This is Part II of the Using Head, Heart and Gut: For GMAT and GRE Success. Read Part I here.
Showing up for a high stakes test like the GRE or GMAT requires a lot more than mastering content and becoming a ninja of test-taking strategy. Who you are at every moment helps usher in the next moment, and the next, and so on. Your attitude and reasons behind taking these tests will help define your experience. If you want to excel on these examinations you should be confident about your abilities. You can achieve this by leading a healthy lifestyle and maintaining emotional balance. Let me remind you:
Tests not only measure what you know, they also measure how well you take tests.
Take inventory of your emotional landscape while studying and when you walk inside (or imagine yourself walking inside) the test center: are you focused, grounded, calm, and feeling confident? Or are you nervous, feeling flighty, unfocused, and sweating? If you’re uneasy, then ask yourself if this is a familiar feeling or a new one? While you may believe you are responding to this test-taking experience, recognize those conditions in which you are unable to adapt–sitting in a strange sterile environment, under strictly timed conditions, surrounded by stranger-competitors, and a host of other conditions. Are you doing what’s necessary to feel positive, grounded and in control, no matter what the environment?
It’s understandable that you would be overwrought about taking a test whose results determine your future. In fact, 89% of the admissions consultants I have surveyed, confirmed they’ve heard students say, “I’m not a good test-taker.” Not a great belief to hold walking into a test! This may not be a new feeling, based solely on how you feel about this test. Your feelings likely have a history: from final exams to the SAT, ACT, or other industry certification exams. Your nervous system has been hijacked by past responses of internalized external catalysts which have become negative feelings. You’ve then created a pattern in how you respond emotionally or physically (or both). And if you didn’t deal with unwanted emotions or negative self-beliefs then, it is likely you’ll feel them on your upcoming test. Stop the madness!
Gerald Ford said, “Whether I think I can, or think I can’t I’m right.” Chew on that. Can you or can’t you perform your best? And will you or won’t you shift your ways of doing things so you WILL feel the most positive? Your attitude determines your reality – and you always have a choice.
You perform best when you have balance in your life. A miserable applicant can lose momentum and perform sub-par because he/she isn’t happy. How will you feel grounded, nourished, resourced and happy? During your study period, did you include time with friends, family or some alone time in your calendar? Will you still get to the gym or enjoy nature? Are you getting enough sleep and eating healthy? These support intense study, so scheduling them (yes, really) is great for your limbic system and all other systems as well! Where do you go for support? And how are you being good to yourself?
Below is a life wheel. Print it out and chart a point on each line where you are at. Put points on the line closest to the word you feel you fully express. If you feel devoid or depleted of that word put your point closest to the circle’s center. Connect the dots. Do you see a theme emerging? Do you have balance? What does the chart indicate that you need? Wherever you see a point closest to the circle’s center, we advise you make shifts that would result in moving ‘the feeling’ towards the circle’s outside. You can achieve greater life balance in this conscious deliberate way by integrating into MORE of what you desire in your life, be it joy, creativity, spirituality or whatever else resonates with you. On the other hand, if some of the descriptors have no meaning or value for you, then don’t include them. Bottom line: the more resourced, full and happier you feel, the better you’ll perform.
Still, a balanced life may not be enough to score your best. If you feel anxious, unfocused, have sweaty hands, or don’t believe in yourself, despite your efforts – you may also need to bring in the big guns. I encourage students to find what might work for them: this could include, among other modalities, meditation, mindfulness, and holistic techniques. You can do them on your own or with the support of a therapist or coach. In my practice we use and have witnessed techniques such as visualization, neuro-linguistic programming, acupuncture, tapping or Emotional Freedom Technique, massage, EMDR, CBT, sound therapy as modalities that change students’ unwanted unconscious behaviors and attitudes. Integrating them is quick, easy and can help you make a mental shift to perform your best.
Let’s face it: it’s not necessarily normal to sit around for hours answering questions that have nothing to do with your day to day life! But balance in life or lack of it and beliefs about yourself and who you are as a test-taker affect your performance. It’s up to you to feel positive and confident and to create the personal and internal landscape for success. And there are numerous tools available to get you to feeling great and believing in your success. What’s your next small step to make this happen?
Bara Sapir, CEO and Founder of Test Prep New York and Test Prep San Francisco, is a nationally recognized test anxiety relief expert and sought-after speaker with over 20 years of experience. Each year she helps hundreds of students through workshops, webinars, articles, products, and books, and works privately with a number of students.
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