It was 8:46 AM on a cloudy Saturday in April 2007 and I was at the William St. test center in Manhattan. My GMAT was at 9:00. Unfortunately, that morning was also the date of the final exam for a nursing school in the city. There were around 20 anxious nursing students reviewing flashcards and cheat sheets, asking each other last minute questions, and generally freaking out. Watching them, I felt my pulse quicken.
At the time I was working at a small education non-profit in New York. I had decided to take the GMAT because I had a feeling I’d end up at business school at some point and I was so bored with my work I needed a challenge. I had so little work at the non-profit, that I could arrive at 10:30 every morning and leave at 4:30 without anyone noticing. It was my first job out of undergrad, so at first I was happy to just go out every night. But in Manhattan, on a non-profit salary, I quickly ran out of money. So I started studying GMAT. But on that morning, it suddenly dawned on me that it probably wasn’t a good idea to take the GMAT so early in the morning – I felt jet-lagged, having woken up 2 or 3 hours earlier than normal. I felt groggy and not up to the challenge. The nursing students were the last straw.
Half way through the exam I got stuck on a math problem and ran out of time. I left three problems blank. Over all, I scored around 50 points lower than I had on all the practice tests and below the target score I’d set for myself to get into my top schools. I left the test center really upset and vowed to take the test again, but the next time would be different.
The second time I took the GMAT, I did, in fact, do everything differently. First of all, I switched jobs – from education where I was doing absolutely nothing intellectually challenging to New York City government under Michael Bloomberg, where I was doing real estate finance – excel modeling. I bought a subscription to the Economist to read challenging material more frequently and challenge my logic. I practiced the hardest problems for me – probability and high-level geometry – and took a bunch more practice tests. But most importantly, I scheduled the test for 3pm – my own personal strongest time of day – and as it was in October, the center was almost empty.
The GMAT is not just a test of skills – it’s a marathon that tests your endurance and mental state. My greatest advice that I give to my GMAT students is to do whatever it takes to be in a state of Zen when taking this exam. Pick the best time that works for you. Find your GMAT zone. It can really make all the difference on test day.
Julia Kastner is a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in New York. She runs her own socially responsible, fair trade denim company called Eva & Paul and before starting her business she worked on nonprofit outreach projects of all kinds.