A Secret Weapon for Acing the SAT, GMAT and other Tests

By November 10, 2016Blog

By Vera Marie Reed and Bara Sapir

One of TPNY’s secret weapons to help students slay standardized tests and get top scores is implementing mindfulness: a practice of moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness is rooted in Buddhist meditation, but has made a resurgence as a secular application in the American mainstream in recent years. This can be largely traced to the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.

Kabat-Zinn’s program, launched at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979, has sparked thousands of studies which have documented the physical and mental benefits attributed to mindfulness and the MBSR program. These techniques are also being implemented in schools, prisons, hospitals, and clinics around the country, and for TPNY, incorporating them means that our test takers have added focus and a sense of well-being while preparing for and taking tests.

Kabat-Zinn asserts that mindfulness is related to meditation – or paying attention on purpose. In a presentation given to the Greater Good Science Center, he suggested that when we hear the word mindfulness, “You should understand that it means presence of heart.” Mindfulness is a process of focusing on the present versus rehashing events in the past or planning for the future. Imagine a test taker thinking about the previous attempts taking a test – if these haven’t gone well, they could have a detrimental effect on their present situation.

While organizations exist that offer training for teachers on how to apply mindfulness strategies in the classroom, namely Mission Be and Mindful Schools, TPNY is a unique test prep program that systematically provides this kind of support for our test takers. What we’ve found, at TPNY, is that the pressure-cooker aspects of taking high stakes tests have an added toll on the test-taker. The emotional regulation and stress management that come from mindfulness help the student pay attention and focus, which leads to improved performance, on the test, and in life.

The following are components that are best methods for practicing mindfulness when taking a test:

  • Pay close attention to your breathing. This is especially important during times of intense emotions, such as panic or stress when you see a question that befuddles you.
  • Recognize that anything you are feeling is temporary and does not define you permanently.
  • Before you begin taking your test, pay close attention to your body’s physical sensations. Identify anything you are sensing in a given moment. This includes sights, smells, sounds, etc.; then set an intention to yourself to stay focused on the test for the duration of each timed section.
  • Honor your break time for non-test related activities: eating a snack, listening to music, or exercise.

In addition to a greater ease in learning and improved test taking, a mindful approach has the following benefits and more:

  • Reduction of negative emotions: Studies show that mindfulness can inspire more positive emotions and reduce stress. It can be a powerful alternative to antidepressants, fighting depression and preventing relapses.
  • Upgraded brains: Some studies show that mindful techniques increase the gray matter in our brains linked to learning, emotions, and memory. Booyah!
  • Improved Focus: Mindfulness has been shown to help people block out distractions and naturally aids with memory and retention.

While mindfulness is more mainstream, it is not a new technique. It offers tremendous potential to improve the way we learn, the amount we’re able to retain, and how a test taker can enter a test confident that they will perform their best. Research shows that practicing mindfulness, even for just a few weeks, can bring a variety of physical, psychological, and social benefits that are difficult to ignore or dispute. So get busy with this practice of paying attention and slowing down! Your improved score might depend on it! Need help? Contact us at any time for personalized support in this arena, or check out our Full Potential Audio Program relevant to your upcoming test.

This post was co-written by guest blogger, Vera M. Reed. Vera is a former educator and current blogger in Southern California who enjoys writing on a range of topics in the realm of education, everything from online education and careers, to special education.

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Bara Sapir

About Bara Sapir

Bara Sapir, MA is an internationally recognized expert in high-performance coaching, personal empowerment and transformative test preparation. She partners with each of her students to achieve success. She is an inspirational, highly skilled, passionate expert and teacher with twenty years’ experience teaching test prep, including six years as an instructor for The Princeton Review. Click here to learn more [...]

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