10 Ways to Warm Up and Relax Before and During the GRE

By Ron Woldoff, Joseph Kraynak

The GRE is as much a physical workout as it is mental, and it’s more like a marathon than a sprint. If you come out of the blocks at a sprinter’s pace, you’re sure to quickly exhaust yourself.

The keys to reaching the end and finishing strong are warming up mentally and keeping in tune physically. This chapter describes ten mental and physical exercises that can keep you going before and during the test and carry you through to the very end.

Work some easy math first

Make sure your first math warm-up problem on the day you take the GRE isn’t finding the possible values of k in . Instead, warm up before the test by getting some simple math flowing through your head. During your drive to the testing center, review the squares of numbers 1 through 10, find the circumference and area of a circle with a radius of 6, and review the side ratios of the common right triangles.

Taking a test is like running a race. Before you run a race, you want to jog a little to warm up. Before you take the GRE, you want to get your brain going with some easy mental math exercises.

Do some light reading

Just as you want to warm up with some easy math, you also want to warm up with some verbal exercises. Make sure the Verbal sections, including those Reading Comp passages, aren’t where you do your first verbal reasoning of the day.

While eating your breakfast, read a magazine or newspaper article and look for the introduction, supporting detail, main idea, and author’s perspective. Also look at the vocabulary words in the article and separate the roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

Breathe deeply

The value of breathing deeply is grossly underrated. Take a deep breath, hold it for a few counts, and then let it out slowly.

Avoid short, shallow breaths, which can cause you to become even more anxious by depriving your body of oxygen. Try breathing in and out deeply while reciting something in your mind, such as dialogue from a movie or lyrics to a song.

Rotate your head

Work the kinks out of your neck by trying to see behind yourself without turning around. Slowly rotate your head as far as possible to the right until you feel a tug on the left side of your neck. Then rotate your head all the way to the left until you feel a tug on the right. Return your head back to center and then move it straight back, as if you’re looking up at the sky, and then down, as if looking at your feet. You’ll be surprised at how much tension drains out of you when doing these moves a few times.

During the test, be careful to perform this exercise with your eyes closed and make what you’re doing obvious. You don’t want a suspicious proctor to think you’re craning your neck to look at someone else’s computer screen.

Cup your eyes

Cup your hands, fingers together. Put them over your gently closed eyes, blocking out all the light. You’re now in a world of soothing darkness, which helps clear your mind. Do this for 10 to 15 seconds.

Hunch and roll your shoulders

While breathing in, scrunch up your shoulders as if you’re trying to touch them to your ears. Then roll them back and down, breathing out. Arch your back, sitting up super straight, as if a string is attached to the top of your head and is being pulled toward the ceiling. Then slump and round out your lower back, pushing it out toward the back of your chair. These exercises relax your upper and lower back and are especially useful if you develop a kink in your spine.

Shake out your hands

Put your hands down at your sides, hanging them below your chair seat, and shake them vigorously. Imagine all the tension and stress pouring out through your fingers onto the floor. During the exam, you can do this while reading questions.

Extend and push out your legs

While sitting at your desk, straighten your legs out in front of you and think of pushing something away with your heels. Point your toes back toward your knees. You’ll feel a stretch on the backs of your legs. Hold for a count of three and then relax.

Curtail negative thoughts

Suppose you catch yourself thinking, “Why didn’t I study this math more? I saw that formula a hundred times, but I can’t remember it now!” Change the script to, “I got most of the math right. I can get this one, too. I’m doing fine, and I’m almost done!”

Don’t panic over something you may not have done your best on, because the panic will carry over into the next section. Some students doubt themselves and then do great, proving that doubt is a poor indicator of performance. Doubt can lead to panic, though, which negatively affects your performance, so banish doubt and focus on acing the next question or section.

Visualize success

Before the exam, close your eyes gently and visualize yourself as the champion. Believe in yourself and envision your success on the GRE:

  • You’re in the testing center, seeing questions you know the answers to and cheerfully punching the Next button.

  • You’re leaving the exam room, shouting, “YES!” because you got your unofficial score right off the computer.

  • You’re opening the envelope containing the acceptance letter from the graduate school of your dreams.

  • Years from now, you’re working your dream job and telling the magazine reporter who is interviewing you that your success started with your excellent GRE scores, thanks (at least in part) to GRE For Dummies.