When you’re preparing for the GMAT, you naturally want to take practice tests and study diligently. But peak performance doesn’t just depend on your knowledge and skills. It depends on your entire state of being: your digestive system, your muscles, your emotions. If all of your bodily systems are taken care of, you’ll be ready for peak functioning on test day.
You already know that regular exercise is good for your physical health. It’s good for your mental health, too. The sense of energetic well-being you get from being in shape extends to your mind, not just your body. Staying fit helps keep you more alert, focused and positive. The exercise itself is a good rest for your mind. Activities like running or brisk walking require enough of your brain to keep it engaged, but don’t ask it to do much heavy lifting. Your brain finds this state very congenial.
If you don’t have an exercise routine, you can still learn some simple, easy techniques to relax and stretch your joints and muscles. You’ll find that any neck-down relaxation technique will also work wonders from the neck up. One easy method is to stand on one foot. Focus your gaze at some distant point directly in front of you. Press your palms together at around chest height. Place your free foot alongside the opposite leg. Try to breathe deeply and focus on your balance. The idea isn’t to challenge yourself acrobatically; if you’re windmilling your arms crazily to stay balanced, it defeats the purpose. If you’re having trouble staying balanced on one foot, keep the other one close to or lightly touching the floor. When the leg you’re standing on gets tired, switch to the other one.
Another easy relaxation technique is to lie stretched fully out on the floor. Use a pillow for your head, but otherwise, the flatter the surface you’re lying on, the better. Focus your attention on each muscle and joint, starting at your toes. Consciously and actively make yourself relax them. Breathe slowly all the way in and all the way out. You can also lie on your stomach with your head facing right or left, it stretches your neck muscles out naturally. Take ten deep breaths and switch directions.
For many more relaxation techniques, check out “Conquering Test Anxiety” by Dr Neil Fiore and Susan Pescar. Get in the habit of practicing relaxation techniques early. Make them a part of the routine. Spend fifteen minutes doing them each day, and they’ll become effortlessly automatic.
Sleep is usually low on the priority list for students. But it’s worth making the time to keep yourself well-rested. After a certain point, sacrificing sleep for more study hours is counter-productive. It won’t matter how prepared you are on test day if you’re too groggy to pay attention. Sleep maximizes the benefit of your study time, because your brain uses the time to organize and process new information you’ve taken on that day – this is one theory about the purpose of REM sleep and dreams.
It’s also important to eat right. Junk food is convenient for late-night study sessions, but it won’t serve you well when it’s time to harness your brain power. Especially on test day itself, go easy on the caffeine and sugar. Caffeine is a natural antidepressant, but too much of it can make it difficult to pay attention. The energy in fruits and veggies metabolizes more slowly and naturally, and its good effects last longer. A happy stomach makes for a happy mind.
Final prescription: Study hard, and take care of yourself well!
Also appears on the Beat The GMAT forum