Ask Dr. David: Sugary Snacks and Higher GMAT Scores

I have been asked many times what type of snack to have and whether or not caffeine was a good option on test day.  While this can vary student to student, here are a few responses to those student questions:

    • “Your brain can only make so many complex decisions before it starts to run down. This can happen quickly during a test like the GMAT. In scientific studies they made a remarkable finding, only sugar can restore the decision-making/self-control portion of the brain!!”
  • Whether or not to consume caffeine varies from person to person, however, one thing that does not vary is that sugar before the test and during each break is an important part of your snack. Research reported in the New York Times indicated that making tough decisions (this is what the GMAT is all about!!!) leaves you depleted. The one thing that brings you back to life? A Sugary snack. 100 calories is enough but just make sure it is sugary!
  • Please no experimenting with energy drinks! It is not energy drinks that you need – what you need (strangely enough) is sugar. In experiments done by psychologists (and reported in the New York Times) it is sugar that can take away the mental fatigue. About 20 minutes after having a sugary snack, participants were better able to make decisions again. So NO!!! to fake energy drinks that will just likely make you jittery. Now if coffee is your daily routine, then keep your normal routine, but if you do not drink coffee normally then do not do so on test day.

The research that I mentioned above was reported in the New York Times in an article called “Do you suffer from Decision Fatigue?” The article references lots of research and experiments that show how making complex decisions can deplete the portion of your brain responsible for making the really tough calls. Examples of tough decisions were those related to planning a wedding, choosing all of the options on a new luxury car, and building a computer from scratch on the Dell website. The researchers found that the most energy depleting part of all was actually committing to your decision; they call this “crossing the Rubicon.” On the Dell website experiment it was the moment of actually purchasing the computer that was the most taxing, on the GMAT it is that agonizing time when you are trying to decide if you ready to commit and hit “next.”

You can see from my responses to the students that there is a common theme – sugar! That’s because it turns out that the researchers stumbled onto an unexpected finding. Sugar was able to reverse the depletion of the brain and shortly after a sugary snack the decision-making ability was restored! This finding has been confirmed in subsequent research and helps to explain the lapses in judgment experienced by people who are usually very able decision-makers. They simply ran out of decision-making energy.

So my advice to you? Bring three sugary snacks to the GMAT one for each of the two breaks and a spare in case you get hungry before your test begins. Something as simple as that can be an important part of your “sweet success.”

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David Newland has been teaching for Veritas Prep since 2006, and he won the Veritas Prep Instructor of the Year award in 2008. Students’ friends often call in asking when he will be teaching next because he really is a Veritas Prep and a GMAT rock star!