Sleep Well

March 3, 2010

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One thing I frequently emphasize with my GMAT students is the importance of studying every day. That's particularly true with math, as you're learning unfamiliar concepts that are abstract and mentally demanding.

Here's an interesting article about the importance of sleep. It sheds some light on why studying every day is so much more effective that cramming on the weekends (or for a week before test day):

[Robert] Stickgold is one of the foremost sleep researchers in the country and has long argued that sleep's crucial function is to boost memory and learning. His theory is that during sleep, the brain evaluates recently learned information and decides what to do with it. In the process, memory consolidation takes place--memories or skills that were acquired during waking are stabilized or enhanced, or perhaps moved to new locations. The brain may also extract patterns and rules from large amounts of information.

If you're interested, the article offers much more evidence and detail in support of the theory.

Now, there is a catch. It doesn't come up in the article I linked, but other research emphasizes the importance of getting enough sleep in order to reap these benefits. If you're adding GMAT preparation to an already busy schedule, this can be difficult.

I've often recommended to students that, to ensure they get their GMAT work in every day, they start their routine an hour earlier. For some people, that means getting up at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning to study, go to the gym (if that's already part of the routine), and head to work. In many cases, that's exactly what's necessary, and it works perfectly. But if it means you're losing that hour of sleep (i.e., you're not going to sleep earlier the night before to compensate), you may be retarding the learning process just as you're trying to accelerate it.

It's tough to strike the perfect balance: the students of mine who are the most successful are the ones who accept the fact that, for a month or two, their life will be unnaturally GMAT-focused and adjust everything else accordingly. It's not an easy thing to do, but if you do it right, you'll be done with the test and back to normal in a couple of months, GMAT score in hand.

Just about every other test-prep provider points out the importance of getting enough sleep the night before the test. While that's important, it's only about 2% of the story: your knowledge and strategy acquisition will happen over a period of weeks or months, not days, and the degree to which you leverage the power of sleep will determine just how effective your study time can be.



About the author: Jeff Sackmann has written many GMAT preparation books, including the popular Total GMAT Math, Total GMAT Verbal, and GMAT 111. He has also created explanations for problems in The Official Guide, as well as 1,800 practice GMAT math questions.

Total GMAT Math

The comprehensive guide to the GMAT Quant section. It's "far and away the best study material available," including over 300 realistic practice questions and more than 500 exercises!
Click to read more.