Stress and the GMAT Part II: Performance Stress

August 25, 2009
Brian Fruchey

Last time I talked about anticipation stress and how it can impede your prepration for the GMAT.  But you’ve conquered that kind of stress, done a great job studying and made it to test day.  Congrats!  On test day, there is a chance that you might experience one of the following three situations:

1) Get stumped on a question
2) Lose focus
3) Start to panic

If you get stumped on a question, don’t spend an unnecessary amount of time on it.  Think about employing a guessing strategy and move on.  Good test takers realize that everyone misses a point here or there – they have to get the MOST points, not all the points.

If you start to lose focus, you must get it back as soon as possible.  There are a couple tricks you can employ to regain focus – one, skip the question.  This is a good strategy if you lost focus because the question is difficult; however, it isn’t a great strategy if you are tired or distracted.  If you lose focus because of something going on in the testing room, raise your hand and engage the proctor.  The testing room should be quiet and free from distractions.  The proctors are there to enforce this decorum.  If you lose focus because of general test anxiety, close your eyes, put your head down on the table, or just look away.  Do something to change your focus from what is on the screen.  You have the time to take 20 seconds and breath deeply, disconnecting from the environment for a short period of time.  Doing this will help control the adrenaline in your system and put the situation in perspective.

If you start to panic – stop.  Actually, if you employed the techniques above, you shouldn’t even come close to panicking.  Panic comes from letting your anxiety and adrenaline get out of control.  In this situation, make sure that you pull back away from the screen for a few seconds and take a couple breaths.  In the worst-case scenario – you may need to raise your hands and leave the testing room (this is permissable – but you won’t get your time back) and grab a drink of water.

The key to a great test day performance is to know thyself.  If you start feeling that the adrenaline and anxiety are building up, pause.  Think about your breathing, skip the question, or find a way to take a very short break.  The GMAT tests your ability to answer quantitative and verbal questions and it also tests your ability to deal with stressful situations.  Don’t let it beat you.  You have prepared well, so keep your cool and fight for the score you deserve.

Brian Fruchey Brian taught GMAT courses for Kaplan for over 5 years - starting just a few months after he took his own Kaplan course. He has moved on to his post-MBA career with a large management consulting firm in Washington, DC and sits on a number of non-profit and university boards and panels.

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