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Awkward confession: I cry when I watch the Olympics. A lot. I cry when people win, and I cry when people lose. Either way, watching someone focus a lifetime’s worth of hard work and dedication into a few minutes’ worth of performance is emotionally overwhelming, nerve-wracking, tragic, joyful, and, most of all, inspirational. And so, in honor of 2018’s Winter Olympics, here are five lessons from this year’s Olympians that you can apply to prepping for the GRE.
1. The stories you tell yourself matter.
In the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, American figure skater Mirai Nagasu finished fourth. She vowed to do better in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Then, she failed to make the US Olympic team that year. Instead of despairing, she re-committed herself to the sport. She found a new coach, and, instead of dwelling on her failure in 2014, she set her sights on the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. Not only did she make the US team, she became the first American woman, and third woman ever, to land a triple axel jump in an Olympic competition, helping secure a bronze medal for the US in the team competition.
Moral of the GRE story: we all fail. The key is learning to let go of that failure and move forward. So, if a particular test day goes badly, don’t give up, and don’t beat yourself up. Instead, channel your energy into working harder to prepare for your next test date.
2. It helps to have a team.
The Norwegian men’s alpine team is famous for being an incredibly close-knit group. They do all of their training together and cultivate a team culture that puts camaraderie and mutual support before personal interests. Even though skiing is an individual sport, they believe that by sharing knowledge and encouraging one another, they will all perform better. And this belief has paid off. The Norwegian team, although small compared to other national teams, continues to dominate the Olympics, taking both gold and silver medals in the men’s downhill event in Pyeongchang.
Moral of the GRE story: Even though you take the GRE alone, having an encouraging community will make your studying more effective, as well as more fun. Seek out friends or classmates who are also working on the test and support one another.
3. Celebrate your strengths.
Adam Rippon, one of the first openly gay male athletes to represent the US at the Winter Olympics, isn’t shy about being himself. He’s ebullient and full of personality on the ice and off, and the fact that he’s so fully himself, and so clearly enjoying himself, has won him legions of fans around the world. In his own words, “I might not be the best, but I’m the most fun. I’m going to skate my heart out.”
Moral of the GRE story: it’s easy to become hyper-focused on your weaknesses. And, while shoring up weaknesses will help you as a test-taker, learning to make the most of your strengths can be just as important. Celebrate what you do well and try to find ways to enjoy preparing for and taking the test.
4. Nerves are a good sign!
Everyone—including Olympic athletes—gets nervous before a big event. US Skier Mikaela Shiffrin got so nervous that she vomited before one of her races. Figure skater Adam Rippon said he’s so nervous that he, too, feels like he’s going to vomit. Olympic cross-country skier Jessie Diggins has good advice for dealing with these nerves, though: she reminds herself that nervousness before a big event can actually be a good sign, a source of heightened energy that can be channeled into an excellent performance.
Moral of the GRE story: it’s okay to get nervous—everyone does. Fighting against your nerves can actually make them worse. So, embrace the butterflies in your stomach on test day, and remind yourself that a little extra adrenaline will help, not hinder, you. (That said, extreme test anxiety can impede performance; if your anxiety is routinely getting the best of you, you might want to seek additional advice.)
5. Sometimes you have a bad day…and sometimes you have a great one.
Luck plays a role in performance, too. US skier Mikaela Shiffrin arrived at the 2018 Olympics with hopes of winning a record five gold medals. However, weather-related delays changed the event schedule, and she was forced to withdraw from two of the five events. These delays might also have contributed to her placing fourth in the slalom, normally her strongest event. In contrast to Shiffrin’s bad luck, Czech skier Ester Ledecka surprised everyone, including herself, when she won gold in the super-G event. Ledecka, who is also a professional snowboarder, thought that there had been a mistake when she saw herself listed in first place. No mistake, though: just a freakishly good day.
Moral of the GRE story: circumstances beyond your control will have an impact on your test day. Do your best to shrug these off and stay focused. Sometimes these circumstances will hinder you, and sometimes they’ll help. For this reason, it’s often a good idea to give yourself enough time to take the test more than once, if needed. Unlike a Winter Olympian, you only have to wait 21 days—and not four years—to take the test again. 📝
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Cat Powell is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in New York, NY. She spent her undergraduate years at Harvard studying music and English and is now pursuing an MFA in fiction writing at Columbia University. Her affinity for standardized tests led her to a 169Q/170V score on the GRE. Check out Cat’s upcoming GRE courses here.