Retaking the GMAT — Overcoming Stress and Fear

This post was written for readers of The MBAExchange blogby Kevin Rocci, resident GMAT expert at Magoosh, a leader in GMAT prep. For more advice on taking the GMAT, check out Magoosh’s GMAT blog.

The decision to retake the test is not an easy one. Committing yourself again to prepare can seem even harder after going through the process. And once you do decide to take it again, what happens if your stress and anxiety take over on test day? What happens if fear creeps into your mind and corrupts your thoughts?

Banish the doubts, the second-guesses, and the fear now! Here are five clear strategies for guaranteeing that stress and fear do not control you during your retake.

1. Observe Stress
Stress and fear are normal reactions that are of great benefit. Without stress and fear, we would never have the shot of adrenaline that heightens our senses and focuses our attention on the task at hand. But unmanaged, stress and fear can easily go from beneficial to paralyzing. The key to not crossing that line is observing the stress instead of experiencing it.

Now this may seem like an impossible and strange concept, but trust me it is possible, it works, and you have done it before. Imagine standing beside a long desert road. You stand and watch cars appear on the horizon. As they approach, they become bigger, until they pass you. You watch as they slowly shrink, disappearing over the horizon. Do the same thing with stress and fear. Watch the stress and fear appear. Notice them as they get closer, but don’t engage with them. Merely observe what they do, and quickly you will see them recede over the horizon of your consciousness.

2. Breathe Deeply
Sounds cliché but it works—taking deliberate, deep breaths will release tension and dissipate stress. The reason for this is quite simple, although the words involved are not. Stress is caused by your Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). This system is unconsciously controlled and is associated with fight-or-flight scenarios—like taking the GMAT. The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) is the control mechanism of SNS. This system, like firefighters dispatched to a fire, regulates SNS responses. PNS functions more at the conscious level, which means you can trigger this system to do its job.

Breathing deeply can turn this system on, and it will regulate and diffuse your stress. So next time you feel fear and stress about retaking the GMAT, just remember—long, deliberate breaths.

3. Eat Well
We think of fuel as one thing—cars, lawnmowers, and airplanes all need it—but not all fuel is the same. Would we use lantern fuel in a shuttle headed to the international spaceship? Of course not.

Same thing goes for food—people tend to think that food is just fuel for our bodies. Put calories in the body and it will run. This misconception is slowly changing as people become more aware of the benefits of a diet rich in whole, complete foods, but it’s worth emphasizing here. Every test taker should internalize this sea change. What you put in your body while you study and before you take the test will absolutely affect your performance.

Some foods are known to boost brain function and improve memory. I recommend eating cold water fish, like salmon or halibut, for the omega-3s. Eat lots of veggies and fruits, like avocados, blueberries, and oranges. Finally, eating nuts, like almonds and walnuts, will help you to focus and learn.

4. Sleep Regularly
Erratic sleeping patterns are known to negatively affect a person’s judgment and reasoning. If you aren’t sleeping well and entering REM, you are doing yourself a disservice. Irregular sleep can undo even the most effective study plan and the best GMAT resources.

Getting a solid eight hours of sleep is key to internalizing what you learn into your long-term memory system. The lack of sleep makes a slightly stressful event—like the GMAT—an entirely unnerving experience.

5. Exercise Often
Having trouble sleeping? Feeling anxious and stressed? I have just the solution! A silver bullet that will put you to sleep in minutes and eradicate anxiety and stress. No gimmicks! No small print! No, not a panacea! And you won’t even have to spend a nickel! The key to relaxing, sleeping well, and improving your ability to deal with stress is simple—exercise!

Exercise is another necessary part of any smart study regimen. I recommend starting your day with 30 – 45 minutes of exercise. Ideally, you will raise your heart rate for at least 15 continuous minutes during your exercise. If you can set in motion a good routine now before you retake the GMAT, then you will see an increase in your performance and score.

Takeaway
With these five strategies, you will find it much easier to study for your retake. If you make these a part of your daily routine, not only will you obliterate any anxiety on test day, but you also find that the pressures and stresses of everyday life are easier to deal with. Happy studying!