Acing the GMAT involves more than taking practice tests and studying diligently. Yes, that's a huge part of GMAT success, but peak performance depends on more than knowledge and ability. It is also contingent upon your whole state of being: your digestive system, your muscles, your emotions. If your body and all its systems are functioning at optimal levels, then you'll truly be at peak performance on test day.


When given the choice between sleeping or staying awake to study more, students usually opt to cram a little more knowledge into their brain. But it's worth making sleep a higher priority. After a certain point, sacrificing sleep for more study hours is counter-productive. If you're too groggy to pay attention, it won't matter how prepared you are on test day. Sleep maximizes the benefit of your study time, because your brain uses the time to organize and process new information you've taken on that day - this is one theory about the purpose of REM sleep and dreams.


As much as you might want that bag of chips and jumbo soda to fuel you through a late night study session, they won't serve you well when you really want to use your brain. It's also important to eat right. On test day in particular, go easy on the caffeine and sugar. Caffeine can perk you up, but too much of it can make it difficult to pay attention. The energy in fruits and veggies metabolizes more slowly and naturally, and its good effects last longer. A happy stomach makes for a happy mind.


It's no secret that regular exercise is important for your body. But what you might not know is that it's also important for your mind. The sense of energetic well-being you get from being in shape extends to your mental health, not just your physical health. If you're fit, you're more likely to be alert, focused and positive. Exercise also helps get the blood pumping to your brain while letting it rest at the same time. Activities like running or brisk walking require enough of your brain to keep it engaged, but don't ask it to do much heavy lifting. Your brain finds this state very congenial.

You certainly don't have to have the exercise routine of Dara Torres. But it's helpful to at least learn some simple, easy techniques to relax and stretch your joints and muscles. Neck-down relaxation techniques also work wonders from the neck up. Here are some straightforward, useful relaxation tips:

  • Lie stretched fully out on your back on the floor. You can use a pillow for your head, but try to keep the surface otherwise flat. Focus your attention on each muscle and joint, starting at your toes. Consciously and actively make yourself relax them. You can even clench them and then release the muscles, if that helps. Breathe slowly all the way in and all the way out. While you're on the floor, you can turn over onto your stomach with your head facing right or left. This helps to naturally stretch out your neck muscles. Take ten deep breaths and switch directions.
  • Stand on one foot and focus your gaze at a point at eye level a few feet in front of you. Press your palms together at around chest height. Place your free foot alongside the opposite leg. Try to breathe deeply and focus on your balance. If you can't stay balanced, don't try to force it - it will defeat the purpose. Instead, stand on one foot and keep your other foot close to or lightly touching the floor. When the leg you're standing on gets tired, switch to the other one.

For many more relaxation techniques, check out Conquering Test Anxiety by Dr Neil Fiore and Susan Pescar. Get in the habit of practicing relaxation techniques and incorporating them into your daily routine. Spend fifteen minutes doing them each day, and they'll become effortlessly automatic.

Josh Anish is Senior Editor at Knewton, an online adaptive learning company that provides test preparation courses for the GMAT, LSAT, and SAT.