If you know me personally, you probably know that I’m obsessed with food. If you ever want to torment me, watch this video for inspiration. And if you ever want to get on my good side, take me to one of the interesting places on this crazyass NYC food website. So when somebody asks me how I managed to get a perfect score on the GMAT, I sometimes point to my stomach and grin stupidly. And I’m only half-joking when I do that.
As you already know, the GMAT is a brutal, four-hour marathon, and the worst part is that the verbal section appears at the end of the GMAT, when you’re completely exhausted. And fatigue is one of the primary reasons why unfortunate GMAT test-takers experience GMAT verbal underperformance.
There are plenty of ways to improve your GMAT verbal score—such as completing 4,000 GMAT CR and RC questions if you’re into that sort of thing—but I would argue that a thoughtful approach to your test-day food and drink intake is a simple and often underappreciated way to maximize your performance on the GMAT.
Your brain is a hungry little bugger, and studies suggest that your brain uses 20% of your caloric intake. Your brain tends to run best when it has a steady supply of carbohydrates, and if you starve your brain of energy, you’re pretty much guaranteed to perform badly on the GMAT.
Your gastronomic goal on test day is to keep your blood sugar as stable as possible, so that you don’t suffer through a sugar crash or a food coma while you’re taking the test. Ideally, you want to eat a solid—but not gut-busting—meal an hour or two before your test. And during each of your breaks, you want to make sure that eat some sort of snack to help keep your brain moving.
And here comes the important part: you definitely want to avoid consuming overly sugary snacks (M&Ms, Skittles, chocolate, etc.) during your breaks, since they’re likely to lead to a blood-sugar crash before the GMAT verbal section is over. Stick with something a little bit healthier, ideally with a lower glycemic index: energy bars, a mix of nuts and dried fruit, or a light sandwich on whole wheat bread.
Pure sugar might work for a short-term boost, but it can hurt you during a four-hour GMAT marathon. A number of years ago, one of my high school students loaded up on Skittles before the SAT, was a brilliant ball of energy for the first 45 minutes of the test, and then literally fell asleep. I swear that I’m not making this up.
So don’t mess around. Plan out your meals and your snacks well before you take the real GMAT, and think carefully about the nutritional value of your snacks. When you do full practice tests, be conscious of your food and caffeine intake; experiment with different meals and snacks and drinks to see what works best for you.
You might end up choosing snacks that aren’t particularly tasty, like chalky energy bars. But even though some energy bars aren’t particularly delicious, they always taste better than a subpar GMAT score.