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  • Charly Prinsloo

The 5 emotional stages of CTA-prep


This is a look* at the 5 emotional stages when prepping for the Certified Technical Architect Review Board exam.


The five stages: excitement, self-doubt, determination, panic and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our preparation for the CTA exam (also know as the CTA-monster). They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in our #JourneyToCTA. Not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order. Our hope is that with these stages comes the knowledge of preparing ‘s terrain, making us better equipped to cope with what happens during this #JourneyToCTA. At times, people on this #JourneyToCTA will often report more stages. Just remember your #JourneyToCTA is as unique as you are.

Stage 1 - Excitement/Acceptance

Excitement is the first of the five stages of CTA-prep. You have passed the two Architect hurdles and you feel unstoppable. This stage helps us to survive the challenge. In this stage, the world becomes meaningful and we feel untouchable. Life makes so much sense and we feel purposeful and ready. We are in a state of readiness and often have feelings of grandeur. We are hyper aware of everything out there that has to do with the CTA exam. We read every blog post, we download all the material, follow every trailmix and tweet to the world about our epic #JourneyToCTA.

Stage 2 - Self-doubt

Self-doubt is a necessary stage of the preparation process. Be willing to feel your doubt, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will be ready to truly prepare. You look at the trailmixes and see 24 hour-timeframes to work through just one, you see all the documents and you start to freak out. How will I ever truly work through it all in time? There are many other emotions under the self-doubt and you will get to them in time, but self-doubt is the emotion we are most used to managing. The truth is that self-doubt has no limits. It can extend not only to your preparation, your daily work, your family, but also your core self. Underneath self-doubt is fear of failure, your failure. The self-doubt is just another indication of the intensity of your desire to succeed.

Stage 3 - Bargaining

At this stage, it seems like you will do anything if only you can be successful. “Please God, ” you bargain, “I will never skip a whole trailhead and just do the quiz, i will read every single word if you just get me through this.” Bargaining may take the form of a temporary truce. “What if I devote the rest of my life to helping others. Then can I wake up and realize that I passed and have the shiny certificate?” We become lost in a maze of “If only…” or “What if…” statements.

We want to go back in time: study harder for the domain exams, recognize our blindspots more quickly…if only, if only, if only. Guilt is often bargaining’s companion. The “if onlys” cause us to find fault in ourselves and what we “think” we could have done differently. We remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way out of the mountain of work we need to do.

People often think of the stages as lasting weeks or months. They forget that the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one.

Stage 4 - Panic

After bargaining, our attention moves squarely into the present. Panic feelings present themselves, and stress enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined. This stage usually presents a week or two before the exam date. This panic stage feels as though it will last forever. It’s important to understand that this panic is not a sign of mental illness. It is the appropriate response to a great challenge such as the #JourneyToCTA. We withdraw from life, left in a fog of intense preparation, wondering, perhaps, if there is any point in trying to do this? Why go the review board at all? There are so few people who are successful. The first question to ask yourself is whether or not the situation you’re in is actually worth the panic and stress. To not experience panic would be unusual. When you are in the midst of preparing, you are feeding your brain with such huge amounts of information that needs to be retained, the realization that you might forget something is understandably depressing. If preparation is a process of preparing, then panic is one of the many necessary steps along the way.

Stage 5 - Acceptance

Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what is about to happen. This is not the case. Most people don’t ever feel OK or all right about the exam. This stage is about accepting the reality that we have done all the studying and preparing that we were supposed to do, and recognizing that you have to man-up and face the board. We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it for the day or hours before the exam. This stage is usually very short lived and right before the exam. During this time, we must try to live now in a world where our time has run out and we either did enough or we did not. Instead of denying our feelings, we listen to our needs; we hydrate, we get enough sleep, we get our hair done, we go for a walk, we phone our study buddy and practice our artifacts.

*Please resist the urge to take this article seriously. some of it may be true and it feels like you are in stage 2 or 3 or whatever, but don't wait for the next stages, they may never come. This theory is based on one person's perception and not founded in anything concrete at all.


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