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    My First GMAT Study Sessions

    July 26th, 2012

    So what is it going to take to get a great score?  The answer, surprisingly, is not what you’d expect.

    It all started out where so many students start out – the KAPLAN and The Princeton Review study books.  In addition I purchased some additional books with more practice problems thinking that the more problems I do, the better I will be on the test day.

    There were many study sessions where I would start with a section, read the material on the types of problems I was approaching, and then do a whole lot of practice problems of that particular type.  I probably made it about halfway through the math problems when I decided that it wasn’t working for me.  This is not how the test is going to be.  There will not be a battery of a single question type anywhere in the test.  If two questions in a row are the same type, then there’s probably an issue.

    It was time for a new strategy.  Back to the practice tests.  Because of the books I had purchased, I had quite a few practice tests to pick from and could easily run through a few are review the results.  For me, this was the first big lesson:

    Take the test like you’re taking the test

    It may be different for other people, but for me this was critical.  I needed to feel comfortable taking the test.  That meant recreating it as much as possible.

    1) Use the dry erase ‘paper’ because that is what you’re going to have to deal with – all of the good and bad that comes with it

    2) Create the stress of going through all the steps in the test. No matter what the sections are, no matter what order they change them around to, take the practice tests in that order.

    3) Use the breaks. I’m sure you want to be done with the test. When practicing you just want to know what you got wrong so you can study. When taking it for real you’ll just want it to be over with and see the results.  It doesn’t matter. Take the time because you need it.

    4) Try out any of the other things the books suggest. Walk around in between. Stretch. Grab some water. Whatever it is, just try it out and get comfortable with the feeling of stepping away and refocusing for the next section.

    The reason this is so important is because these are things you can prepare for.  You control the time between the sections.  There are not going to be any surprises during this part so use it as an anchor point as you go through the tests and you’ll feel much more in control throughout the test.

    And trust me, as I found out soon enough, you’ll need all the anchor points you can get.

    This has been a special post on my MBA Journey and a Thought From The Cake Scraps.

    GMAT Strategy – The First Time

    June 19th, 2012

    I was a senior in college when I decided that I wanted to take the GMAT and prepare for b-school.  I had some free time with my course load, my online business was winding down, and I had a real interest in planning out my future which would be formed by – at least in part – the outcome of the GMAT.  I remember heading back to my room after class and deciding that I was going to see what the Internet said I needed to do well.

    My search proved rather fruitful.  For starters, I learned the test was computer adaptive which was something new to me.  There were tons of articles telling me what to do, what sections to focus on, how to prepare, and examples of typical questions.  One place that even had an outline of how to spend my time given the level of effort I wanted to exert.  There was everything from the 5 hour plan all the way up to something like 200, 300, or even 500 hours.  My first thought was “wow, that’s a lot of time.”

    Armed with far too much and, at the same time, far too little knowledge, I set my strategy which was, unsurprisingly, very pragmatic. My plan of attack:

    1. Take a practice test.
    2. See where that falls on the bell curve.
    3. Evaluate what schools I wanted to get into.
    4. See if my sample score aligned with those schools.
    5. Pick a level of effort to dedicate based on how much my score need improvement.

    My first practice test landed me somewhere around 540.  Not a bad score.  Not a great score, but not a bad score.  When looking at the bell curve of score this put me at about average.  It was at this point when I decided that the practice tests didn’t mean all that much because that score was obviously wrong.  I had no basis for that conclusion (other than perhaps my ACT score) but I figured there were only two options from that point.  The first was that the score was right and all hopes to get into a Top 20 school would quickly evaporate.  The second was that the score was wrong, I would do better, and – due to my plan outlined above – I would have to dedicate a little less time to trying to improve my score.

    The path of least resistance won and gave me a nice confidence boost at the same time (as I was now assuming I was smarter than the test software).  The very next thing I did was set a date for the exam.

    Establish a deadline.  Stick to the deadline.  Meet the deadline.

    With a goal and a focus I knew I was setting myself on the right path.

    This has been a special post on my MBA Journey and a Thought From The Cake Scraps.

    The 8 of 10 Paradox

    March 31st, 2011

    An eight – above average but falling short of the best. This is what I find when I ask people about their Excel skills.  In fact I would wager that this is what most people would say about their skills with any tool provided one thing.  The sole criteria for being an 8 is that they have used the tool enough such that their usage would be self-defined as frequent or occasionally (as opposed to used once or once a year).  The problem is, of course, that we don’t live in Lake Wobegon.  But if you ask people, person after person will tell you an 8.

    I am not immune to this.  In fact, I claim to be an 8 of 10 in the business non-statistical application of Excel.  To me this means that I am not responsible for knowing the advanced mathematical and statistical formulas used in Excel, nor do I know how to write advanced VBA code from scratch.  What it does mean is that I know my way around PivotTables (and getpivot – both syntax options), am well versed in formatting data/graphs, can use a variety of text formulas (len, mid, right, left, proper, etc.), lookup formulas (vlookup, hlookup, index, etc.) and other advanced worksheet formulas (indirect, match, find, search, sumif, etc.), know how to create a dynamic named range, write basic VBA code, and create basic custom number formats (including if/then logic).

    I know that I have shortcomings as well.  I don’t have the syntax for custom number formats memorized, array formulas still take a bit to figure out (and I don’t often think to use them), my VBA skills could use some polish, there are a bunch of keyboard shortcuts I don’t have memorized, and I don’t use many advanced Excel Add-Ins that turn it up another notch.  I’m sure there are others, but the point is that I know I have room for improvement and see examples of really talented individuals when I read blogs or when I am searching for an answer to an issue.

    The point is that I feel like I am a well informed 8.  I am not saying I am an 8 because it just feels right.  I’m saying I’m an 8 because I put in time to learn what I don’t know.  I have been in rooms where I’m not the best, but clearly quite a bit more advanced than a large percentage of the room. And yes, I would wager money that I am not so smart that I can escape the unknown unknowns.  So I am an 8 and I know it for a fact.

    And hence the 8 of 10 Paradox.  Or, rather, the Downing Effect wherein “people with a below average IQ to overestimate their IQ, and of people with an above average IQ to underestimate their IQ” and “the ability to accurately estimate others’ IQ [is] proportional to one’s own IQ”.  Applied more broadly it is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

    So remember, as you go through life, people will always be comparing themselves to others.  Knowing your results in comparison to the average just makes us feel better.  But there will be times when there is not quick test score to compare; no easy benchmark to measure against.  There will only be an opinion.  At that moment you should really stop, be honest with yourself, and consider which side of the Dunning-Kruger effect you are on.

    I give this post an 8/10.  What would you give it?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.

    GMAT Tip: What To Study First

    November 24th, 2009

    If you have a very limited amount of time, there is one thing and one thing only that I would spend my time doing: reading strategies for GMAT questions.  As I have said in my previous posts, I don’t mean this site to be a comprehensive GMAT prep guide, just my thoughts.

    So, why would I say not to do any GMAT questions and just read the strategy if you only have a small amount of time?  The reasons are quite simple.  The first is you ROI (return on investment).

    If you only have so much time, then you have to get the most out of that time.  Reading GMAT strategies is going to provide the most incremental benefit right off the bat.  It not only gets one’s frame of mind in the right spot, but the information is useful no matter what level you are at, 400 or 700+.

    The second reason that you should start with the strategies is that you will start to learn how to approach the different types of questions.  Strategies will allow you to train your mind to recognize the small nuances that make it easier to eliminate some answers on tough questions.

    Has this worked for you?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.

    MBA: Incremental Value

    October 16th, 2009

    I had an interesting discussion with a friend of mine the other day on which programs to apply to for an MBA.  If you have read my prior post you know that I am a fan of just going and getting the best GMAT score that you can; don’t worry about it too much.  Do your best and you’ll be fine.

    So, why do I think that just doing your best on the GMAT will lead you toward the right program?  The reason is quite simple actually.  You don’t take Calculus 3 when you have never had Calculus 1.

    While each individual has there own reasons to get an MBA, a common theme is to improve oneself – however you want to define that.  My thought is that your GMAT score will give you a good idea of where you will get in.  Don’t beat yourself up over getting into a top 10 school.  And, going back the the Calculus example, here’s why.

    If you apply yourself on the GMAT, and have no special conditions, you will have a score that – more or less – is an indication of your ability (yes, there are many exceptions).  That means that if you have a 500 level score, Harvard is probably not looking good.  But take a moment to think about it like a Calculus class.

    A student should not try and get in the most advanced class that they can get into with no regard to the level of their knowledge in the subject matter.   This we can all agree on but then some people hold a different standard to an MBA program.  The reality is that an individual new to calculus will get the same incremental value to themselves in a Calc 1 class as a more advanced person will get from a Calc 3 class.  If the goal is to improve yourself by X%, then both the Calc 1 student and the Calc 3 student will achieve their goals.  Either student going in the other’s class will make them fall short of their goal.

    Therefore, be realistic about what schools you can get into.  Don’t view a non-top 10 school as a failure or a shortcoming.  The goal of an MBA isn’t to get a top 10 school on your resume (or at least shouldn’t be the main goal).  The goal is to improve yourself.  There are many levels of ability which means that there are many levels of programs that will all give the same incremental benefit to the individual at all of the different levels.

    It is like the marathon I ran.  Just finishing was the goal.  I was happy with my time, but I’m sure an Olympic marathoner would not have been happy with that time.  The point is the same.  Different goals for different people.  A lower ranked school may be a better overall fit, and deliver more incremental value to the individual, than a top 10 school might.

    If you have found yourself discouraged about your GMAT score and the schools you might get into, maybe this gives you a fresh perspective.

    What do you think about a MBA program’s incremental value?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.

    The GMAT: An Introduction

    October 13th, 2009

    I have recently completed the General Management Admissions Test, or the GMAT, and I have a few thoughts on it.  I want to share some of those thoughts over a series of posts and so I am going to do just that.  I had the idea for this series after I had a particularly good day.  You may be able to guess that that was the day that I took the test.

    For starters I want to be clear that this series of posts are going to be my opinion.  I am not doing lots and lots of research to validate each and every detail.  I am merely sharing my experiences.  If you want textbook detail there are plenty of guides out there that already do just that.  No need to recreate the wheel here.  This is a blog about my experiences and I hope you find value in them.

    With that in mind, I present my first critical point: expectations going in.

    After talking to many people coming from differing points in their career or education I realized one common theme: get into a top 10 school or the like.  I think that this view is making a critical mistake.  Don’t fall into this trap.

    Goals are an excellent thing to have.  Setting goals is something that everybody should do for all sorts of reasons.  But, make sure they are the right goals.  If you go into the test thinking that you need a specific score so that you can get into a specific school you are setting your sights far too narrow and this will only do harm for most people.  Don’t confuse this with not setting goals, just make them more realistic.  Goals have to be S.M.A.R.T. to work.

    When I ran my marathon the goal was simple: finish.  There was no time pressure there wasn’t a “finish without walking” or anything else.  It was just finish.  Getting into a B-school is the same thing.  Just get in.  You should be looking at an MBA because you want to enhance your career and learn more.  The harsh reality is that while a top 10 or 20 school will give you a great education, there are plenty of others that will give you nearly as good of education but perhaps a little less powerful alumni network.  This means that no matter what score you get, there will probably be a place you can get into, so just enjoy the journey of the test and stop worrying about the end result so much.  After all, 700+ GMAT score doesn’t secure you entry; the score is just part of a larger application.

    That is my first advice to you when looking to take the GMAT.  Know that you are taking the GMAT to get into an MBA program and to enhance your skills, meet people, and learn.  These things can be done many places.  Take the pressure off yourself to perform and just do it.  Needless worrying will only bring you down.

    If you have to set a target score, only do so after you have done many practice tests.  Know where you stand.  Know what you can do.  Then put a little reach into it.  You’ll be fine.  Not going to Harvard is not the end of the world.  Lots of colleges can help you out.

    Now that you are in the right mindset to attack the test, the next step is to begin the journey to your score by a self evaluation.  Look for that in my future posts in the series, GMAT Journey.

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.

    Today Was A Good Day

    September 23rd, 2009

    Every now and then you just have a day that is a good day. Today was that day for me. I think I might do a few posts on GMAT stuff just for the heck of it. Make sure to check back and see if I actually do that.

    Also, I found out that pinball is quite a bit of fun. I have to admit that I would still never spend money on it, but it is fun. Okay, I may spend like $0.25 but not whatever it is those places are charging these days.

    Which brings me to my final point, as much fun as they are, are arcade games on their last legs? Let me know what you think.

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.

    MBA Brands During Recession

    December 10th, 2008

    So what does a brand mean during a recession?  That is the real question.  Does your brand gain or lose value in a recession? Have you positioned yourself to be seen as a “luxury” that can be done without, a “value” brand that everybody needs, an “affordable luxury”, or as a brand that “is worth the price” because your customer doesn’t have to repurchase every week?

    Certain companies have stood by their luxury brand – such as A&F – and that has not yielded the greatest results.  On the flip side you have Wal-Mart that is doing very well because of how they have positioned themselves from day one.  Both brands are sticking to what they feel their brand stands for, which makes sense for Wal-Mart and takes guts (and deep pockets) for A&F.  It is interesting to note that Wal-Mart has tried to position itself as more like a “Target” in recent years and now they are back to the basics.

    How does all of this relate to what I term “MBA brands”?

    With the economy as it is companies are going to hire “Smart people who get things done“, not just anybody.  They are focusing the available resources so that every dollar is well spent.  Efficiency is key when resources are limited.  These are basic statements that I think everybody should be on board with.  That leads me to my next point:

    MBA brands, the school you are attending for an MBA, become more important as the economy declines.

    Let me break it down how I see it.

    When everything in the economy was good, companies loved to hire the MBAs and were basically going under the assumption that a certain skill set was going to come with somebody that had an MBA.  There was, and is, a premium placed on the top schools and companies were not always willing to fork over the extra money.  Companies, overall, had the school of thought that an MBA is an MBA.  Sure one may be slightly better than another, but not all that much.

    In a down economy there is much talk of people going back to school because they no longer have a job.  Clearly this will saturate the market with MBAs.  How does a company filter out people?  There are many criteria, but I think that the brand of the MBA will increase in importance.  The brand of a top MBA program tells a company that this person is, in essence, “guaranteed” to be a quality candidate for the job – at least in terms of experience and skills gained from an MBA.

    I think this is interesting because it is fundamentally different than how people spend their money during a downturn.  They tend to do away with the brand they normally pick in favor of the store brand or “Sam’s Choice” sort of goods.  They are willing to sacrifice a little quality to get more with the money they have.  The “Great Value” peanut butter is basically the same as “Jiff” but costs less.  Why not get it?

    With a company, the company is going to put an increased focus on the quality of the MBA more so than in the past.  The brand, both your individual brand and other brands you carry with you, such as an MBA, will make or break deals.

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.