Monday, December 15, 2014

Studying for Graduate School Entrance Exams, and a brain boosting green smoothie recipe!

Other than a short siesta for Thanksgiving, the past few weeks have been totally consumed with preparing for my graduate school entrance exams- the dreaded GRE.

Yes, I have decided to go to graduate school and get my MBA. It's been 4+ years since I got my BS at Ithaca College, and I've been trying to get as much real-life business experience as possible because I know that will make me a more attractive candidate for a top business school. Now, I feel I'm ready to take the jump back into my studies, and it's been... tough. What keeps me going, despite the pain of watching my friends go out without me the last couple weeks (and just saying "no" to wine and Netflix), is that I know this is what I need to do to drive my career in the direction I want it to go (which is owning my own business, being a bad ass entrepreneur, becoming my own brand and also a billionaire).

Honestly, just getting back into that school/study mindset has been the hardest part. SO, I've decided to share a few tips and tricks that helped me force my brain to cooperate after being out of school for so long.

#1. Before anything else, schedule your entrance test / GRE / GMAT / LSAT so that you have an actual goal. 

Also keep in mind a general idea of when you'd like to begin school, so that you can coordinate getting your score with your actual application deadlines. This may seem like a no brainer, but it's important to have a concrete goal in mind so that you can't procrastinate too much. Also beware, it's very expensive to change or cancel your test date once it's scheduled. Now that I'm done with my test, I'm shooting for April admission deadlines.

#2. Seriously consider a prep class. 

You may feel up to date in your math and vocab skills, but most could probably use a refresher. I took a Kaplan class and it was incredibly helpful. I didn't realize how much grade school math I had forgotten. At the end of the class I asked my instructor, "Where were you when I was in highschool?" All my math teachers were evil, old bitches that made me dread math class like the plague. Whereas my english teachers were wonderful nurturing geniuses. No wonder I ended up with a love of writing and reading. My Kaplan instructor made the math I struggled with in highschool seem so easy. And that feeling of finally understanding a complex math concept? Like ahah! or a lightbulb turning on- it's magical. Yes the class was a lot of money upfront, but with the change in my score from my first diagnostic practice test to my final result, it was worth every penny.

#3. Carve out your study time and stick to it. 

I wrote out a schedule for each day for the 2 weeks prior to my test, and it was like a map to success. I had dedicated study appointments, and made no excuses. This allowed me to guiltlessly take care of other things that I needed to do. My goal was 2 hours of studying a night. It may sound like a lot, but it's what my prep instructor suggested, and almost every night I ended up studying longer. You don't realize how fast it goes by when your truly focused.

It may help to tell yourself this anti-social, chained-to-your-desk situation is only temporary, but really it's preparing yourself for what's to come once you actually get into grad school (especially if like me, you hope to get into a top 10). Getting in is only the beginning. You need to learn how to manage your time well.

#4. Exercise. 

I still went to the gym at LEAST every other day while studying. Especially since my test was right between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we all know how diets go this time of year. Personally, the gym kept me sane because it it allowed me to expel some pent up energy after sitting at my desk all day for work, and all night to study.

#5. Lastly, feed your body and mind with healthy food. 

Sometimes when you're studying it's easiest to just eat whatever is around or to order in, but this is counter productive. I'm no nutritionist, but even I know that a healthy, balanced diet is necessary to maintain optimum brain function, focus and energy. For extra energy, I did drink plenty of green tea and coffee, but I'm not that sensitive to caffeine so you have to know what works for you for an extra energy boost.

This is where my herby green smoothie comes in! Full of spinach and citrus and other goodies, this super drink is sure to help get your mind focused. The bananas and citrus almost make you forget your drinking your vegetables. Spinach is full of antioxidants which are said to help keep your brain alert, even in old age. There's a cube of ginger in there too, which has also been shown to have protective effects on the brain. Also, all the nutrients and vitamins will keep your skin glowy and healthy despite the stress you might be under. I also drank one right for breakfast the day of my test for a jumpstart. Here's all you need for an instant brain boost:

Giant fistful of spinach
1 banana (even better if frozen)
1/2 naval orange (currently in season!)
Couple tufts of cilantro (adds a great fresh, herby flavor, but if you hate it you can skip)
1 cube ginger
Squeeze of lemon
1/2 cup cold coconut water (or more, depending on your desired consistency)
Optional: ice

I find that I can never use a whole knob of fresh ginger before some of it goes bad (because so little goes such a long way in any recipe), but then I found this and it has changed my life! It doesn't even need to thaw before using it in this smoothie or even a stir fry. Now I always have fresh ginger on hand.

Chop up the cilantro, ginger, banana and orange, mix everything and blend until smooth. Enjoy!

Another great dinner idea to whip up during a busy week is my super-healthy (and super easy) veggie soup. This recipe is also a great detox food after holiday indulgences, and keeps well in the fridge for leftovers. Here's what you need:

1 medium onion
3 stalks of leeks
Baby bella mushrooms
4-5 carrots
4-5 celery stalks
1 Lemon
Chicken stock (or vegetable if your a vegetarian)- I used Better than Bouillon
Massive bag of spinach (or kale, or chard)
Salt and pep to taste

Finely chop up veggies, and sauté everything except the spinach in extra virgin olive oil.

Once the sauteed veggies have gotten a little softer, simmer in the stock for 45 minutes. Squeeze a few wedges of lemon into the mix, and salt and pepper to taste. This will give you a delicious flavorful soup.

At the last minute, add the spinach and let simmer for about 3-5 more minutes (add 5 minutes extra if using kale or chard).

Healthy and delicious!

Hopefully this advice helps any of you starting the process of going back to school. This list is by no means exhaustive, just the main things that helped me do my best on my graduate school entrance exams. Do you have any other helpful tricks to getting back into the student lifestyle?

Now that my test is over, however, I will catching up on some naughty things that I've been missing out on the past couple weeks (tv, wine, friends, shopping)!

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