GMAT Tip of the Week

Lights, Camera, Action

(This is one of a series of GMAT tips that we offer on our blog.)

What have you been up to this month? You may be spending your time watching the NBA or NHL playoffs, or the Giro d’Italia. You may be participating in early-season triathlons or late-season marathons. If you’re President of the United States, you may be trying your hand as a stand-up comedian. Regardless of your May pursuits, if they’re any of the above, they are likely preparing you for a successful performance on the GMAT, as peak performances tend to come in a familiar three-step pattern: ready, set, go; bump, set spike; game plan, warm up, perform. All signs point to I came, I saw, I conquered.

With President Obama’s standup routine at the White House Correspondents dinner, he followed a traditional jokemaker’s protocol – warm up the room, set up a situation, and then hit the punchline. In this month’s many athletic events, peak performers are starting with a game plan, moving to a warm up, and then delivering when it counts. So should you on the GMAT, remembering that the GMAT as a peak performance is comprised of a similar progression.

The GMAT begins with the AWA essays, a pair of 30-minute writing samples designed to test your communication ability, and for which the scores are used sparingly in MBA admissions. Effectively, the biggest threat to your MBA candidacy from the AWA section isn’t necessarily the essay score itself, but more likely the way in which that hour will impact your overall performance on the ever-important Quantitative and Verbal sections, which combine for your score between 200 and 800. How can you use the AWA section as a competitive advantage, and not a threat?

Game Plan
Assume that the AWA section comes first for a reason – in spending an hour writing about generic topics, students are apt to lose track of (or at least worry that they’ll lose track of) the formulas and strategies that they prepared and memorized. That hour poses a legitimate threat to your short-term memory (which shouldn’t contain much, as through thorough preparation you can internalize, rather than memorize, most everything you need to know…but I digress). But know this: the noteboard that you will use for your mathematical calculations is the very same one that you have for your essay outlines – you can use it to jot down any last minute reminders that you’re afraid you may forget, and then progress through the essays without worry that you’re diverting your attention from what truly matters coming up next.

Warm Up
As we’ve mentioned, the AWA comes first, and many examinees see this as a negative. But, viewed the right way, the AWA hour can be a definite positive for you. The AWA is a chance to warm up on a section that matters less than the others. During the essays, you can become better accustomed to your surroundings, try out the earplugs and noise-reduction headphones that you can request from the test proctor (some find them essential to filter out distraction; others find that the pure silence is more distracting in itself), and ease in to the exam with less pressure than you may face later. What’s more, the essay types run fairly parallel to the verbal questions you’ve seen later, so they can prep your thought process for those.

Once you’re warmed up and comfortable, you’re ready to peak. Like a cyclist enduring the initial rolling hills before a summit finish on the Alps, or a basketball player finding his jump shot while avoiding foul trouble in the first half, you can build your level of comfort and confidence through the essays so that you’re ready to attack the quantitative section coming next. Remember — the GMAT is a great opportunity to feel the adrenaline and energy of a peak performance opportunity like a sporting event or live performance. Prepare effectively, warm up properly, and embrace the challenge enthusiastically, and you’ll add your name to the list of peak performers who come through in the clutch.