MBA - Application Process

Managing GMAT Stress

Girl StudyingIt’s an oft-quoted fact that the most common fear in this country is the fear of public speaking. There you stand, in front of a crowd, palms sweating, heart racing, voice cracking, and every visible part of your body shaking. No wonder more Americans fear this scenario than those who fear flying, spiders, or snakes. The conventional wisdom for battling stage fright is to imagine your audience in their underwear… Or better yet, naked.

Unfortunately for GMAT test-takers with anxiety, little relief comes from imagining Jane, who is running at a rate of five miles/hour from the east, and Dick, who is walking at a rate of three miles/hour from the west, in their skivvies. So how do you battle those test-day butterflies (and the sleepless nights that proceed them) when you are ready to start applying for business school? Here are seven steps for you to follow to start your path to the MBA!


The majority of anxiety stems from the unknown, the “what ifs” that float around in your head. The more you know, the fewer “what ifs” to be had. Know the format of the GMAT inside and out. Know which sections come first, second, and third. Know the rules regarding scratch paper and bathroom breaks. Most importantly, study. Know the material that will be tested and how it will be tested. If you are a master of the information covered on the GMAT, then no matter what the test throws at you, you will be prepared. If you’re confident in your abilities, you’ll be able to fight off those jitters.

Once you’ve prepared, prepare even more

Sure, you’ve taken a few computer practice tests and even slept with the Official Guides under your pillow (much to the chagrin of your significant other). But you can still do more. Figure out where the test center is and make a trial run. Know what you’re going to wear. Choose comfortable clothes and bring layers; you don’t want to be too cold or too hot during the test.


Close your eyes and visualize your favorite place. Take deep breaths. Go for a jog. Listen to your favorite Gregorian chants. Get a massage. In the days leading up to the GMAT, relax as much as you can. This isn’t to say you stop studying but don’t focus exclusively on the test. Also, remember that the GMAT is not a test you can cram for; you will know the vast majority of the material well before those final days. Whatever you try to sneak in right at the end is not really going to matter. Do some practice problems and review your time management strategy, but don’t go nuts. Do make sure to get plenty of rest and good food. But go out, enjoy life, and leave that Official Guide under your pillow.

Indulge a bit

Get as much rest as you can while you gear up for the GMAT. You may not have slept eight hours in a night since you were three years old, but guess what? Now’s the time to know what it’s like to wake without the alarm going off. Go to bed before The Daily Show comes on. Also, listen to your mother’s advice: eat your vegetables and take your vitamins. You want to be in top physical shape.

Have a post-GMAT plan

Look, you have a challenging day ahead of you. No one is denying that. So give yourself something to look forward to, something positive you can remember when you’re bogged down trying to identify a compound subject. Plan to meet a friend for dinner, have tickets to that evening’s ballgame, or book a manicure for an hour after you’re done. You’re almost at the finish line!

If things do start to go south, keep your head up

One of the worst things about test anxiety is that it can be self-perpetuating. What happens if you flub the first question? Your confidence will begin to wane. Don’t let it. You are in control. The GMAT is designed to be challenging for everyone; don’t beat yourself up if you can’t answer a question. First of all, you don’t have time for self-flagellation. Secondly, what’s past is past. You have to let it go and move on to the next problem.

Remember, it’s not the end of the world (or your b-school prospects)

The GMAT is just a test. You can always take it again. It’s also just one part of your application to business school; it won’t make you or break you. Yes, you want to do well. And you should do well. But if you don’t, it won’t ruin your life.

So take a couple of deep breaths. Shake out your hands and do a couple of neck stretches. Close your eyes for a few seconds and just relax. And if all else fails, remember that Dick looks pretty funny walking at three miles/hour in his tighty-whities.

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