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GMAT Anxiety: Your Worst Enemy or Your Best Ally

Everyone who takes the GMAT suffers from at least some anxiety. I’ve taken it three times and scored 760+ each time, but even at my last sitting, I remember feeling that rush of adrenaline and nerves as the test started. In the back of your mind, you will always wonder whether they will suddenly throw 5 nasty combinatorics questions at you or give you 7 straight boldfaced CR questions. So I’m not going to write this post to criticize people who suffer from anxiety or to tell them to magically dispel it. But if you find that anxiety is preventing you from achieving your GMAT potential, ask yourself the following question: how do you deal with your anxiety? Psychological research shows that anxiety can often have counterintuitive consequences: In some people, academic anxiety produces overachievement, and in others, it produces underachievement. The reasoning is fairly straightforward: For the overachievers, the anxiety that a potentially low score produces is so unbearable that these people are motivated to do whatever it takes to get that high score. Skip out on the party to do some inequalities questions? No problem. Study combinatorics instead of going to the gym? Sure thing! Now I’m not a huge advocate of making GMAT studying your life, but I will say that some of my most successful students have been the ones who were worried as hell about the GMAT but who made it their goal to do whatever it took to overcome that hump. With a lot of work and probably some temporary damage to their psychological well-being (just kidding.. I think), these students were finally able to once and for all banish the GMAT from their minds.

Now, for the flip side. For various reasons, others deal with GMAT anxiety in the completely opposite way. Instead of using it as motivation to conquer their GMAT beasts, these students let concern over the GMAT prevent them from accomplishing the one thing they want most: to beat the GMAT! If you fall into this category, then you’ve probably let concerns over the GMAT push you to the point of paralysis. You think a lot about the test and you want dearly to ace the exam, but nagging fears about the test prevent you from fully immersing yourself in your GMAT studies. Though there’s no clear antidote for this situation, the best advice I can give is to start incrementally. Develop a structured regimen in which you force yourself to sit down and do 10 – 15 questions/day. Don’t look up the answers until after you’ve done all the questions, and, most importantly, don’t think it’s the end of the world if you didn’t do as well as you would have liked! Proper preparation for the GMAT occurs in phases, and it’s important to remember that a missed question isn’t a cause for concern, but, instead, a learning opportunity. Rather than worrying about what a few missed questions implies about your potential for the exam, analyze those questions, develop some takeaways, and make a conscious effort to implement those takeaways the next time you’re in a comparable situation. Again, this isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do, but if anxiety has slowed down your GMAT studies, it’ll be imperative to get out of the self-reinforcing cycle of doubt and to use your study time to gradually improve your grasp of the concepts and reasoning tested on the exam.


Erfun Geula
Erfun Geula

Erfun Geula is a professional GMAT tutor, based in New York City. He has scored in the 99th-percentile of the GMAT three different times, he has written and edited hundreds of practice GMAT questions, and he has over 7,000 hours of tutoring experience.

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