The countdown has begun. Your date with the GMAT is looming on the horizon. Now, the butterflies have started fluttering in your stomach. Your thinking is getting a little cloudy. You’re becoming riddled with self-doubt …am I ready? …am I sure that I’m ready? …what did I forget?

Don’t panic. The Kaplan Advantage stress management tool can help you alleviate the natural anxiety and stress that goes along with taking an exam as important as the GMAT. With these simple tips, you can take control during the days leading up to the test, manage your anxiety, and lay the groundwork for a successful test taking experience.

Prepare
To maximize your available preparation time, you should begin by taking stock of your strengths and weaknesses. Take a moment and list the areas of the test that you’re good at. They can be general (critical reasoning) or more specific (inference questions). Put down as many as you can think of. Next, do the same for the areas you’re not so good at or just plain bad at. Taking stock of your assets and liabilities lets you know exactly the areas you don’t have to worry about, and the ones that will demand extra attention and effort.

Now, face your weak spots… and face them again. Increased exposure to tough material makes it more familiar and less intimidating. You’ll feel better about yourself because you’re dealing directly with the areas of the test that bring you the most anxiety. If you still have difficulty, seek help. Buy a book, get a tutor, or go to a class. There’s nothing like that “Eureka” moment when you finally understand a concept that’s been eluding you for weeks. Tackling your weak areas builds confidence because you know you’re actively strengthening your chances for a higher overall score.

Plan
The best test takers do less and less as the test approaches. Taper off your study schedule and take it easy on yourself. You want to be relaxed and ready on the day of the test. Give yourself some time off, especially the night before the exam. By that time, if you’ve prepared well, everything you need to know will be firmly stored in your memory bank.

To reduce the chance of any last minute tension and anxiety, have everything laid out in advance. Most important, know where the test will be administered and map the easiest, quickest way to get there. You will gain great peace of mind if you know that all the little details — gas in the car, directions, etc. — are completely in your control before the day of the test. In addition, go to the test site a few days in advance. Familiarity generates comfort and confidence.

Finally, forego any practice on the day before the test. Try to keep the test out of your consciousness by going to a movie, taking a walk, etc. And most importantly get plenty of rest. It’s in your best interest to marshal your physical and psychological resources before the exam.

Relax
Relaxing and keeping control of stress are critical aspects to successful test taking. The best method, time, and place to relax are, of course, dependent on each individual person. However, there are a couple of general things you can do reduce tension and promote a feeling of confidence.

Exercise. Whether it’s jogging, walking, biking or aerobics, physical exercise is a very effective way to stimulate both your mind and body and improve your ability to think and concentrate. Ironically, many students get out of the habit of regular exercise precisely because they’re too busy preparing for exams. But, even the slightest physical activity helps reduce the stress and frustration associated with studying for an important exam.

A cautionary tale… exercise is a natural high. Unfortunately, some students resort to less-than-natural stimulants in an attempt to enhance their performance on the test. But consider yourself warned: Uppers or amphetamines make it hard to retain information. You may stay awake, but you probably won’t remember very much. Mild stimulants such as coffee, colas, etc. can sometimes help as they keep you awake and alert. On the downside, though, they can lead to agitation, restlessness, and insomnia. You know your tolerance for caffeine best.

The best method, of course, is to go into the test naturally. Get exercise, plenty of rest and you’ll start the test feeling relaxed, rested, and ready to pass.

Succeed
Believe it or not, there are ways of quelling your stress while you’re taking the exam. Two in particular can help you maintain your momentum and keep anxiety at bay.

Keep moving forward… don’t get bogged down in a difficult question. You don’t have to get everything right to get a passing score. So don’t linger out of desperation on a question that is going nowhere even after you’ve spent considerable time on it. The best test takers know when to eliminate answer choices and make educated guesses.

Keep breathing! Weak test takers tend to share one major trait: They forget to breathe properly as the test proceeds. They start holding their breath without realizing it or they breathe erratically. Improper breathing hurts confidence and accuracy. Just as importantly, it interferes with clear thinking.

With what you’ve learned, you’re ready to take on anything that the GMAT throws at you. You can deal with any excess tension or stress while preparing for or taking the exam. You’ve prepared. You’ve planned. You’ve relaxed. You will succeed. Good luck.