I have talked to a ton of students recently who were surprised by some detail of test day—and that detail affected their performance. Let’s talk about what is going to happen when you finally get in there to take the test.
When you arrive
There will be some kind of outer waiting area, an inner office containing the biometric equipment, and finally the “inner sanctum”: the testing room.
When you first arrive, you will be asked to read (and digitally sign) a bunch of legalese and will show your ID. Check the guidelines to determine what kind of ID you must bring.
But wait! You are not done with security yet. They will take a digital photo of you. You will also have the veins in your palm digitally scanned—turns out our palm veins are even more unique than fingerprints. Who knew?
Finally, before you enter the inner sanctum, you will place all of your belongings (except your ID) into a locker to which you will have the key. Everything goes in this locker: your wallet or purse, your money, your mobile phone, your keys, everything. Do not bring any study notes into the test center with you, do not use any electronic devices, and do not write anything down at any time—even on the breaks. Do not give them any reason to think you might be cheating.
Starting the test
You will be given a five-page booklet of laminated paper on which to take notes. If you use up the booklet, raise your hand, and a proctor will give you a new booklet in place of the used one.
During the test, you are allowed to request a new note booklet at any time, even if you have not finished using up the previous one. I have heard reports of some proctors refusing such requests; if this happens, ask again (politely). Tell them that you specifically asked ahead of time and that GMAC (the organization that owns the GMAT) confirmed that you do not need to use up a test booklet before requesting a new one.
You will have access to tissues and earplugs provided by the test center; you cannot bring your own. Some test centers also have headphones available (in addition to earplugs).
Officially, you are not permitted to write down notes or set up your scrap paper before the test starts. When you sit down, the proctor will start the test. You can try to jot down some timing benchmarks or a few formulas during the short pre-test instructions, but stop if the proctors tell you to stop. Do not count on being able to spend any time at all writing things down ahead of time.
Breaks are optional, but I strongly recommend that you take them!
You have to leave the test room during the break. The break is eight minutes long—but, wait, you do not have your watch! It is in your locker. The testing center is required to have a clock on the wall in every room; check when you first arrive. If no clock is visible or the clock has stopped working, say something to the proctors right away!
As soon as you get out to the waiting room, look at the clock. Plan for about six minutes (it takes about a minute to get out of the room and another minute to get back in).
Then open up your locker and have something to eat and drink. Walk around. Stretch. Use the restroom. Do not sit down, do not start reading a magazine, and do not start thinking about the test or how you are doing on it. Try to empty your brain and think only about what you are actually doing: stretching, eating, drinking.
When you head back into the testing center, they will scan your palm again and also match you against your digital photo. This takes a minute—plan for it.
How else can I get ready?
GMAC has posted a short video showing how the test center works; I highly recommend watching it. The mba.com site also contains other resources about what to expect on test day (follow the link in the previous sentence). If you are even a little bit nervous about the test (and most of us are!), look through their resources. The more you know about what to expect, the better prepared you will be to handle your nerves on test day.