The Mindset and Body Language of a GMAT Destroyer

Most GMAT students don’t spend enough time considering the mindset they’ll need on test day. In my very first article, I suggested that the simple act of smiling can increase your performance. In this article, we’ll go a little deeper and examine how confidence (even fake confidence) and body language can help you conquer the beast.


A math professor once told me that excelling in mathematics is 80% confidence. I think this percent is somewhat high, but I agree that confidence is a must-have ingredient in mathematics, as well as in a variety of other endeavors, including the GMAT.

Students who lack confidence are chronically afraid of the GMAT and, on test day, they spend far too much time engaged in counter-productive thinking: I wonder how I’m doing. I hope the reader likes my essay. Did I answer that last question correctly? I’ll die if I bomb this test. This is a huge waste of brain power. What’s worse is that a submissive mindset leads to second-guessing, which causes test-takers to waste valuable time double-, triple-, and quadruple-checking their responses.

So, how does one overcome a lack of confidence? One approach is to confront each negative thought with a positive affirmation:  Things are going really swell! The reader will love my essay! I’m sure I answered that last question correctly! I won’t bomb this test! I don’t recommend this approach.

The better approach is a pre-emptive strike that prevents the negative self-talk from occurring in the first place. To do this, you must adopt an attitude of unwavering superiority. On test day, you must assume the role of a painfully smug know-it-all, the kind of person everyone disdains. Of course, if you don’t want to be an object of disdain, then keep these thoughts to yourself, but that shouldn’t diminish the outrageously cavalier commentary taking place inside your head.

So, how does all of this play out? First, act as though every question is painfully easy and fails to even scratch the surface of your advanced skills. In fact, the entire test is beneath you.

But what if you can’t answer a question? No problem. Make an educated guess, and say to yourself, “I’m not going to waste my time on such a ridiculous question.” Then move on and never look back. Always engage with the question at hand, and always maintain your air of superiority. If you can pull this off, you won’t be handcuffed by meek thinking.

Body Language

In addition to assuming the role of a consummate know-it-all, be mindful of your body language. Believe it or not, your posture and where you place your arms and legs will affect your performance. For example, making yourself big (sitting upright, legs spread out, arms wide) will actually cause changes in hormone levels. In fact, this particular seating position causes cortisol levels to decrease, which, in turn, helps you handle stress more effectively. Crazy but true. For more information, watch this amazing TED talk, in which Amy Cuddy explains how our body language affects a lot more than how others see us. I should also mention that the talk spends some time looking at how body language can help students succeed in Business School, so be sure to watch it.

Final Words

To achieve your target score on test day, you need to know a lot of quantitative and verbal concepts, and you need to know how to apply GMAT-specific strategies. You also need strong test-taking skills, like time management and endurance. All of these are important, but they mean nothing if you fall apart at the test center. Proper mindset and body language are important components of your GMAT prep, and they can go a long way to help you get the score you deserve. 

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