My Journey to ISB – Part 2

In Part 1 of his article (which you can read here), Sudeep talked about the reasons for doing an MBA & why he picked ISB.

He will now tell us about how he tackled the GMAT and will share his ISB application & interview experience.

The GMAT

Unlike the CAT and some of the other MBA entrance exams, the best part and sometimes the worst part about the GMAT is that it can be taken anytime during the year. GMAT is your regular pre-MBA entrance test with 3 sections. The first consists of an Integrated Reasoning Section and Essay (the scoring for this is done separately). The others are the Quantitative Section and the Verbal Section. One needs to register at the GMAT site – www.mba.com and take an appointment for the test. The score is valid for 5 years, however most schools consider up to 3 year-old scores. The good part about the GMAT is the convenience and also the fact that multiple attempts do not affect your prospects. In fact most B-schools consider your highest score if you take the GMAT multiple times. What is a good score? Most think that the magical 700 + score will give you a sure shot entry into your dream school. This is a myth, the reason being that the GMAT is only one of the several parameters for selection. A 700 + score is a reasonably competitive score to crack the top B-schools, but this needs to be backed with a good resume (education, extra curriculars and relevant work experience), essays and a decent interview.

My GMAT experience

I had planned and intended to start preparation almost a year before I actually took the GMAT. However, lack of discipline, poor mock test scores and work pressure left me demotivated and I stopped studying for 3 months. A chat with a senior at work inspired me to restart my preparation. This time I went about it differently. I enrolled for a class (which actually didn’t seem of much help), allotted a fixed time of daily study  irrespective of work pressure and social outings, and scheduled timely reviews of my mocks and practice tests.

To sum it up for those planning to take the GMAT:-

  1. Block a date. Flexibility works negatively at times. Unless you block a date for the GMAT, one can never feel the gravity of studying for an exam. One can plan backwards once the date is blocked. You always have the flexibility to reschedule the test if the need arises.
  2. Chalk out a plan. After blocking the date, it is important to take a Mock GMAT and see how comfortable you are with the format of the test. Score is irrelevant, the objective is to understand the type of questions and sections. Do a little research. There is no ‘good material’ and ‘bad material’. What works for somebody may not work for others and vice-versa. The Official Guide (OG) published by the GMAT Council and the MBA.com site GMAT Preparation software are very important and should be completed at least once. As far as my experience goes, Kaplan and Manhattan material was good. Though I ended up referring to Kaplan more.
  3. Regularly devote at least half an hour to 2 hours of brushing up concepts and practice (maybe 3 -4 hours on weekends). Short intense preparation is better than a long irregular plan. Example:- Planning the GMAT over 100 days with  average 1 hour preparation every day is preferable as opposed to a 180 day plan with 6 hours over weekends.
  4. Some online forums like ‘Beat the GMAT’ and ‘Pagalguy’ have a good set of questions and strategies, as well as access to study material. It is a good idea to browse through some forums to get a better perspective.
  5. Mock tests are important, as you get a simulated experience of what the GMAT feels like. It is important to take the mocks in a real test-like scenario, as the GMAT is a gruelling 4-5 hour test. We aren’t used to sitting for such a long duration with full concentration. 5-7 tests is ideal. There is no point in taking too many tests. Also, all tests other than the Official GMAT Prep. do not reflect scores correctly, so please don’t judge your performance on these scores. More importantly, see where you are going wrong and focus more on the test strategy rather than the score. Reviewing errors is necessary and the most crucial thing to do.
  6. It is a good idea to take a week or ten days off from work before the actual test. More than practicing and solving questions, one can use this time to review errors during previous tests and practice. Best not to overwork close to the GMAT, 1 -2 tests in the 10 days to the GMAT is good enough. Try and find time to relax, catch up on movies, outings, sports etc.
  7. You will come across a lot of forums advising you about what to do and what not to do on the test day, how the scoring works and what gets you a high score. But all this apart, it is very important to hold your nerve and concentrate through the test. A little more alertness for the first 5-7 questions of each section helps. Also, try not to get a string of questions wrong (3 or 4 in a row) as this could hamper the score. It is advisable to try and attempt all the questions in the test because the GMAT penalizes incomplete sections.

Applying to B-schools

On the day of the GMAT, you get to send your scores to 5 B-schools of your choice. A formal application needs to be sent in to the schools based on the application timelines of different schools. An application is an exhaustive self insight. A typical B-school application consists of essays, transcripts, recommendations, education (graduation and post-graduation) details, work experience and extra-curricular activities.  Some B-schools like ISB have started video essays. My application took me close to 3 months to complete. On the positive side, I realized that I got to know myself better during the course of completing the application! Here are some of the things I did and that I think should be kept in mind:

Essays: –

Most schools have 3-4 essays with similar subjects like “What makes you an ideal candidate?”, “What distinguishes you from an exceptional set of applicants?” or “Where do you see yourself after 5 years?” Initially these topics look quite daunting. However the strategy here is to cover all your achievements and aims in the 3-4 essays. Try not to miss out on any important aspect. Be true to yourself and believe in what you are writing. Essays can sometimes constitute about half of your interview questions. If you write something that you are not convinced about or is contradictory to what you believe just to make the essay look better, it is very likely that it will come back to haunt you in the interview. Good essays are half the battle won. A good essay does not need to have great language or outstanding achievements. All you need to do is be yourself.

Recommendations:

This is another important part of the application. Typically one of the most common mistake applicants make is that they get the top bosses to give recommendations hoping to add weightage. What I have realised is that your immediate supervisor or a person you have closely worked with knows you well and can give the best assessment about you. This can make a better impact. It may be a good idea to get a recommendation from clients, peers or professors/mentors as well.

The Application is more important than the GMAT score. It gives the B-school panel an opportunity to know who you really are. A good application definitely makes you a strong contender for interviews and even admission.

The Interview

This is the final stage after the application and can sometimes be the trickiest one. Interviews can be aloof, nasty and rarely pleasant as most perceive them. As far as my experience goes, I had a decent interview.

Most questions are based on your application (essays, background and interests). Some guesstimate/ riddle-like questions may also be thrown in. For example: “What is the number of LCD television users in India?” or something equally random.

An interview usually lasts for about 30 minutes and is taken by a panel of three (Alumni, School Professors, and Staff). Global B-schools conduct interviews via video conference or the telephone.

The dress code for interviews is Formal (jackets are a must for men).

Take a few seconds more to understand the question and then respond. One must try to conceal nervousness and not get into unnecessary, heated discussions while conveying a point. Not knowing answers to couple of technical questions is fine, but try and convey what you know.

The questions usually asked are “Why MBA?”, “Why XYZ School?”, “What if you will not be selected?”, “Tell us something additional about you.”

It is also good to brush up on the latest developments in your professional field and the industry in which you have work experience.

One must have clarity as to “Why MBA?” and “Why now?” as this will be the underlying objective of the interview.

Last but not the least; the panel will give you an opportunity to ask questions. Refrain from asking package details and any other questions which are in the FAQ section of the B-school website!

This has been my takeaway from the MBA application process. Hope that this article will be useful. All the best!

Signing off for now to start my MBA at ISB!

– Sudeep Mehta

Sudeep Mehta is a B.Com. graduate from Narsee Monjee College of Commerce & Economics and is a CA & CS. He has worked with HDFC Bank and is an alumnuns of ISB Hyderabad (Class of 2014). He enjoys reading, playing squash & watching football (Go Man. United!)

You may also want to read:

My Journey to ISB – Part 1

The non-IIM Top Indian Business Schools Alumni Report – Part 1

The non-IIM Top Indian Business Schools Alumni Report – Part 2 – FMCG & Consulting

Why MBA?

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