GMAT Gurus Speak Out: Find Your GMAT Zen

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.

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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.