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5 Life lessons that taking the GMAT taught me

As anyone that has taken the GMAT can tell you, earning a high score is a lot of work. Scoring above a 700 (on a scale of 200-800) usually entails about 100 hours of study time. Of course, then there’s the actual test day. Basically, the test is four hours of just you, your brain, scratch paper, and the computer in front of you. You have no help or resources.

GMAT Prep BooksOut of this experience, I’ve learned several lessons that I believe are applicable throughout life in many different scenarios.

1) One failure is just that if you let be

I decided to take Kaplan’s Advanced Prep Course to help me prepare. As part of the course, I was able to take seven practice GMATs. On about test five, my score suddenly dropped. I found myself staring at a number that, in my mind, was not only unacceptable but a huge blow to my ego.

I began rationalizing the score as the result of my cold and a bad night’s sleep. Though within a few hours, doubts and fears began to creep into my mind. I found myself thinking, “Maybe you just can’t do it.”

Basically, I was forced to face a very real fear for me – the thought that I’m not good enough. Forty-eight hours later, I had to go back to class and keep learning. That moment was a pivotal moment for me. I had to answer questions like: Just how dedicated am I going to be? Can I achieve my goals? Will this test define me and my future?

I came to one simple conclusion – one failure is just that if I let it be that. Meaning, I could continue my defeatist internal rant and continue to underperform or I could let that one failure go, having learned from it, and move on.

Life is often this way. We have setbacks. In our mind’s eye, we watch a chain of events play out that leads to failure, pain, or disappointment. We then act on those fears and our subsequent actions are masochistic and detrimental. It’s at that moment that we have to decide how we will respond. Steven R. Covey preaches that we are responsible or “response able.” We have the right and power to decide how we will respond.

I choose to let one failure be just that.

2) Don’t let anxiety and fear change your method

As I prepared to take the GMAT, I learned techniques and methods to help guide my thinking so that I could efficiently determine the correct answer. With only four questions left on the whole test, my heart began to race. I realized that within just a few minutes, I would see my score. Months of preparation and countless hours of studying were culminating in this one moment.

I began to freak out.

I read the question and frantically looked at the answers trying to guess which one was right. Suddenly, I thought to myself, “What are you doing?! You have a method. Stick to the method. Don’t let the anxiety change your approach and cause you to guess when you can get the right answer by following the method.”

I calmed down a bit and followed my method. With each of the remaining questions, the anxiety remained. But I stuck to my method and confidently selected the answer choice that I felt was correct. And it worked. I earned a good score.

Again, life poses challenges. Some of them are horrific or emotionally devastating. But find your method and stick to it. Don’t let fear and anxiety change how you approach decisions and actions. Realize and accept that you are upset, afraid, or angry, and then consciously choose your course of action based on your method.

3) When it matters, it’s just you, your brain, and what’s in front of you

As I mentioned earlier, the only resource that you have during the test is your own brain. No calculators, no watches, no notes, not even gum. You have to face each question with the knowledge that you already possess. So preparation matters.

When faced with adversity and temptations in life, you may be able to call on others to help, but the ultimate decision and subsequent action is up to you. No one else can make it through this life for you. You have to stand up and be counted for yourself. But the weapon you have in your arsenal is preparation.

For example, I decided at a very young age that I would not drink or smoke. I have had more than one opportunity to do so in my life, but have never done it. The reason is that I had made the decision long before I was ever faced with the opportunity. So when a friend said, “Want a drink?” I didn’t have to decide what to do. I already had. So saying, “No,” was easy.

4) Do you have enough information to make a decision?

One of the question types in the math section of the GMAT is called Data Sufficiency. This special type of question tests whether or not you can determine if you have enough information to get a single, correct answer. So you don’t have to actually solve the problem. You just have to be able to say, “Yes, I could solve the problem with the information provided,” or “No, I need more information to solve the problem.”

How often do we pass judgments or make preliminary decisions based on insufficient information? Maybe you observe Coworker 1 lashing out at Coworker 2. Do you know what led up to the event? Maybe Coworker 2,  the “apparent” victim, was actually sexually harassing Coworker 1. But if you immediately reprimand Coworker 1 for lashing out, then you just made the wrong decision.

So have a checkpoint in your decision making process that says, “Do I have enough information to make a sound decision?”

5) Be proud of what you have accomplished

I’m a bit of a perfectionist. My GMAT score was 10 points shy of the target score that I set out to achieve. But my score is still good (90th percentile good). I was happy but still had disappointment in the back of my mind.

Fortunately, I have a loving wife and family and great friends. As I shared the results with them, they each congratulated me and helped me realize what I had accomplished. Now, don’t confuse what I’m saying with justifying pride or getting a big head over what you’ve done. But if you’ve put in the effort and stuck to your method, then be happy.

Preparing for and taking the GMAT was a great experience in my life. I learned a lot, not only about math and reasoning, but how to manage a situation. Hopefully, the life lessons that I discussed above can also help you.


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  • Awesome post. So true for student’s who are prepping now and those who will in the future. The GMAT can teach you alot about yourself.

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