This post was published in 2013; since then the Brilliant Blog has been taken offline (and we didn't manage to save the content at all of those links) and Amy Cuddy's research into so-called "power poses" has been questioned. Taking steps to mentally prepare for things like important tests and interviews can only help, however the science is evolving.
We have told a bunch of you Brave Supplicants that you really need to take the GMAT again, and some of you are actually doing it. We know that it’s a stressful proposition. That test is no fun, and if you didn’t do too great on it the first time through, then your nerves may get the best of you when you go at it again. This might be especially true if you’re taking it for the third time – which we’ve probably told you “needs to be your last.”
There’s no risk to your chances of getting in if you take the GMAT again and don’t do better (provided it’s only your second test). But clearly, retaking with no improvement would be downright discouraging. A problem we often see with high-potential candidates is that they get seriously stressed out about the test. This creates performance anxiety, which creates doubting thought patterns, and the pressure – inflicted from the inside – can actually be the reason for a low test score.
That vicious cycle can happen the first time out, too, but it is especially likely to occur if you’re retaking the test. Fear of failure often creates the failure itself. Our thoughts get the best of us. The mind is not our friend.
If you know that this happens to you and you’re becoming nervous about your upcoming test, we have a few suggestions for you, many of them courtesy of the awesome Annie Murphy Paul and her Brilliant Blog http://anniemurphypaul.com/blog/ [blog taken down since this was published].
1. Before you go into the test center, take a moment and collect yourself. Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before your test appointment – partly so that you’re on time and can get through the registration process, and partly so that you can get yourself in a good state of mind. If you will be driving yourself there, then use 10 of those minutes to hang out with yourself in the car, alone, having a moment of peace. Otherwise, stake out a spot in the lobby of the building, or if nothing else, head to the restroom so that you can have at least a little privacy. Do some deep breathing exercises. Get centered. If you’re feeling physically nervous and jittery, which you very well might be, then close your eyes and imagine yourself at your favorite place – maybe by the ocean, or on the top of a mountain, or some other peaceful scene. Get a hold of your emotions and allow yourself to calm down, intentionally, before you embark on this big adventure in the test center.
Tip: If you’re going to a new test center for this exam, then sometime before test day make the trek across town to visit. Knowing where you’re going, how to get there, where to park – before you have to actually go there – will eliminate one source of stress entirely.
2. Write out your emotions. This one is direct from [what used to be] the Brilliant Blog . Take a few minutes and write down all the things you’re feeling – your fears and anxieties, especially. Put them down on paper. Get them out of your head. Doing so will, quite literally, clear your mind. You’ll be better able to focus on the task at hand – the actual GMAT test – if you unclutter your brain of all these burdensome thoughts. EssaySnark recommends writing down all the negative thoughts, and then turning them to positives. “I’m scared I will get another low score – but I know that I’ve studied and I’m ready, and I am prepared to get a 720.” (Or whatever. Substitute in a test score that you’ve actually gotten in a practice exam.) It doesn’t matter if part of your brain is not believing in it; you will get a boost in confidence levels if you think positive thoughts, and writing them can be even more powerful.
3. Do some power poses before you head in to the test, and do them again in the bathroom at your break. This is from Harvard professor Amy Cuddy, and her studies show that it increases performance. The main idea is that you put your body in a position of dominance – stand with your legs wide and your arms extended in a victory sign – think of the gesture that people make when they cross the finish line in a foot race.
That’s a very effective one. Here’s a variation:
— Natalie Wossene (@natiwo) October 18, 2013
You may feel silly if someone sees you doing this, but the payoff in terms of your actual test performance could be significant. (And yes, it’s good for pre-interview preparation, too!)
The GMAT test is hard – but if you’ve done your homework and you studied for it, you’re going to do fine. And if you take some time to get yourself prepared mentally, you’ll be running strong.
Good luck with it Brave Supplicant!