This article by David Newland is the latest in a series of Veritas Prep articles on overcoming “Test Anxiety” and other problems that limit your ability to perform on test day.
“The most important time in your life is now;
The most important person in your life is the one you are looking at right now;
The most important thing you can do in your life is what you are doing now;
The best way to prepare for the future is to be totally present now.” - Deepak Chopra
Deepak Chopra is a medical doctor and the author of dozens of best-selling books on improving your life through spirituality. He is famous for living in “the now.” In a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey during her visit to India, Chopra showed his famous wristwatch. The watch looks normal from a distance, but up close you can see that the hands of the watch have been removed and the watch itself filled with sand so that even the numbers are obscured. On the glass face of the watch has been engraved the word “NOW”. Chopra explains that there is no past, it no longer exists; there is no future, it does not yet exist; what we have is a continuous series of moments, each of which takes its turn being “NOW.”
What a revelation this is for GMAT test-takers. The question that you just struggled with for 90 seconds and then guessed on no longer exists. The additional questions that you have not yet seen do not exist. The only thing that exists is the question before you right now. If you can view the GMAT in this way then you can learn to focus and to achieve the best score that you are capable of achieving. Distraction is one of the worst enemies of a good GMAT score. You must have the discipline and the courage to take the hands off of the wristwatch in your head and think of each moment, each question, as a separate “now” and one that deserves your full attention.
The “NOW” on Test Day
When you attempt a question that question should become the only one in the world for you. As Deepak said “The most important thing you can do in your life is what you are doing right now.” This is doubly true on the GMAT. Not only must you focus on the test itself – as opposed to all of the distractions that might fill your mind, but you also must focus on just the one question at a time and not the other questions that you have faced and that you will face.
Let me explain this very carefully. I am talking about not being distracted while you are working on a question. This does not mean that you should never guess at a question, in fact most people guess at some questions on the test. Please see my article “Why Federer would beat Nadal on the GMAT”. What I am saying is that on each question that you do attempt you must focus on that question in an undistracted way.
Turn off the Clock
The GMAT already does you a favor by not allowing watches in the testing center. You can complete the transformation by turning off the little timer that counts down in the upper corner of the screen. The very sight of this timer ticking away the minutes is enough to cause anxiety. I spoke of courage a moment ago: have the courage to trust yourself and your training and to turn off that little clock that always keeps you worried about the past (“have I taken too long on the problems I have done?”) and keeps you obsessed with the future (“Do I have enough time left?”). Break free of the tyranny of this clock by turning it off during your practice tests and trusting your training and your abilities to guide you.
I am sure that you will want to turn the timer back on for a moment in order to check your progress. Do this at specific intervals so that you do not waste concentration by wondering when you should check. I recommend checking no more frequently than every 10 questions. Do not be overly concerned with what the clock says. Remember that different types of questions are designed to take different amounts of time. A number properties Data Sufficiency question can take 1 minute, while a word problem with multiple variables may take 3 minutes. So even if it appears that you are well ahead of your pace – or well behind – this may be due to the types of questions that you have faced. If you are working calmly and confidently then you are doing all that you can do.
In your life, turn of the clock, forget the past, and do not worry about the future. Concentrate on what Chopra calls “the never-ending now.” On the GMAT, focus on the question that you are attempting, respect it, give it your full attention, and when you are done with it move on completely from it. Remember, the most important time is now.