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With your doctoral degree in hand and supervised postdoc hours complete, one more hurdle looms large as you approach the end of your licensing journey--the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). You've heard about it for years, but as test day closes in, it can be tough to know what to expect, says Todd Giardina, PhD, a postdoctoral resident in clinical health psychology at the Miami VA Healthcare System, who passed the exam in April.

"A lot of us could use some tips going into this process--if nothing else, to demystify it," Giardina says.

Psychologists who've survived the test--it's really not that bad, they say--dish on how to prepare for this colossal quiz.

  • Tip one: Get acquainted with the EPPP. This computerized exam, developed by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB), consists of 225 multiple-choice questions. You have four hours and 15 minutes to complete the test, and you need to correctly answer about 70 percent of the questions to receive a passing score of 500, according to ASPPB. The total number of correct responses determines your score, so it's in your favor to guess if you don't know the answer. The exam fee is $450, though some states charge additional administrative fees. Also, you must pay a $65 fee to the testing center when you schedule your exam.

As for what the test covers, says Barbara Van Horne, MBA, PhD, ASPPB director of professional affairs, it's essentially everything you learned in grad school.

"The EPPP isn't a test of applied competency," Van Horne says.

"It's a test of your foundational knowledge, so that you can apply it as a psychologist."

  • Tip two: Figure out what you already know-and what you don't. The EPPP poses questions in eight content areas: biological bases of behavior; cognitive-affective bases of behavior; social and multicultural bases of behavior; growth and lifespan development; assessment and diagnosis; treatment, intervention and prevention; research methods and statistics; and ethical, legal and professional issues.

  • Clearly, you'll know some of these areas better than others, Van Horne says.

  • "To help prioritize your studying," she says, "spend more time on the areas you're less certain about." In addition, says Van Horne, visit ASPPB's Web site (www.asppb.org) to see average EPPP scores from former studentsin your program. This will giveyou insight into how well-equipped you might already be.

  • "If past graduates from your program had high scores, you'll know that your program's curriculum probably did a good job preparing you for the test," she says.

  • Tip 3: Take it as soon as possible. Van Horne recommends applying to take the exam as soon as your state allows. In most jurisdictions, you're qualified to sit for the test once you complete the educational requirements for your doctoral degree. Some states, however, including Kentucky, license at the master's level, which allows students to take the EPPP while completing their final doctoral program exams or internship, she says. To find out your state's rules, visit ASPPB's Web site for links to local jurisdictions. But no matter what your state allows, the closer to your graduate training you take the exam, the higher your score is most likely to be, as evidenced by doctoral program reports on exam scores generated by past EPPP administrations.

  • "It's wise to take it early, and not often," Van Horne says. The general rule, according to ASPPB, is that you're allowed to take the exam up to four times in any 12-month period, but different jurisdictions may have slightly different rules. ASPPB recommends taking at least two months between test dates to sufficiently prepare for a re-test.

Early-career psychologists recommend that you begin preparing for the exam at least four months in advance, though the amount of time you need will depend on your comfort level with the material, your personal study habits and the amount of time you can devote to studying.

"I started preparing about six months in advance, getting more serious as time drew nearer," says Giardina.

  • Tip 4: Practice, practice, practice. Preparatory books, flashcards, software and workshops abound, but the best study source, say early-career psychologists, is practice exams. Rather than parsing through bulky review books, Giardina suggests spending most of your time taking practice tests and reviewing past test questions because they best approximate the test situation. For $75, ASPPB offers 250 retired questions from previous versions of the EPPP, along with an answer key and reference list. The packet is available through the ASPPB Web site. Students can also take a practice test online or at their local testing site, says Van Horne.

Once you know which content areas you need work in, you can tailor your studying habits, says Amy Burleson, PsyD, a postdoctoral psychology fellow with the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, who passed the exam in January. She created flashcards for the test questions she missed.

  • Tip 5: Don't skip the gym. Strapped for time between work and EPPP preparations, you might be tempted to forgo your regular workout routine to spend more time cramming. But studies show that exercise improves cognitive function, so stay healthy during the months of test prep by exercising, getting plenty of sleep and eating right. And if you really feel like you can't take time away from studying to exercise, consider multitasking, like Jamie Davis, PhD, a clinical research psychologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center: She listened to preparatory CDs and flipped through flashcards while on the elliptical machine.

  • Tip 6: Get to know your testing site. One of the best ways to reduce anxiety before test day is to visit your testing site and familiarize yourself with its rules and requirements. For instance, some sites provide earphones to block out noise or an 8.5-by-11 inch personal white board to work on problems, says Burleson. Giardina says the white board at his site was extremely useful, allowing him to quickly write down basic information for easy reference, such as Piaget's versus Erikson's stages, and percentages under the normal curve, when he first arrived.

Also, find out what you can and cannot bring to the site on test day. Some centers provide lockers and allow students to stow snacks for an energy kick during breaks, past test-takers say.

  • Tip 7: Start the test day right. As the big day approaches, practice everything you've been taught over the years about taking tests--get a good night's sleep, eat a healthy, protein-rich breakfast and dress in layers in case you get too warm or too cold--say early-career psychologists. Schedule time for a short workout that morning to kick-start your brain cells, Burleson advises.

And most importantly, she says, be sure to breathe.

"Try to relax; the EPPP really isn't the beast that it's so commonly referred to as," she says. "And congratulations on getting to this point!"