Friday, November 26, 2010

Tools to ease the online application process

If you are sorting out the documents you need to scan and upload for the online application and need to manipulate the transcripts and other supplemental documents, here are some tools that would help. See the 'Resources' tab for actual links to the tools if you are interested.

I got all my documents scanned with a 200 dpi setting on the scanner and extracted JPEG files (I believe this ensures that file size is low). I felt it would be easier to crop and edit the pictures, since that is inevitable. For example while scanning the document was at a slight inclination and I needed to first straighten it before creating the final PDF to upload.

I used Picasa to complete all the picture edits. Then used doPDF tool to convert all the jpegs to pdfs. This tool is free and does not create any watermarks. You can also specify what paper size you would want it to fit in, e.g. A3 or A4.

Later I needed to assemble the various pages of my transcript (each a single pdf at this point) to a single pdf. I used PDF reDirect PRO which is a 90-day free tool. Again spyware free and no watermark additions, this tool can merge multiple PDFs into a single one. OR it can also extract different pages from a multi-page pdf to create the pdf you want.

Hope this helps anyone who's struggling with the Dec deadline. Ofcourse the R1 guys must have already gone through this!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Whatever you do, dont forget to ...


Backup ! Backup ! Backup !

Boom ! My nephew just knocked over my laptop and while it came crashing down, my cousin carrying a tray of coffee mugs tripped over my nephew making a sticky situation even stickier. Distraught watching the horrible liquid all over my dumped laptop keyboard, I suddenly panicked! My essays! The number of hours I spent reviewing, revising my umpteenth draft. Was all of that gone ?

Press the Rewind button.

That did not happen. But what did happen was me waking up early morning at 3 am and rushing to get my external hard drive. Weeks of preparation and becoming the essay writing factory, you do not want to be in this situation EVER!

So however you need to backup your Bschool data (essays, resume, bookmarks, etc)
- Mail it to yourself
- Google docs
- External Hard drive, USB

... do it everyday !

I am still preparing for my Haas essays, although I think I will never stop revising the essays until the submit button presents itself on 2nd Dec. I've finally finished what I think is my near final draft for another school and sent it for another review.

I think I kinda keep improving each draft, but its a lot of hard work. And no. You really cant use an essay (even the common why MBA one) of one school application for another. However I am able to juggle snippets and stories around.

One learning from the week was that watching an actual case competition video helps a lot. Gave me a good visual of what is to come!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Great application essays for business school" Book review

Its been a while since I've been reading various books on Bschool applications and been attending various application editor led webinars. In the gamut of so many of them, I thought it was easy for any applicant to be lost in the need for precise direction and ideas when writing essays. I was as lost when I wanted to understand how to communicate leadership in the essays and the highlights of my career and personality that I'd like my recommenders to remember.

I picked up a book a few months ago called "Great Application Essays for Business School" by Paul Bodine from I've really gained from this book and although I'm still in the process of writing my essays with no applications submitted yet, I believe a lot of people are now looking for urgent direction and thought this resource could be an option to consider.

I thought I'd breeze through the book just like I had read other books like Richard Montauk. The more I read it, the more I realised that the content was very concise and illustrated with specific examples. They broadened my ideas, explained what Adcoms really want to know and demonstrated the "show not tell" writing strategy that every Bschool essay editor blogs about. As I had not still given my GMAT retake then and didn't plan to start my essays until R2, I stopped reading it until I was really ready to tackle the essays.

What does this book not talk about ?
It is not aimed at someone researching their goals or schools. So if you need advise on how an MBA would help you, what are your career options and possible future MBA career track, this book is not going to help. If you are trying to understand how the entire application process works right from understanding 'why MBA' to researching schools and finding recommenders for your target schools to dealing with application rejection, then I would suggest the comprehensive book by Richard Montauk.

Who is this book for?
You have a list of your target schools and done a reasonable amount of research into your fit with them?
You have a application deadline you are working against?
You really dont have the time to trawl through lists of blogs and webinars to understand what and how to write?
You don't really know what specific answers the admissions committee are trying to provoke through their essay questions?

What does it tell you?
- The method to 'show not tell' by giving illustrative essay examples (Surprisingly the essays in this book are not as some other books publish i.e., extreme high achievers like doctors delivering babies mid-air, grandsons of holocaust victims leading non-profits, etc that threw me off the idea of applying for Bschools itself!)
- Data mine your life by answering specific writing prompt questions
- Structure your essays with suggestions for opening lines, developing the story, concluding the essays, etc.
- Advice on what not to do when answering specific essay questions
- Specific advise on non-goal essays like failure essays, leadership essays, passion and extracurricular essays,  and other unusual topics like the ethics essay
- How to use the optional essay and what not to use it for

Lastly, there is a short chapter on Letters of recommendations with dos and donts. There is also a sample recommendation letter to understand yet again 'show not tell'.

I keep going back to sections in the book when I'm having a second go at my essay drafts. Many times I remember I've not really put in a differentiating factor that I could have used. So if you need specific advise on different essay topics and have not already bought any books nor registered for application editing services, I would highly recommend getting a book and would rate this one highly. Ofcourse, the book is not the solution to the enormous personal effort that is required, it just is an useful aid to find a direction and a lot of inspiration to writing Bschool essays.

Hope this was useful!

PS : Kaneisha's webinar on word count weight loss program was a great show yesterday. And just at the right time when I was struggling to learn some techniques. Hope you were there!

Disclaimer : All thoughts are my own and I have no affiliations with any Bschool advisory organisation whatsoever. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Recommendation woes

It is difficult, however I'm a little appeased when people tell me it only gets easier. I finished my first draft for a school essay. The main one - why MBA, why here. My reviewer gave me some great feedback that included 20% praise and 80% criticism. The good guy that he was, he actually apologized for the censure in the same mail telling me he felt i needed it to get better. The thing is I dont need yes-men at this point, so all his points were welcome.

I thought I'd sit the next day and work on the essay. Come up with brilliant points, colourful writing style, structure. I sat with my fingers literally in knots, my thought process going in circles and (hello!) I consider I'm generally clear headed. So I let that day pass in complete frustration.

One of my recommenders informed me that she wont be available for the rest of the month because of a home move and other personal activities. I had 1 day to come up with the outlines for jogging her memory. Seriously this was a great event. I sat and faced all the questions... 3 strengths, 3 weaknesses, leadership examples, interpersonal skill examples. For some reason I was able to find so many things I had done under her supervision. So it turned out that I took this deadline opportunity and completed my resume (2nd and final draft) and recommender 1 outline. I have however found that there are more questions asked by other schools to recommenders and need to add a little more to the outline for recommender 1. So suddenly this outline exercise has added to my knowledge of myself. I remember multiple things I have done that hopefully adds dimension or atleast offers choice to my essay examples.

It has also raised doubts on my choice of recommenders, especially for one who I know is extremely enthusiastic about recommending me, but given the kind of examples the other recommenders can show I am doubtful if I should use my enthusiastic recommender or not. What complicates this situation is that its difficult to do away with this recommender so easily because (1) she's a international customer (2) she's enthusiastic and uses words like 'brave' to describe me - all this unsolicited. I am still crippled with this question, so maybe as I get through this day and complete more recommendation outlines, I will have a better answer to this question.

I also have to say I'm loving the essays book. Its concise and to the point. I think I have a half mind to do a review on it when I get the time.

Key takeaways from this post

  • Creating outlines for your recommenders really helps you remember your work and brings new insight to write essays.
  • Recommendations need fantastic examples and not broad bombastic statements like X is brilliant  or X has performed in challenging tasks and under extreme pressure.
  • Writing outlines confirms or raises questions in your head, about the wisdom of your choice of recommenders.
PS : If you have reached to the end of this post, I have a few free BTG practice questions premium accounts to offer. If you have not read my review on this fantastic product, here it is What is the Newly launched Beat the GMAT practice questions all about ?. If you are interested do post comments on this post with your mail id.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wishing everyone a illuminous Diwali

A wonderful long festive weekend here in India filled with bright diyas (lamps), home made sweets, rangolis (powdered decorative designs) and the arrival of Mr. Obama himself with an entourage of 3000 people (OMG!) calls for a very happening time here. Reports of the Obama trip costing 200 mil per day seems to suggest the US administration needs to take some lessons in economic austerity. Hopefully it translates to a win-win for all the countries he visits.

I've almost bordered on entirely losing the plot since the past couple of days, though I did manage to open my 'accounts' on several bschool application websites and list a barrage of documents that I need to scan. Reaching out to  my recommenders is not turning out to be an easy task for me. They all have their own schedules and work loads and I am almost apologetic to ask for their time inspite of them being gracious about it.

Essay factory has begun production. The scope and statement of work has been defined. The timelines are set. The work distribution is ongoing. The schedule tracking to start post Diwali. So the tempo is about to be set. Picked up the most common why MBA topic to write about. The book has been a great reference point for me. Hopefully it translates into some calls to interview. Fitting such a lot of content in 900 words (and I've seen a few other schools imposing even frugal word counts) is a real tough nut to crack. After my first draft, I re-read the book's chapter on the why MBA essay topic and picked up some more things to add. But where is the space to add! My first draft was already overboard by 150 words!God bless me....(sigh).

A Very happy Diwali to you all !

Monday, November 1, 2010

What is the Newly launched Beat the GMAT practice questions all about ?

Beat the Gmat is launching a new version of its 'Beat the GMAT practice questions' tomorrow, 2nd November. Since I've used a few other products online that also provide additional practice to GMAT test takers, I was very curious to learn more about it when Eric, the VP and founder of asked me to do a review of the new version. So here goes..

This product has over 700 quant and verbal questions to practice with. You can choose to (1) View the dashboard - your performance in terms of statistics e.g. time taken to answer questions, percentage of correctly answered quant and verbal questions, etc (2) Practice a custom session according to the type and difficulty level that you want to practice (3) Review your answered questions by understanding their difficulty level, your response time against the average, along with an option to flag the question you would like to review/practice.


Video explanations - Each question comes with a video explanation, which gives an in-depth explanation of the question itself and the reason why each option is right or wrong. Although these video explanations do not explain how to approach that particular type of question directly, one slowly gets the hang of what to look for and what constitutes the right answer. For example, while explaining the reading comprehension questions it aptly explains the need to understand the underlying meaning of certain sentences, rather than relying on only fact finding.

Personalized practice - A test taker can create a custom practice session by specifying the type of Math/Verbal question, difficulty level, number of questions, etc. One feature I liked about the customization options is the feature to set the difficulty level to 'Adaptive' mimicking the GMAT adaptive behaviour. Another striking feature is the option to practice questions that a user would have flagged in earlier sessions. So incase its a good question that catches you off guard or you take a lot of time to solve, you can practice to improve your performance by creating a session of these flagged questions. These are features I have not found in other online GMAT practice products such as Grockit and gmatclub.

Review progress - The review provides good insight into the strengths and weak areas as exhibited by the questions answered during various time periods, so you can gauge your improvements as you keep practicing . You can jump to any of the questions in the review table to view the full question, your answer and the video explanation. However, one additional feature which would be very useful would be to provide graphs providing the test taker's week-on-week and/or session-on-session progress in various sub-areas.

Quality - Neat interface that provides a healthy mix of quality Math and verbal questions. Although the videos do not provide tips and tricks directly, they provide clear, concise and coherent explanations that would help an average GMATer understand the approach to take while solving the question.
The quality of questions vs the real GMAT correlate for the most part. I did feel the real GMAT sentence correction questions were much harder than the few I practiced with in my review account (has only a sub-set of questions), but I would say that this is the case for most GMAT products (books and online products). The quality for Math correlates with the real GMAT and does not go overboard, like Manhattan CAT Math goes. The quality of the video explanations is excellent and explains how one can conclude on the correct option.

For anyone who has exhausted their OG practice and looking for a at-home product, the BTG practice questions is a useful adaptive and personalised product.

Disclaimer : I am to receive a few premium accounts of this product for my efforts to do this review. My aim was to review the basic features of the product and to give a view on the quality of the questions available, based on a healthy sample. Although I have given a comparison, regarding certain aspects, with other GMAT products, my intention has not been to directly compare any of the products comprehensively, but to help give readers a point of reference.

Friday, October 29, 2010

AWA scores within 2 days!

A routine mailbox check and there was my official score report within 2 days of my taking the test. This time I was a little nervous about my Issue essay. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I was hoping that the argument essay, which I actually practiced writing out during my study, would compensate for the Issue essay. I was pleasantly relieved to see a 5.5 on my AWA (up from 5.0 in my earlier GMAT take). A little off target from the 6.0 score (hence the slightly off target dartboard picture), but the jump from 56th percentile to 77th percentile, made this retake more worth it than it already was.

I've currently picked up on my essay writing. I am also reading the's 'Great Application Essays for Business Schools' book. Hopefully that would give me some perspective to typical fallouts and other strategy ideas. For some reason, I seem more clear in my head about my essays now than I was a couple of months ago. I used to feel lost, wondering what material was suitable and what experiences to draw from. I guess now its time to strike or give a walkover. No more excuses to put it off. Now or never. So when things have got to move, they do. Hope to get my first draft of the essays for school 1 out by this weekend and also update my recommenders with my new score and discuss my recommendations.

I am excited about the BTG new practice questions launch. Its going to be an updated version of the paid product already available on the BTG website. I've been given a reviewer's account and was pleased with some of the changes they have made. My review will be out early next week when the launch happens. Also may have a few premium accounts up for grabs !

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What to make out of a 680

Finally after a anxious half day, I finished my GMAT retake with a 680 (Q48,V34). It seems like a more respectable total than my previous take. Still increasing my total by 20 points (only 1 point in verbal made the difference) hopefully makes my $250 investment in the retake worth it in the long run. The score comes close to  the average of many schools like Tepper and Mccombs that I'm targetting. No ISB and Haas though! (sigh). Also the propects of scholarships has me worried.

About the test itself, the quant section was very close to the OG level of difficulty. While I practiced with Grockit and Manhattan, I certainly felt the manhattan level is slightly higher than the actual test for quants. So if you can do Manhattan, you would have a high probability of achieving that score for quants in the real test. I finished with 7 mins to spare, which I could have used in the verbal section, if only it was allowed. The verbal in manhattan however is accurately as tough as the real test. Getting an RC when I had 5 questions left and only 10 mins was no help at all. I was nervous throughout the verbal section, with frequent anxious glances at the timer ticking away. I can guess that a lot of that played on my productivity. But so be it. Its done and dusted.

I hadn't practiced the Analysis of Issue and I wasn't happy with my essay for the Issue section. The Argument essay went well since I had practiced it well. Hopefully the score of one compensates for the other and I get something respectable.

The last week I really stepped up my prep rather than lower my guard. Thanks to Random wok who gave me that piece of advice. I solved all OG, OG verbal guide questions again and went over the Manhattan idiom list. While I think this was good to improve my confidence levels in Math and SC, the CRs unfortunately were not any help since I knew the premise of each argument when I read them again.

Another plus this time was my last GMAT investment of Rs 85 on a can of Red bull. The last time I faced fatigue in my verbal section. I just couldn't wait for the test to end. This time I was alert all through. Maybe it works for some, and doesn't for others. I've never really had a red bull till yesterday, so its not proven to work every time.

A list of what I used as GMAT resources :
OG 11
OG verbal and quant guides
Manhattan SC
Powerscore CR bible
Grockit standard membership practice questions (CATs are buggy, more on that in another post)
Manhattan CAT practice tests
Kaplan free online practice test and CAT CDs
BTG DS strategy overview series

Now, onto to the next chapter. Re-assessing my school choices and getting started with the school essays.
Watch out for my review on the soon to be launched NEW Beat the GMAT practice questions. I also have a few premium accounts up for distribution !

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Finally the urgency to finish giving my GMAT got the better of me. I'm not sure what my current mock test trends predict about my real GMAT score. From a read of several 'I Beat the GMAT' forum posts, I've felt there is no real high correlation between the mock tests and the real GMAT test. Several GMAT test takers have scored 700+ on the MGMAT, for example, and scored just a 700 on the real. The converse is also true. Several posters also say that there is no real predictive mock test you can take. The main idea in taking the mocks being to practice, practice, practice, and learn, learn, learn.

Besides now that everyone's officially in or about to be in the R2 deadline zone, its important that I move on! Taking the GMAT test is like answering a question in a timed Overall test. If you spend too long on answering that one question then you are sure to lose out on answering (and scoring better) on the other questions in the big Test.

I'll be posting my review on my experience with the Grockit standard membership and also another on the BTG practice questions product. I also will officially start my applications prep from next weekend, so more posts on that to come soon.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Face the demons - Review All, Round off & other learnings

Click to download my new Math desktop wallpaper

This week I took a Manhattan GMAT CAT. Just prior to my first GMAT test, I had taken the MGMAT free CAT and was unable to finish the quant section. The verbal section was completed in a complete rush, owing to my not having answered 12-15 questions in the quant section. I was so disappointed with the poor score of 580, I had decided that some of the GMAT forum members who say that the score you get in the MGMAT is not as important as the practice, were right.

Now that my studies and mock CATs have resumed I thought it would be useful to give the MGMAT CAT a try again. After buying the paid CATs, I gave my 2nd CAT and again faced the same difficulty. Far too many tough questions coming to me in a row, I couldn't keep pace. Lost out in a similar way by not answering the last 10-12 questions and got a 590. I spoke to a MGMAT user, who eventually went on to get a 760 and he believed that the MGMAT could be completed in time and that should be the aim. I also so a few other fellow bloggers post their MGMAT scores and thought maybe I need to face it fairly.

This week I took the MGMAT CAT 3. I guess owing to a lot more quant practice (remember my GMAT take 1 score of Q48 isn't so bad in itself), I kept a focus not on the timer, but on the questions this time. My aim was solve and move to the next. I have to get it right in the first attempt to solve, else I take my best guess and move on. This time I felt I performed well. I was getting more and more DS problems on number properties. Got a score of 650 (Q 47 , V32). I was glad I even got something with a significant score difference. Faced the demons and now for more to go!

My next aim is to review ALL my verbal questions across all Grockit games and CATs I've taken and write a comprehensive word document on all my points of failure. Most SC questions across tests/exams, tend to repeat with the same mistakes being tested and I'm going for trends. I'm also reviewing a few of the notes from other GMAT takers, ones I've listed in 'GMAT notes/resources' in the Resources Tab. Sometimes the explanations they have amalgamated for my mistakes make things more clear.

For Quants, a friend of mine who has got a 730 with a Q50 has advised me to study my tables uptil 24 and Squares and Cubes until the number 20. I can understand his point when he says you tend to then recognize numbers very quickly, during factorizing or division. Another great tip he gave me was to check if the answer choices are significantly different in value, and if so, try to round of numbers to solve problems quicker. I did try this late last night on a practice game in Grockit and it worked for me. My timings reduced. But I think it should be done with some caution.

Next week, on for more CATs. Hope some of my learnings in this post are helpful to all of you GMAT takers. Good luck!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My CAT - 1,2,3 & Trends

My array of mock tests have started to swell. Unfortunately I'm struggling with quants this time. A friend of mine told me that GMAT retakers tend to focus on their weak areas from the first GMAT and lose out on their strengths and I seem to be well on that way for now.

Veritas prep - (feel good) - 710 Q45,V42
Kaplan free online - 690 Q45 V39 (this is not a adaptive test)
Grockit #1 - 680 Q43 V40

I had taken the Veritas in May, before my first real GMAT test. Although I had got a 620 then, the 710 now probably is a little skewed since I have been exposed to their questions before. I did remember getting some repeats.

My GMAT was Q48, v33 and for my retake I've put a lot of emphasis on verbals. So I am seeing some benefits of that, but unfortunately am struggling with time on quants and that has dipped. I wish I could maintain my earlier quant score and reach these verbal scores, that would be just perfect for me.

My aim is only to get above the 700 mark. I will spend the next 2 days practicing on harder questions on Quant and give another CAT on Thursday and make my decision on when you take my test date. I hope in the next 10 days I should be able to get to my peak (whatever it may be) and hope for the best on the exam day.

I am still wondering if I should give a shot at GMAT prep tests this time around, since I've given them 3 times already in May and I'm sure the scores would be a little skewed if I retake them now. Any thoughts ?

As a footnote, I'd like to leave with a great resource on SC and CR, an abridged version of notes and shortcuts from Manhattan & GMAT takers. Check 'GMAT notes/resources' in the resources page tab on my blog.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The entrepreneurial story of Grockit Founder Farbood Nivi :An interesting interview

I've just bought the grockit standard membership and while searching for discount codes (BTG has a 20% discount) I chanced on this interesting interview by Andrew Warner, the interviewer,who gets the real juice on the Grockit story. Andrew doesn't just stay at the surface of the facts, he digs into the details of how Farbood made it happen. For example, how did Farbood make the connections to get himself the investors and advisors that helped.

From a entrepreneur, to a fulltime Princeton, and later Kaplan, teacher, a part time musician, to starting small with the first Grockit venture as just a virtual classroom, Farbood tells about how he started, how his team got in the funds, and built Grockit into a Educational peer-to-peer social networking site.

Click here to view/read the Interview of Farbood Nivi by Andrew Warner

Best Quotes from the interview:

About having the right attitude:
"I’m a huge Russell Ackoff fan, he says that leadership is primarily an asthetic trait, which is creating a vision and living and breathing that vision and all of the sudden, people get into it. I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs and guys that are trying to start up companies and that’s really a lot of times I feel like is missing in they’re just like, “If I raise the money, then I’ll do it.” That has to be the other way around." 
"I think in some ways we’re doing it the right way and in some ways we’re doing it the wrong way. We’re learning about the ways we’re doing it incorrectly so that we can do it correctly. I’m a totally staunch and blind believer in the idea that it’s better to do the right thing the wrong way than the wrong thing the right way."

About how he got people to invest in him and his idea :
"If you ask someone for money, they’re probably going to say no. If you ask them why, well, you got their advice. Right? If you ask someone for advice, hopefully they’ll give it to you and you’ll improve, and then they’ll give you their money"

About his early inspiration, Farbood says :
"The Princeton Review, like most educational models, is this one teacher to many students lecture-type model. There’s certainly a workshop element to it as well. I was teaching so much, sometimes six to nine hours a day, that I got an opportunity to try a lot of things and really develop a process that was better than me lecturing for two hours. It was a combination of teacher-led lecture, solo practice, and then group study practice as well.This is the model that Grockit has followed. Whether you’re studying for the SAT or you’re studying for algebra, you study in one of three ways. You spend some time with experts, you spend some time on your own, and you spend some time with your peers. Grockit has these three same formats of studying. What we do is we apply technology and algorithms to optimize those three forms of studying.I was a teacher at those companies for a while and I’ve seen what was happening with Facebook and Myspace and being like, “I have this social learning model in my classroom. There’s all this social stuff going on on the web.” It just seemed like the most natural thing to do."

Friday, October 1, 2010

My GMAT study in 4th gear

So for all the folks who are only familiar with auto-transmission, let me first mention that there are 5 gear positions in car running on manual-transmission, or something known familiarly as the "Stick shift". While going on the 4th gear doesn't seem like a lot, yet the fact that this is my second time studying for the GMAT and the fact that the last time I gave my GMAT test at the center, I drove to the center in a cervical collar, makes this a good gear for me.

Studying for the GMAT the first time around had meant I spent hours on my laptop, with little concern for ergonomics. I've been constantly working for the past 10 yrs on a PC at my workplace, so why did the GMAT study hurt me bad enough to cause tingling numbness in my left arm, headaches and neck aches was beyond me. The orthopedic and the physiotherapy did little to alleviate my pain and I was sore that my GMAT study (in the fifth gear at the time of the first incidence of the pain) was all going to waste. Nevertheless, gave it anyway and landed with a 660.

After coping with the illness for over 4 months, later discovering the awesome techniques of Yoga and Pranayam, and a lot of time attention to healing and practicing yoga for over 2 months, I picked up the GMAT Official guide again (for the nth time!) a couple of weeks ago. I'm glad to say I've survived 3 weeks with constant use of my laptop (this type hooked to a external keyboard and mouse, with my laptop kept at a elevation = Great ergonomics) in perfect health. Still practicing the yoga though, which is now part of my life.

What I've discovered in the 4th gear is, after solving the OG, the OG Verbal and Quant guide, I still wanted more practice to solve more questions and some interactivity. I found two fun things to do.

1) Participate on forums - I'm checking and posting on the forums morning and evening. I have great buddies who keep posting good questions. With the timer that BTG has so thoughtfully placed on top of each post, I can time myself on each question posted. Members on the forum constantly debate and question, and I have gained an understanding of the little nuances I never noticed before. I encourage anyone studying for the GMAT to get into those forums and share questions, give opinions, etc. Its a useful tool to study, ofcourse don't expect people to teach you - you have to do your homework and self study.

2) Grockit - Games people play, eh? This is a nice create-your-own-game-to-play with GMAT question types that you can choose and play it against others in the same virtual room. You can even schedule them as you please so others can sign in for it in advance. Unfortunately the free membership limits you to only 10 questions per day in a group study. So now I'm debating if I should buy the grockit standard membership (at 79$ post 20% BTG discount - Doesn't sound like a lot until you do the dollar conversion) which gives me full access to over 100 hours of practice with 1200 questions in the bank to choose from and 5 full length CATs. The only thing holding me back is no reviews on the CATs and doubts on their score calibration software, since again - no reviews found !

I've bought the MGMAT CATs, so that $40 gone already. Hopefully the MGMAT CATs don't bring my morale down since their scores tend to be a downer!

Today I tried the Veritas prep, and compared with the 620 in my last take 4 months ago, I clinched a 710 today. Veritas gave my GMAT total score as 680, but I re-checked that Q45 and V42 round to a 710 total score. So I'm pumped !!!

I'm leaving a good picture at the top, as a reminder to everyone to be safe while on their laptops. You do not want to be using our grandma's cervical collar, believe me!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

MBA Fairs - Any advantages?

Yesterday I attended the MBA fair in Mumbai organised by The MBA tour. Whilst, I had attended a fair by the same company in January this year, at that time I was clearly new to the bschool admissions journey and therefore my experience was different. I didn't know what to ask, what kind of an MBA I wanted to do, what schools are a good fit for me, etc. This time around having done a lot of research, I was better prepared.

Format :
The format of the event was completely different this time. The previous event had round tables to which groups of students were assigned and for about 15 mins each school representative would come to the table to present the main features of their school. It was almost like speed dating. A bell ringing 5 mins before the end of the session and at the second bell the representative would have to move to the next table, while a different school rep would be at your table. The advantage of this format was you were always present to listen to what each school had to say about their program, so incase you never thought you would like one, you might change your mind during the 15 min presentation. You had to listen to each one of them. The pain point though is that having around 10-12 schools doing this without breaks, feels like too much to take in with too little time, towards the end one nearly started to feel each school was just like the other.

Yesterday's event did have presentations from schools, but they had 3 schools doing it in parallel in 3 different rooms. Each session was 30 mins, so the schools actually had a good amount of time to increase their interaction with the candidates for general questions. The only thing was you had to always choose among the 3 schools that were running their presentations in parallel. Especially if there was a popular school doing their presentation, the attendance at the other school's session dwindled. But I still preferred this format, as I made up my mind to apply to a school I had not thought of earlier.

Fair interaction :

Although the round table format expected having a more personalised interaction owing to the fact that representatives got to interact at each round table with the candidates, the 15 min sessions hardly gave any time for this interaction. It also did not culminate into schools going behind a booth when they were ready to answer questions. Candidates ended up surrounding the admissions representatives 360 degrees and leaving little room for circulation. Yesterday's event had 33 schools from around the world go behind their booths with a large area in the center for students to circulate and visit them. My reservations about the usefulness of the school's interaction were allayed, the advice given by the admissions representatives were not generalized and were objective highlighting features and viewpoints specific to the school. I must say webinars have not proved this useful.

Takeaways from the MBA Fair experience :

  • Exposure to schools which you didn't consider : I made it a point to sit through presentations given by some schools that I had not considered, but were recommended by some of my friends. The exposure helps in widening your school pool.
  • Personal interaction : I was able to ask questions to the admissions committees that were specific to my profile and get very objective answers in comparison to responses in a webinar/emails. Every school view's on your specific questions could be different.
  • Fee waivers : Some schools did distribute a application fee waiver, some dollars saved!
  • Build relations with the admissions council through your interactions.
  • Check out the competition. Other candidates also have reasons to believe their candidacy is deficient due to some aspects in their profile, you are not the only one and maybe better off.
  • Little research, no problem : Even if you are just starting out and have done little research, yet going to a fair is a big plus in terms of exposure.
  • Check out the resources section of this blog for articles on advice on how to interact with the Admissions committee members.
In hindsight, both MBA fairs proved very useful since this is the only way for International students to interact with international schools, the next best thing to the campus visit.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Clear Admit iPhone app

Now that the admission season has started, everyone in need of a planner can take advantage of this app from Clear Admit. It has got very useful features to track your application status and school deadlines, including essay questions, and a checklist of other application requirements that need to go in too. The best part ofcourse is that its free and very useful!

Best Features :

  • Personalize your planner - Add your choice of schools from a list of 21 US schools and 10 top global Bschool programs.
  • Rankings at a glance - Get a consolidated list of top schools with their respective rankings from FT, US News, Business week in a page.
  • Brief school stats - View each Bschool's class profile highlights such as avg. GMAT, acceptance rates, and links to the school and application website.
  • School application checklist - List of essays within each school app page with features to write notes when they strike you and free essay tips from clear admit.
  • Planner status - Main page of your listed schools shows you the number of days left to your application round dealines, along with a %tage completion of your checklist
  • Clear Admit offers - Links to specific bschool strategy, interview, etc guides from clear admit with discount codes.
Some drawbacks/improvements :

  • Limited amount of schools since Tier II schools are missing. This could be a welcome addition.
  • Releasing this application on other mobile platforms would help non-iPhone users to explore this app.
  • An option to include other checklist criteria like TOEFL scores, other forms for international students would make it more comprehensive.
  • I did notice that the deadlines mentioned for ISB, India are incomplete and incorrect. It mentions only Jan 1st, while the school website has earlier deadlines for Indian students and Jan 15th for Internationals. Assuming this app is meant for use globally, maybe the app can mention earlier deadline dates as well.

I had actually made a planner for my use until I installed this app and used it. Definitely a great tracker tool.
Thank you Clear admit!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

GMAT retake study - CR strategy

Far too many distractions these days with the festival period on in India. A much needed vacation with family, during which my father re-united with his engineering college mates after 40 years, was great fun. But now I've really lost track of my schedule for my GMAT retake.

Just done with my Critical reasoning. This time I've actually studied strategies for it, rather than blind attempts solving the CR puzzles. I think I've increased my understanding of what to focus on and improved my accuracy.

Book to recommend, which someone recommended in the forums, is the Powerscore's GMAT critical reasoning bible. I think its to CR what Manhattan SC guide is to SC sections.
For each question, it breaks down :-

  • how to distinguish between the premise and main conclusion and secondary conclusion in the stimulus
  • what to focus on in the stimulus for each question type
  • what to consider out of scope and what is not out of scope for each type of question
  • what are the many answer choices that seem tempting for each question type, that are actually wrong.
I will be going through the OG 12 sample questions entirely today and hope to start the SC review.

On a lighter note, I've posted a snap here that I clicked at night. That's the moon, if you couldn't figure it out, making the @ symbol. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Type-casted ?

Do MBA Admissions committees really type-cast the swarm of applicants into pools?

What got me thinking was when I looked at the optional essay in my list of essays to write. Do I write something in this? Are there some 'extenuating' circumstances in my background that could be perceived as weaknesses or raise questions? Or is there some facet of my personality that can add value to my application, that has not been revealed in the other essays? Tricky question.

I've been attending a lot of webinars and the recent one, which was hosted by Linda Abraham (, helped applicants learn more about the Haas full time program. With a show of hands (virtually) the number of people who thought that their level experience (either low or high) was a reason for concern as far as how well their applications would be received was over 30%. Another post by Linda on the popular applicant group, 'The Indian IT male' shows how stressed these applicants are, they nearly want to change continents just to be different!

When asked how any admissions committee decides on the academic strength of students from various parts of the world, the answer is they are rated with their peers from their part of the world, which means their country. So, are these worries good to have? I would think its good to know and be aware of what you are competing with and who you are going to be compared against.

 I wouldn't blame the admissions committees for doing what they do. When I want to create a team for a project, I have to define a lot of factors which would bring us success. One of them would be to organise a good mix of people in the team. I would have to decide what each person brings to the group and so categorization comes naturally, albeit I don't really have to bring religion, race, gender into the foray when I do that. But the Adcoms have a bigger goal to achieve. To find the next batch of future leaders is no easy balancing act.

So there is no running away from the type-casting that is going to be tried out when your essays are read. What's important is that you are aware of it and decide to show something different from the pool you could be type casted in. How do you do that? Lets just say, I'll let you on my thoughts in a post maybe 6 months from now, when I have an admit in my mailbox. But feel free to post your thoughts ;)

Apart from that cheeky aside, just to let you know my type cast. I'm an Indian IT applicant, a female (didn't have to change genders to get that (assumed) brownie point!), deemed 'older' applicant, who is done fretting about this mould, who knows what she wants this year and is going all out to get it!

PS: A very interesting find on this subject was the Veritas prep app, MBA Admissions predictor. It couldn't predict anything for me, so I guess I'm not type-casted after all?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Getting done with a chore : TOEFL

Giving the TOEFL exam is a chore. Sitting for 4 hours craning in a cramped cubicle may seem like a small deal, considering you don't really need to study for it, right?. Spending $165 for a test to prove my skills on a language which I think in, spent my entire education using as my language of instruction and to top it having worked in the UK a couple of times, is really ridiculous.

Most of the top schools really dont ask you for a TOEFL test. Darden for example says that it believes Indian students speak very coherently and are high calibre (albeit need to slow down) and does not ask Indian students to give TOEFL scores. As you go to schools a little lower in the rankings, but still very good schools, they definitely expect you to report scores. No waivers please.

Another interesting thing is that the score is valid only for 2 years. I mean does one suddenly forget how to speak,read, write a language after 2 years? Ludicrous.

PS : After all this rant, I hope I get a good score (whatever that is !)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How do I translate what I like to what I want to do

Now that I had spent some time understanding myself, I wanted to open up to my audience about how I think I can take it to the next level. Key Takeaways from this post

My example..
When I think about my transferable skills, the one big aspect was my attention to detail and clarity in thought. I remember a time when I had planned my movement out of a project and into another project in a entirely different technology. This was 5 years into my career and I had the good fortune to be selected for a 20 member evening class to study this new technology in my company. I was later at a cross road at the point of my departure when a senior architect, on the basis of having worked for him while I was in a separate team, requested that I join his team instead of moving into a place in a new project. My boss at the time remarked to the senior architect that he was sure I wouldn't change my mind from trying out the new technology, simply because "she knows what she wants".

My love for software design was cultivated further when I was chosen to design 2 significant chunks in a software platform that was built from scratch. This was within 6 months of joining my new project in this new technology. The interaction with a multitude of people from delivery heads, solution architects, product line members, apart from internal teams of coders and testers brought out my collaboration skills. The learnings from that experience were experiential and exposed me to a wider net of teams. It also earned me a promotion and this was within a year of joining the new project.

My exposure to operations teams, who work the back offices with spreadsheets of failed orders or faults stuck in limbo, during my earlier project helped me too. It set the context of what was going on. Who was I designing for? The users of the system. What if something goes wrong, who would look into it? The operations and support teams. What would they need to help resolve the problem and answer a user's queries? Well presented data on screens, audit trails with relevant messages, milestones achieved with timestamps. Are there any other user groups of the system? Higher management and marketing/business heads who would want to understand the volumes of transactions and understand revenue generated and sources for improvement. So when one designs, they are designing not for one, the natural tendency is to think only for the customer, but several user groups.

What does that mean...
Taking this as an example, progress further to trail through your career. The key facts to notice is your transitions to newer different roles, hopefully they were ones you asked for and not pushed to take. No matter what the reason for the transition, if you stuck with it for a significant time, its most likely you liked something about it.

Just incase you were miserable doing it, even that would speak for what you stand for. If you felt strongly for or against it, qualify why with action verbs and conversely what would you do improve or what did you do to change it.

It is necessary to understand what you have done till now, what you enjoy doing, before you move to understanding how can you take this further.

How to take it further...

  • Finding role models in your company or customers who you have worked with plays a big influence on your future goals. 
  • Sometimes people we meet evoke aspirations too. These days for example, I read the news on government actions and I keep trying to put in the context of a large organisation that is run and really study ministers and secretaries of state as CEOs of business units. Whatever sources of inspirations, to really enjoy your future career, try not to focus on the monetary benefits except as a subsidiary advantage to a pivotal admirable career path.
  • Reading autobiographies about leaders from the industry/sector you aspire for, is great way to understand the  what are the challenges they faced and the steps that took to reach where they did. Do these match up with your qualities in anyway?
  • Reading articles about what people do in their jobs can bring insight. Useful resources are Business week online, Interviews of business leaders, Forte Foundaton articles and Student blogs.
  • Setting up informational interviews through contacts with people already in these positions is a very useful way to know more about what their typical day is like and what qualities are needed most in their kind of jobs.
The above methods will most likely help you understand what you would be passionate about doing post an MBA, if that is a path you ultimately feel backons you.

Takeaways to understanding your future goals

  • What are our transferable skiils ?
  • Dig into the transitions in your career, what had evoked that transition?
  • Analyse your career positions and keep searching for action verbs that come up describing what you liked
  • Connect the dots.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Setting Goals

Giving yourself a goal is to eventually see yourself somewhere doing something you feel will make you happy. But most of the time, we let ourselves be the victims of the external influences and situations that take us out for a ride. Many of us choose to think that is our life and we grow to dislike how it has slowly ridden us of our dreams or what we thought we'd become by a certain age.

Rather than be whisked away for a ride, its more fulfilling to create that destination for yourself. Once that's created very often we find the path is created. Have you felt this happen when you tried goals for the short term? Arranging your wedding, preparing for a important meeting with your top bosses, etc.? The thing here was that an external situation - your fiance/parents, your boss gave you these goals. What would happen if you set one for yourself?

 To think too long about doing a thing often becomes its undoing.  ~Eva Young

The most important reason why we get lost after a while in the corporate world is we were so used to the structured world for school work, courses to take, instructors and counsellors to guide us that once we arrived, after the initial euphoria of a few years, gaining those promotions that seemed exciting to get, we find we have been so busy making money for our shareholders & directors and measuring up to the goals that they have set for us, we have forgotten if we had to make any for ourselves long term.

It is never too late to be who you might have been.  ~George Eliot

When I chose the book by Donald Trump 'Think Big and Kick ass', I just picked it up since the title was such a spunky one. Ofcourse I had seen Donald Trump in the reality TV board room and he is someone who would be easily intimidating. What he elaborated in the book with apt examples from his and his friend's/peer's lives was that the most important thing was to keep thinking BIG. That meant you had to have a bigger goal as you move on in life. The bigger you make it in some achievable quantums, the more engaging your interest in your life, the more time you would learn to live stress free. How stress free?

We always forget the time when we do something we love. How can we be stressed moving to a goal that we set for ourselves ? Think about the time you enrolled for a university course or for a job hunt, when you set out to do something that you wanted and achieved. Didn't you find it stress free and fulfilling ?

And like Donald Trump says in his book.

"I like thinking big. If you're going to be thinking anything, you might as well think big."

The serious question of what I want to do

Self introspection is the key to understanding yourself and building your aspirations for a career change or changing gear.

Wild imaginations of being a writer, interests in travel and photograph immerged in my thoughts when I introspected. Albeit only to confuse me initially, they also led me to understand what I liked about those interests. They also moved me to an understanding of what motivated me.

The writer in me likes to observe people and their situations and experiences, how they overcome their obstacles and these days why they do what they do. It also makes me analyse and critique, since writing is a evolution. My first attempt at fiction was a story on how people from different backgrounds go back to their roots to find themselves clash in a single scene.

Travel interests are largely a projection of my curiosity in different cultures, their sense of identity, history, apart from plain old exciting vacation time. Photography, a recent serious interest was rooted from the fact that I love to observe what goes on in the mind of a photographer when he or she captures the image. Why that composition, why that perspective, how was the light and shadow used, what are the layers in his thoughts, how did it arouse curiosity and be interesting.

A personal project that I undertook for my granddad's 100th birth anniversary celebrations, was a photobook that I wanted to publish as a takeaway for everyone in the large extended family that participated in the day's celebrations of the wonderful self-made man that my grandfather was. It got me digging through loads of photo-albums across several houses of relatives. The more I dug in, the more it showed me how widespread his impact in not only his own, but his siblings families. Every picture has a story. I believed it when I heard them from my relatives. At that time I wondered on my 100th birth anniversary who would remember me and what would they remember me with. Food for thought.

All this led me to believe that I have pursued what I inherently liked. I love to be curious, analyse, collaborate, try different things, design and critique. I like to work on details and over the years understood that I need to put a stop to going indepth, once it starts being irrelevant in terms of the big picture. These talents have led me down the path of software design, something I've truly enjoyed. Software design exactly covers all these aspects of human attribute, apart from a desire to create.

So that's about where I came from and after that I had to continue to understand what I wanted to do, now that what my nascent qualities were revealed to me. The result would now be a exploration of into my future career path.

Serious about self-introspection?

  • What activities do you love doing?
  • Why do you love it? What does it bring out in you?
  • Do you use those qualities at your work place and does it bring out the best in you?
  • Analyse your career path and responsibilities shouldered. Reflect if you see your best traits shine in them.