Contributor: Fatma Xhafa
Sept 22, 2020
Methodical test prep is a painstaking, yet necessary, process for anyone striving for a top score on the GMAT. Most elite MBA programs require a 700+ score for admission. Applicants face a lot of pressure leading up to test day. It’s normal to experience anxiety while studying.
Apex Instructors have noted that GMAT test anxiety is the most common external factor that directly affects GMAT performance. Almost everyone experiences some anxiety, and about 60% of our clients experience anxiety severe enough to affect performance if left unaddressed. Test anxiety is distracting. It negatively affects a test taker’s concentration, leading to declining comprehension, especially on word problems and the verbal section.
In extreme cases, test takers might experience a racing heart-beat, nausea, or headaches. Most importantly, anxiety draws attention away from the test. The consequences can be significant if it isn’t managed well.
Fortunately, there are many ways to overcome test anxiety.
What Causes Anxiety?
It’s normal to doubt ourselves and our abilities, but the way we channel doubt makes or breaks our performance. Knowing how to manage stress and trust our abilities is essential to navigating the treacherous waters of the GMAT.
A strong GMAT preparation plan emphasizes mastering the required skills while maintaining composure in the face of outward distractions. That annoying guy clicking his pen on the other side of the room can be a major stressor. When test takers learn to manage anxiety and resist distraction, a high score takes care of itself.
When we address personal challenges, it’s important to understand the root of the problem. Identifying the exact causes and associated triggers of the anxiety is the first step to conquering it. To pinpoint exactly what is triggering anxiety, determine if the anxiety is situational (caused by taking an unfamiliar exam) or emotional (fear of failure, the pressure to perform well, etc).
For example, if a patient’s heart races during a routine checkup at a doctor’s office, even though the patient doesn’t expect to receive any bad news, their anxiety may be situational; the anxiety comes from the clinical setting itself. However, if a patient becomes anxious waiting for serious test results, the anxiety is likely emotional. The first patient’s anxiety simply comes from being in a doctor’s office. The second patient is anxious due to the potentially life-altering consequences of the test results, rather than a particularly upsetting setting or circumstance.
Some Anxiety Will Always Exist
When it comes to the GMAT, or any other stressful situation, keep in mind that some level of anxiety will always be present. The trick is to adjust to it. For most test takers, the problem isn’t the initial anxiety, but anxiety about the anxiety.
Anyone can become anxious before getting a shot at the doctor’s office. However, most people don’t dwell on the anxiety for weeks or miss an appointment because of it. Someone who thinks about their fear of needles for a long period of time leading up to a doctor’s appointment will probably be more anxious when it’s time to get the shot. The same principle applies to the GMAT. Remind yourself, “this is going to suck, but I’ll get through it.”
The clock is ticking and with each passing moment you become more and more worried that you won’t have enough time–an all too common experience for GMAT takers. This fear is understandable considering that the inability to allocate time can impact scores significantly. Fortunately, with proper time management training, anyone can learn to manage time and resources during the exam. When time management is addressed with strong methodologies and best practices, the decision process manages the time, not the test taker.
Apex’s curriculum utilizes a proprietary methodology that manages time for test takers. Following this process removes the need to think about timing, takes the pressure off, alleviates anxiety, and allows applicants to focus on the problems at hand.
Computer Adaptive Test
The GMAT uses Computer Adaptive Testing to evaluate applicants’ readiness for business school. Simply put, answering a question correctly leads to more challenging questions, and getting a question wrong leads to less challenging ones.
This creates pressure to answer each question correctly or risk getting easier questions, which affects the overall score. CAT can heighten anxiety levels in general during the test, but especially when test takers focus on difficulty level. It may be tempting to keep track, but it’s ultimately a waste of valuable time and energy to focus on the scoring system rather than the test itself.
If a question seems easy, it doesn’t mean it actually is. Many high scorers stress themselves out because they don’t internalize how skilled they are.
In reality, it’s almost impossible to get every question right, even for strong test takers. Strong and weak test takers get about the same number of questions wrong. The difference in score comes from the level of the questions answered correctly.
The GMAT tests for decision making and time allocation skills. Anxiety disrupts these; that’s why it’s so insidious. For most people, the challenge is combating the low-level anxiety from the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can be annoying and distracting.
Here are some useful methods that alleviate score-related anxiety:
- Forget about the score altogether. When studying and taking the test, shift your focus towards the most important thing: individual question performance. Shift away from thinking about the score. The only way to get a good score is to focus on individual questions.
- Become familiar with the CAT scoring system, especially for GMAT. Understanding the underlying mechanism for scoring can make test takers less nervous and more confident in their performance. Mike Diamond, the Head of Curriculum at ApexGMAT, has provided a detailed explanation HERE.
Past Poor Performance or Low Scores
Some test takers lose confidence due to negative experiences with the GMAT, such as lower-than-expected results on previous tests or practice tests. This can cause anxiety, insecurity, and even panic.
It’s best to frame practice tests, or official tests that don’t go as planned, as tools to assess timing calibration, strengths and weaknesses, and to develop efficient study plans. After all, falling short is the first step in any meaningful learning experience. When we excel right off the bat, it’s usually because we’re using skills we’ve already mastered in a new way. Otherwise, we should expect to fail at new things. Failure provides an opportunity to isolate challenges and accelerate improvement. Overcoming obstacles means we’ll know what to expect, and with hard work, we’ll be better prepared for the next test.
Consider the following strategies:
- Put yourself in scenarios that mimic test day (situational) stressors. Taking practice tests or timed tests will not only help you adjust to the scoring system, but will also help with time management. Try taking practice tests in a coffee shop, common study room, or library, where distractions are minimal, but beyond your control. This will provide a greater sense of what to expect, and as a result, help alleviate environmentally induced anxiety.
- Go to the testing center for a dry run. This helps reduce anxiety because it familiarizes you with the testing environment and ensures that there will be no surprises when you take the exam. If the environmental stress is holding you back, the best way to address it is to get used to the environment.
Pressure from Friends and Family
Parents, professors, and friends want to see us thrive, and while they can be a great source of support, they can also contribute to our stress. Some test takers feel like a weak performance is a betrayal of the people who have invested time, care, and even money, in their success.
More likely, the pressure comes from an internal desire to live up to what we perceive as others’ expectations. It’s easy to misinterpret enthusiastic support for a personal, emotional investment in our goals. A score that doesn’t reach the goal can feel like a blow to the ego, especially if our initial expectations for success weren’t in line with the amount or type of preparation we performed.
It can help to simply avoid the topic of scores in conversation. Focus on updating loved ones on the process of preparation rather than scores. It’s highly important to prioritize yourself because ultimately, you’re what matters most!
How to Reduce the Anxiety and Enhance Performance
Everyone has their own way of preparing for an important exam, and there is no “right” way to go about it.
However, there are some best practices that can make the process smoother:
Practice, practice, practice!
Everyone has heard the phrase: “practice makes perfect.” This is just as true of the GMAT.
It’s very important to practice using sample GMAT questions. Knowing what to expect on the exam can alleviate a lot of anxiety.
Get 8 Hours of Sleep Consistently
Getting a good night’s sleep not only helps us absorb new information during the studying process, but also prepares the brain to retain more detail in the future. When it comes to the learning process, sleep is essential.
Experts say that on average, adults need about 8 hours of sleep a night to maintain a healthy sleep cycle. We all perform better when we prioritize our health and wellbeing. A healthy lifestyle, including a regular and consistent sleep schedule, is key when it comes to taking the GMAT and achieving our long-term goals.
Have a cup o’ Joe
Drinking coffee during test prep and before taking the exam enhances mental acuity due to blood and oxygen flow to the brain. Coffee makes us alert, focused, and ready to crush the GMAT.
But it’s important to keep in mind just how much coffee is too much coffee. Drinking too much will only make you more anxious and jittery, which is the last thing you want. It’s all about finding the perfect balance that works for you.
How Can Private GMAT Tutoring Help with GMAT Test Anxiety?
At Apex, we focus not only on the fundamentals of the exam, but also on test anxiety, time management, alternative solution paths, and test reading to use the test’s structure to our clients’ advantage.
We take pride in our GMAT Curriculum, which is unmatched in the industry. We take the time to cover the widest possible range of methods and develop strategies that work best for individual clients.
When it comes to private GMAT tutoring, personalized attention is the key to 700+ GMAT scores. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. We understand that the same strategy does not work for every client.
Private tutoring can be a gateway to the amazing scores that get applicants into their dream school. A good score on the GMAT is the first step towards career advancement.
Eventually, it all comes down to vigorous prep and feeling confident in yourself and your abilities.
At Apex, we focus on the learning process, not just the final score. With the right process, the score will take care of itself.
Hopefully, these tips and strategies have brought you a step closer to identifying and confronting the source of your test anxiety.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Practice, practice, practice! Practice will do no harm. It familiarizes us with what to expect, and helps us perform better and feel more confident.
- Try private tutoring Personalized instruction is one of the best ways to guarantee GMAT success. To schedule a complimentary phone call with one of our 770+ scoring instructors, click HERE.