|Studying only the easy question will set you up for a rude awakening on test day!|
I was recently speaking to one of my younger colleagues considering an MBA, partly because he has a vision for how this will help his professional development but mostly because he thinks it will “work out” in the long run. If you know anything about me, you understand that I like to make decisions based on reality (or at least feasible projections) and cringe at this sort of whimsical justification of such a large investment…
We started talking about what would be most helpful to someone gathering facts on the topic of applying to business school. He suggested that in addition to discussing how to determine if the MBA is the right move, I also spend some time discussing how to improve your chances of getting in once the decision to go for the MBA has been made, so here we are.
Once you’ve gotten through figuring out if going back to get your MBA is the right decision for you and whether or not you want to go the part-time or full-time path, which is a decent amount of work in itself, the real work starts. That is to say that you have to actually apply to business schools. The application process consists of 3 fundamental components: GMAT, essays, and interviews, which I will discuss in individual posts. Since the GMAT is the first step in the application process, that seems like a good place to start. I studied strictly using the Official GMAT review book, which you can buy here.
|Your New Best Friend|
Studying for the GMAT is as easy as 1-2-3 where “1” is taking the diagnostic, “2” is studying the right thing, and “3” is doing as many practice questions as needed to convince yourself you know what you’re doing. For what it’s worth, I did my GMAT prep over the course of about 3 weeks*, so I’m not just making this up for my own amusement.
The diagnostic is often overlooked by eager test-takers but it provides you information that you won’t be able to get in any other way. By spending some time answering a few questions up front, you learn exactly which topics should receive the bulk of your study effort and what information you’ve magically managed to maintain since your undergrad days. This will save you lots and lots of time down the road. Now isn’t that something you might be interested in?
2. Study the Right Thing
This point is what you do once you have taken the diagnostic. The idea is not to dismiss the diagnostic as useless but rather to take that information and shape your study plan. So what does that mean? For me, it means if I did well on a topic on the diagnostic test, I could skip actual studying and go right to practice questions. If I didn’t do well on a particular area (aka data sufficiency), I made sure to read up on those topics before even looking at any of the practice questions. What this does is equips you with the foundation to reason through questions where you may not be 100% certain of the answer, a skill that I cannot highlight enough for a multiple choice exam. Test taking services everywhere will tell you that process of elimination will often leave you with the right answer.
3. Lots of Practice Questions
This is the part where people so often miss the mark. I have to warn you – my approach on this point may seem a little unorthodox at first but hear me out. In a review guide that is organized from least to most difficult, almost EVERYONE I’ve encountered using this same review guide has started at the beginning of the book with the practice questions, but not I. In fact, I maintain that the best approach to getting work in is to start with the most difficult questions and work your backwards. You do this until you start getting all of the questions right and then re-review the questions you got wrong to make sure that you clearly understand whatever the mistake was that you made. Do not – I repeat – do not just glance over the text book explanation and say “yeah, that makes sense.” If you do that, it will be your kiss of death when you go to take the exam and realize you didn’t understand as well as you thought you did.
If you can successfully answer the more difficult questions and fully comprehend the logic behind them, there is no reason to believe you won’t be able to do the simple questions;however, the converse is clearly not true. I’ve found that many self-studiers want to feel like they’re making immediate progress and give themselves some positive feedback, which ends up with them spending far too much time on questions they’re already confident they know how to do. This can still result in a positive outcome if you have unlimited amounts of time to study or can take time off from work to study, but how many people really are living in this scenario? I’m guessing not many. Besides, who wants to take time off to study?
That’s it for now. Feel free to ask more detailed comments in the questions.
Next up, business school essays.
NOTE: I’ve made the assumption that if you’re trying to pull this off, you have strong self-discipline and will study at pretty much every opportunity: commute to work, lunch break, even when you go for those extended restroom breaks…it’s that serious. If you already know that you’re the type of person that gets distracted every time the wind blows or falls asleep anytime someone mentions the word “study,” then this isn’t for you.
*tested in the 93rd percentile