How Multitasking Can Hurt Your GMAT Score: Part II

If you read part 1 of this article you know that multitasking can result in attention difficulties and problems with productivity. You may not think that all of this talk about decreased productivity and being distracted would apply to the GMAT; after all there is no chance to update your Facebook status and “tweet” during the test right?  So this must have no impact. However, when it does come time to concentrate on just one thing – for example, the GMAT – researchers have found that multitaskers have more trouble tuning out distractions than people who focus on one task at a time.

Research shows that multitasking makes it very difficult for a person to focus, damages the short-term memory, makes it hard to sort the relevant from the irrelevant, and can slow down the transition from one task or way of thinking to another.

I have found that GMAT students who are multitaskers get bored very easily while studying or taking practice tests! Multitasking is all about being distracted and that can become addicting. I have actually found that confirmed multitaskers find the relative silence of the test room disturbing, they find the requirement to focus on just one thing until it is completed oppressing, and they are often, in a word, bored. Let’s face it; sentence correction and coordinate geometry are not the most exciting things in the world, especially not to a brain addicted to constant stimulation.

For years, I have been interested in the problems caused of multitasking, but it was a story on National Public Radio’s “Science Friday [Talk of the Nation]” that inspired me to write this article. It seems that science has become even more emphatic about the subject over the past few years. Dr. Clifford Nass, Professor of Communication at Stanford said this,

“The research is almost unanimous, which is very rare in social science, and it says that people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits. They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks, including multitasking.”

Multitaskers are bad at everything – including multitasking! Imagine that. It is as if playing tennis made you less physically fit and, indeed, a worse tennis player.

Even emotions are impacted…

There is another impact of multitasking that surprised me, a change in emotions. Doctor Nass said, “We can look at use of the front part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. We can look at even things like emotion management. There’s evidence that high multitaskers have difficulty with managing their emotion. So this really spans everything we do, because after all, thinking is about everything we do.” 

That is a pretty big deal. If multitaskers do have trouble controlling their emotions then this might mean more anxiety on test day, more fear, and more frustration at not being able to focus.

The professor went on to say,

“So we have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted.

They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand. And even – they’re even terrible at multitasking. When we ask them to multitask, they’re actually worse at it. So they’re pretty much mental wrecks.

Wow! Mental Wrecks! And he is describing many of the working professionals in the United States and hundreds of millions of people worldwide. It seems that you can gain an advantage over your competition (on the GMAT and in life) by simply learning to focus on one thing at a time.

In Part 3 of this article you will find practical solutions to help you stop multitasking and build your ability to focus.

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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! Read more of his articles here