Magoosh is happy to present a life hacks blog post to help you maximize your GMAT performance. These GMAT hacks work—and they can be surprisingly easy!
Sometimes the simplest, smallest study tricks make the biggest difference. They can boost your confidence, improve your focus, and dissipate your exam anxiety. They can even open your eyes to a new method of organization that will boost your academics for years to come.
Today, we share our favorite unexpected lifehacks to improve your score. Enjoy!
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GMAT Hacks 1-6: When you have one month left before the test
Music can amplify the good results of your GMAT study sessions. Listening to music can calm your test prep nerves. The right kind of music will help you focus on your GMAT activities with clarity. But you really do need to pick the right kind of music. Research shows that if you listen to music while you study, you should avoid certain kinds of music. Music with lyrics can be distracting, and so can music that has abrupt changes in tempo and is not “calm.” See Magoosh’s recommended genres of music in the graphic below.
- The Pomdoro Technique
The Pomdoro Technique is a timing scheme for long study sessions. The Pomdoro timetable can get you into a good rhythm of study. With Pomodoro timing, you prepare for the GMAT for 25 minutes without interruption, and then you take a five minute break to relax. The creator of this technique calls the 25 minute work/5 minute break cycle a “pomdoro.” In this technique, you also take an extra 15 minute break after completing 4 pomdoros. This approach to time management breaks up your study into manageable segments, while still keeping you “on task” most of the time. (Native Italian speakers may recognize that “pomdoro” means tomato. This is because the technique was originally developed by Italian learning specialist Francesco Cirillo. For more information, see Cirillo’s official Pomdoro Technique website.)
- Distraction Apps
The urge to pick up your smart phone, go online, play electronic games, etc. is perhaps the biggest killer of productivity in the modern world. It can be hard to focus on your GMAT prep when so many other interesting electronic distractions are at your fingertips. Fortunately, there are ways to fight mobile distraction, using mobile technology. With the SelfControl App, you can block specific distracting websites for up to 24 hours at a time. And with ColdTurkey, you can actually schedule website blockage, so that your favorite and most distracting Internet destinations are unavailable during scheduled study times. Then there’s the Freedom App. This app blocks the Internet and other phone apps altogether. (If you want to do this and also block calls, try a combination of the Freedom App and your phone’s airplane mode.)
- The Seinfeld X Technique
Comedy is a high pressure and surprisingly serious business. Comedians need to come up with new jokes every day. To motivate himself to always come up with new ideas, famed comedian Jerry Seinfeld would put a big red X over each day on his wall calendar– provided he spent time writing jokes on that day. Visually seeing a chain of red Xs can be very motivating. You’ll be motivated to not break the chain. (Except of course, on a designated day or two each week where you take a break from study.) For your version of the Seinfeld X Technique, put a red X on any day where you meet all of your GMAT prep goals.
- Light exercise
I don’t know about you, but when I sit down for too long, I start to get antsy. My mind wanders from the task at hand, and I want to move around. Following the urge to move can be good. Vent that excess energy and you’ll be able to sit back down again and focus on your studies. What’s important here is that you keep the exercise light. A 20 minute jog or a few dozen push-ups will wear you out. But a good, brief break for physical activity will vent your excess energy and allow you to return to your GMAT studies with greater focus. You can see our list of recommended light exercises in the graphic below.
- Change of scenery
Psychological research shows that you learn more from your studies if you study in a few different places. In fact, one study by psychologist Robert Bjork show that college students who review vocabulary in two different rooms recall 20% more words than students who have just one study spot. Of course, you need to choose your varied study spaces intelligently. Don’t choose something too comfortable. A soft chair or big comfy couch can soothe you right to sleep. And obviously, you should avoid study spaces that are noisy and distracting.
GMAT Hacks 7-12: Thinks you can do the day before the test
Once you get to the day before the test, the life hacks for good GMAT performance get even simpler. Now you no longer need to work about study schedules, long-term timetables, or even your study environment. This final day is all about self-care– making sure you are in tip-top mental and physical shape for the exam.
- Watch cute videos
Give yourself a mental break so that your mind is relaxed and ready to focus on test day. A great way to do this is through short, fun videos that make you laugh and smile. Choose videos that can be understood with little or no thought. In the graphic below, we’ve recommended some search keywords for cute, fun videos that will soothe your brain before you go in to take the GMAT.
- Eat protein
Amino acids fuel brain activity and boost GMAT performance. These chemicals are used to transmit messages and generate thoughts. Amino acids are found primarily in protein-rich foods. So eat a hearty-protein-filled meal before the test. In the picture below, I’ll give you a list of high-protein foods you can eat before the exam.
- Make a checklist
There are certain things you need to know, wear, pack, and do as you prepare to go to the test center and take your GMAT. Make a checklist of those things so that you can ensure everything is in order before the test. This will not only increase your chances of being prepared, but wit will also minimize the stress of making sure you’re prepared. A list of things to put on your checklist appears in the life hacks infographic below.
- Do NOT cram
You should do little or no studying on the day before you take the GMAT. This may sound strange or counter-intuitive, but it’s true. For one thing, good effective study takes weeks or months. One extra day of cramming for the GMAT won’t make much difference. For another, spending the entire day before the exam studying is stressful. It’ll wear you out, and you may be so stressed at the end of the day that you don’t sleep well. A day of intense studying isn’t conducive of the kind of self-care you need right before you take the test.
- Sleep well
Lack of sleep is one of the most common reasons that people do badly on the GMAT, even if they studied well and got good scores on their practice tests. Make sure you get in at least seven consecutive hours of sleep the night before the test. Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep may be better.
- Use an alarm clock
This may seem like a no-brainer. Of course you’ll need an alarm clock if you need to get up at a specific time and go take the GMAT. But here’s the thing: alarm clocks fail. You’ll want to have as many failsafes as you can. You need to guarantee that your alarm clock goes off, you hear it, and you wake up in a timely fashion on test day. See the following graphic for tips on rigging up a highly reliable alarm clock system.
GMAT Hacks 13-18: Things you can do on the test
Yes, there are even some simple hacks to do in the test center, and even during the testing session!
- Brain dump
A “brain dump” is when you quickly write down everything you’re thinking. This is a great way to both clear your mind of distractions and bring important information to the foreground of your consciousness. Right before you enter the testing room for the GMAT, spend a few minutes writing down your thoughts> Write down knowledge you have for the test and other things that may be weighing on your mind. You’ll be surprised at how much this can sharpen your focus and mentally energize you.
- Chew gum
The act of chewing gum is another way to sharpen your mind for the test. Studies show that the physical act of chewing is the real stimulant that enhances test performance. So the actual flavor or amount of sugar in the gum don’t matter. Just chew!
- Predict the answers
Before you look at all of your answer choices on the GMAT multiple choice questions, think up your own correct answer choice. This should be a true prediction– an educated guess rather than a blind guess. Base your prediction of the right answer choice on whatever you already know before looking at the actual choices. If your guess doesn’t show up in the answers, you’ll have to carefully check each option. But sometimes, your guess will turn out to be one of your choices. In that case, you can check your prediction first. This will lead you to the right answer much more quickly on a significant number of questions. Thinking of the answer before you check the choices also puts you in a frame of mind to think more quickly and clearly.
- Have good posture
Keep your back straight as you enter the test center. Keep up that good posture while you sit for the test, and when you get up to take the occasional short break. Studies have shown that good body posture boosts your confidence. Improving your posture helps you be more alert too!
- Get a (small) sugar rush
Devouring sweets in large quantities isn’t healthy, and can hurt GMAT performance. But a little sugar can elevate your emotional mood and energize you. See the post for suggestions on sweets to eat right before you go into the test room, or on your breaks.
- Breathe deeply
The speed and depth of normal breathing is not the best pace of breath for optimal focus and concentration on. Health experts agree that deeper-than-normal breathing can boost your mental performance, enhancing calm and focus. See the image below for some additional deep-breathing tips from Magoosh.
Read a Life Hacks Blog or Two
As you can see from the bibliography, there are many websites out there when you can get good life hacking advice for your test prep. In addition to the sources above, I also recommend Lifehacker, a personal favorite lifehacks blog of mine. They have an article that gives more information on the Seinfeld X Technique, and their sections on motivation and goals have a lot of articles that are relevant to test prep.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2014 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.