How to Manage Test Anxiety for the GMAT, GRE

test anxiety for the GMAT

Pursuing an MBA can significantly transform your career. But before starting your journey in business school, you’ll need to conquer one of the biggest hurdles: the GMAT or GRE. For some MBA aspirants, these standardized tests can be daunting, especially if you suffer from test anxiety. With only a few months until application deadlines, review this comprehensive guide to help you manage test anxiety for the GMAT or GRE and perform at your best.

Understanding Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is a combination of physical symptoms and emotional reactions that interfere with your ability to perform well on exams. These symptoms can manifest in various ways, such as a racing heart, sweaty palms, negative thoughts like ‘I’m going to fail,’ and difficulty concentrating, like finding it hard to read or understand the questions. Recognizing that these feelings are common and manageable is the first step toward overcoming them.

Partner with Stacy Blackman’s best-in-class GMAT and GRE experts and increase your score significantly. Check out our test prep services here.  Request a free game plan chat with SBC’s lead test prep coach by emailing

Creating an Effective Study Plan

The GRE and GMAT tests require a ton of preparation. “If applying to b-school is on your radar, the sooner you start, the better,” says Anthony Ritz, SBC’s Director of Test Prep. “Because this is a major commitment, two to three months minimum for two to three hours a day on average.”

If you wait until the last minute, when you also need to focus on other aspects of the application, it can be virtually impossible—even with good tutoring—to get the progress you need.

Another reason to quit procrastinating: there’s a high chance you’ll need to take it more than once. “The reality is these tests are really hard,” Anthony acknowledges. “You don’t entirely know what you’re getting into until you’ve tried the real thing.”

That’s why a structured study plan is crucial in alleviating test anxiety.

test anxiety for the GMAT

Here’s a step-by-step guide tailored to a short preparation timeline.

Start Now: If you’re applying this fall, begin your preparation immediately. With a tight timeline, every day counts. Plan to spend about two to three months (100–120 hours) reviewing material and practicing regularly.

Set Realistic Goals: Break down your study schedule into weekly and daily tasks. Set specific goals for each study session, such as completing a set number of practice questions or reviewing a particular section of the material.

Practice Regularly: Consistent practice is critical. Incorporate a mix of timed practice tests and untimed, detailed reviews. Timed tests help build your test-taking stamina, while untimed reviews allow you to understand the material thoroughly.

Review and Analyze: After each practice test, go over your answers. Identify patterns in your mistakes and focus on improving those areas.

“A lot of people make the mistake of studying until they get the problem right. But they should be studying until they can’t do the problem wrong—until it feels so automatic that it’s totally inconceivable that you’d ever not nail it.”—SBC Director of Test Prep Anthony Ritz

Take Care of Yourself: Your well-being is as important as your study plan. A healthy body supports a sharp mind, and taking care of yourself is a crucial part of your journey to success.

Techniques for Reducing Test Anxiety for the GMAT, GRE

In addition to a solid study plan, incorporating anxiety-reducing techniques can help you maintain calm and focus during your preparation and on test day.

Mindfulness and Relaxation Exercises: Practices such as meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation can help calm your mind. Consider apps like Headspace or Calm, which offer guided sessions for stress relief.

Visualization: Imagine yourself in the test-taking environment, feeling calm and confident. Visualization can help reduce anxiety by familiarizing you with the test day scenario.

Positive Self-Talk: Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Remind yourself of your preparation and capabilities.

Regular Exercise: Physical activity can significantly reduce stress levels. Incorporate activities like yoga, running, or brisk walking into your routine.

Seek Support: Talk to friends, family, or a counselor about your anxiety. Sometimes, expressing your concerns can alleviate some of the pressure.

GMAT vs GRE for MBA Applicants: What’s the Right Strategy?

Importance of Early Completion

One of the most strategic moves you can make is to complete your GMAT or GRE before diving into your MBA application and essays. ‘Early completion’ in this context refers to finishing your test at least a month before your application deadline. Here’s why:

Focused Preparation: Concentrating solely on the GMAT or GRE allows you to give it your full attention and energy. This means dedicating specific hours of the day to studying for the test without any distractions or other tasks. Preparing for the test alongside application essays can divide your focus and increase stress, which can negatively impact your performance on both tasks.

Better Time Management: Once the test is out of the way, you can dedicate uninterrupted time to crafting compelling essays and gathering recommendation letters, which are crucial components of your MBA application.

Improved Performance: Managing one major task at a time can lead to better performance both on the test and in your application. Knowing that you have completed your GMAT or GRE can significantly reduce your overall stress levels, allowing you to present your best self in your application materials.

Listen to B-Schooled podcast #106: Admissions Test Deep Dive with SBC’s Director of Test Prep, Anthony Ritz, who’s been a GMAT and GRE tutor for more than two decades.

You Can Do This!

Overcoming your test anxiety for the GMAT or GRE is a journey that requires preparation, practice, and self-care. By following a structured study plan and incorporating anxiety-reducing techniques, you can approach the GMAT or GRE with confidence.

Remember, the goal is to do your best, not to be perfect. With persistence and the right strategies, you can achieve the scores you need to advance your MBA aspirations. By getting the test out of the way early, you’ll be in a strong position to focus on creating a standout application.


Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership and Interview Prep to hourly help with essay editing, resume review, and much more! Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.

Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.

Did you know that SBC offers test prep services? We’ve recruited a team of best in class instructors who will help you recognize your individual learning style, discover holes in your foundation knowledge and set manageable yet ambitious goals. We focus on a deep understanding of the content, and later a grasp of smart test strategies. Let SBC’s long tradition of excellence support all aspects of your application process.


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