Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The much dreaded GMAT

Jan/Feb is the time most R1 applicants start hating their jobs (after the year-end appraisal), start thinking about their future vision (or lack thereof), indulge in higher contemplations such as one's stagnant career/life and thus zero in on an MBA as the ultimate salvation. The first logical step of course is to get the GMAT out of the way. This post is intended to give the reader an idea of how to effectively plan one's GMAT prep, ace it and hence not waste time and $$$ on a second attempt :-). So here goes...

Preparation time:
The amount of time to budget for the preparation depends on the current and expected workload over the subsequent 2-3 months. Writing the GMAT in the first quarter of the year gives you ample time to prepare and attempt it again in the unfortunate event of a bad score and still have enough time to apply in R1. So the general idea is to finish the GMAT(final attempt) by June/July. I would say 2 hours everyday (including weekends) for 6-8 weeks is ample preparation time to get a score above 700 or even 750. Discipline is key here. If you miss preparing for a day you need to make it up over the weekend. Instead of going strictly by time, I found it more effective to go by a weekly plan. Every Monday I made a plan for the week and stuck to it, catching up on the backlog over weekends. Also keep in mind that while preparing for the GMAT you need to shortlist 5 schools to send your score to for free. Budgeting some time for researching schools will save $$$ because you can avoid wrong choices made in a hurry. (Will write a separate post on managing the school research parallely)

The benefits of an error log:
Maintaining an error log and revisiting the errors at regular intervals,say every week, will help you to identify patterns in your errors and thus your problem areas. It is better to note only the questions/problems for which you went wrong and not note the answers. This way when you revisit the log you can solve the question again from scratch. The outcome could be:
a) you arrived at the right answer- this is the ideal scenario and it means you are improving (unless you just made a lucky guess)
b) you arrived at the same wrong answer as the previous time - this means you have not learnt from your mistake
c) you arrived at a wrong answer different from your previous answer - this means you are making wild guesses and better review the underlying concept first.
To summarize- an error log is a dynamic indication of positive/negative(or lack of) effects of your prep. Used effectively, you will find that the error log shrinks week after week culminating in no errors or a bunch of minor silly mistakes.

Materials I found useful:
1. The Official Guide for GMAT Review (OG- 11th Edition)
2. Kaplan 800
3. Other material available on online forums

Tests to take:
1. Powerprep (till 2005)
2. GMATPrep (since 2006)
3. Tests downloadable from various online sources.(I used google to find them)

Sites with good material and forums:
1. TestMagic

Too much material might end up confusing you. It's better to get an idea of all the stuff available and decide which are the ones you are going to use instead of hoarding everything aimlessly. Once you know what material you will be using it also becomes easy to plan your study time accordingly. Participating actively in the GMAT forums is very helpful. You can greatly benefit from the different approaches described by various people. The forums also foster healthy competition and you can get an idea of where you stand vis-a-vis the competition.

A sample plan:
Month 1
week 1 - Barrons/ Princeton or some easy material to familiarize yourself with the GMAT pattern
week 2 - OG (11th Edition)
week 3 - OG
week 4 - OG
every week end - revisit all errors from the error log and identify weak areas

Month 2
week 1 - Kaplan 800, 1000 CR 50-60 questions each day
week 2 - SC 50-60 questions each day
week 3 - CR, SC 30 questions each day
week 4 - RC target doing 25 GMAT passages or so.

Month 3
first 20 days - 1 test each day from various sources.
next 5 days - Revisit all errors marked as important, read your notes if you have made any. Solve a few problems of each type everyday so that you don't lose touch.
D-Day - 3 : GMATprep1 (2006 software) test and analysis
D-Day - 2 : Princeton2 , Powerprep2 (2005 software) test and analysis
D-Day - 1 : GMATprep2(2006 software) test and analysis.

3 months is a lot of time. The above plan can be implemented easily in 6-8 weeks.

One piece of advice:
Last 2-3 days it's best to relax and not study anything new. Take it easy, write some tests, and sleep well.

PS: I deleted this post by mistake. So had to post it again, sorry to the people who had commented

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Wharton Interview (helpful for R2 interviews)

I hope this post helps people doing their Wharton R2 interviews...

The Wharton interview is...

I do not mean to say you can ramble away. I mean that it is not a stress interview and is meant just get to know you as a person. The idea to judge your communication skills and to figure out if you fit into the Wharton community. There are a few standard questions, beyond that the interview can take any turn depending upon your experience, your persona and your conversational ability. It is possible to guide the interview so as to bring out the best aspects of your past if you are a glib talker.

Another thing which I feel will work to your advantage in the interview is your body language. If you have met Wharton students, you will agree with me that many of them ooze confidence. The interviewer will probably look for confidence in a prospective Wharton student too. Your body language says a lot about your confidence and maturity.

The interview report should ultimately indicate that the same person wrote the essays too :-)

The interviewer sees only your resume. In my case the interviewer took a couple of minutes to read the resume at the start of the interview. So I'm not sure if she even read it beforehand and come prepared with questions. This means that you can reiterate the examples used in your essays. But if you have important stuff that you could not mention in the essays due to lack of space, the interview is a good place to bring it up. An advantage of having examples different from the essays is that they will supplement what you have already mentioned and give a fuller picture of you to the adcom. Promotions, salary hikes and other recognition which came by after you submitted your application can also be stated during the interview.

...not decisive
The interview is just a part of the process and is not the sole elimination criteria. The Wharton interview is not "a make or break". You could get in because of a good interview, you could get in despite a bad interview. There is no reason to be nervous at all. Look at the interview as just a tete-a-tete and talk like you would to someone who has met you for the first time and is getting to know you. There is no right answer for the questions, it is HOW you answer them that matters.

Tips to get more air time
Quoting examples as part of your answers will not only get you more airtime but will also make for convincing answers. Examples are also a way to elicit pertinent follow up questions which is a great way to delve deeper into your experiences and viewpoints. Deep discussion in fewer aspects is better than superficial answers for a large number of questions. It is better not to sound too studied. In fact I would recommend minimal preparation . It is more than enough to know the facts and let your answers flow with the conversation. Going with rehearsed answers for the standard questions might make you sound boring and less confident. However, extempore may not work for everyone, it's a personal choice ultimately. The interview(specially at hubs and on-campus) is supposed to last for 30 mins, but I'm sure there are many people(including me) whose interviews stretched for 10-15 minutes longer. Longer interviews are an advantage most of the time.

Alumni vs Hub vs On Campus
The choice of the type of interview is usually a combination of your schedule and what you expect out of the interview. If convenience and lower cost is the chief concern, then alumni interview is the natural choice. If you want to return to your home country immediately after MBA then you might want to know more about the opportunities and the network available in your country. An alumnus will be in a better position to give you valuable information which will help you to make an informed decision if you have to choose between multiple schools later.

If you want to visit the school before you decide to attend, then the interview is a good reason to make the trip. Also the on-campus interviews are conducted by second year students who will be able to shed light on the life at school. You can also get a feel of the atmosphere and the culture of the school which is an important factor which can sway your decision to or against the school. People who live reasonably close to philly should not miss this opportunity. I say this because I know how difficult it was for me to compare the cultures of different schools using what I read and the few people I could talk to.

Choosing the hub interview means traveling within your country, unless the hub is your city itself. This definitely is not as convenient as the alumni option. The hubs are conducted by members of the adcom and they may not be able to answer some of the questions you might have about the curriculum, job opportunities etc. The flip side is that there will be someone in the adcom who has met you and spoken to you and might support you in case he/she really liked you. This is something you cannot achieve through an alumni interview where you rely solely on the report mailed in by the alumnus. At least during the interview, adcom members tend to be neutral to the industry you belong to/aspire to enter. This could be an advantage and a disdvantage: An advantage because you have a fair chance to showcase your achievements as opposed to talking to a person who belongs to/knows a lot about your industry and hence might undermine your credentials. A disdvantage because you may have specific questions about a particular industry and a veteran in that field or someone who has friends in that field might be able to answer you better.

Links for preparation
Clear admit wiki interview database

Interview experiences of a few bloggers (R1 applicants):
Cornfed MBA
Ganja Turtle

All the Best for your interview!

Disclaimer: This post is a summary of my opinions formed from my own interview experience and those that I have read so far. This is by no means a generalization of all Wharton interviews and I maintain that there is no such thing as "a typical Wharton interview".

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Apartment Search Over!

Thanks a ton to everyone who extended support and valuable advice in my woeful post about my apartment search.

I have a few nice updates on the matriculation front. First of all, I found an apartment! I will be taking over a current student's apartment. My future roomie and me had our eyes on this building all the while, it's one of the safer apartments at a reasonable rent. Now we just have to sign the lease. Here I would like to note how helpful the B-School community is (Wharton and all other schools). When I was trying to shortlist places I mailed pagalguy asking for the contact of a couple of Indian girls so that I could discuss the safety factor with them. I mailed one of the girls he pointed me to and the very next day my apartment search ended. Within 24 hours, she replied answering all my questions and also offering her apartment. So people, it really really helps to reach out to people, even those we don't know personally.

I faxed my verification authorization to Kroll on Thursday. The very next day I got a mail saying that the authorization has been processed and that they will begin the verification process shortly.

Wharton has said that the financial aid committee will meet this week to process the first batch of scholarship applications. So I should get my scholarship result and the loan amount I'm eligible for within 2-4 weeks starting Monday. I have completed my I20 application except for the financial details for which I need to get my loan information from Wharton. So I guess I can complete my I20 application in a month or so too.

The list of things I need to do is slowly disappearing :-). I have been meaning to start on the suggested readings for B-school, but I'm stuck up with my classics mania. I'm simply not able to draw myself to the business/management section at the bookstore :-(

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Housing... Aarrrrrrgh...

I have made and changed and made again and changed and made again..... a list of Philly apartments I need to consider. Now I almost know the Wharton housing guide by heart. I also have a photograph of the apartment locations etched in my memory. I shoot an email to a current student as the questions pop into my mind. The response invariably changes my criteria for the apartment search and hence my list of apartments :-(. I'm beginning to hate it even before I start calling apartment managements to discuss availability, rent, lease terms blah blah...

It seems fairly simple to sign a lease remotely, most of it can be done on the phone. But I'm somehow very skeptical about moving into a place without checking it out in person. Neither am I ready to go there in July and then search, all the good places will be gone by then. My future roomie and me discuss this endlessly, we are both confused and nowhere close to knowing which apartments to consider. Ok, I guess I have fully vented my frustration now :D.

Other things such as I20 application, verification, preparing to send my acceptance deposit etc. are underway and happening smoothly. Life would be perfect if housing were to fall in place soon enough :D