You can feel them coming on…at first it’s just a faint flutter of wings somewhere around your heart, but soon enough you can feel the fervent flapping down in the pit of your stomach, rattling your whole body. You’ve got butterflies in your stomach, otherwise known as nerves, and it’s all due to your impending GMAT Test. Test anxiety is a common, almost universal problem, and all the more so when you are dealing with a high stakes test such as the GMAT. While meditation, acupuncture, and medication are all used in attempts to calm the butterflies, the best cure for this anxiety is often the confidence that comes with knowing that you are as prepared as you possibly can be.
Assuming you have followed the sound advice of my colleagues here at Beat the GMAT, you have taken loads of practice tests, completed untold numbers of practice problems, and reviewed the content backwards and forwards. (Well, hopefully not backwards…I doubt that will do you any good). With all of that preparation, the final three days before your GMAT become just as much about your mental preparation as they are about your intellectual preparation. With that in mind, I would like to share the advice that I give to the students in my Princeton Review GMAT Classes as they leave my class and take on those last few days.
72 hours (3 Days Left)
This should be the last day that you allow yourself a full-length practice test. I would actually recommend taking your final test a day or two before this, and using this day as your final “cram session”, reviewing mistakes from previous tests or drills. Either way, today is the day you should make a complete review sheet for yourself that summarizes your strategies for each questions type. For example, make a list of the most common types of grammatical errors that appear in sentence correction problems (hint: you should have six), and the ways that you know how to spot those errors. For math, write down the formulas, rules, and any mnemonic devices that you know you will need on the test, such as the special right triangles (30-60-90, anyone?). If you have taken a prep course or used study guides that have taught you step-by-step approaches or strategies that you find successful, write down those steps or strategies here. A good review sheet will take two to three hours to complete, and will involve a complete survey of the material you’ve used over your weeks or months of preparation.
48 hours (2 Days Left)
The important thing to remember at this point is that it is very doubtful that you will learn anything “new” that will be of any use to you on the day of the test. Just doing practice problems over and over, or especially taking a full-length practice test, will actually do you more harm than good. The reason for this is that you will put more stress on yourself, over-emphasizing the importance of any mistakes that you make because you are so afraid to repeat those mistakes on the day of the test. Instead of this drilling, use today to look over every practice test that you have done, looking at the questions that you missed, guessed on, or that you got right but took too long to answer. If you have been keeping a log of missed questions in your practice drills, you can review this as well, and review any patterns to identify what areas you had trouble with. After reviewing your previous mistakes, and what you should have done, the correct approach will resonate with you more clearly. Now, take some more time to read, refine, and tweak your review sheet to that it is of maximum use to you between now and the test.
24 hours (The Day Before)
The immediate thought that most of my students have when they think about this day is “Last Chance!” As in, last chance to learn everything, last chance to get better, and last chance to increase my score! But in reality, the only last chance you have on this day is to screw yourself up. As I mentioned in the previous day’s activities, you’re not likely to learn anything new at this point that is going to help your score. You’re more likely to psych yourself out. So, surprisingly, the best thing to do on the day before your GMAT is…nothing to do with the GMAT! Actually, you should allow yourself about 60-90 minutes to look at your review sheet and make sure you’re happy with everything you have on there. In addition, you should spend a few minutes visualizing the next day. Close your eyes and picture yourself: waking up in the morning…leaving for the test center…waiting for your test to begin…answering questions and taking breaks just as you have done on all of your practice tests…seeing a score on the screen that makes you smile…leaving the test center and getting on with your life. Running through this scenario a few times in your head will prepare you far better than doing fifteen hours of practice problems!
Other than these short GMAT-related activities, try to keep yourself otherwise occupied the day before the test. Don’t skip work if you can help it. Eat dinner with a friend or loved one and watch a good movie (No unusual foods, though…that’s the last thing you need bothering you during the test!). Do a puzzle or computer game that requires your focus and intelligence. These activities will keep your mind off the test, which will help calm your nerves, while the information from the review that you have been doing percolates in the back of your head, readying you for The Big Day.
Please let me know if you have any comments or questions about my tips. Be sure to look out soon for my follow up article with tips on keeping your cool on testing day itself!