A recent New York Times article titled “The Hippies Have Won” observed that granola and kombucha — once viewed as countercultural health food — are now mainstream. These aren’t the only once-alternative health and wellness products or ideas to be embraced by consumers and culture mavens; today, yoga, meditation and mindfulness are key practices for students preparing for high-stakes tests like the SAT, GMAT, MCAT and LSAT. Right?
Conventional standardized test prep combines specialized content with a hefty dollop of strategy. Companies and tutors who address the mental game don’t typically go beyond breathing exercises. When we founded Test Prep NY/Test Prep SF, however, we already knew that the GMAT, GRE and other standardized tests don’t just measure knowledge — they also quantify how good students are at taking tests. Therefore, we integrated a more holistic approach that mitigates the psychological impacts of stress and anxiety; New Age modalites are catching up to Main Street, yo!
We aren’t alone. Organizations like Stressed Teens, MissionBe and Mindful Schools are growing exponentially, training educators to lead K-12 students in mindfulness and meditation practices. Like them, we’ve been successful at integrating self-regulating and calming protocols into the study process to give students new skills and confidence that go beyond test-taking. Students who get out of their own way and fire their inner critics have greater ease and consistently score higher. Mindfulness doesn’t make students smarter, but it offers them easier access to the knowledge they have.
Incorporating these holistic practices is the quickest, easiest positive shift you can make ON your test.
For at least 15 years, we’ve actively mainstreamed the integration of visualization, mindfulness, and other holistic practices into our already robust test prep content and strategy tutoring. Our mind-based methods consistently help students achieve peak performance. One of our past students, a State Department employee, was caught between a rock and a hard place; not only was he taking the GMAT, his boss (Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice) knew his test was upcoming. Boy, was he freaked.
After five hours of one-on-one holistic coaching the weekend before the test, his score increased 230 points. Word.
We don’t hold the reigns on these amazingly effective modalities even as they’re one of our secret weapons: they simply aren’t widely used by other test prep companies. The benefits of hypnosis, Neuro-Linguistic Programing, healthy eating, spending time in nature, and having a balance of work, play and downtime are proven to enhance performance, so we’re fine being out here on our own.
Five Hippy-Dippy Strategies For Test Prep Students That Produce Results
Test-related stress can manifest in a variety of ways, such poor sleep the night before and the deer-in-headlights reaction to an unexpected question.
Students who can let go of their ego and be in the moment find it easier to sharpen their mental focus for the greatest good; that’s why we teach ways students to be in the moment and find their flow. In this state, productivity and performance are the most fluid. Below are just a few ways to achieve this optimal state in your study process and test performance. If you think you need a miracle, tap into your best test-taking badass self with techniques that will help you center and ground yourself before picking up that No. 2 pencil or filling in that bubble on the computer screen.
- Visualize The Best Version Of Yourself On Test Day
Visualization isn’t just for Phish shows and vision quests. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White harnessed the power of visualization by playing and replaying the image of himself seamlessly doing the double McTwist repeatedly. And he won his first run, with time to spare.
Visualization IS hypnosis. You have the ability to influence your unconscious mind to support you in the things your conscious mind wants for you: eating better, quitting smoking, and taking a test relaxed and on your game.
Researchers at Stanford University and University of Chicago compared two sets of basketball players. The first group practiced playing, whereas the second group only imagined practicing. The players who didn’t physically practice, but visualized peak performance, improved 23 -30 percent in their actual basket-shooting ability, whereas the students who physically practiced saw little improvement.
ACTION ITEM: 5 minutes
Imagine it’s test day and you feel comfortable, prepared, and relaxed. Continue to add different details about taking the test. Notice you answer each question with clarity and preciseness. What do you see/feel/hear/taste/smell? Activate all your senses, and recreate the scenario over and over. Your visualization scene doesn’t need to be the same every time, but you need to tap into a sense of accomplishment, calm, and confidence. I recommend you do this every morning and before bedtime.
This visualization exercise prepares your brain to feel that way on the REAL test day.
- Use Mantras And Affirmational Language To Fire your Inner Critic
Eliminate self-judgment, especially if it leans towards self-flagellation. If you continue to feel shame and dejection because a third grade math teacher said you’d never be good at math, maybe you can think of the ways, now, as an adult, you ARE good at math. Remember, the quant sections on most standardized tests (ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT…) test what you learned in seventh through ninth grade, it’s not rocket science.
ACTION ITEM: 2-5 minutes
Spend a couple of minutes a day reminding yourself of what a badass you are and the greatness you bring to the world. Not convinced? Remind yourself with Post-It notes on the bathroom mirror, or ask friends and loved ones to do this when they come to visit. Make it real by speak these truths aloud to yourself in a mirror.
- Use Music To Put Yourself In The Zone
Music influences our mood and has a ton of physical and psychological benefits. Because it can tap directly into your emotional state, students can use it to boost energy and confidence, or to find their quiet place. Only you know what moves you, so use it to your advantage.
ACTION ITEM: as much time as you like!
Create two soundtracks: one for building momentum and another for calming down. My favorite calming soundtrack? Pandora’s Global Chill station.
- Feed Your Brain: Eat Like A Hippie or Festival-Going Yogini
What you eat has profound effects on mood as well as physical and mental ability. Eat clean, healthy food, and most everything improves. Making this a priority as you study ensures your faculties will be functioning their best when it counts the most.
Too busy to cook healthy? There are many options across the country for boxed meals you heat up or cook yourself at home. Like Blue Apron, Gobble, Hello Fresh….even Fresh Direct in NYC has ready-made meals. These are likely healthier than restaurants but much easier than starting from scratch and way better than heavily processed and sodium infused frozen meals. Eat great, nourishes yourself to perform your best!
ACTION ITEM: Create a food strategy for the weeks before your test; sign up for a delivery service, or make a plan to eat minimally processed food that’s prizes nutrition over comfort.
- Set A Schedule — And Keep To It
Every sustainable farmer knows that raising a successful crop requires careful timing; likewise, test prep is most effective when students follow a schedule. Structured time helps keep us focused and makes it easier to stick to commitments, which means studying smarter. A balanced schedule that carves out time for work (and play!) prevents burnout and alleviates anxiety; on test day, you’ll know you prepared, which boosts confidence.
ACTION PLAN: During test prep, create a daily and weekly schedule that includes the usual, as well as time for socializing, exercising, and being in nature. Once you start your study, either in a class, by yourself or with a tutor, keep track of how well you’re using your time.
- Schedule at least 6 hours of sleep; 8-10 is best, but do what you can.
- Take at least 10 minutes a day for meditation, prayer, or quiet time.
Get back to the land, yo! You don’t need to visit a farmstead or visit a secluded retreat centers to commune with nature. In urban settings, parks and playgrounds can get us closer to Gaia even when we’re deep in concrete canyons. Even a farmers’ market will get you closer to nature, and you’ll find food that fuels performance.
Resist the urge to let test prep take you away from family, friends and community and be purposeful about getting together with the people who love you up. Share meals, take walks and walk your favorite four-legged friend with someone you know to feed your soul. Non-study time allows your brain to process the information you’ve studied and prevents burnout.
Have you used holistic practices to maximize your potential for an upcoming exam? Did these integrations rock your world? Write us to let us know!
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