Get Psyched! How to Put Yourself in the GMAT Mindset?
  1. So you’ve studied like a pro, learned the ins and outs of Quant and know every syllable of Verbal. The test date is fast approaching, and you’re ready to crush it. But hold on. You may have gotten the professional side of GMAT down, but before you take it, it’s important to make sure you are prepared in another arena: the psychological one. Your mind has gotten you where you are, so it’s worth taking some time to give back and take care of your mind a little.

    Know Your Enemy

    The thing you most want to avoid on the day of the GMAT is surprise. You want the test to be as boring as possible, just a more official version of something you’ve been doing for months. The less you have to think about all the predictable aspects of it, the freer your mind will be to concentrate on the hard stuff.

    How to go about this? Well, the main point is dividing the whole GMAT experience, which may seem big and scary, into small, manageable bits. So let’s do just that, and break it down:

    • Mock Like you Mean It
      If being ready means being familiar, make your practice tests as close to the real thing as possible:

      • Make sure some of your practice exams are official GMAT mock tests, so you are familiar with it.
      • Take your practice exams in the weeks before the test at the same time of day as the test itself.
      • Do the sections in the test consecutively, without interruptions (that means turning your cellphone off… ). Take short 5-10 minute breaks between sections, like the test itself.
    • Strategy
      Two days before the exam, review your test plan. Based on your practice performance and the things you have learned from it, have a full strategy mapped out:

      • Decide for each section how many questions you are attempting to answer and how many you can gloss over, and time each section accordingly: divide it into 15-minute intervals and know how many you must solve in each interval, so that on the exam itself you can check your timing and speed things up if you’re behind.
      • One last time, review the PAL system and when each kind of answer strategy works for you.

    Avoiding surprise, however, has to do with more that the exam itself. You must account for environmental factors, which can throw you off your game, as well. In general, your goal is to make everything about the day of the test as familiar as possible.


    • Scene of the Crime

    If possible, try to visit the test center itself before your exam, so you know exactly how to get there. If the staff is accommodating, look around the place – even seeing the size of the computer screens is a detail you’re better off knowing. The best thing to do is take a trip to the test center on the same day of the week and time of day as your test, so you get acquainted with the traffic at this time and get an accurate handle on the amount of time it will take you to get there.


    • No Detail Too Small

    Ahead of time, plan your entire schedule for the morning of the exam: what time you will wake up, what you will wear (we recommend a white shirt – studies show this can help put you in a good mood!), what you will eat, when you will leave home, what you will have in your bag. These things may sound small, but the less you need to think about on the day of the exam, the more you can focus on what’s important.

    Our Preparation Guide section explores this issue in detail – make sure to review it!

    Take It Off

    The GMAT is exhausting. Thus, proper test-day etiquette actually starts the day before the exam, when it’s important to take the day off. Resist the temptation to do just one more mock test or review the material one more time – you’ve already studied a lot, and the benefit such cramming will give you is small to nonexistent. It’s much more beneficial to give yourself a break. Do something you like. If the weather’s nice, go outside (remember outside? The place you used to go before you started sitting at a table and studying for the GMAT all day?) Spend some time with the people you love and have been ignoring for the past few weeks.

    This will enable you to relax: you’ve earned it. Furthermore, as your study plan has gotten you used to taking an exam every other day, you’ll wake up the day of the test ready to go. In the evening, pack your bag for the next day, lay out your clothes for the morning, and most importantly – go to bed early!

    Game Day

    The big day is here. If you’ve followed the previous section, many of your decisions on this day will already have been made, and you’ll make your way to the exam on auto-pilot. However, there are a few more drills and tips that can help put you in the proper mindset to approach the test in peak psychological shape. Just as professional athletes take time to put themselves in the right mindset on the day of a big game, so must you.


    In the morning at home, put a pencil in between your teeth, effectively forcing yourself to smile. Perform some celebratory gestures, such as fist pumps or raising your arms victoriously. This may seem forced, but fake it till you make it – these types of physical acts can actually change the way you feel for the better.

    Upon arriving at the exam center, pause for a few minutes before entering. No pen and pencil are allowed inside the exam center, but find somewhere comfortable just outside and try the following: write on a piece of paper all your bad thoughts about the test, everything that is making you anxious and all the worst things that could happen. Next, take the paper, crumple it up or tear it and then – throw it in the trash. The purpose of this drill is to externalize your fears and concerns: by making them conscious and physically disposing of them you are getting them out of your system. This practice is based on psychological research that shows such actions tend to raise self-confidence and self-validation, and reduce stress among subjects.

    Next, take a new piece of paper and rewrite your test strategy (which you already worked out fully two days prior). Note how many questions you must answer in each 15-minute interval of each section, what your PAL strategy looks like, and other important tips. You’ll have to throw the paper out as well (you can’t enter the test center with it) but hold this strategy in your head upon entering.

    The Moment of Truth

    Enter the exam center, sign up and say to yourself, “Relax, it’s going to be great.” The beginning of each section in the exam consists of instructions. You won’t need to focus on these, as you already know the test in and out. Use this time to simulate your strategy for the upcoming section and remind yourself of the relevant tips for this section.

    Psychological preparation doesn’t necessarily end while the exam is going on. If you find yourself stressed out in the middle of a section, take a 15-second meditation break. It’s true that time is of the essence – but 15 seconds is very little in a 75-minute section, and more than worth it if it improves your focus. During this time, close your eyes, breath deeply, and envision the following: picture yourself in a long tunnel, walking towards a distant light. Imagine the light consisting of a number: first 15, then 14, 13 and so on… continually getting bigger as you near it. The number 1 should be quite big and close, and on 0, open your eyes to the light, and dive back into the test. You got this.



    Jack Oren Jackman
    CEO & Founder of examPAL. 21 years' experience in the field of test prep. Has written dozens of books and courseware, and personally taught over 4,000 students.

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