March Madness, GMAT Style

‘Tis the season: all eyes are on the elite college campuses across the nation, with highly-scrutinized and much-anticipated decisions being made in Durham, Chapel Hill, Palo Alto, Austin, Boston, and Bel Air. MBA Admissions season? Well, yes, but it’s also NCAA Tournament time, with the teams representing some of the world’s elite b-school universities preparing for one of the highest-stakes activities a young person can experience.

March is a time of great pressure for hoopsters and gamblers alike, but for prospective MBA applicants it also creates an opportunity to relax. If you’re thinking about applying in the fall, you’re in a terrific position to take your time (employing Dean Smith’s patented four-corners offense, perhaps?) and strategically approach the process without much pressure.

In my experience as a GMAT instructor, I’ve found that the single-greatest disadvantage test-takers face is pressure – the kind of win-and-you’re-in, lose-and-go-home pressure you’ll see on display this spring in college basketball. Miss a clutch free throw (or botch a Data Sufficiency problem) and you may not have a chance to recover – and as the clock ticks down, even the greatest of performers feel the need to rush.

The best way to avoid the crunch? Take a lesson from the pros and make it a best-of-seven series, so to speak. Those who take the GMAT with an opportunity to recover from a poor score simply don’t feel that kind of all-or-nothing pressure. Accordingly, plan to take the GMAT at least a month before you’ll need the score for your application. If you hit 700+, you win; if you don’t, you live to fight another day. Remember: your GMAT score is good for five years, and you can take it again (if necessary) after waiting just one month (with a chance to review your mental ‘game film’ to strategize for the next occasion). Simply knowing that you have another chance waiting for you will allow you to sufficiently relax, taking that pressure off and allowing you to perform to your potential.

Therefore, for the GMAT-taker, March Madness can be replaceed with March Mellow – begin studying for the GMAT in the spring, plan to take it before your summer officially begins so that you can enjoy it (and make campus visits to schools seemingly outside your reach before test day), and reap the benefits of being able to remain cool in the clutch!

One more basketball-related note – great coaches never let their teams practice free throws at the beginning of a workout, noting that players take the most meaningful foul shots when their legs are worn down and their lungs are heaving – at the end of the game, not the beginning. Similarly, you’ll never face a Reading Comprehension passage on a leisurely Sunday morning with a fresh cup of coffee, but you will find a dense, uninteresting passage toward the end of a 3.5 hour exam. Accordingly, you may want to practice your mental focus with Reading Comprehension passages at the end of each 2-hour-plus study session, so that you can experience the mental drain that leads to re-reading and burnout.