What do champion athletes and elite test-takers have in common? Quite a lot, actually.

If you’ve ever been involved in competitive sports, you know that there’s a lot more than just skill that goes into a win. No matter how much you prepare, if you step for a penalty kick and your head’s not in the game, you probably won’t score. Pregame rituals, pump-up music, motivational speeches— these are just some of the ways we’ve observed champion athletes get ready for important competitions. Elite test-takers recognize that preparing for the GMAT is just like getting ready for a championship game. Skill and practice are important, yes, but real success comes when you know how to train your mind.

In his TED talk, sports psychologist Martin Hagger identifies psychological techniques that drive the world’s best athletes to success. Many of his methods, like goal setting and anxiety management, can be readily applied to the GMAT. Think of it this way: the GMAT is your Olympics. Welcome to your training.


1. Motivation

Sports psychologists know that athletes have to be motivated to perform well. This is where goals come in. Setting goals determines the athletes’ drive by making them aware of how much effort they have to expend to perform well. When you set a goal for the GMAT, you’re deciding how much effort to put into studying and how much to dedicate your life to the test. But remember- the goal of “winning” alone isn’t enough. You have to set sub-goals (SMART goals) as well for training and competition. So, don’t just set the goal of 700. Come up with smaller study and practice goals to keep you motivated all the way through to the end.

2. Confidence

Confidence can be the difference between an average outcome and a great one. Coaches build athletes’ confidence before a game by reminding them of all the experiences that led up the present moment. Before taking the GMAT, think back on the hours you spent learning strategies, memorizing rules, and doing practice problems. You’ve come so far, and now you’re ready to take the next step.

Another way to build confidence before an important event is to run a “mental rehearsal” of what you’re about to do. Before executing a pole vault, some Olympic vaulters picture a perfect vault in detail. Just imagining the act helps to prepare their minds and bodies for the crucial moment. Sitting down to take the GMAT doesn’t provide as vivid as an image, but you can picture yourself working through questions methodically and confidently choosing the correct answers.

Finally, many athletes use positive self-talk and mantras to push their way to success. You can use this technique to relax and focus, or to get pumped up. Think of a phrase that inspires you. Try repeating this phrase to yourself in hard moments of the test.

3. Anxiety Management

One issue familiar to students and athletes alike is performance anxiety. When training your mind, it’s important to recognize what factors spark anxiety. Is it the ticking clock? Weight of your own (or other people’s) expectations? Self-doubt? All of the above? Don’t wait until test day to go head to head with your fears. Practice combating these anxiety triggers while studying and doing homework problems. You can incorporate relaxation techniques like deep-breathing and meditation into your study sessions. Having a mantra can also help you focus in on the task at hand, and tune out distracting fears. When you’re working through the test, try to detach yourself from the outcome. Focus on each question as it comes, and just keep going until you’re done.

It’s a well-known idea that mental training impacts sports performance, so why not try the same mental training principles for your GMAT studies? There’s no need to feel silly about trying these exercises. After all, they work for world-class athletes! Incorporate mental training into to your GMAT studying, and let us know how it goes in the comments below.


Joseph MashekComment