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Managing Anxiety for the GMAT and Admissions

December 21, 2012 by

At this time of year, a lot of folks out there are stressing over an impending GMAT test date or looming admission decisions.  Most likely, it’s both.  ‘Tis the season for aspirant graduate students to hurry to meet application deadlines only to have to wait weeks (if not months) to receive word from their targeted MBA programs.

Although the end-of-year holidays usually mean time off work, too much eating and drinking, and gifts from friends and family, it is certainly not a time devoid of its own inherent stressors.  And, if that stress was not enough, the myriad facets of b-school admissions serving as compounding factors can leave many of us curled up in our beds under the weight of it all.

Of course, nail-biting shrouded in an electric blanket does us no good and, in fact, makes things worse.  Here are some ideas on how to push back at stress and set up for success:


  1. Study.  Yes, I know you are doing that, but thorough preparation is all you can do, and it’s good enough.
  2. List, on paper, GMAT stressors according to two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic.  Intrinsic stressors are things about the test itself.  For example, data sufficiency questions, strategic reading, properly identifying Critical Reasoning question types, time management, etc.  Extrinsic stressors are those that are out of your control in the immediate but nonetheless affect you now.  Examples are getting into b-school, the desire to please or make proud your parents/spouse/friends/self, the cost of everything, your future with or without an MBA, etc.Of these two types of stressors, preparation is the only thing you can do to overcome them.  Intrinsic stressors are removed or otherwise ameliorated by prep, and prep is the only thing you can do to take your mind off of the extrinsic stressors while simultaneously positioning yourself for the best possible outcome on most or all of these extrinsic buggers.
  3. Plan the post-test celebration well in advance of Test Day.  You need to have really fun things to do with really fun people locked, loaded, and ready to go as soon as you step out of that testing center.  No matter the result—good, bad, great, or other—you are going to have a fantastic time and congratulate yourself copiously for all the hard work you’ve put in.  (Just don’t get arrested.)
  4. On test day, remind yourself that you are ready—you have seen all this stuff before and you’ve already swung this bat a thousand times with the expressed function of perfecting that swing.  Test Day is different, but the game is the same.  Play it like you know how to play it.


Here, I’ll turn to clinical psychologist and co-author of Stress Management: A Comprehensive Guide to Wellness (Ballantine Books, revised 2004), Edward A. Charlesworth.  Bloomberg Businessweek recently leveraged Mr. Charlesworth’s ideas in a column and they are worth a read.  The column is titled How to Handle MBA Admissions Anxiety and you can find it here.

After considering these two lists, please let us know how you handle stress.  Chances are, your approach will help someone else!  And Happy Holidays!!!


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