What to do the day before the test: things to keep in mind before the big day

Davis: Hey everybody, this is GRE Bites. My name is Davis, and I’m an educator with over ten years of experience.

Orion: And I’m Orion, the founder of StellarGRE.

Davis: We’re here to bring you your weekly bite-sized episode on GRE prep and grad school admissions. Check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at stellargre.com. And don’t forget, you can use the code “BITES” for 10% off any membership.

Okay, so I’ve realized how much time it’s going to take me to study for the GRE. I know my test date, I’ve worked backward three months, I’ve set aside two hours a day, and I have a great blueprint, you know, a regimen to follow to get there. I’ve done all my studying, I’ve reliably hit my target score, you know, several times over the past couple of weeks. Now it’s the day before my test. So, what do I do on that day?

Orion: That’s a great question. I get asked that question all the time. The short answer is not much. I mean, if you did what you just described, you’re an ideal student. I love working with ideal students. I mean, you put in the time, over several months, you’re consistently performing at or above your target score. What more do you really need to do? You already have sort of proof of concept that you can do the thing. How are you going to appreciably move the needle in the next few hours before you take the test? You shouldn’t take two more practice tests. No, you should not run two marathons the night before a marathon. Mind you, that does not sound like a good idea.

Davis: Should I load up on carbs, eat much pasta anyway, run?

Orion: I don’t know. I mean, I wonder. It’s like, I actually read an article about this several years ago. Have you ever seen, you know, I’m not a huge chess fan, but this author of this article was just flabbergasted by the fact that there are no overweight grandmasters in chess. They burn so many calories; they burn as much as a soccer player at the pro World Cup level, playing like three games in one serious match because you’re just looking at a chess player. He’s just sitting there in his chair, it’s a sedentary position, but his brain just eats up calories because it’s the most energy-inefficient organ in our body. That’s also why it’s so important to wear a hat when it’s cold because a lot of heat leaves your head. I mean, so when a person sits down for a four-hour test, like the GRE, that person will be expending a great deal of calories through thinking really hard.

Davis: So it might be a good idea to load up on carbs.

Orion: I don’t know. I think it’s more like take care of yourself, and chill out. I mean, if you are performing at around your target score, there’s nothing more that you need to do. All you have to do is show up and execute.

Davis: So, I understand the night before the big day. It can be nervy. Butterflies and jitters.

Orion: Yeah, but you have to understand that that nervousness, those jitters, those butterflies could also be excitement. There is very little physiological difference between nervousness and excitement. The difference between those two emotions occurs almost primarily on a cognitive level. Nervousness is a certain level of physiological excitation with the cognition or the belief that something bad might happen. Excitement is the exact same physiological state but with the cognition or belief that something good might happen. So basically, if you’ve done all the prep, like I laid out, your day before your test should be great. And you should just be able to chill. See this as an opportunity for you to demonstrate your excellence. I mean, thank God that you have this opportunity. It’s why you put in all the work and the effort that you have up until this point.

Davis: So don’t do anything out of the ordinary, just like normal sleep, normal eating, normal too, but just relax, just be, don’t do anything GRE that day.

Orion: Well, at most you could do like one timed problem set. Just it’s like light practice, right? You jog before the big game, right? Everything just to lubricate the joints. This is where I kind of act as people’s grandmothers.

So it’s like, don’t do anything to sabotage your success. It’s not my place to tell you what to do with your life. But that probably means not drinking or drugging, at least for a few days before the test. You do not want to be mentally foggy or hungover or strung out when you’re taking the test. Like why do that to yourself, save that for the celebration, if that’s what you’re into.

Davis: I mean, you’re not recommending abstinence to Orion, in the sense of in the days of chastity.

Orion: Well, you know, I wonder. So I don’t know if you know this, but a lot of heavyweight boxing champions forego all forms of sexual activity in the weeks or the months prior to a major bout. This has to do with sublimation. The sexual drive is incredibly powerful, especially in men. And if it’s being diffused through sexual activity, then the potency of that drive is compromised. And so we call this sublimation in psychology.

This is where we channel a less than pro-social drive into a pro-social activity. But that’s not really where I was going with this.

Davis: Okay, I’m sorry, but you might have a point.

Orion: I don’t personally recommend doing that myself.

Davis: Yeah, but so that’s not okay. But definitely things that would compromise your cognitive ability, or even just for your physiological well-being, to be at your relaxed optimum.

Orion: Yes, at this point, we want you to be relaxed, in a state of openness, flexibility, acuity, confidence. So, don’t drink or do drugs in the days beforehand; definitely get a good night’s sleep. But more than that, if the test is scheduled at a time that forces you to wake up earlier than you normally would, then that’s also something you have to work into your routine. In the days before the test, acclimatize your body and your circadian rhythm to be in sync with the time you’ll need to be up to take the test and be clear. Exactly. Some folks, if they haven’t been to the testing center or if they’re going to an in-person testing center, like to plan out their route, plan for traffic. Some people even take a dry run to the testing center the night before; they just drive there so that even driving there, you’re not confronted with issues like Google Maps or traffic.

Davis: Absolutely, so there are no surprises.

Orion: Like, what if there’s no parking lot here, and you didn’t plan that you have to spend 10 minutes finding street parking, and now you’re 10 minutes behind and you’re feeling flustered. It’s like you definitely do not want to go into this test with any surprises.

Davis: You know, that’s a great suggestion.

Orion: A lot of folks do that. I think it does help to ensure that there are fewer surprises on testing day. The day of, I highly recommend that you have a good breakfast or lunch, that you get some kind of physical activity in – you want to get the juices flowing – and that you should do practice problems before the test the day of the test.

Davis: Yes, absolutely warm up.

Orion: Yeah, a coach doesn’t send you to the game cold. If you’re going to sub in, you’re going to be running up and down the sidelines a little bit.

Davis: Right, right, you don’t want the first questions that you do that day to be the ones that count. That’s silly.

Orion: Yeah, that doesn’t mean that you do a whole full-length problem set before the test; that also is probably not in your best interest. Because it’s hard enough to do a four-hour test, we don’t want to make it four and a half or even longer. So, I generally recommend doing, I don’t know, four or five problems. And these should be problems that you’ve actually already solved. They shouldn’t be new problems.

Davis: Interesting.

Orion: Just so you know that you’re getting the right answer and partly like, it’s also getting the juices flowing, practicing the approaches and the skills that you’ve studied. And feeling like you’re getting it right. It’s like before a basketball game. The guys are doing layups. They’re not doing weird three half-court shots with a hand in their face. You know, like, that’s what the game is for. So they’re getting into the rhythm, they’re seeing the ball go in the net, it’s like, okay, I got this, I remember what I’m here to do; the ball’s going in – excellent. Now, so, the day before, at most one full practice, yeah, your cheat sheet. That shouldn’t be, you know, you should know that backwards and forwards by now. So it’s really just letting those synapses fire one more time.

Davis: And the cheat sheet, just for anyone who might not be familiar, is in the StellarGRE protocol that my buddy Orion here has spent years developing. You can get all of what you need to know on a single piece of paper; everything you need to know for a perfect score. The quantitative section can be written on the front and back of a sheet of paper, correct?

Orion: Right. And that’s what we call the cheat sheet. Yeah, so if you have that, you can review that a little bit the day before, maybe do one full run the next day. Do you get a reminder? You don’t get to bring the cheat sheet with you, right? Just make sure you don’t actually cheat and try to take that with you on the day. What you do, you get to take it with you, but it’s in your mind, Davis.

Davis: Yeah. So you absolutely get to take it into your testing center. But you don’t get to take the paper. Right?

Orion: So yes, you should be taking the information in, but no, unfortunately, you don’t take the cheat sheet.

Davis: No, that’s good.

Orion: And then the day of, yeah, sleep, just, I’m just hitting all, you know, we’re going back through everything you’ve said. The point is just to work against the little voice of anxiety that people are subjected to experiencing, that tells you that you have to do something now, that there’s more that you can do, there’s something that you’re missing, that the voice of anxiety is anxious, and it’s trying to keep you safe, but it doesn’t always give you the best advice.

Davis: That’s right. So remember that nervousness or anxiety can be the same physiological thing as excitement with a different frame of mind.

Orion: Absolutely, the expectation that there could be a positive outcome. Because you’ve prepped for three months, you’re hitting your target scores, you can relax this day, just do light warm-ups. Take it easy, take a breath, get some good sleep, eat.

Davis: Well. You know, that’s the importance of visualization. We did an episode about that, which is like see yourself succeeding. See this test as an opportunity for you to get what you want and move on with your life.

Orion: That’s right.

Davis: Well, that’s Orion’s take on what to do the day before.

Thanks, everybody, for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with another bite-sized episode of GRE Bites. If you have a topic you’d like discussed on a future episode, let us know at stellargre@gmail.com. And if you’re ready to take your prep to the next level, check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at stellargre.com. You can use the code “BITES” for 10% off all memberships there. Talk to you soon.

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