How I prepared for the ARC Exam

I am writing this blog because I have received several emails and messages from colleagues asking how I prepared to sit for the Aromatherapy Registration Council (ARC) exam.  Many well qualified and educated aromatherapists have expressed anxiety and fear about taking the ARC exam, which I understand because I remember well my own anxiety about taking it.

The first step was familiarizing myself with the eligibility requirements to take the exam.  The link above will take you to the ARC page that clearly outlines those requirements.  It is important to download the Candidate Handbook.   The Candidate Handbook is full of useful information and it also provides you with a few sample test questions.  The handbook also clearly outlines the content of the exam, i.e. what you can expect to be tested on, and more importantly the content you will need to study prior to the exam.

After completing the necessary paperwork I realized I was truly committed to the process, and I began my studies in earnest.  I prepared for the ARC exam in the same manner I prepared to take the exam to become a Licensed Psychotherapist. I began my study regimen approximately four months before the date of the exam.  To some people four months may seem like a long time and to others it may appear to be too short a time to study.  The amount of time you dedicate to preparation is a completely individual decision based on your own confidence, study style, and ability to set time aside each day to study.

I began my studies by reviewing ALL of the educational materials I had from my aromatherapy program.  I started at the very beginning.  I read through the material with an eye on the exam content list, taking note of where I found information on each item.  Reading through all the educational materials I had was a positive exercise because I found that although it had been months since I studied it I knew more of the material than I had originally thought.  As I read through the educational material I also made flashcards.  Yes, flashcards.  I hated flashcards as a child, but they did their work, I remembered my times tables!  So, as I slowly read through all of my notes and aromatherapy program materials I made flashcards on the information I wasn’t certain I knew 100% hands-down.  The information on each card was short and succinct, not too wordy, but containing important key words to prompt my memory. These flashcards became my constant companions.  I took them with me everywhere.  If I was a passenger in the car I had my flashcards, if I was sitting in a waiting room I had my flashcards, if I had a few minutes to myself I had my flashcards.  I also dedicated three, thirty minute study sessions with the cards every day.  My husband helped me study by reading the flashcard question and having me respond.  So as not to get too comfortable with the order of the questions I would shuffle the flashcards like a deck of playing cards.  As time progressed the number of flashcards I studied began to dwindle until the day of the exam, when I had twelve chemistry related flashcards.  Yeah, chemistry.

If flashcards are not your thing, or they don’t suit your learning style, try an audio format.  A friend of mine, who is an audio learner, opted to record herself stating the same information I would have put onto a flashcard.  With an audio format she was able to review while she was driving, an advantage over flashcards.  If you are really ambitious you could use both formats.

Let me back up to the issue of those chemistry flashcards.  Chemistry and I were not, and are not great friends.  I struggle with chemistry, so the flashcards were not quite getting me to a comfort level I believed I needed.  The solution was to write, repeatedly, the information I was struggling with retaining.  Being a visual and kinesthetic learner, writing the information several times helped me to focus and remember it better.

During focused study sessions I would occasionally diffuse sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) essential oil. I know people will ask, “Why not rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) or peppermint (Mentha piperita)?”  Well, the reason I chose sandalwood is because it is an essential oil that calms and centers me, which, due to test anxiety, was what I needed and what worked for me. Choose an essential oil that helps you feel comfortable, centered, focused while you study because it may help you more than a stimulating essential oil.

Studying before bedtime was not a good choice, it created more anxiety.  I found myself ruminating about the information I wasn’t getting and I would end up getting out of bed to study.  Sleep is your friend when you are preparing for any big event and I wasn’t getting good, restful, restorative sleep.  Studying in the mornings and early afternoon proved to be much more relaxing for me and I retained more information.

The day before the ARC exam I did not study.  Yep, you read that right, I did not study.  I took the day to relax, pamper myself, get outdoors, center and try to de-stress.  My thought was this, “If I don’t know the information after four months of intense study I am not going to do myself any favors by trying to cram it into my head now.”  Another mantra I repeated was, “You’ve got this!  You know more than you give yourself credit for.”

The day of the exam I made sure to eat a healthy, protein packed breakfast.  I applied a dilution of sandalwood to my wrists and inside my elbows.  I did this because if I became overwhelmed during the exam I could inhale deeply from my wrist the aroma that best calms me.  Wearing a piece of aromatherapy jewelry with your chosen essential oil can also achieve the same effect.

Once I entered the test site I chose a seat that was away from possible distractions, e.g. windows to the outdoors, under an air vent, next to anyone wearing perfume.  The proctor of the exam will provide you with a pencil and paper, use it.  As I was going through the test I came across questions I didn’t fully understand or just plain did not know.  Instead of focusing on those questions I wrote the question number down on paper and returned to it after I had completed the exam.  I discovered that often the answer to a question I didn’t know was found in another question later in the exam.  Answer all questions, even those you have no clue about.  An educated guess is better than no guess at all, because let’s face it, you have a 25% chance of answering the question correctly with a good guess as opposed to the 100% fail of not answering!

ARC allows you three hours to take the exam.  Three hours is adequate time to answer the 250 multiple choice questions.  I encourage you to take your time.  It is not a race!  You do not get points for finishing first or quickly.  Take offered breaks in order to stretch, move about, rehydrate and use the bathroom.  If you are physically uncomfortable during the exam you may begin to focus on your discomfort and not the task at hand, so be as comfortable and relaxed as you can be.

My last bit of advice is to try and enjoy the experience as much as you can.  Inhale, breathe, allow your essential oil to work for you.  And, above all else remember, “You’ve got this!  You know more than you give yourself credit for.”

✿´´¯`•.¸¸ Fragrant Blessings ¸¸.•´¯`´

          Haly JensenHof, MA, RA