1. Keeping calm and maintaining your concentration is not a suggestion but a necessity. Better results are achieved when your are focused. However, the way to accomplish this does not begin on D-day but during your test preparation. Sleep well, eat well, know how to breathe, motivate yourself, and much more in the following tips.

    cat staring

    Close your eyes and breathe

    You should use this technique during your practice sessions, so when you use it during the test it will be second nature to you: close your eyes; breathe deeply, filling your lungs; keep the air in for 2-3 seconds; and breathe out slowly. Repeat this 2 or 3 times, and don’t look at the exam. When used during the exam, this technique allows you to lower your blood pressure. You can also use some guided imagery and visualise a calm place, a face or a feeling that enables you to better concentrate. You might be reluctant to take a break when the time comes, but remember: this should take only 10-15 seconds.

    Sleep well the days before the exam

    Have a good night’s sleep every day during the week before the exam. Use guided imagery and deep breathing exercises to achieve muscle relaxation, reduce anxiety and avoid racing thoughts. In addition, turn off your television and cell phone or tablet at least 30 minutes before going to bed as they stimulate the brain. Instead, read a book or listen to soft music to help your body and mind relax.


    Exercise the same as always and eat nutritional food

    Balanced diet and exercise can help relieve anxiety. If you don’t exercise routinely, this is not the time to begin; however, some walking or running can help you release endorphins that which trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to morphine. In terms of food, drink enough water to stay hydrated, and limit or avoid alcohol; try to eat whole grains, vegetables and fruits rather than simple carbohydrates found in processed foods.

    Running people

    Keep your routine and pace yourself

    Routine is often something we want to “break”, but not in this case. Keep doing your daily activities as you normally do. In particular, if your exam is scheduled for 9:00 A.M, practice the week before at the exact same hour so that when you arrive at the test center your body and mind will be ready for the task. In addition, avoid multitasking or reschedule tasks that can be done after the exam, so that you have enough energy left to do well on the test.

    Every question is a different task; when finished, move on

    Each question should receive your full attention. Once you have answered a question, move on to the next one and do not think about the previous questions. Even if you got it wrong, it doesn’t matter once you are dealing with the current question. Think of it as mountain climbing: it doesn’t matter that your leg slipped on a rock a few meters back, as long as you are concentrated on the next step towards the top.


    Use the breaks provided and use positive thinking

    Thinking negatively can be very counter-productive and distract you from the task at hand. It is important to practice positive thinking during those months of preparation before the exam, especially in those moments of frustration. Also, don’t skip those schedule breaks; look at each break not just as a time recharge, but also as an opportunity to fill yourself with encouraging and positive thoughts to help you keep going. Be proud of what you have accomplished, and tell yourself that all of your hard work has prepared you for this challenge.     

    Feet on lake (taking break)

    Know basic ergonomics

    The exam takes a few hours during which you are seated in the same place, a bit anxious and hunched. This may cause back pain and other inconveniences that you want to avoid. Place your legs in a 90 degrees knee angle, your head facing the screen, your lower back supported by the chair’s lumbar support, and adjust your chair height so that your feet touch the floor comfortably. Every now and then, stretch your arms and back, allowing the body to release some tension.


    Use your short- and long-term motivations

    Being motivated plays a big part in maintaining your focus throughout the exam. Whenever you feel yourself losing concentration, you need to remind yourself of why you’re taking this annoying and exhausting exam to begin with. Also keep in mind that since your long-term motivation may seem too far away, it is important to have short-term motivations as well. Tell yourself that if you maintain your concentration, you will give yourself a prize right after the test (like going to nice restaurant, going to the beach, watching your favorite movie, etc.).


    Stick to your inner timetables

    A big part of being prepared for the GMAT is having a set strategy and clear timetables for each section of the exam. If you are taking too long to finish a certain question or section, that is usually a sign that you are not focused and not thinking about the exam as a whole. Our suggestion is to stick to the time limits you set for yourself rather than let yourself become distracted and carried away by one question.


    Be aware of when you tend to lose your concentration

    Being aware of when you are not focused and need to do something to increase your level of concentration is essential. You should study what you typically do when you are distracted: do you look out the window? Do you doodle? One sure way to know that you are unfocused is when you read the same passage or question a number of times and you still don’t know what it says. After you become familiar with your patterns, practice stopping yourself before your day-dreaming progresses.


    Expect the unexpected

    Be prepared that on test day, not everything is going to go as planned. You will probably  encounter some unexpected distraction during the exam, and rather than focusing on how this is going to hurt your score, ask yourself whether there is anything you can do to improve the situation. If the answer is yes, then take action, but if the answer is no, move on and tell yourself that no matter what happens, you will be fine because you are prepared, you studied hard, and you knew this type of thing was coming.

    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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  1. Kelly says:

    Some really great tips! I wish I followed some of these while I was sitting the exams for my bachelor degree. I definitely agree that sleep, good nutrition and exercise helps concentration when studying. Being aware of when you aren’t focused and concentrating is also a really good tip – something I should learn to do more often.

  2. Scott Winston says:

    I really like the advice about ergonomics…..we get so focused on learning very bit that we can we do it to the detriment of our health. And timing yourself during each practice test session is a great way to find your strengths and weaknesses, in preparation for the real test.

  3. Kay says:

    These are some excellent tips! One thing that people overlook is how much a good diet can affect your cognitive abilities. Food can either give us energy or take away energy. Instead of snacking on cookies or honey buns, snacking on apples and wild blue berries will provide a great energy boost and clear mind. Positive thinking is also key. The only thing you can do is relax and do your best.

  4. Hannah says:

    Great tips here! I’m not always a great test taker and doing anything out of the ordinary can mess me up. I also tend to panic in the days leading up to a test, sometimes to the point where focusing when I get in the room is really difficult so some of these tips are really helpful for me. I think the most important thing on this list is knowing when you’re not focused because if you can’t tell when you’re not paying attention to something fully then you can’t actually fix that. Time is everything so being able to fix this problem can make a huge difference in your score. What would you recommend doing actually during the test to regain your focus? Since you can’t just get up and walk around or something.

  5. mm Jack Oren Jackman says:

    You should try Guided Imagery (Google it). There are many websites / guides on how to use self hypnosis in order to relax or regain concentration.

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