Tag Archives: MBA

Walk This Way

Time for an update on how my prep is going. Over the past 3 weeks or so, I have completed about 35 hours of prep. This time includes 5 practice tests. With the remaining time, I went through the Princeton Review guides, attempted a few questions from their bins before deciding that it might not be very useful, reviewed some concepts from the Manhattan GMAT strategy guides, and done some preliminary work on the AWA. Here are the results from my tests so far:

Notes on the scores:

  • Since my first GMAT prep test, I have been writing AWAs before I start the actual test. This has helped me realize that the extra hour takes its toll on stamina and I’m hoping that through enough practice, I will have developed the endurance to stay focused on the verbal section before my test day. I’m already seeing results on this front.
  • On the first Princeton Review CAT I took, I scored only a 700. From everything I read, these tests were more likely to overstate scores than understate them, and so I got a bit worried. I attributed the lower score on the first test to the fact that I wrote it at 7 p.m. after a long day. I was also rushing to write it so I could head out to meet friends – I had about 30 minutes left on my verbal section when I was finished. This test was also the first time I had tried to do the AWA before the actual sections, and that impacted my focus on the last stretch.
  • Looking back now, I’m not fully sold that the Princeton Review tests are a good tool. The algorithm seems off when compared to both the Kaplan test and the first GMAT Prep test, and the questions seem to have a different style as well. I was able to identify a couple of patterns, and picked up on a couple of key things through these tests, but overall, I think I might have made a mistake paying for theses and perhaps I should have paid for access to the Manhattan GMAT CATs instead.
  • The one benefit PR offered is the chance to have a couple of AWA attempts graded. I’m saving my last test for a date closer to my actual test date to evaluate my AWA writing again then.
  • The Kaplan test I wrote today felt good. Not as good as some of the PR tests (all the more reason I believe that those tests are flawed), but still fairly good. The score on these tests are supposed to understate expected results on the actual test, so I’m feeling ok after that one. Familiar patterns that I saw after my first GMAT prep test, but which seemed to not be the case after my PR tests re-emerged, suggesting that either I worked on these weaknesses but am slipping back into old habits, or that the Princeton tests are flawed. Either way, I have a clearer picture on where I need to improve.
Plan going forward:
I’ve mentioned some patterns I’ve observed and some things I need to work on. Here they are, along with steps I’m going to be taking to address these:
  • While I am fairly confident with sentence correction, it remains my weakest area. I have not built up the familiarity with all the question types and although I am confident I can do well with idioms, there are some on whose usage I am still not 100% comfortable. So over the next couple of days I will be going through the MGMAT SC guide and working through some of the advanced material to get up to speed.
  • I still tend to speed through questions, especially data sufficiency questions. The answer is almost always not ‘E’, and I tend to miss minor details in the question which alter my answer. There was a question today where I thought to myself: “If they gave me this piece of data, then I could solve using statement (II), and B would be the answer, but since I don’t have it…” Turns out the info I needed was in the question the whole time. I absolutely need to avoid mistakes like this as I would just be wasting away easy points. Gonna be doing a whole whack of DS questions from the OG after I work on SC questions and see positive results.
  • I am still writing AWAs, and even wrote one with the Kaplan test today. I just have no way of really assessing my work except for comparing with other essays online. Overall, I think my argument essays are fairly strong and I am able to identify flaws and convey my arguments in a concise manner. With the issue essays though, I have difficulty keeping my thoughts brief and still developing them fully. I find myself overwhelmed with ideas and points I want to make, and I invariably end up flitting through too many points without giving any of them the full time they deserve. So that’s what I’ll be working on going forward.
Overall, looks like things are going according to plan. No reasons to panic yet, but no real reason to celebrate either. As long as I am able to achieve some measure of improvement on my SC questions and learn to take my time with DS questions, I should see consistently strong results. Here’s hoping the next few practice tests bring me the consistency I seek.

Defining Culture

I was talking to a friend of mine last night, who is in an undergraduate business program and will be entering recruiting season in the fall. Our discussion got around to “culture” within various firms and what it actually meant, and it got me thinking that maybe I should do a post on what “culture” means to me.

I’ve gone through recruiting processes for accounting and consulting firms – both, fields in which finding which firm is the “right fit” for you is emphasized constantly. In both instances, I neared the recruiting process with a strong preference for 2 firms; in both instances, I only received offers from one of the 2 firms, allowing me to avoid making a choice. My preference was based on a variety of factors, and ultimately reflected which firms I was most comfortable with.

What is Culture?

I like to think of culture as being analogous to climate: just as you cannot arrive at a conclusion that Toronto’s climate is rainy because you happened to spend one rainy day there, you cannot draw conclusions regarding culture from a small sample size of interactions. Culture, to me, is a pervasive set of attitudes and personalities among individuals of a certain group. Whether this group is defined by geography, race, employer, or educational institution, its culture is generally driven by common experiences and philosophies instilled in them.

In the case of employers and business schools, culture can be terribly subtle and difficult to isolate/identify. For instance, the general profile of an MBA student at a top b-school is someone who is incredibly motivated, determined, dedicated, intelligent and ambitious. Each candidate might demonstrate these characteristics in different proportions, but in general, most candidates possess some measure of each characteristic. So how then, can one distinguish between culture at b-schools if their students are so similar?

How to Identify Culture

As with anything, there are multiple approaches to identifying the culture of a group of individuals. One can simply amass as many interactions as possible with members of that group until it is possible to sufficiently distinguish what separates them from another similar group (even if one cannot adequately define what this quality is). Conversely, one can be more systematic in the approach, and attempt to track their interactions and compare the results.

The best way to track the latter is to list out the characteristics that influence “culture” and then to rate each interaction based on these categories. Once enough data is collected, a conclusion on the culture of the group relative to others can be reached.

For business schools, categories may include:

  • strength of alumni network (success as leaders in the future, breadth of industries etc.)
  • area of focus
  • teaching methodologies
  • class size
  • diversity
  • opportunities available upon graduation (various ways to measure)
This, of course, is only a rough list to give you an idea of what to think about. But it’s easy to see how after attending many recruiting sessions or reading articles, one could divine the strengths and weaknesses of a b-school, and consequently determine a clearer picture of its culture. But none of this is relevant unless you can relate culture back to yourself.

What is Your Culture?

The easiest way to find a good fit is just by the way interactions feel. We’ve all been to networking sessions and conferences where conversations get awkward. But if you find yourself consistently in awkward conversations with representatives from one institution or firm, regardless of where you meet them, then perhaps its indicative of a bad fit. A word of caution here that it could just be that your networking skills need a bit of polishing, or that the sample size of people you’re speaking with is small. Conversely, if you always have interesting conversations with people from a certain employer or firm, then it is likely to be a good fit for you.

Another key part of finding your fit, whether with an employer or with a b-school, is first identifying what you are looking for. This is often the part most candidates do not spend enough time thinking about. To really know where you would be able to make the most of your time, you have to know what your skills and preferences are. For instance, I identified that I tend to be goal-oriented, ambitious and opinionated. I tend to gravitate towards people with similar personalities who have strong leadership and communication skills and those who have a good sense of humour. So for me, a good fit would mean that in general, people from that organization are accomplished, have the demeanor of a leader, and are easygoing enough to have a light conversation at networking events. Once I recognized this tendency, I was able to clearly understand why I was more comfortable with certain firms, and finding my fit became a lot easier.

Last Words

If all else fails, simply use the airport test. Look at a list of individuals who attended the school – if you’ve networked well, you should know quite a few recent grads/current students – and ask yourself if you would mind spending a day with them at the airport (as in your flight is delayed and you’re stuck there, not as in you take a fun excursion to the airport). Employers do this all the time when selecting candidates; it works both ways. If you respect them, look up to them, find them easy to talk to, and generally enjoy their company, chances are you would not mind at all. If the majority of the reps of the school/firm pass this test, you have yourself a fit!

Whether you’re going into recruiting season, or applying to b-school, I hope this provides a little bit of insight into how you can cut through the constant talk about “culture” and find the right fit for you.

GMAT Practice Test 1 & Revised Study Plan

I did my first practice test from GMAT Prep today, to evaluate where I stand.

I tried to take my time on the quantitative section and by the time I was halfway through the verbal section, I was getting impatient and tired of staying focused for that long. When I finished, my heart was racing with that odd mix of anticipation and nervousness one gets. The score popped out, and I almost jumped out of my seat.

My score was a 760 with a Quant score of 49 and a Verbal score of 44!! I was able to get such a high score despite finishing the quant section with 5 minutes to spare and the verbal section with around 25 minutes to spare. I could neither my eyes nor my luck; my first practice test could not have gone any better.

Once the elation subsided a bit, I got down to reviewing my results. I got 8 incorrect on the quants and 5 on the verbal. The reason the scaled quant score is higher is probably the difficulty of the questions I was given. The majority of my errors were in data sufficiency and sentence correction problems.

The score I got is pretty sweet, but now I have to resist the temptation to ease up on the studying. If I can consistently stay in this range in all my practice tests, that would be amazing! I’ve revised my study plan to hopefully address some issues in sentence correction and data sufficiency, and improve/maintain my scores.

  1. Go through Princeton Review material
  2. Work on Official Guide problems, focusing on Data Sufficiency and Sentence Correction
  3. Begin with Manhattan GMAT guide on Sentence Correction and skim other guides as needed
Throughout the process, I will also be maintaining an error log, outlining which problems I have trouble with and the source of the errors. The Khan Academy’s videos go over all the problems in the Official Guide, so it’s probably a good resource to review in understanding how to avoid repeating errors, and also a nice way to keep concepts fresh during my down time. I’ll probably also periodically be referring to the Beat the GMAT flash cards, available here: http://www.beatthegmat.com/mba/free-gmat-prep-flashcards
I’ve started tracking the time spent studying each session, and what I work on during the session. I’ve also mapped out dates when I want to take practice tests and which source I plan on using. Here’s the summary:
All in all, it’s been an awesome start to my studying. Now to carry this momentum of positivity going forward!

Results of Official Guide Diagnostic Test

Just did a diagnostic test from the Official Review Guide, to see where I stand. The diagnostic is intended to highlight weak areas and help you craft a study plan to improve on weaknesses. Here are my diagnostic results:


Problem Solving – 16/24

Data Sufficiency – 20/24


Reading Comprehension – 17/17

Critical Reasoning – 15/17

Sentence Correction – 17/18

Basically all the results are in the “Excellent” range, with the exception of Problem Solving. Surprising, I know; my quantitative skills are weaker than my verbal skills despite my undergrad degree being in mathematics. The first caveat here is that I rushed the math section, not knowing how I would fare on timing. This was really not needed as I finished well under 75 minutes. The second, and more important, grain of salt with these results is that I was not aware I would be able to write things down as I went. I recalled reading somewhere that you had to do everything in your head during the GMATs, so I attempted to do just that.

As you can see in this helpful blog post here, you are given a notepad and marker on which to perform rough work. http://gmathints.com/gmat-info/gmat-on-test-day

So I’m not really panicking about my quant results, and I’ll reserve judgement until after I do the first practice test. Lesson here kids: Don’t make assumptions about rules, always check.

Step 1: Preliminary Attack Plan

All right! This is officially the start of my GMAT preparations. Right now, here’s my plan:

Step 1: Familiarize myself with the test and basic types of questions/strategies.

Step 2: Take my first practice test on GMAT prep (first of 2 downloadable from MBA.com). This should give me a gauge on where I stand and clarify the amount of work I have to put in.

Step 3: Go through Kaplan’s Premier guide or the Princeton Review guide (still on the fence). Attempt another practice CAT, this time from Kaplan or Princeton Review.

Step 4: Go through 12th edition Official Guide for GMAT Review. I’m going to use the Khan Academy’s free online GMAT prep video series found at the following link to review my work and keep the concepts fresh in my mind. http://www.khanacademy.org/gmat

Step 5: One more practice test.

Step 6: Go through Manhattan GMAT prep’s 8 strategy guides.

Step 7: More practice tests, followed by more practice.

Depending on how much time I have, the speed/effectiveness of how I’m able to work through all the material, and how I perform on my practice tests I’ll have to alter the plan as I go. Along the way I’ll be reading the forums/blogs at http://www.beatthegmat.com/ for tips and advice to incorporate into my approach.

Timeline: I have two weeks before I go back to school in May. My goal is to be finished with steps 1 and 2 by Wednesday, April 20th, and hopefully get around 50 hours in before May 2nd, leaving about a month to get another 50-60 hours or so in (test day is June 4th).

So here I go. Full steam ahead!

Why B-School?

At various points in my life I have dreamt of becoming, in no particular order: a doctor, a lawyer, a scientist, an astronaut, a pilot, a musician, a professional athlete, an accountant and a lottery winner. Realizing that I lack some combination of skill, patience, and luck to achieve each of the above, I settled for a career in business. After completing a few months at a large public accounting firm, I will be starting as a management consulting analyst this fall. I am excited.

I also have an entrepreneurial venture on the side with some good friends – where it will go, nobody knows, but here’s hoping that we’re all millionaires by 30!

To supplement my consulting career, my entrepreneurial ventures, and because I know I will just plain miss being in school, I hope to get an MBA some day.

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