As a GMAT teacher and tutor, I am often asked about the best way to “get into the zone” to take the exam. After all, no one can sit for a 3.5 hour exam and not occasionally space out or lose focus. There is one very simple answer to this question: do prep tests! Prepping for the GMAT (or for any standardized test) is much more like training for a sporting event than studying for a traditional exam. Your mastery of the GMAT concepts is a necessary condition of your success, but it is not sufficient. You must also be able to apply those concepts in a timed scenario and be able to concentrate throughout the exam. The best way to accomplish this goal is to train yourself by consistently taking prep tests.
There are, however, some limitations to this approach. There are not an infinite number of GMAT CATs available. Knewton gives you six, and there are two free CATs available from GMAC. But these might not be enough to really get your mind ready for the exam, and you do not want to waste CATs before you have begun to master the concepts. So what other ways can you train yourself to improve your concentration?
You can try reading a rather uninteresting book for 3.5 hours (no J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer, or, if you share my taste, Elmore Leonard and Gary Shteyngart). Go see a Shakespeare or Sophocles play and pay attention the whole time. If you need help with Critical Reasoning or Reading Comprehension, you can do Logical Reasoning or Reading Comprehension sections from old LSATs. There is a near endless supply of them (over fifty available prep tests).
It is also important to take the exam at your optimal time: for example, I am not at all a morning person, so I took the exam in the afternoon (one of the advantages of a computerized test is that you have the freedom to schedule it whenever you want). Make sure you are eating healthily and getting a decent amount of exercise, but you might want to put off any intense dieting or Thai kickboxing training until after the exam. If you are a coffee drinker, have a cup or two, and you can stash an iced coffee in your locker to have during the break. If you are not a coffee drinker, don’t start the morning of the exam.
Train your mind to concentrate and find what else helps you to stay focused. This way, you’ll be able perform at your peak and get the best GMAT score possible. Next time, I’ll blog about what NOT to do to get in the zone for the GMAT.