Scott Woodbury-Stewart

Developing the Proper Mindset For GMAT Success

Preparing for and taking the GMAT can be a significant endeavour, and, like anything else that involves performing at a high level, the path to your GMAT score goal may involve making moves that don’t immediately come to mind for most people.

In other words, your mastering the GMAT will likely involve more than learning about GMAT-related concepts and developing skill in answering questions. It makes sense to work on the project from a variety of angles, and one key aspect of GMAT success for most people is mindset.

Professional athletes, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, presidents, and Navy Seals understand the power and importance of constructive thinking and positive self-talk. After all, you view the world and yourself through the lens of your mind. You want this lens to be one of positivity and confidence so you can achieve your goals. As the old saying goes, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right.”

Your mindset is a huge factor in everything you do, including your GMAT performance, and, just as your GMAT-related skills are stronger in some areas and not as strong in others, your thinking about yourself, the GMAT, and how to hit your goal surely has room for improvement.

So, let’s go over some common types of less than optimal GMAT-related thinking and compare those to thinking that is more conducive to GMAT success.

Problematic Thinking: The GMAT preparation process is too difficult.
Constructive Thinking: Hitting my GMAT score goal is worth the time and energy it will take.

Your GMAT score can be a significant asset in your applications to business schools, and all else equal, an applicant’s GMAT score can be the determining factor in acceptance (or denial) into a program. So, with the importance that the GMAT carries, it’s worth putting in the proper amount of time, energy, and effort to earn a competitive score.

To begin, it is important that you be realistic about how long the process will take. Some of your peers will underestimate the time required to properly prepare, become frustrated, and give up prematurely. This is your opportunity to remain slow, steady and dedicated to obtaining a high GMAT score. Putting in the time and operating with patience and tenacity will pay off in the long run.

Many people preparing for the GMAT have full-time careers and active family lives, and are charged with “fitting in” preparation time. If you are exhausted by the end of your busy day, you might consider waking up two hours earlier than usual to study with a fresh, clear mind. To keep your mind and body balanced, regularly incorporate exercise into your day. Even a 20-minute run can make a difference. Endorphins can lift your mood and help reduce stress. Another component to having ample energy during the day is what you do at night: sleep. Getting enough sleep is paramount to reaching your mental potential during the day. Here is a more comprehensive article you can read on how to fit in study time with a demanding work schedule.

Problematic thinking: I keep making mistakes.
Constructive thinking: I can learn from my mistakes and improve.

That we can learn from our mistakes is advice we’ve heard since we were children. As adults, this advice remains just as sound. For the GMAT, one way to turn mistakes into opportunities is to analyze each question you miss, track the reasons why you missed it, identify the proper approach, and redo the question and similar questions. If you miss a certain question type repeatedly, spend time carefully reviewing that subject. Take more practice tests to confirm that you’ve corrected your tendency to make those mistakes.

You can turn mistakes into opportunities for improvement by using some basic analysis and by learning to live in the moment, expending all of your energy on the current step. Remember, deliberate practice makes perfect, especially when preparing for the GMAT. Check out this blog for some potent ideas on how to improve your accuracy on the GMAT.

Problematic Thinking: I can’t do GMAT math.
Constructive Thinking: I can master anything I set my mind to mastering.

Math, particularly the math on the GMAT, can be daunting for many people, but it doesn’t have to be. If you learn to break math down into step-by-step procedures and master one aspect at a time, you will find that you can learn to handle math questions with confidence.

Humans are not born knowing much other than how to breathe, but along the road of life, with hard work and practice, we can master an extraordinary, wide range of skills. Mastering GMAT math is no different.

You can implement the following simple steps when approaching GMAT math:

Review the basics.

Arithmetic, algebra and geometry basics will need to be fresh in your mind. Take your time when reviewing or relearning this material.

Pace yourself.

Avoid the tendency to become anxious when thinking about math. Read problems carefully and methodically, understanding each portion as you go.

Proper Practice.

It may seem trite, but proper, deliberate practice really does make perfect – or close to it. Repeatedly going through the exercise of approaching and answering a quant question will help you become more comfortable.

Believe that you can master GMAT math. You have no room for negativity during preparation for the GMAT. Positive thinking and believing in yourself will take you a long way.

Here is a more comprehensive article that you can read on mastering GMAT Math.

Problematic Thinking: I am just not a verbal person.
Constructive Thinking: Like GMAT quant, GMAT verbal is logic-based, and I can become amazingly good at verbal.

Many people find GMAT verbal challenging at first and don’t see a path to mastery of it, often because GMAT verbal seems so different from anything that they have succeeded at before.

This perception of GMAT verbal as something only “other people” can handle is not really right, as I have pointed out to many students and test-takers. In fact, GMAT verbal questions are actually similar to math questions in a way, in that finding their correct answers requires noticing key details and using tight logic. Is that something you can learn to do? Of course it is.

You could think of GMAT verbal this way: To get the correct answers to Sentence Correction questions, you just have to get to know some not particularly complex rules and learn to notice key issues in sentences. Not a big deal. Anyone who speaks English well already has many of the skills necessary for Sentence Correction. Critical Reasoning involves seeing the logic, or lack thereof, of arguments, something anyone can learn to do. Finally, getting Reading Comprehension questions right largely comes down to being careful to notice what passages do and do not say.

There is no mystery here, no special ability that some people have and others don’t. With some studying of rules and some practice, you too can learn to see which verbal answers make the most sense, and you can make the verbal section part of your GMAT success story.

Here is an article that covers a wide range of simple yet effective strategies for mastering GMAT verbal.

Problematic Thinking: Why do I have to take the GMAT for business school, if I’m great at my job?
Constructive Thinking: The GMAT is a necessary hurdle to overcome for acceptance into B-school and an opportunity to demonstrate my skills.

The GMAT is a well-respected exam that allows you to showcase skills that will matter in business. The test was created by a council of business schools known as the Graduate Management Admission Council. The council helps graduate management admission professionals make informed decisions. About 2,100 business schools rely on the GMAT to show them qualified candidates. Those schools operate more than 6,000 graduate management education programs.

Since business schools trust GMAT results, it’s in your best interest to master the test, scoring as high as possible. Business schools use your GMAT performance to measure your skills, and your score will be accepted by more programs and schools than any other individual graduate management school exam, according to

Problematic Thinking: I really don’t feel like preparing for this test.
Constructive Thinking: As I get further into it, doing what I have to do to prepare will come more naturally, and I can get a lot out of the experience of preparing for the GMAT.

Before you decided to take the GMAT, you may already have been plenty busy. Then maybe you learned that people can take months to prepare for this test. Perhaps it seems difficult to imagine yourself spending dozens if not hundreds of hours preparing for the GMAT. You can be sure that others who have felt similarly have ended up preparing well and seeing great results. Here are some ideas to help you do the same.

One issue people have with preparing is fitting it into their schedules. If you don’t see how you can fit GMAT preparation into your schedule, one thing you can try is finding room for an occasional hour of GMAT preparation. In doing so, you will start wrapping your mind around what you can do to make time for GMAT preparation. You may even be pleasantly surprised to find that an hour turns into much longer because you got into the work.

The more you prepare for the GMAT, the more natural doing it will become. It will start making sense as a (temporary) part of your life, and finding time and energy to do it will become second nature. You can stay in GMAT preparation mode by taking the following attitude: On days when you don’t really feel like preparing, at least do some preparation; on days when you are in the mood for GMAT training, run with that feeling and go all out. Over time, you could very well see the days when you want to prep become the vast majority.

Furthermore, it can be motivating to realize that you can get a lot of value out of GMAT preparation, value that goes well beyond your actual performance on the test. For example, many people find that through working on Sentence Correction, they see improvement in their writing and speaking skills. Other areas of the test can bring similar rewards. Many people find that their GMAT preparation turns out to be, in some way, life-changing.

So, dig in, embrace your preparation for the GMAT, and master the exam.

Problematic Thinking: I can’t master the GMAT. It’s a hard test.
Constructive Thinking: I’m going to beat this test!

It may not be easy, but you can master the GMAT. You may have to put in a great deal of work, but you can do it. To help ensure a high score on the GMAT, be smart in your studying approach and preparation process, and give yourself an ample amount of time to prepare. If, for you, that’s four months, or longer, that’s OK.

During my years working with people preparing for the GMAT, I have seen people put in the time and effort to drive their scores up hundreds of points. When they started, the GMAT seemed hard to them. By the time they finished, having hit their score goals, the GMAT had become their playground, the scene of their success. You can do the same.

Problematic Thinking: I feel overwhelmed.
Constructive Thinking: I can take it step by step.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, you are likely experiencing anxiety or irritability, worry or doubt, or full-blown panic. It’s difficult to prepare for the GMAT if you are having these feelings, so it’s important that you learn to manage the feeling of being overwhelmed.

We often hear the term “multitasking.” If you are multitasking, you may be doing too many things at once and juggling too many thoughts. Compartmentalize your to-do list and address one thing at a time. Handle what is happening presently and make a plan for things that will happen in the future.

Breathe deeply and remind yourself that you are driving this ship and you have the ability to give yourself permission to relax – and then do so. If stress or anxiety proves to be too much, take a break to clear your mind. A short walk, or even more concentrated exercise such as a run, can do wonders to realign your concentration.

Problematic Thinking: I have to be perfect every day.
Constructive Thinking: If I can improve even 1% each day, I’ll make great progress.

We all have days when we feel we are on point. We have it all together and everything runs like clockwork. On the other hand, we sometimes have days when we have to work a little harder to accomplish our goals for the day. And that’s OK.

Striving for perfection isn’t a bad thing. However, when you have many balls in the air, it’s OK to go easy on yourself. In order to grow, you must be willing to be imperfect, and at times, fail. The healthiest way to approach this is to realize that between success and failure is a space where you are “your best that day.” If you’re able to identify the areas where you can improve some, then you are already succeeding.

Remember to set realistic, quantifiable standards that can truly help you grow and succeed. Think about this quote from Mark Zuckerberg: “Done is better than perfect.”

Problematic Thinking: Other people must be so talented. They all earn high GMAT scores.
Constructive Thinking: I’ll figure out exactly what they did and replicate their process. If they can do it, so can I.

Let’s be clear: You are you, and not anyone else. However, you have just as much potential as anyone else. It’s all about sharing best practices and learning to implement them. This applies to most anything in business and certainly to preparation for the GMAT.

The saying that there is “no need to reinvent the wheel” applies here. If other test-takers have identified preparation methodologies that work, then applying those methods is a time-saver and an efficient way of managing your study habits.

If you know anyone who has scored high on the GMAT, then by all means query that person regarding his or her most helpful preparation tips. You also can search online for GMAT group chats and discussions, where test-takers are sharing strategies and tips with one another. The important thing to remember here is that it’s OK to need and ask for help. All GMAT test-takers have the same goal in mind: scoring high on the test. If you can garner useful tips from another test-taker, you should.

Problematic Thinking: I’m not good at standardized tests. They’re just not my thing.
Constructive Thinking: I know I’m an intelligent person. With a little hard work and determination, I can excel on the GMAT.

The idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy has merit here. According to, a self-fulfilling prophecy is “any positive or negative expectation about circumstances, events, or people that may affect a person’s behavior toward them in a manner that causes those expectations to be fulfilled.”

In other words, if you think it for long enough, it could happen. Believe you are an intelligent person who can master a standardized test such as the GMAT. Think of the many times you’ve succeeded in your life and know that you can apply this ability to succeed to the GMAT. Work with facts rather than with assumptions or doubts.

When you feel “stupid,” negative self-talk can set in. Don’t let it; keep your self-talk positive. Try using affirmations when you feel you aren’t going to succeed at the GMAT. If you catch yourself thinking in a negative manner, stop yourself. Transform your thinking into positivity. You can literally change your mind.

Problematic Thinking: My coworker prepared for two weeks and crushed the GMAT. I’ve been preparing for two months and still am not ready.
Constructive Thinking: All people who take the GMAT prepare for different amounts of time. So, I can’t worry about how long it took my co-worker to prepare.

As we already mentioned, while it is a good idea to recognize and implement good preparation methods used by other people, you should make it a point to go at your own pace. A certain amount of self-imposed pressure can be healthy, but you don’t want stress to become a distraction or obstacle in your learning process.

If your coworkers have shared solid study habits with you, then by all means, take note. But don’t attempt to replicate entire preparation approaches of others. Everyone has a different speed at which they take in and retain information. Additionally, due to factors such as college majors or work focus, people come to their GMAT preparation at differing levels of readiness. Only you can determine the time it will take for you to learn – and retain – what you need to in order to hit your goal.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Don’t let unreasonable comparisons of your preparation to that of others get in the way of your success.

Problematic Thinking: My work is acceptable.
Constructive Thinking: Have I really done the best I can?

While you don’t want to put unreasonable pressure on yourself, you do want to strive for your best performance. If you are honest with yourself and pay attention to your gut feeling, you will know whether you have done your best or only enough to get by.

Just as you shouldn’t settle in life, you also shouldn’t settle for a less-than-best effort when preparing for the GMAT. The feeling of burnout is sure to raise its ugly head, but you have to resist the temptation to get lazy with your study habits. There are a number of ways you can stay inspired. Keep your mind sharp with a balanced diet and plenty of sleep. Keep your body in tune with exercise or yoga. Remind yourself of your goals and reasons for taking the GMAT in the first place. You’ll be reinvigorated in no time.

Make sure that every effort is your best effort. Why be “good enough” when you can be your absolute best?
Problematic Thinking: My plan didn’t work. I guess the GMAT is not for me.
Constructive Thinking: I can devise another plan, and then another, if necessary.

Life is a series of trials that result in varied degrees of success. Not every hit will be a home run. But if you don’t succeed, you have an opportunity to improve by learning from what didn’t work, and in the case of the GMAT, you can have a “do-over.”

If your plan of attack hasn’t worked, your first duty is to identify what needs to change in order for you to get different results. There are a few common reasons why people’s GMAT preparation plans don’t work. Some people underestimate the scope of preparation necessary and don’t spend enough time studying or cover enough of what appears on the test. Some don’t fully realize that the GMAT is a reasoning test, and so they focus on learning rules and concepts without building skill in finding correct answers. Some don’t take a sufficient number of practice tests or don’t effectively use practice test results to direct their training.

Of course, your plan could account for all of the above and more and still not get you to your goal. In that case, you can be sure that there are other methods out there to help you achieve your GMAT score goal. I have seen people use everything from daily reading of dense writing to hypnotherapy to succeed in their quests for GMAT mastery. To the question “What can I do now?” there will always be a fresh answer, and every positive preparation move you make will bring you closer to your goal.

By Achieving a Constructive Mindset, You Can Turbocharge Your GMAT Success

Mindset is key for succeeding at anything challenging, and the GMAT is no exception. The most important thing to remember is that the GMAT is not insurmountable. You can figure out how to get your mind into preparation mode, come up with effective approaches, find time to do the work, and hit your score goal. If your first try doesn’t work, try, try again. You can study, improve, and conquer. You are the captain of this ship. It’s your future, and you have the tools to make it a success.

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