocked out by a punch you don’t see coming. Understand that you can only do so much preparation, and therefore there is always the possibility of failure.
Step 3 – Talk to others about your failure
It can be difficult to share failures with others since they may be perceived as weakness or imperfection. Failure is nothing to be ashamed of. However difficult it might seem, you should speak to other people about your experience as soon as possible. It normalizes the experience and reminds you that failure is part of the human condition. The sooner you share the experience, the less space it occupies in your mind. Focusing on failure alone can make things seem much worse than they really are. Talking to someone can help you to reframe failure in a more constructive way.
Step 4 – Analyze the problem and identify key weaknesses
You’ve accepted both emotionally and rationally your failure on the BOC exam – now you have to analyze the problem and focus on solving the most critical weaknesses. Learn from your mistakes. The most important thing is to dedicate most of your time to improving your weaknesses; do not think that you failed because you were unlucky and focus on sharpening your strengths and hope that will make up for any weaknesses that contributed to the failure.
Step 5 – Remember you’re not an expert (yet)
Athletic training students are not experts, at least not yet. To become an expert, you need to keep learning over time, which means making mistakes a lot. Learning from failure and mistakes will be your best friend as you progress on the path to expertise. The psychological concept of cognitive dissonance describes how experts and highly trained professionals sometimes fail to accept they’ve made a mistake or downplay its implications. Keep in mind that the path to mastery is filled with potholes you’ll have to jump over from time to time – it’s all part of the game and part of a well-played one. Making mistakes when it doesn’t matter is always better than making them when it matters.
Step 6 – Clear your head and don’t focus on things going wrong (again)
Your weaknesses have been addressed, and you have dealt with retake anxiety. The important thing now is not to give in to your adrenaline. Getting into the zone is a top priority at this point; it’s easy to worry about failing again, especially when the pressure will be at its peak. You won’t learn from your mistakes by worrying about them, and it will only hold you back. Slow down and take your time during the retake.
Athletic Trainers are made, not born. It takes years to develop these skills and they are continually developed over time. The process actually occurs over a lifetime, which is why there is an emphasis on lifelong learning in healthcare. As part of the athletic training curriculum, students are exposed to topics repeatedly so that diagnosis and treatment skills become second nature. In the real world, failure happens far more often than we are led to believe – people just don’t talk about it as much as success. You will be better served throughout your career if you develop a healthy relationship with failure.