GMAT Anxiety: Do Something!

As a full-time GMAT tutor, I work with many people who have taken the exam at least once before, and, in many cases, multiple times. For many of these students, the GMAT is no longer “just” a test they need to get into a good business school, but something almost existential. Though I hesitate to endorse any view of the GMAT as an all-encompassing, life-shattering event, the GMAT geek inside of me (who, incidentally, is alive and kicking during GMAT season) applauds the importance these students assign to the exam.

But, there’s a downside to this. Because so many people rightfully emphasize the importance GMAT, the prospect of not achieving that [750/700/650, etc.] is so debilitating that it prevents them from accomplishing their full potential. And nowhere is this problem more apparent than in the way some students tackle Quantitative questions (especially Data Sufficiency). When many of these students see a question that looks intimidating, they instinctively freeze (a la a deer in headlights) instead of setting about to answer the question in a systematic fashion.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably know the question-types I’m talking about: Overlapping sets, sequences, functions, combinatorics, and all those other questions that look intimidating simply because of they have weird notation or some sort of awkward wording. Though I don’t deny that these questions can often be difficult, I can’t emphasize enough that idly staring at the question won’t help you get to the right answer. When tackling any Quant question on the GMAT, your first order of business should be to write something down, be it information from the question or an equation you’ve learned that might be useful for the concept at hand. If you see a question dealing with combinatorics, you can, at a minimum, set out to determine how many elements you’re grouping, how many items are in the entire set, and whether the question deals with combinations or permutations. If you see a question dealing with overlapping sets, you can, at a minimum, write down a double matrix or an equation that your class or tutor taught you (or, at least, should have taught you) for dealing with these questions. Though it’s certainly not guaranteed that writing things down will help you get to the right answer, when under the GMAT’s time constraints (remember: an average of 2 minutes/Quant question), you simply don’t have the time to stare at the computer screen and hope that the clouds will suddenly part and that you’ll come upon the right answer. Setting information or an equation to paper has the effect that, if nothing else, you’ll see the information from the question in an organized form that you could use to eventually arrive at the correct solution. And, perhaps most importantly, forcing yourself to write things down as you answer the question will give you the opportunity to allay any anxiety you have because, simply put, the act of writing and thinking won’t give you time to question your approach or wonder if you should be taking a different path to solving the question.


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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