Just when you think it’s all over, there is one more mountain to climb: passing the EPPP to become a licensed psychologist. My journey to this path was arduous, unpredictable, and a great learning experience. In fact, I believe failing the EPPP made me a better person.

Why do I say this? Because it reminded me that I am just as smart, worthy, and deserving to become a licensed psychologist as anyone else. Even though I failed the test the first time I took it, I was not and will never be a failure.  My failure reminded me that I am a conqueror who can overcome any obstacle I set my mind to.

A Bigger Vision

I worked as a school psychologist for five years before going back to graduate school to pursue a PhD in psychology. There was a 12-year gap between the time I completed my master’s degree and when I completed my doctoral studies. As a practicing school psychologist, even though I had used common psychological techniques I learned over my years of study, I forgot many of the specific theories that I learned in college, and in many ways, it was like starting over again.

I decided to return to graduate school again because I wanted more. Don’t get me wrong, school psychology is a great field and being a school psychologist is not only rewarding mentally – in that every day I went to work, I had an opportunity to positively impact the lives of children and families – but it was tangibly reinforcing as well. Since school psychologists are often on the same schedule as other educators in school, I had a chance to enjoy many of the extended holidays students enjoy.

However, I had a bigger vision for my life. I wanted more autonomy of being able to practice independently and privately, and the bureaucracy of school districts can be somewhat annoying at times, along with the glass ceiling that exists within the field. So, I was highly motivated not only to complete a doctorate degree in psychology but also to become an independent and fully licensed psychologist.

Positivity and Confidence

I knew that the journey would be tough, but little did I know at the onset that achieving my goal was more about a positive mindset, confidence, and a belief in myself more than simply regurgitating every single fact in psychology – from the first day of my undergraduate psychology class until the last final exam taken for my doctoral studies. 

Letting Go of Failure

I’m sure you have heard of the acronym and the quote created by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam: F.A.I.L., or First Attempt in Learning. In my opinion, this acronym describes how there are so many valuable lessons in mere attempts, whether successful or unsuccessful, if one is open to learning the lessons and embracing failure with poise.

But why should we embrace failure? I had no idea how failing a test could shape my worldview. In my failure, I learned that I could inspire others, give them hope, and be a mentor by advising them of what to do as well as what not to do. What most people do not understand is that the latter statement is just as critical as the former statement. Oftentimes, especially as students, we focus so wholeheartedly on not making errors, getting good grades, excelling, competing, pushing forward by any means necessary.

However, oftentimes, we fail to embrace the failure. Embracing the failure is letting go of perfection and allowing ourselves to let go of our egos and open up to all opportunities and possibilities. Both times taking the EPPP, I shelled out almost $1,400 just to sign up to take the test, not including the hundreds of dollars in application fees from the state psychology credentialing board, thousands of dollars spent on study materials, late nights, early mornings and weekends spent studying material, and taking and retaking practice test after practice test.

I thought about giving up on my dream the first time I failed. After begrudgingly strolling to the printer, at the end of the four-hour fiasco to pick up my unofficial failing test score, I felt frustrated, angry, and disempowered, and I wondered if it was all worth it.

What I Did After Failing

Initially, I threw myself a pity party, made excuses for my failure, and then invited everyone who cared to listen to my pity party. Then I rationalized my failure and began telling myself “rational lies.” I thought to myself, “You’ve done a lot, Dr. Darwin; look at what you’ve accomplished! From a little Black girl from the ghetto in southeast Tennessee who had a dream at eight years old to become a doctor to attaining her doctorate degree while working full time – you have nothing left to prove!” However, I could not believe my own rational lies for very long, so I disinvited myself to my own pity party and made a definitive decision.

Proving Myself Wrong

I had something to prove to the most important person in my life: myself. I had to continue with perseverance, determination, and faith until the goal was accomplished. I had to change my mindset and believe in myself that I was worthy in achieving my ultimate goal, no matter how big or impossible it seemed.

I had to buy the belief that thousands of people before me passed the EPPP, and none of them were more knowledgeable, intelligent, competent, or a better practitioner than me. I had to believe in borrowing the belief of my mentors until I fully believed in myself. I had to block out and reframe all of my negativistic cognitive distortions and look myself in the mirror every day after arduous study sessions and tell myself that I am already a licensed psychologist; I’m simply waiting for reality to catch up with my beliefs. Okay, so I might have been slightly delusional, but it worked!

Coaching Others After Failing Myself

These beliefs have allowed me to coach others recently on passing the EPPP. A friend of mine allowed life to get in the way for many years; she was a wife and a mother as she worked as a school psychologist, and she never took the EPPP. In knowing my background, including the large gap between my graduate studies and the fact that I failed initially, when she discovered I passed, she wanted to know how I did it.

The questions everyone asks on the surface are: “What’s the best study material? How much should I study? How long will it take me to become a licensed psychologist?” These are all the wrong questions to ask. In reality, the right questions should be, “Do I have enough belief in myself, and do I have enough courage to accomplish my dream and finish what I started?”

It truly takes courage to fall down, fail your way to success, and get back up again for another day to fight for your dream.

What Education and Our Professional Work Teaches Us

In our many years of education, we learn that failure is a “bad” or negative concept. Some even believe in our therapeutic relationships with clients that if we fail to foster therapeutic change within a certain timeframe, it indicates that we have failed our clients.  Or that it results in the disintegration of the therapeutic alliance.

However, in psychological work, and especially in addiction, we often reference hitting “rock bottom.” We rejoice in the breakthrough and “a-ha” moments when all of the pieces congeal in the client’s mind and the client decides to move forward to lead their own recovery.

I argue that every major feat in life is accomplished in the same manner. We are faced with failure on a regular basis. Our character is not built upon how we manage successes. Rather, it is based on how we manage disappointments and failures, and on our ability to overcome those disappointments, to learn from the experience, and to use those experiences to help others.

May my story of failing the EPPP help you create a mindset of belief in yourself that anything is possible, so that you won’t have to experience the actual experience of failing the EPPP but learn vicariously through my experience. 

If you have failed the EPPP and have not reattempted the test due to a fear of failure, don’t allow negative attributions to keep you down. Take one more huge and courageous leap of faith, believe in yourself and your higher power (if you have one), and know that your dream to become a licensed psychologist is not only possible but is unique and your own because you have a special contribution that only you can share with the world. I personally believe miracles are manifested through people; there may be a client in this world where only you can be the conduit to create positive and lifelong change. 

Other Tips That Helped Me Pass the EPPP

Find Study Materials That Fit Your Style.

Ask colleagues, former classmates, chat groups, bloggers, mentors, professionals in the field, and whoever else you know who has successfully passed the EPPP what helped them the most. Ask them about their perceptions of the particular strengths and weaknesses of the study materials they used. Also, find a program that incorporates test-taking strategies. 

Budget Your Money and Time.

Make sure you create a financial and time budget to purchase the material and allow adequate time to integrate the material into your DNA. If the study program offers a free sample, take advantage of the freebie, order the sample, and play around with it to see if it “fits” for you. 

Make it Personal.

Make the study material “personal” by creating your own pneumonic devices or applying what you learn to your personal life, your current clinical work, the media, or even when conversing with friends and family. When you can explain a complicated concept in your own words, the concept has been incorporated into your intellectual DNA.

Get your family and friends to rally around you to test your intellectual prowess and ask them to quiz you on phenomena they observe in life whether there’s a psychological theory to match their observations.        

Create a Plan and Stick to It.

Write down your goals, because it makes them real. Create a study plan and consistently stick to it. If the study material you select involves a coaching component, follow your coach’s directives. For instance, if your coaching program recommends additional strategies or materials, make the investment in yourself and in your future. 

Simulate the Testing Situation.

Currently, the EPPP is a four-hour computerized test. When taking practice tests, simulate the actual testing situation (including timing) and pretend that every practice situation is the real thing. 

Avoid Cramming.

The night before the test, review the highlights of your study materials once more, then relax your mind and body and rest. The day of the test, eat nutritious, healthy, and filling meals that provide you with energy and brainpower. I recommend incorporating protein into your diet to keep you full and focused.

Breaks are allowed during the EPPP, so you can bring snacks, but the clock never stops running, even during breaks. Don’t allow your physiological needs to interfere with your ability to focus. Practice meditation, relaxation strategies, and mindfulness to stay in the moment. When you are studying, be fully present; likewise, when relaxing and taking breaks, be fully present. 

Celebrate the wins, no matter how small they are. When practice sessions go well, give yourself a small celebration. Create a large celebratory goal not related to your career after you have accomplished passing the EPPP. With that being said, you have to keep up with your progress to know when to celebrate. Therefore, keep track of your progress and improvement in your study skills and practice test scores. 

Visualize your success. Create positive affirmations and vision boards, practice visualization and personal goal setting, and even practice signing your name with your new credential in a personal journal (not on any official documents, of course). Meditate, pray, and practice relaxation strategies. 

Believe in yourself! As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there!”

Caryn Darwin, PhD

Dr. Darwin is a licensed psychologist and a licensed specialist in school psychology with over 15 years of experience in the field of mental health working with youth. She completed her Bachelors, Masters and Education Specialist degrees at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN, and earned her Doctorate degree in School Psychology from Tennessee State University in Nashville, TN in 2016. Prior to moving to Texas to complete an APPIC approved pre-doctoral internship at Rockdale Regional Juvenile Justice Center in 2015, Dr. Darwin worked as a school psychologist in Tennessee for ten years. Dr. Darwin's research and clinical interests include the impact of trauma and ecological factors on social/emotional, behavioral, and academic functioning; advocacy and fostering self-determination in all youth, including those from diverse and multicultural backgrounds; positive behavior intervention supports; restorative justice principles and practices; and, dismantling the school to prison pipeline. She has presented at both state and national conferences on disruptive behavior disorders and crisis intervention and has publications in the National Register of Health Service Psychologists and in the Texas Association of School Psychologists newsletter.

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