Upgrade Your Mindset To Optimize Your GMAT Score


The GMAT is a standardized test, but each test taker is unique. The best performance and score on the GMAT is often the result of a student reaching a successful, individualized study solution. Beyond content mastery, time management, and best test-taking strategies, the winning study formula also requires an optimal mindset. Why? Because tests don’t only measure what you know, they measure how well you take tests. The GMAT is no different.

Not having an optimal mindset can explain why test takers’ real GMAT scores are lower than their GMAT diagnostic results, or why their scores don’t always correlate to the time, financial, and intellectual investment they’ve made. Hard work alone is not always enough to score your best.

If you go into the test feeling anything but calm and focused, you risk a subpar performance. This could be the difference between a decent score and a stellar score — and being accepted into your dream business school or failing to get in. Learning effective strategies to feel confident and present when you prepare and take the GMAT will help you be more intentional and forceful.


Test anxiety can start at any age and typically continues until it is dealt with. Once you graduate to  the professional realm, and you’re no longer in the rhythm of study, the cycle of the academic semester, and the camaraderie of academic peers, test anxiety won’t just disappear. You have to proactively do the work to get rid of it. It will likely show up when you’re taking the GMAT if you had anxiety in the past, and it can appear even if you never felt it before.

If you feel anxiety, you’re definitely not alone. Test anxiety has continued to increase. In one study, more than half of the 100,000 students visiting Penn State’s campus clinics listed anxiety as a concern. The 2015 National College Health Assessment found that nearly one in six college students, 15.8%, had been diagnosed or treated for anxiety; in 2014, researchers found that 54% of all college students report feeling overwhelming anxiety, up from 46.4% in 2012 and 35% the year before. If we look at younger students, 61% of high school students reported suffering from test anxiety at least some of the time, and over 26% were afflicted ‘‘almost always.’’ Statistically, student test scores decrease an average of 12% when anxious.

Holistic solutions for stress management, such as yoga and mediation, have gone mainstream. It works. Students improve dramatically. Typically the solution is more involved than deep breathing, but a much shorter time investment than talk therapy. We have great results from integrating hypnosis, Emotional Freedom Technique, Neuro-linguistic programming, sound therapy, EMDR, building a growth mindset, and an understanding of neuroscience and neuro-plasticity into our students’ test prep regime. These methods consistently allay test anxiety and are among the easiest and quickest ways to help you show up confident, engaged, calm, and focused. I’ve witnessed our test prep students improve up to 230 points on the GMAT, by simply incorporating these techniques that optimize their mindset. These same methods provide an edge to present as your best self–including for interviews, presentations, negotiations, etc.. They will last you a lifetime.


Test anxiety symptoms manifest as acute or chronic and these practices are solutions to relieve anxiety and give you peace of mind. I’m not alone in advocating these practices and saying they work. Experts at such prestigious institutions as the American Medical Association and the Mayo Clinic, as well as advocates of integrative medicine such as Dr. Andrew Weil, have noted the efficacy of anxiety reduction, memory enhancement, and peak performance through holistic and mindful modalities. Professional articles supporting the use of such modalities have appeared in the most respected journals and press, including the Review of Educational Research, Cognitive Therapy and Research, The Journal of Clinical Psychology, The American Journal of Hypnosis, and U.S. News and World Report, to name a few. Experts concur that exercise, healthy nutrition, adequate sleep, and a host of alternative healing techniques work for, and are accessible to, anyone who uses them.

Since we now know that getting nervous is normal and we have techniques to deal with it, it’s a great time to allay your fears and unleash your full potential. This is especially true if you find that your diagnostic scores exceed your real test scores. Ask yourself these questions about how you emotionally engage with the test. Be honest. Look at your answers to direct you to next steps:

  • Do you get nervous before your GMAT diagnostic?
  • If you took a real test, did you feel nervous?
  • Do you believe you’ve studied your best, and left no rock unturned, prior to your test?
  • What confirmation do you have of this?
  • How do you perform when you’re nervous?
  • Have you felt this way before?
  • Do you know how to relax?
  • Do you have a spiritual practice?
  • How have you felt taking other high-stakes tests in your past?
  • What did you do about it?
  • Do you feel your score is an accurate measure of what you know?
  • Are you distracted when taking tests?
  • Do you know how to regain focus?
  • Have you noticed your anxiety interfering with your ability to study?
  • How many diagnostic tests have you taken and of those, how many have been in your targeted score range?
  • How important is it that you get your score goal?
  • And what would it mean if you didn’t?
  • Are you ready to learn stress-reduction techniques?
  • Would you be willing to try approaches beyond content study to improve your performance?
  • Are you willing to consider a mindset upgrade to improve your test performance?

Recognizing your challenges and being ready to make positive changes is a great first step. You will find effective resources online and in person in your community. While earning your top score is a desired short-term reward and has great impact on your future, learning how to reduce stress is one of the best things you can do for yourself now, before the GMAT, and for the rest of your life. I’d love to hear about your success and the resources that work for you. Upgrade your mindset and we’re confident that you’ll upgrade your life.

Bara Sapir is CEO/Founder, City Test Prep. CTP is the first test prep company to integrate holistic and mindful modalities into the test preparation process. Bara is a 20+-year veteran of the test-prep business and a pioneer in holistic test-prep methods. She is the creator of the Full Potential® program and audio series and co-author of The Full Potential Manual and The GMAT Sentence Correction Intensive. She holds master’s degrees from the University of Michigan and Jewish Theological Seminary. Bara also has certificates in hypnosis, Neuro-linguistic programming, Reiki, and Integrated Life Coaching. 

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