On GMAT Day I Forget Everything

Even as an experienced GMAT tutor my brain empties on test day…

It’s true. And I’ve taken the GMAT 9 times, earned four 99th percentile scores, and one perfect 51 on verbal. Still, every single time I have that anxious feeling. Even a slight panic. And a little voice saying: you know nothing.

And I can’t pull up even a scrap of GMAT wisdom to counter.

But, then I remind myself that the GMAT is a reasoning test. It’s not about memorizing formulas and super specific approaches. It’s about reading carefully, organizing information, and making one reasonable decision after another. And it’s OK if I know nothing.

Think of the GMAT as a conversation. You don’t memorize a conversation in advance (if you try to it’s going to come out very weird). You respond to what someone else says and build up the conversation line by line.

Now, of course you may have a few built in rules that help keep things flowing. And you may have a memorized joke or story that you can pull out as needed. Yes, there is some structure. But ultimately, it’s about responding reasonably to what you’re given. This is a core principle here in our private tutoring sessions but something that you can also master on your own.

I was motivated to write this because of this post on reddit GMAT about score regression.

reddit gmat post on anxiety

How do I get better at “listening to the GMAT” and “responding” appropriately?

  1. Easiest first. Practice on only or mostly on official GMAT questions. They have a certain flavor that you need to get accustomed to. Really dialing in your understanding of GMATs approach to asking questions will make much easier to organize that information and take a reasonable step forwards towards the solution
  2. Strive for strategies that really resonate with you. If something seems overly specific or complicated then maybe it is. Consider multiple solutions and pick the paths that seem most reasonable to you. The more connected you are to the solutions the naturally you’ll apply them. That doesn’t mean that every solution will be easy for you to apply in all cases. You will have to work to make some things useful in an exam setting. But, the important thing is that the solution really works for you from a conceptual level and that you really understand why you are using the tool.
  3. Aim for strategies that are applicable in a variety of cases. Some explanations are very narrow. And sometimes that’s just how it is. But too often I see too much focus on the trees and too little attention to the forest. So, you want to find general principles/strategies that are broadly applicable that help you shrink the GMAT universe and highlight the connectedness amongst the question types.

A last note on empty test day brain syndrome

It is normal to feel lost and outmatched during your official GMAT. Just remember that most people (including me) feel that way as well. And that you can feel anxious and empty brained and still do amazingly well on your GMAT.

Just remind yourself ahead of the test that: you don’t need anything specific. Remembering some little rule isn’t the end all be all. You just need to read carefully, organize the information, and then make one reasonable decision after another until you infer the correct answer.

And, if you get stuck, you can always skip the question. Especially on that Quant, there is a ton of room for skipping. You can get 8-10 questions wrong and still earn a 49.

I hope that helps ease some anxiety and gives you a general principle to practice that can boost your confidence on test day. Good luck on your GMAT and comment with any questions!