Skip to main content

Does State-Dependent Learning Help with the GMAT?

Students who are interested in enrolling in an online MBA program may have to take the GMAT unless they meet the necessary requirements for a waiver. The GMAT can seem intimidating, but there are lots of techniques that students can incorporate to make studying more effective.

State-dependent learning is the concept that people recall things best when they do so in an environment similar to the one in which they learned them. State-dependent learning has been studied in relation to substance intake and even mood. A 1989 study of state-dependent learning revealed a variety of different ways that mood can affect memory, such as the fact that state-dependent learning seems to be more effective with positive moods rather than negative ones.

So, does state-dependent learning help with the GMAT? State-dependent learning can be utilized in GMAT preparation. In this context, students should try to create a study environment that is as similar to the actual test day as possible. Here are some GMAT tips on how to use the principles of state-dependent learning in GMAT prep:


The GMAT test room isn’t always silent. In fact, students are often put in a room with other students, so at the very least they will have to put up with noise from typing and movement. Students are given headphones to block out noise, but they aren’t capable of blocking all sound. Because of this, it would be beneficial to study in an environment that has some background noise as well. One GMAT tip is to play background noise on low volume when you study.


State-dependent learning is also associated with levels of caffeine. That means it would be beneficial for students to consume roughly the same amount caffeine on test day as they do when studying for the GMAT. Some students tend to overdo this and consume extra caffeine. This can be detrimental, since caffeine is also linked to anxiety. Too much caffeine can cause a student to be overly anxious, which might negatively impact his or her performance on the test.


Though it may be tempting to study for the GMAT on a comfortable couch or even on your bed, this might not be the best decision, considering the impact of state-dependent learning. It is very unlikely that the seat on test day will be as comfortable as a couch or a bed. It could be beneficial to, at the very least, study sitting upright, and if possible study in a semi-comfortable chair. Another GMAT tip is to try to wear the same kind of clothes on test day as you do when you study. For example, if you always wear sweatpants to study, wear sweatpants to the test.

While your GMAT performance depends on many factors, heeding the principles of state-dependent learning may give you an edge as you strive for a strong score.

Learn more about the Boise State online MBA program.