What should I eat to sustain me through a 4.5 hour computerized test?
March 3, 2014 8:35 AM   Subscribe

I am taking the GRE on Saturday and I have issues with low blood pressure and mild hypoglycemia. What should I eat the morning of? What should I bring to the test to sustain me for the full 4.5 hours?

I'm a small person who rarely eats much in one sitting. I usually have pretty low blood pressure and I tend to run out of steam easily. I've discussed my issues with my doctors and I manage to live a very normal, active life by eating and drinking frequently.

However, I have problems when I don't have access to food or water. A few weeks ago I took my first GRE and the test lasts 4.5 hours. I wasn't able to eat much before the test due to the early start time and general test anxiety. There are 60 second breaks between 30 minute sections, but that is not enough time to sign out, get to my locker to get food or drink, sign back in, and then and get wanded before re-entering the testing room. The ten minute break after 2.5 hours was not quite enough for me to calm down enough to choke down a protein bar and drink enough water. I had a difficult time concentrating during the last two hours and received a score that was probably fine, but well below my practice test performance.

Unfortunately, asking for a medical intervention would have not left time for me to take the test again before my graduate school deadline. ETS needs a few extra weeks of lead time to verify extra allowances. Besides, I would be just fine if I could have a few pieces of chocolate and some water with me. However, the testing guidelines are strict and I cannot take anything into the testing room with me.

I am taking the GRE again this Saturday. I will be taking the test at 12:30 in the afternoon which should help me to eat better beforehand. What should I eat before the test? When should I eat it? What should I bring as a snack for my break? The protein bars I had were not tasty enough for me to be able to eat them without gagging.

Any additional advice about handling the anxiety? I've been using my exercise bike to burn off the nerves, but it makes me a little sleepy. Should I try to exercise that morning or the night before? Is there anything else I can do to keep my mind clear?

Thanks so much for your help!
posted by Alison to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd have a protein rich salad with a nice fatty dressing. A chef's salad or antipasto. Yum!

For snack, I'd do a few cheese chunks. Or string cheese, yummy at room temperature and you can add some whole grain crackers with it and fruit if you like.

As for anxiety, is your grade good enough? Then don't even bother taking it again.

Why put yourself through it. Passing is passing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:38 AM on March 3, 2014

Beef jerky is great for this. Also, what kind of protein bar? They're not all alike. I hate protein bars as a rule, but Pure Protein chocolate peanut butter tastes like a peanut butter cup -- it really is like a candy bar, not a protein bar.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:44 AM on March 3, 2014

Drink Gatorade or similar instead of water - the sugar and electrolytes will probably perk you up.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:50 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If having to chew and swallow your snack in a short time might be an issue, maybe a greek yogurt to start with, for protein? I'd add a pre-peeled clementine and maybe a granola bar to that. The Fiber One chewy granola bars aren't too big (they even make 90 calorie ones that are smaller) and have alot of fiber for fullness.
posted by cabingirl at 8:59 AM on March 3, 2014

I'd drink an ensure nutritional shake before and during the test.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:00 AM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You need food with a low glycemic index, i.e. slower calories. Try seeds, grains and fruit!
posted by Tom-B at 9:07 AM on March 3, 2014

You might look for some tips for hypoglycemic marathon runners, as they would need to eat quickly for endurance. A quick look through some runner message boards indicates that you might want to focus on good nutrition and hydration a week prior. It also looks like beef jerky and Clif Bars are popular options for the day of the test.

There are also some newer sports drinks that might help as well. (But I would test those out in advance.)
posted by statsgirl at 9:14 AM on March 3, 2014

Can you have a friend or relative meet you with a drink or snack? That way you just have to sign out, step out of the classroom, eat, then walk back in the classroom. No fussing with a locker or going to car or anything else.
posted by OrangeDisk at 9:20 AM on March 3, 2014

Do you have a food processor? You can make your own fruit-nut-chocolate bars. You can use any combination of semi-dry fruit (about 1+1/3 cup--dates, raisins, etc.) and any nuts (about 1 cup--at least some cashews or peanuts are good because they're so fatty), then a few tablespoons of cocoa powder and maybe a spoonful of honey to add some moisture and sweetness. Pop it all in the food processor until it's nice and mushy, then the easiest way to mold them is to put the whole thing into a normal drinking glass, press it down, then pull it out and cut off slices.
posted by anaelith at 10:06 AM on March 3, 2014

Is GRE computerized? When I took the GMAT I was super nervous about the same thing (I think we had 3 min breaks but that still seemed short!), but I discovered that they weren't super strict about that. It didn't matter if each person started exactly on time because the computer timed the test.
posted by radioamy at 10:10 AM on March 3, 2014

The protein bars I had were not tasty enough for me to be able to eat them without gagging.

Try a Luna bar (even if you're not a woman). They are pretty tasty and low glycemic. There are enough flavors that you should be able to find one you like. They also make fiber and protein bars.
posted by jshort at 10:18 AM on March 3, 2014

Best answer: I would say focus on the 2-4 days before the test, sticking to higher fat and protein, and low carbs - more from vegetables than grains. Hydrate. You want to be in a good place before you ever walk in there, so you don't have to spend a lot of effort on getting through the actual test period.

Day of, whatever fat and protein you can get in you. Eggs and avocado, chicken or tuna salad, all-beef hot dogs. You can buy boiled eggs already boiled and peeled at the supermarket now.

For break, a handful of nuts - be extravagant and get the ones you like the very best, like those cocoa macadamias or smokehouse almonds or whatever. Your blood sugar should be extremely stable if you haven't been carbing up for the previous couple of days (and all this fructose people are suggesting seems like a bad idea to me as a hypoglycemic, and also all those dried fruits would probably cause an urgent bathroom situation before the test was over), so the nuts would mostly be psychological. If you have a non-troublesome caffeine response, a bottled diet or unsweet tea might be a good alternative to good old water.

You might consider taking a B-complex (often called something woo-woo like Stress Complex or whatever) that morning as they do tend to produce a calming result, but that is also something you want to test in the mornings before then so that you know for sure that it's not going to give you any digestive troubles.

I would exercise the morning of, but more like a leisurely bike ride or walk than anything strenuous.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:24 AM on March 3, 2014

For breakfast, I would eat a vegetable-rich egg dish. Maybe a veg-heavy omelette with some meat if you like.

For snack, I would bring nuts (almonds are great, or whatever you're partial to) and some seedy/nutty crackers, like Crunchmaster Multi-Seed or Dr. Flackers. Alternative: Bring a to-go cup of nut butter to spread on the crackers. Maybe a Babybel too, those always feel like a nice treat.

Pair with a caffeinated beverage if that's your style, or a Gatorade/Powerade for electrolytes.

Treat yourself to a nice meal afterwards!
posted by rachaelfaith at 10:31 AM on March 3, 2014

You cite an issue with low blood pressure in addition to low blood sugar. Salt is what will boost your blood pressure and presumably help keep you calm as well. Eat something salty in the morning for breakfast (or just salt whatever you're already having).
posted by telegraph at 10:35 AM on March 3, 2014

I would eat chicken breast with vegetables adn rice in the morning (make itthe night before and reheat) and for a snack i would have cheese and nuts. I'm a milk drinker so I would also bring a thermos of skim to guzzle on breaks. Frontload. Eat heavy in the morning to sustain you through the time.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:16 AM on March 3, 2014

I had the same issue. Keep a Larabar (cashews and dates, not typical protein bar) in the locker.
posted by semaphore at 12:47 PM on March 3, 2014

Cut up apples are fabulous little bites to eat during tiny breaks, because they have a good mixture of fiber and sugar. If you're not a sweets person, tiny boiled potatoes rolled in salt are just as perfect (trick I learned from my husband, who mountain climbs and runs ultra-marathons and lives on these during those events).
posted by Capri at 6:36 PM on March 3, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I got a perfect score on one section and scored pretty high on the other.

What I ended up doing:
9 am: 20 minutes on the exercise bike
9:30 am: Greek yogurt with honey
10 am: Cup of coffee with whipping cream and sugar
11:30 am: A half-serving of spinach and egg soufflé & cashew milk while listening to psych-up music in the parking lot
12 pm: A little ginger lemonade
12:05 pm: Started test
2 pm: Cup of waiting room coffee and more cashew milk during break
3:30: Finished test

I was really thirsty during much of the second half of the test, and it was distracting enough that I would have reconsidered downing the coffee during the break. Beef jerky would definitely not have been a good choice. Otherwise, I was pretty clear-headed and didn't mentally fade out. I think the key was the cashew milk, which filled me up and was easier to choke down than anything I would have had to chew.

Thanks again for all the great advice!
posted by Alison at 2:44 PM on March 8, 2014

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