Five days from now, approximately 30,000 people in track shorts and running shoes will gather in Hopkington, a small Massachusetts town located 26.2 miles outside the heart of Boston. While some will be professional distance runners, with shoe deals and Olympic dreams, the majority will be ordinary men and women who’ve spent the last three months to a year training for this day.
During this span, these men and women made time in the schedule to run almost every day, perhaps sneaking a run in early in the morning before work or dedicating a Saturday for one of their long runs. And as the race neared, they backed off on the distance, giving their bodies the rest it needed to be at its prime on Monday morning.
In many ways, their training regiment mirrors how you should study for the GMAT. While you don’t need to start prepping a year out nor gorge yourself on carbs, there are many marathon principles you can apply to your prep to help you perform your best on test day.
Set a date and have a plan
No one begins training a week before a marathon and no one trains without a plan. Runners will start training in earnest between 12 to 20 weeks before the race and follow a dedicated running schedule during this timespan to ensure they’re ready.
Again, depending on your current ability, you probably don’t need five months to prepare for the GMAT. However, setting a date for your test and then establishing a study plan will keep you on track and focused. Studying now and then and waiting to choose a test date until you feel “ready” on the other hand is a recipe for procrastination.
Keep the end in mind and commit
Running a marathon is grueling. Cramps, exhaustion, nausea, burning muscles — there’s no end to the varieties of pain runners encounter over the course of what’s often a three-to five-hour race. But that doesn’t keep runners from signing up for a race, nor what keeps them from getting up in the morning for another training run. What motivates them is crossing the finish line, running a personal best, or feeling empowered by accomplishing something difficult.
Similarly, remember why you’re taking the GMAT and where a great score could help take you. Few people enjoy studying for a standardized test. But this sacrifice isn’t for nothing. When you don’t feel like sticking to your study plan, think of how every bit of studying is bringing you closer to business school and an MBA.
Run your own race
When you’re running in a pack, it’s easy to push or fall off your pace. Running too fast early on may set you up for trouble during the last 12 miles of the race. Instead, seasoned runners know how to run their own race and not get distracted by those around them.
On the GMAT, you won’t see where other test takers are on the test. Instead, it’s the exam’s infamous algorithm that could divert your attention. Despite whatever myths you’ve read about the GMAT’s algorithm — how the first five questions are the most important for example — put them out of your mind and don’t fall into the trap of trying to predict how you’re doing before you finish the test. Even if the algorithm serves you with a seemingly easy question that doesn’t guarantee that you got the previous question wrong. Only focus on the question in front of you and keep your cool.
Hydrate and fuel your body for performance
Nutrition and hydration are an integral part of marathon training and running. To perform at their best, runners fuel their bodies properly before the race and rehydrate throughout.
Thinking isn’t commonly considered a physical task, but your brain gobbles up 20 percent of your caloric intake, and for it to fire at peak efficiency, your brain needs a sufficiently hydrated body. Dehydration has been shown to shrink brain tissue — something you’ll want to avoid on test day. Bring water and a few healthy snacks to the test center. While you won’t be allowed to stuff energy chews in your mouth and dump water on yourself marathon-style during the test, you will have designated breaks during which you can refuel. Take advantage of them.
Celebrate and relax after you finish
No runner in her right mind (excluding ultra-marathoners) finishes a marathon and then immediately starts training for the next one. Similarly, take some time off after you finish the GMAT, even if you didn’t do as well as you hoped. Regardless of the score, celebrate the fact that you set a goal, committed to a study plan, and got through an exhausting four hours of testing. Even if you think you’ll take it again, you haven’t come out empty handed. You set for yourself a difficult task and followed through — this is valuable experience you can draw upon throughout your life.