GMAT Impact: Too Many Decisions Can Drive You Crazy

When it comes to the GMAT, raw intellectual horsepower helps, but it is not everything. In this weekly blog series, Manhattan GMAT’s Stacey Koprince teaches you how to perform at your best on test day by using some common sense.

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. Last year, the New York Times published an article on this topic entitled “Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?”

During a test like the GMAT, decision fatigue can manifest as the “panic stare,” or as a feeling of “not caring” any longer, so you begin to answer too quickly without checking your work or being careful.

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 flash card? And this doesn’t even include the decisions we have to make while answering the questions themselves!

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—how do I decide? That’s a great question to ask while you’re studying because then you’ll be prepared to make a quick decision 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. In general, yes/no or binary decisions are easier than decisions that require us to formulate actual sentences and complete thoughts. (For example, don’t ask: Hmm, which difference should I examine first in this Sentence Correction problem? Instead, ask: Do I know how to deal with the specific difference I’m looking at right now? Yes or no?)

One more thing that might seem obvious now that you’ve read this: 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!

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