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GMAT Tips – Too Many Decisions Can Drive You Crazy

Today’s GMAT tip comes from test prep firm ManhattanGMAT. In this article, they provide helpful tips on how to minimize the number of decisions you need to make while taking the GMAT.  Read on to see what they have to say!

Have you ever experienced the “panic stare?” That’s when you stare at a problem for way too long without really doing anything besides thinking that you don’t know what to do. Or you sit down to study, but you’re not sure where to begin, and so you take way too long to get started, while you shuffle your papers aimlessly.

The more decisions we need to make, or the more options we have, the harder it is to act, or the more likely we are to act rashly or make snap decisions. The New York Times recently published an article on this topic entitled Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? (Note: NYT is a paid site. You can access a certain number of articles free each month; after that, you have to have a subscription.)

 What is decision fatigue?

The basic theory is this: the more decisions we make, the more our mental energy suffers, though we’re not necessarily aware of this fatigue in the same way that we’re aware when we’re physically tired. According to the article, we tend to deal with this mental fatigue in one of two ways: either we start making very quick, “snap” decisions without necessarily thinking everything through, or we just refuse to make a decision at all – we do nothing.

What are the consequences?

On a test like the GMAT, that can manifest as the “panic stare” I mentioned above, or it can manifest as a feeling of “not caring” any longer, just wanting to get the test over with, so you begin to answer very quickly without checking your work or being careful. Have you experienced either of those before? (I certainly have!)

This can also happen while you’re studying. There’s a lot to study. You’re having to make constant decisions – what am I going to study next? How am I going to study it? Should I write this down on a flashcard? And that doesn’t even get into the decisions that we have to make while answering the questions themselves! In addition, many of us study after a long day at work – where we were making all kinds of decisions all day long.

What implications does that have for taking the GMAT?

One of your tasks while studying is to figure out how to minimize the number of decisions that you have to make while taking the test. Hmm, I could do the problem this way or that way. Which way should I do it? That’s a great question to ask while you’re studying because it can make your ultimate problem-solving decision much simpler. Figure out ahead of time the best way to decide, for instance, when to use algebra versus when to pick some real numbers.

How would we do that? In general, when the math feels easier, we should do algebra, and when the math feels harder, we should pick real numbers. In order to decide that, you have to have a good idea of what “easier” and “harder” look like for you. Then it’s a judgment call – not what should I decide and how should I decide it? Rather – is this on the easier end or the harder end for me? That’s a much simpler decision. (In general, yes/no or binary decisions are easier to answer than decisions that require us to formulate actual sentences and complete thoughts.)

There may also be times that you can eliminate certain decisions entirely. A lot of test prep companies (including mine!) tell people to start with the easier statement on data sufficiency. But I don’t like that, because then I have to decide 16 or 18 times during the test: should I start with statement 1 or statement 2? So, instead, my default is always statement 1. If I look at statement 1, though, and think, “Yuck. I wish they wouldn’t have given me that!” then the decision is made for me – I do statement 2 first instead. No real decision there.

Ditto with sentence correction – all the companies tell people “look for differences” (we call them “splits” at MGMAT) and, to save time, deal with the splits that can help you eliminate multiple answers (we call those 2/3 splits at MGMAT). For me, though, it’s too exhausting to try to figure out what the “best” split is. I find a difference. The only thing I care about is: do I know how to deal with this difference? If yes, I deal with it. If no, I go find some other split that I can handle. Asking myself which split is the best one to do first – no, that’s not a decision I really need to make during the test.

So, when you’re studying, think about ways that you can reduce the number of decisions that you need to make, and ways to make those decisions simpler.

Anything else?

As discussed in the previous section, a lot of the work of minimizing this decision fatigue “syndrome” comes during study – and that’s the single biggest way you’re going to make your life easier. The article also noted, however, that glucose can help us recover from that decision fatigue quite quickly. Glucose can be found in lots of foods and drinks; the studies discussed in the article mostly used sugary drinks to deliver a quick hit of glucose.

So one thing we could do is make sure to have a sugary beverage with us to drink during the break. But note a really important detail; the NYT article states that “a sugar-filled drink will provide quick improvement… but it’s just a temporary solution. [Sugary drinks don’t] help as much over the course of the day as the steadier supply of glucose we would get from eating proteins and other more nutritious foods.”

Now, the GMAT is a long test – the test itself takes about 3.5 hours and add at least another half hour for getting there, checking in, having your palm scanned and ID checked, etc. Also, we’re only given two breaks. After each break, we have to go back in and perform for 75 minutes without food or drink. Will the glucose hit from a sugary drink last that long? It’s better than nothing, certainly, and if you’re already feeling that decision fatigue we described above, then yes, take a hit of your sugary drink on the break. But you also need protein and complex carbohydrates. Those foods take longer to digest and convert into glucose, but they also provide longer-lasting energy, and that’s important on a 4-hour long test. So have a protein + complex carb-rich meal before you go in, and bring more protein + complex carbs as well as some kind of quick-hit sugary beverage, just in case. (Note: it needs to be real sugar; no artificial sweetener!)

One more thing that might seem obvious now that you’ve read this, but let’s just make sure: don’t make a bunch of decisions about a lot of other random things on the same day before you take your real exam. Know what you’re going to eat for breakfast, know how you’re going to get to the exam center – basically, decide everything ahead of time so that your brain is as fresh as possible for the start! If you’re not a morning person (like me), and you take the test in the afternoon, make sure your morning is planned out in advance / as decision-free as possible!

So, in a nutshell: if you’re experiencing some of this “decision fatigue” feeling (and I would argue that we all are, at least a little bit!), then make sure you start thinking consciously about how to minimize the number of decisions to make and about how to make whatever decisions you do have to make easier somehow. That’s a process you have to work out for yourself during study, so that you can just execute the details during the test. And don’t forget the physical side of things – make sure your body has the appropriate energy to ward off this mental fatigue.

For more information on ManhattanGMAT, download Clear Admit’s independent guide to the leading test preparation companies here. This FREE guide includes coupons for discounts on test prep services at ten different firms!

Posted in: GMAT Tips

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