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MCAT Meltdown – Dealing with Test Anxiety

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch April 1, 2015

Testing for the new MCAT begins this month, on April 17th to be exact. Testing will go through September. You can see the full 2015 testing calendar here. If you are a registered test taker, you have undoubtedly been spending a good portion of your time studying and preparing.

For many test takers, the hours spent not studying are consumed by another activity – worry. Many people experience nervousness in preparation for an exam and especially on test day. Surprisingly, moderate levels of stress can actually be helpful. In preparation for the exam, it can help motivate you to study.

On test day, you can get a boost of adrenaline which can actually help you feel more mentally alert and can help you perform better. Problems arise though when this fear becomes excessive and debilitating. Like more general forms of anxiety, test anxiety is categorized as a psychological condition.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, test anxiety can cause emotional symptoms (fear & anger) as well as physical symptoms like nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, light-headedness, and a shortness of breath. These physical symptoms can trigger a panic attack.

The behavioral/cognitive symptoms that arise from test anxiety often include negative thoughts and a difficulty concentrating. If you know you are prone to anxiety, especially test anxiety, then you will need to adopt coping mechanisms to help you throughout your MCAT experience.

Use your own tried and true methods, while keeping these tips in mind.


  • Maintain a balanced schedule - Study and prepare but don’t spend all of your time focusing on the MCAT as it will only serve to stress you out even more.
  • Keep healthy – Eat right, exercise and get plenty of sleep. It will be more difficult to combat stress and anxiety if you are overtired and sick.
  • Look at the big picture – Your entire self-worth is not dependent on this one exam and if it doesn’t go well, you will have other chances. Putting undue pressure on the situation will only create more stress.
  • It matters what you tell yourself – Instead of saying “I’m nervous,” say “I’m excited.” This can help transform some of the anxiety and in reality, you are excited because taking this test is moving you forward to where you want to go.
  • Practice relaxation techniques – Dr. Andrew Weil swears by a breathing technique which has been described as a natural tranquilizer. Try 4-7-8. Breathe in for four counts, hold for seven counts and the release the breath with your mouth open and hold the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth for eight counts. Repeat this three times.

Managing anxiety ON TEST DAY:

  • Utilize relaxation techniques – It’s time to use the techniques you practiced! Take calming deep breaths and say to yourself “All shall be well. All matters of things shall be well.” Research on meditation has shown that the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain in charge of abstract thinking and critical analysis, responds to positive slogans, exercise and mindfulness.
  • Take a pause – If you begin to panic on test day, then allow yourself a quick break and to breathe and regroup.
  • Focus on you – Test anxiety often comes from dysfunctional cognitive-behavioral patterns, like comparing yourself to others. Do your best to concentrate on YOU!

If you have strategies for managing test anxiety, please comment below!

4 Powerful Questions

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch April 8, 2015

Are you feeling stuck? Are you looking to recharge some aspect of your career and/or life? Here are four powerful questions to ask yourself:

1.  What is a chance event that you wish would happen to you?

2.  What can you do now to increase the likelihood of that desirable event?

3.  How would your life change if you acted?

4.  How would your life change if you did nothing?

To learn more about these questions, continue reading a post from the OITE Career Blog originally published in May 2010.


Post written by: Anne Kirchgessner, LCPC, NCC, Career Counselor

Feeling stuck in your current job? Not sure what your next career step is? Here are some tips to help you make your own good luck and take advantage of both planned and unplanned career opportunities.

John Krumboltz, a noted career development theorist, considers ways to take advantage of both chance and planned events.

He calls this concept Happenstance Learning Theory. His work takes into account that the careers of most people have been impacted by chance happenings as well as planned events.

In a recent article in the Journal of Career Assessment (Vol. 17, No. 2, May 2009), Krumboltz writes:

“No one can predict the future – everyone’s career is influenced by many unplanned events.”

He encourages people to remain open to exploring opportunities in order to move ahead in a positive way toward their goals.

The three steps Krumboltz suggests in controlling unplanned events are:

1. Before the unplanned event, take actions that position you to experience it.

Application: Be active in many ways. Join walking groups, attend professional meetings, start a book club, etc.

2. During the event, remain alert and sensitive to recognize potential opportunities.

Application: Keep your mind open to meeting people and finding new opportunities ALL the time, not just at career-related events.

3. After the event, initiate actions that enable you to benefit from it.

Application: Follow up, keep in touch, explore related opportunities.

Rather than say something like "I can't do this because..." he suggests asking: “How can I act now to increase the chance of a desirable future event?”

Following are four questions that Krumboltz poses that may help you to look ahead in a more positive way to explore a new or future direction:

1. What is a chance event that you wish would happen to you?

e.g. someone might say "I want to meet someone involved in public policy."

2. How can you act now to increase the chance of a desirable future event?

e.g. “I could join a group affiliated with this field, and/or search on LinkedIn for people currently working in public policy.”

3. How would your life change if you acted?

e.g.  “I would learn more about public policy and probably make some good contacts in the field.”

4. How would your life change if you did nothing?

e.g. “Hard to say for sure…” (But it’s likely that you could miss some opportunities to explore and move ahead toward your goals)

Answering these questions might give you more knowledge and the flexibility to take advantage of chance opportunities.

Krumboltz also believes that the goal of career counseling is to help people “learn to take actions to achieve more satisfying career and personal lives - not just make a single career decision.”

Equal Pay Day

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch April 14, 2015
Today, April 14, is 2015's Equal Pay Day. This date (104 days into 2015) symbolizes how far into the current year in addition to the entire previous year women need to work in order to earn the same amount that men earned during the prior year. That is roughly 21 weeks of extra work for equal pay. A pay gap exists in nearly every industry -- even in high-paying STEM fields, women are shortchanged. pay-gap-in-STEM-01-infographic EQUAL PAY ACT OF 1963 When President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, a woman made 59 cents in comparison to the dollar a man made. Fifty-two years later, there has only been a 19 cents improvement. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average, women now make 78 cents per dollar in comparison to men for the same work. Although, according to the National Women’s Law Center, this gap is even worse for women of color. African American women earn only 64 cents and Latina women earn only 55 cents for each dollar earned by males. The National Committee on Pay Equity has a chart of the wage gap over time. While the gap is closing, it is moving at very slow rate. Some will argue that women tend to choose different jobs and that more women work in lower-paid occupations. Another argument is that women often leave the workforce during their working prime and/or they cut back to part-time diminishing their earning potential. However, even when these factors are equalized a pay gap of about 9% persists. LILLY LEDBETTER FAIR PAY ACT OF 2009 Lilly Ledbetter was one of the few female supervisors at a Goodyear Tire plant in Alabama. She worked there for close to two decades eventually retiring in 1998. However, after receiving an anonymous note revealing the salary of three of her male counterparts, she filed an EEOC complaint. Her case went to trial and due to the severe pay discrimination she suffered, she was awarded $3.3 million dollars. Her case eventually reached the Supreme Court, where it was denied because she did not file suit within 180 days of her first paycheck. Ledbetter will never receive this restitution from Goodyear. She is quoted as saying, “I’ll be happy if the last thing they say about me after I die is that I made a difference.” She did and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill President Obama signed into law. It works to give people who experience pay discrimination more time to file a complaint. With all of this history in mind, it is important to remember that the pay gap still exists today. Even the recent Sony email hacking revealed pay disparity amongst Hollywood’s leading male and female actors. So, what can you do to help? Recommendations for companies and policy makers can be found here and here. However, on an individual level, improved negotiation skills can help close the pay gap as well. One can learn strategies in order to help better negotiate and advocate for fair pay on their behalf.

Best Regards, Your Email Sign Off

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch April 21, 2015
Dear OITE Career Blog Readers, Writing effective and professional e-mail correspondence is an important skill to master early on in your career. The OITE has created a comprehensive guide on “How to Write Effective Professional Email” to help guide you, but there are many sections where one can go awry, including: subject line, greeting and the actual body of the email. Today though, we will focus on email closings and signature blocks. What’s in an e-mail sign-off? To many, those few final words are extremely important and tricky to get right. Your closing is often where relationships, hierarchies, and your overall tone is established and/or clarified. Here are some common possibilities (from most formal to informal):
  • Sincerely,
  • Thank you in advance.
  • Best regards,
  • Kind regards,
  • Warm regards,
  • Fondly,
  • Enjoy your weekend!
  • Cheers!
Generally, within a professional setting, you should work to maintain the highest level of formality, until otherwise signaled from your recipient. One could argue that the worst faux pas of an email closing would be to come off as too familiar too quickly. The following closings are acceptable if you are emailing your partner (romantic, not business), friends, or family; however, should never be used in professional correspondence:
  • xoxo,
  • Love,
  • Hugs,
  • Take it easy…{insert bro, dude, and any other casual identifier}
  • Any smiley face emoticon [:-) or emoji
Another way to quickly come across as unprofessional is to have a signature block with information that is not related to your line of work. Common mistakes include:
  • Quotes from Gandhi or some other inspirational figure
  • Biblical verses
  • Using work email to campaign for a political candidate or cause
  • Using too many different colors and styles of font
  • Including every possible way the reader can be in touch with you
  • Here is an example of what NOT to do:Screen shot image of an email signature
Quite commonly in our e-mail culture, business messages quickly evolve from formal to informal within a few back-and-forth messages. Everybody has their own e-mail style and opinion on preferred closings. It can be interesting to see how small variations like the insertion of an exclamation point instead of a comma can change the tone. More important to note is how these subtle nuances trigger different opinions. Forbes published an article on “89 Ways to Sign Off on an Email”, and staff writer, Susan Adams, elicited help from business etiquette consultants, technology writers and career development authors for a variety of perspectives. Read the full article to see the complete list, but here are some highlights:
  • Best– This is the most ubiquitous. It’s widely accepted. I recommend it highly and so do the experts. OITE response: Widely used, but depending on the tone of the rest of the email, this can also come across as rude or a curt brush off.
  • Best Regards– More formal than the ubiquitous “Best.” I use this occasionally.
  • Thanks- Lett says this is a no-no. “This is not a closing. It’s a thank-you,” she insists. I disagree. Forbes Leadership Editor Fred Allen uses it regularly and I think it’s an appropriate, warm thing to say. I use it too.
  • Thanks!– This rubs me the wrong way because I used to have a boss who ended every email this way. She was usually asking me to perform a task and it made her sign-off seem more like a stern order, with a forced note of appreciation, than a genuine expression of gratitude. But in the right context, it can be fine.
  • Thank you– More formal than “Thanks.” I use this sometimes.
  • Thank you!– This doesn’t have the same grating quality as “Thanks!” The added “you” softens it.
  • Rushing– This works when you really are rushing and may have made typos or written abbreviated sentences. It expresses humility and regard for the recipient. OITE response: Is this really necessary? Be careful of what you send in haste.
  • Your name– Terse but just fine in many circumstances. Probably not a good idea for an initial email. OITE response: Disagree – sometimes you just do not need one!
  • High five from down low– A colleague shared this awful sign-off which is regularly used by a publicist who handles tech clients. An attempt to sound cool, which fails.
  • Sent from my iPhone– This may be the most ubiquitous sign-off. It used to bother me but I realize that it explains brevity and typos. I’ve erased it from my iPhone signature because I don’t like to freight my emails with extra words, and in many instances I don’t want the recipient to know I’m not at my desk. But maybe I should restore it. The same goes for automated messages on other devices. OITE response: Go to your setting and turn this off; nobody needs to know you are sending email from your blackberry or smartphone.
  • Typos courtesy of my iPhone– Slightly clever but it’s gotten old. Better to use the automated message.
  • Sent from a prehistoric stone tablet– I laughed the first time I read it but then the joke wore thin.
  • Yours Truly– I don’t like this. It makes me feel like I’m ten years old and getting a note from a pen pal in Sweden.
What do you think? What is your go-to email sign-off? Leave a comment below.   Thank you for being a valued reader, Yours in career development, Wishing you all the best, OITE Career Blog

6 Writing Rules

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch April 29, 2015

George Orwell was an English novelist, essayist and journalist; among some of his most famous works are the novels 1984, Animal Farm and Down and Out in Paris and London. He outlined six rules for better writing in his essay “Politics and the English Language.” He noted “But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails.” The following rules will cover most cases:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Orwell encouraged you to ask yourself: “What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?” Overused phrases like “leave no stone unturned” or “toe the line” often fall flat because they are so common.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do. It is great to have a robust vocabulary, but don’t fall into the trap of trying to find fancy synonyms for all of your words. Many break this rule when writing personal statements or cover letters in an attempt to impress the reader.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Clear and concise writing often doesn’t happen in the first draft. You will need to edit, edit, and then edit some more.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active. Writers frequently break this rule, especially when writing resume bullets. An active voice is better because it is often shorter and more powerful. Not sure of the difference between an active voice and passive voice? Here is an example.  Passive: The boy was bitten by the dog. Active: The dog bit the boy.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. This rule applies to non-academic writing because obviously scientific literature and publications will contain highly specific and technical language. For non-academic writing, it is important to follow this rule so that a layperson can understand.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. This last rule seems to be tacked on as a reminder to use your common sense about the application of the first five rules. Also, it seems Orwell could have followed rule #2 more closely and found another word for barbarous.

NOTE: Orwell applied the rules to politicians and political speak. You might be interested in his thoughts. Whether you are writing a personal statement, a cover letter or simply just an email, try these rules out. Let us know what you think? What are some of your rules for writing well?