While on a call with one of my students who improved from 540 to 710, I asked him what he had learnt from this remarkable journey. (Disclaimer: The student came to me for learning just CR section. So, I do not and cannot take credit for his huge score improvement) Among other things, one thing he said really struck me. He said that the two-week sabbatical he had taken from his work was the most useless time of his preparation. This person (I’d not be taking names of any individuals in this article to respect their privacy) had taken a two-week sabbatical before his first attempt at the GMAT, in which he scored 540. He then studied for another two months, while working full-time, before he took his last attempt in which he scored 710.
I was surprised! I always thought a concentrated effort would be much more fruitful than a spread-out effort. When I asked him the reason why he thought so, he said something along the lines “All during the two weeks, I was so stressed out to get to my target score. All those days, I had nothing else to do but GMAT. I was so focused on getting the score that I didn’t care much about the learning”. And when I asked him to share what made this jump possible for him, his exact words were (later on a whatsapp message) “Simply put, the moment I strayed away from the ‘score’ and started focusing on ‘improvement’, the results came. And I just believed (wholeheartedly) one thing you told me: it will come, but it will take more time. It took time, but it came.”
When I heard him say so, I could immediately relate it with the story of one of my then current students. She was on a 3-month sabbatical from her job at one of the largest FMCG companies in the world. When we started our sessions (I take private GMAT classes), she was an easy-to-laugh girl. We used to have good laughs during our sessions. However, as the course progressed, she started becoming more and more serious. By the time she had completed her course with me and started taking mocks, it came to a stage when she used to be serious all the time. I could sense that her stress could be coming in the way of her improvement. However, I kept quite, thinking it was natural to be a bit stressed. However, when I heard the experience of the guy, I could immediately see that she needed to come out of this huge mental stress to make improvement. The more she was attached to the score, the more the score seemed to be running away. Probably, the day she stops worrying about the score and enjoys the learning, improvement will come, I thought. So, I called her, and we had a good 45 minute discussion on the psychology of preparation. And then, after a few days, she called me up to say that she just had finished her GMAT with a score of 710. She was ecstatic about it. I could feel that in her voice. She said she didn’t tell me that she had booked the GMAT for the day because she didn’t want to be stressed out. She wanted to be relaxed. And she was. And it showed in her results. I’m not sure whether our 45-minute discussion helped, but I could, for sure, feel that the lack of stress did work.
Today, I was on a call with one other student. He left his job some time back to focus entirely on his GMAT preparation. Today, he shared that he has been unable to sleep at night for the last few days. In the middle of the night, he keeps searching forums for admission results and keeps worrying about his odds of getting an admission into a good B-School. He said he had gained weight also since he had stopped going to gym to save time for GMAT preparation. I was alarmed! I knew he was heading toward the same zone in which our first guy was in his two-week sabbatical. I then had a good discussion with him on not to make the GMAT the beginning and end of his life and to continue to do other things that he enjoyed and that made him feel good about himself.
However, as our session ended, I felt that if I could come across a number of such cases among my students, how many more will be out there who will be getting utterly stressed out to get their target score, not knowing that it is their over-attachment to the score that is coming in their way of improvement and thus in the way of their score. I thought that so many articles emphasize the value of hard work and taking things seriously that we miss the value of ‘balance’ in life. Over-seriousness is equally harmful as under-seriousness, I believe. Probably more.
We need to understand how our mind works. Clearly, it doesn’t work at its optimum when it is stressed out. The more stressed out you are, the less is the mind’s effectiveness. And GMAT is a test of your aptitude, your mind, not a test of some concepts. So, if your mind has been brought down to a low effectiveness level by your stress, then you cannot expect a high score. To get a high score, your mind needs to be relaxed, working at its optimum level.
But that will happen only if you let go a bit. If you think that your world is going to end if you do not get a good score, you’ll not be able to stop yourself from worrying. You’ll need to put GMAT in a perspective so that you can just focus on your efforts and leave the results on their own. The good thing is that if you do so, results will also come. That is what my experience says!
So, for some of us, I have this advice, as the title of this article says, “Be less serious about it!”.
(Please note that I am not at all against taking sabbaticals from jobs to prepare for GMAT. The purpose of the article was not to advise against taking sabbaticals. The main purpose was to highlight the need of a balance i.e. to highlight that our over-attachment to the score in the form of stress can come in our way of improvement and thus in our way of a good score. The idea is to have that balance in life, whether one is on a sabbatical or not.)