GMAT, Mindset

GMAT Burnout: Why it happens, and what you can do about it

You started your GMAT Focus exam prep with a lot of energy, but recently you’ve been avoiding your preparation plans, scoring worse than before, or feeling way too stressed. Could it be burnout? And what can you do about it?

Read on to learn more.

GMAT burnout, Woman Sitting in Front of Macbook

Signs of GMAT burnout – Do any of these sound like you?

  • Lost motivation to study

    You keep procrastinating studying or just can’t find the energy to open your GMAT prep materials.

  • Making mistakes on questions that are below your ability level

    Sometimes it feels like your level has gone DOWN since you started studying.

  • Can’t concentrate properly

    You have too much on your mind, worrying about your job or internship, essays, and the whole application process.

  • Abandoned activities you used to enjoy

    You’ve stopped your regular sport or wellness activities, or aren’t meeting up with friends like you usually would.

  • Doubting the whole idea of graduate business school

    You feel lost and wonder if you should abandon your plans altogether.

What are the potential causes of GMAT exhaustion?

Getting burned out on GMAT study is unfortunately a typical problem, even among motivated GMAT candidates. Why is it so common? 

1. Unrealistic timeline or prep plan

As a GMAT Prep coach and tutor with more than 10 years of experience, I see this as the number one reason that people get burned out on the GMAT: they have chosen an unrealistic timeline or study plan for themselves. Most candidates will not achieve a 700+ score in one month of study. Especially if it’s been a few years since you’ve had a math class, if you’re slow at calculating by hand, if you don’t read regularly in English, or if this is the first American standardized test you’ve ever taken, add months to your timeline. The good news is that you can still reach your goals! But you’ll need enough time to do it.

2. Inappropriate Study Methods and Materials

Perhaps you are an extrovert: you gain energy from your interactions with others. So if you are trying to study for the GMAT alone for 15 hours each week, you are bound to feel drained and unhappy. A class or study group may help you feel much more motivated about studying.

On the materials side, I talk to many GMAT candidates who have been trying to learn the material simply by working through the Official Guide. I wish that this book was called “The Official Source of GMAT Focus Practice Questions,” because that would be a much more accurate name.

The Official Guide is an important source for practice test questions but you also need a source for learning the concepts and theory required for GMAT questions.

The Official Guide is NOT set up to teach you concepts and theory, and its answer explanations often show long and tedious ways to solve problems, instead of the shorter and more intuitive methods that lead to top scores on the GMAT Focus Exam. 

Doing endless practice questions or practice tests is NOT the way to study for the GMAT. First learn the content, working on practice questions as you go, and then use a practice tests. Be sure to track your mistakes in an Error Log so that you can use them as a tool for improvement. (No Error Log? Download our free Error Log for the GMAT Focus Exam now!) 

No Error Log?

Download your free Error Log tracking spreadsheet for the GMAT Focus Exam now!

3. Lack of Support for your GMAT Goals

Perhaps your parents and friends have never heard of the GMAT, and they are getting a little resentful of all the time you are devoting to it. “Aren’t you finished studying yet? How hard can it be?” It can be hard to continue studying when you don’t have a good support circle. 

Instead, connect with people who can support you in your GMAT goals. This could be a study buddy, a GMAT class, a coach or a tutor. Even participating in online forums like GMATClub can help you feel connected to a larger community of support. It’s important to talk with people who can relate to your goals and support you.

4. Undiagnosed Learning Disabilities 

Calculating by hand and reading complex texts in a short amount of time: these GMAT tasks are already somewhat challenging for most people. But if you have an undiagnosed learning disability, you may feel even more stress and frustration when trying to tackle these items. If you have always struggled to understand what you read (including in your native language, if it’s not English) OR if you frequently make calculation mistakes when doing math by hand, you might have a learning disability.

An educational psychologist can test you and determine whether a learning disability is present. If so, you can apply for accommodations on the GMAT to make your experience more fair. This could include extra time, or taking the exam in a separate room away from other test takers. 

5. Not Enough Sleep or Physical Exercise

If you have a busy schedule, you may have decided to sacrifice sleep, sports, or other wellness activities in order to fit in your GMAT study plans. Be careful!

Sleep and exercise are both important for your mental fitness. Sacrificing sleep can really backfire. Especially when you are learning new concepts or strategies, your brain needs sleep in order to build lasting connections, so that you can remember and apply what you’ve learned.

Meanwhile, physical exercise has also been proven to have a strong positive impact on mental functioning, with important psychological and biological benefits. It’s a great stress reliever! Be sure to continue physical exercise and sufficient sleep while you are preparing for the GMAT exam.

6. Anxiety about your GMAT Score, your business school application … and on your whole plan for the future

I speak with many GMAT candidates who are ambitious people. They set high goals for themselves because they have high expectations for their future. That’s great! But when they start receiving signs that they might not achieve those goals, those expectations can turn into real anxiety

If you are feeling this way, try to do a reality check for yourself.

First of all, is your GMAT Focus Score Goal appropriate? The scoring scale has changed; read our article about good scores on the GMAT Focus. Secondly, how does the rest of your profile compare to other applicants? If you can make the case that it would be hard to replace you with another applicant, you can buy some flexibility on your GMAT Score. (I wrote a whole Ebook on this topic: download it, free!) Thirdly, what if you extended your study timeline and applied in a later round? This could give you more time to master the exam and prepare an outstanding application.

What can you do about GMAT Burnout?

The first step is to acknowledge that you are dealing with burnout and that something has to change. Don’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results! Here are some ideas for how to handle burnout when studying for the GMAT:

  • Mix Your Methods

    If studying at home isn’t working for you, how can you mix it up? Some people feel better motivated to study in a quiet library, or even in a private conference room at their office before work. Or if you’ve been focused only on your weak areas, how about more practice on strengths to empower you to tackle the hardest questions – and give you a confidence boost to move forward. 

  • Join Up, Join In

    Look for a study partner, small group class or study group to help you feel both supported and accountable. 

  • Thought Journal

    If you have lots of worries swirling around in your mind, get them down on paper. Write down all your worries and discuss them with a friend or advisor. Sometimes articulating worries out loud can help rob them of their power. You can also learn how your mind might be distorting reality in ways that are not helping you.  

  • Get Support

    Reach out to a knowledgeable coach or tutor to discuss what’s standing in your way. A good tutor can help you create a realistic study plan, suggest more efficient ways of solving problems, and empower you to improve your score – often dramatically.
    Meanwhile, if an undiagnosed learning disability could be an issue, reach out to an educational psychologist to discuss potential testing and, if appropriate, request exam accommodations like extra time. And if you suspect that your worries may be the sign of anxiety or depression, it makes sense to reach out to a qualified therapist right away. 

  • Work on your Mental Fitness

    You’ll often read that meditation and mindfulness are great ways to improve your focus, mood, and overall performance … but it can be hard to know how to get started. Bright Outlook is excited to offer Positive Intelligence (PQ) for GMAT candidates. The Positive Intelligence system is a six-week mental fitness program that enables wellness, performance, and positive relationships. The program incorporates numerous mindfulness and meditation practices into a mental operating system, building a more positive mind as you form new habits through consistent daily practice. You’ll be able to approach your studies, work, and relationship with increased focus and creativity. 

Our PQ for the GMAT program

Read more about our six-week mental fitness for the GMAT program and schedule a free consultation with Jennifer to see if joining our next cohort could fit for you.

“When I practice PQ beforehand, I feel like a forcefield is surrounding me while I’m doing the practice exam. Worries and doubts don’t creep in like before, and I’m laser-focused on the questions. It really helps!” – Carl, GMAT candidate

Written by:
Jennifer Post Draeger, Founder and Principal
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