By betsy On Tuesday, July 20 th, 2010 · no Comments · In

It seems like I haven’t blogged in a while, and for that I apologize.  This past week I went back to the east coast and got to meet with admissions officers from some excellent schools: Georgetown, Cornell, and Wharton.  Each has its own strength – in Georgetown’s case, I would say the location is a very big plus, Cornell has a wonderful social enterprise program, and Wharton is, well, Wharton.

But while meeting schools’ admissions officers was important (and a great part of my trip), I learned something that I wanted to write about here about the GMAT, inspired from conversations with Doug Barg.  Doug is head of the GMAT faculty at Kaplan in Philadelphia, but he is so much more than that.  He is, on Twitter, “GeeMatters” and blogs and he really knows how to teach.

One thing that stood out in our conversation is a story this GMAT expert told me about focus.

The Key: Focus

Focus is critical for standardized tests. I’ve written about it a number of times, including a paper called “Train Your Brain for Test Success.”  Focus keeps you on track so that you pay attention to the question at hand, and not the worrying voices in your head. Focus  helps you answer the question quickly, and not second-guess.

When the stakes are really high, sometimes its hard to focus.  Doug told me about a student who taught himself to focus by thinking about his former colleague in the US Army whose job was to diffuse bombs.  How did he prevent IEDs or landmines from blowing up?  Focus.

Says Maj. Chris Hunter, a counter-terrorist bomb disposal specialist expert in the British Army:

“When you walk up to a bomb to neutralise it by hand, the adrenaline is flowing and you go into tunnel vision mode to try to dispel any fear you’ve got. Adrenaline helps,” he says. “You’ve got to steady your breathing and can feel the drum beat of your heart.”

Was the soldier born that way? Probably not.  He trained, over and over, practiced when where the stakes were much lower, to keep his focus.  It can be learned.

OK, not everyone has such nerves of steel, but we can be inspired by the soldier’s training.

When you study, practice on your focusing techniques.  Channel the Explosive Ordnance Disposal guy.  Practice that tunnel vision. You’ll waste a lot less energy, and maybe even feel like you’ve saved the world.