December 23, 2006

Chill, all you new admits!!

So, Wharton, Chicago GSB and many other schools (LBS too) have started sending out their admits. All I'm sayin' is - alright there! curb your enthusiasm! Chill!!

(click image for full size)
Oh, BTW, I still haven't written about my second interview. Maybe tomorrow. I'm also half-way through a post called "GMAT trade-offs" which may be useful for many test takers. Should be done in a couple of days.

Congrats to all those who have been admitted!

December 22, 2006

Visits to my blog

It's interesting - I'm seeing a continuous increase in hits to my blog. I have Google analytics linked to it, and it's interesting to see the trends. Look at the screenshot below,

You can see that US obviously has the greatest hits, but India follows next when you take a single country concentration (yes, Europe isn't a country, sorry ;) ). This explains the misery of being an Indian ..heheh. Not many from China - which could explain that a lot of Chinese applicants possibly look into their own web sites. Not much from South America either. Nothing from Africa. And it greatly upset me to see no hits from Antarctica - the penguins clearly don't like my blog.

One could argue validity, but this is a growing trend on my analytics chart because I'm seeing more than one place referring to the site. Interestingly, I found a couple of incoming hits from - not sure how - has to be some indirect referral.

Anyway, just thought I'll put this up. I'm hungry. I need to eat. Or I'll die. I saw all these Wharton admits come out today, makes me wonder if I should have applied to Wharton - you know, just for kicks? My personal situation does not permit me to take a 2 year MBA course..but still. Anyway, too late.

December 20, 2006

An inspiring journey/and my second interview is over

So, there's this enthusiastic guy who never gave up, sweated while waiting for results, and then finally made it to the prestigious Chicago GSB. Be inspired.

That did not stop me from taking a potshot at him ;) but we're all in this ...waiting.

In other news, my second interview for INSEAD is over. It went well. I'll write more about it soon. Now - the final waiting game begins!

December 17, 2006

Next interview is a lunch interview

So -- my next interview is a lunch interview. Can't say I'm too happy about that. I'm usually quiet while eating, and I'm not exactly an etiquette expert. So here's a discussion going on at the GMAT club. If you had an experience like this - how did it go?

(if you must ask - yes, I did draw the cartoon myself, and used Adobe photoshop to color it up. Click on image to see a bigger size.)

The first INSEAD interview

So, last week I finally had my first interview with an INSEAD alumni (one more to go). The interview was in the evening and nice enough for me, it was just a 15 minute drive from home.

The interviewer works for a large corporation. I was on time to the interview (just managed to escape a freeway traffic jam), and he came down to meet me within minutes after being called from security. The introduction was pleasant, and he seemed pretty friendly.

The standard questions were, of course, "why INSEAD?" and "why MBA"? and surprisingly, no "why now" (I'm 30+ so I'm not exactly in their age range). For both questions, I think I had clear answers because I do know precisely why INSEAD and why I need an MBA now.Once we got past that, it was really free wheeling discussions for nearly an hour on a variety of topics on my industry, his experiences in INSEAD, what MBA did to him, his own career moves post INSEAD etc. Post INSEAD, he had switched career thrice - one a major pharma, then one of the world's largest consumer product companies and now where is currently. The point that the degree opened diverse doors was evident from the range.

What I really liked about it all was that firstly, he did not treat me like an imbecile who has no clue why I need an MBA now. So there no unnecessary probing and cross questioning there. Secondly - he was very positive about his experience and impact on his life because of INSEAD. This is important - because when you talk to an alumni, you want to come out with a good feeling about the school you want to join. You want to know, from their own expeirence, that it did good to them.

The interview lasted about an hour and 15 minutes and he did spend quite a bit of that time talking about his experience - which, as I mentioned, was something I appreciated. Once the interview was over, I came home and sent a thank you note.

Only time will tell if it made a difference. It was a good step, and of course - it doesn't mean much if I get dinged. But at least it wasn't a disaster and it definitely made me think I was making the right choice as far the school was concerned. The next interview is the coming week, with a pretty senior person - a partner in his firm. I'll update the blog once that is done.

December 14, 2006

First INSEAD interview over


I just finished my first interview with an alumni. I'll put a write up soon :) The next one is next week.

Anyone else finished theirs?

December 11, 2006

INSEAD alumni Interviews confirmed

Both my INSEAD interviewers confirmed their date and time today. Very prompt and courteous, and by the end of next week the interviews will be over and the wait for the final decision begins!

Wish me luck! I really don't have the appetite to apply to another school :)

December 07, 2006

The first signs of a good alumni? (INSEAD)

I received a mail from INSEAD stating that I would need to schedule 2 interviews. Names and contact information of both the interviewers were forwarded to me. One of them stays about 45 minutes drive, and the other is about 15-20 minutes (nice of the ADCOM to find someone closer home instead of far away, and the opportunity was available when you consider New York and Boston are both the nearest big cities)

I proceeded to mail them asking for their time to interview me. I was pleasantly surprised when both of them responded within a day, and both were accommodating enough to ask me to suggest a convenient time and place for me! Of course - I responded saying I would be happy to accommodate their schedule and be where they wanted me to be.

This is my first brush with admissions etiquette, and I can tell you I was glad to see both the timeliness and the friendliness of the response of both the interviewers. I'm hoping to have a good interview session with both of them and hopefully convince them to put in good words for me!

The Strategy of Trade-offs in GMAT

I'm going to post a rather long note about the importance and strategy for "trade-offs" when you prepare for GMAT (for that matter, any standardized time based test). I hope some of you GMAT preparers will find this useful and help your planning.

GMAT tests you on three broad categories (apart from the actual content - Quant and Verbal)

  1. Ability to handle time pressure without panicking
  2. Ability to make intelligent assumptions
  3. Ability to make quick judgments on what you can solve within a given period, and what you cannot.

Regardless of your technical acumen, if you are poor at one of the above points, you will find yourself at a disadvantage at the test center. One of the issues with many preparers is the inability to plan realistically. Any test preparation must be done in accordance with realities of the test taker. Strategies are not made in a vacuum, they are borne out of a set of cirumstances that best fit the eventual course. For a test like GMAT, one would have to look at

  1. Past history and performance in standardized tests. Are you a good test taker?
  2. Test taking temparament. Are you "cool headed", nervous, do tests give you anxiety?
  3. Skills relevant to the test. Are you very strong or weak in Quant? Is your english well below average?
  4. Preparation time - how much time do you have for your preparation? 10 weeks? 1 year?
  5. Target schools - what kind of scores do your target schools look at? 600? 700?
  6. Applicant pool and demography - do you belong to very competitive applicant pools? Does that require you to score higher than most others?
  7. Financial resources - how much can you spend in preparation and training?
A good strategy makes an makes an honest assessment of each of these points.

I've seen in many discussions that test takers are hung up on a score, often with utter disregard to realities that dictate what they could reach. It's often "I want to score 750, what do I do?" - and then they get upset at poor practice scores, and then panic at the actual exam. It might be more relevant to ask, before you begin, if "Do I need 750? can I get 750 given my current skills and circumstances? What am I willing to do to get that score?" You might be surprised that in many cases, you really do not need such a score, or that it is realistically difficult and therefore your strategy needs tuning thereby substantially altering your preparation style. For an average appplicant, preparation for a target of 680-700 can be hugely different from trying for a 750.

Step I - Plan a goal score that is based on an honest self evaluation.

Once you have a number in mind, begin to assess your chances and your course of action.

Step II - Pick your battles wisely

Let's face it, if you suck at permuations and combinations and you had 100 hours to study quant- you do not want to be spending 70 hours trying to "master your combinatorics" and spending the other 30 hours on all other topics. In my case - I took a stand early on. In GMAT, the perm/comb questions are far and few in between, but number properties rule. So I spent most of my time practicing number properties, and decided that I would tackle simple combination problems and if they were hard - I would make a wild guess using my elimination techniques. Bottom line, I was not going to sweat about not cracking every question.

November 27, 2006

Guess online stats are truly delayed

Even as of today (Sunday), my online app status still says "application under evaluation." Now it's the wait for interviews.

November 24, 2006

Update delays

Interesting, INSEAD's online status still shows that my application is "under evaluation", it does appear that there is almost a days delay between the e-mailed status (that I've been called for Interview) and status change online.

For those who have not received calls yet, don't lose hope - there is one more day.

November 23, 2006

Called for Interview at INSEAD

As a good start to a holiday, I received a mail this morning from INSEAD saying I was "pre-selected" for interview. This is great because getting the interview itself is a hurdle, and now my chances are better. Unlike many other schools, at INSEAD and IMD, an interview is mandatory gate before offer. If no interview is offered, that means you got dinged.

Now I need to wait while they find the right alumni in the US (preferable east coast) for me to interview with.

Relief. One more step to go.

November 19, 2006

One more week between a Ding or an interview at INSEAD

Deadline's on 24th Nov. Just few more days, and then it's time to know if I got dinged or not.

Depending on how it goes, I might start preparing myself for applying to IMD. The reason I waited for IMD is that while I think it's a top class school and I'd love to be in it - the problem is the time, it's 2008 Jan. Sort of late. Oh well, like I have very many choices.

October 31, 2006


So INSEAD came back and said my application for round 1 was complete in all respects. That means it's now under the scanner. Let's see what next! Anyway - I won't hear until a maximum of Nov 22nd. If I don't hear from them by then - that means I got dinged in INSEAD.

But all that waiting has been overshadowed by the arrival of my first baby, so I'm really busy!

October 19, 2006

Indian-a Jones and the Profile of DOOM

So you're Indian and you want to apply to a good business school. Good luck. Really. It sucks to be an Indian, ask me.

Here's the problem - too many Indians with high scores applying all over the place, and most of us have similar backgrounds. Basically if I apply with a 750 gmat and 3.8 GPA and I have an IT background, I'm probably average compared to the pool. Boohoo.

Now can anything be done about it? not really. Prepare a good app, hope that you did some stellar stuff in your work, and then pray they think you're different ;)

I have no complaints about universities dissing Indian applicants with high score and take in someone else with less stellar metrics. If they did not do that, the classes would be filled with same-sounding same-thinking 760 GMAtters from IITs. Not a class I want to be in. And personality is not all about numbers. There sure are very impressive people from whom one can learn, even if their GMAT is 650 and GPA is 2.9, and with a very unique background they do deserve to be in compared to someone with a "like everyone else" profile and a high GMAT.

Bottomline: suck it up and spruce your app and fight it out.

October 16, 2006

OK, INSEAD, Here it is!

So, here is the fateful button -- I'm about to press it and then it's the waiting game! Wish me luck!

Of compromises and trade-offs

I've received a couple of mails and messages asking for tips and help on preparing for GMAT, especially in situations where there's little time available to take the exam.

I will share my thoughts very soon on this topic and I hope you will find it useful.

INSEAD applications..coming close!

*phew* I'm almost done with INSEAD applications - I need to submit them today or tomorrow so I can meet the October 16th round 1 deadline. I think I'm in a decent position to do so.

BTW - I feel good about how I met the word limits on the essays. On the 2 career essays and 6 personal essays, I'm happy to say I've stuck to the *exact* word limit as specified by the essay instructions. When I say exact, I really mean exact - and all 8 of them!

Some might think I'm being silly, but that's OK :) And I don't think I've compromised on the content anywhere. I've said what I wanted to, and that's it. I also had my essays reviewed only by 2 people - my wife and a colleague of mine who's great at essays and english in general - that's it. I did not want to send it to too many people and have my ideas and style diluted, and I'm pretty happy with my decision. Only time will tell if it was the right thing to do.

Next step? well - submit and then then waiting game begins. I do plan, of course, to start preparing my applications for IMD and/or Oxford Said in a couple of days. Wish me luck!

September 30, 2006

GMAT 420 to 700!

Yes, this guy made it happen and if you're depressed because you had a bad day at the exam - take heart and get back to studies.

Tip - using the Laminated write board in GMAT

If you don't know yet, you do not get scrap papers when you appear for GMAT. What you get instead is a laminated write board/note board (or whatever it's called). It's a 4-sheet book with glossy, plastic, yellow sheets and you get a dry eraser marker pen.

Many people have had problems with this (and you will find many more complaints here). Of the common complaints are (in no particular order of occurrence)

1. "It made my hand dirty"
2. "I ran out of sheets! I had to wait for the administrator to give me a new set and it wasted time"
3. "it's uncomfortable!"

For (1) and (3) there's really no cure. Getting worked up about a dirty hand or the evil markers is the last thing you should worry about when writing the exam.

For (2) one of the possible reasons could be is the way people use writing sheets. Typically, horizontal space is rarely filled when you work out your problems - so usage of real estate is very poor. You then run out of sheets quickly, here is an example of inefficient usage of writing space (a sheet from one of early GMAT practice sheets)

Notice the amount of space that's wasted. It's even worse in verbal because you would write a,b.c.d.e and the rest of space to the right would be unused. This causes sheets to get over quickly, you also write in a haphazard way around the page and then worry about getting new sheets.

Look at the 2 sheets below - 1 for quant and 1 for verbal, these are after I changed my practice style and divided the work area to two halves. It may look cramped to you (you can use more space, I prefer tightly controlled writing spaces) but see how much detail I got in there. Besides, the writing is controlled so your mind doesn't mix the working of a different problem with the current one. I used the exact same style in GMAT as well, and I was done within 3 sheets. Every moment saved is a possible 10 point earned.

My own personal experience was that I actually liked the sheets and the marker. So don't get all worked up about this, the only other important tip I can offer is

Test the marker before you start the test

Many times, the markers would have dried and you don't want to panic when you start quant. I tried the marker immediately on seating, and discovered that it wasn't working. So I got a new one before I might have lost my cool, which we all know, is critical in an exam like this.

Hope this helps!

September 28, 2006

Being yourself in an Essay - 3 observations

I've been reading some blogs and adcomm interviews where they all talk about "being yourself" in an essay. And then you have many people saying "edit your essay, have it proof-read, re-do it, review it, make 5 people read it.." and I see a problem with this.

The more the people read and make comments and incorporate them, the less it becomes "being yourself." The exception to this being corrections to syntax and grammar. Let me show an instance.

I like adding a smiley here and there, a light banter when possible, an exclamation to highlight a point - things that make my paragraph more "me." For e.g.

"I wanted to be a 28 year old millionaire! But over time, I've realized that it takes a lot more hardwork to actually be one at any now I'm hoping to see 7 figures when I'm 45 :)"

now - let 5 people review this, of which 3 maybe rather serious and think that the smiley or the banter is "out of place" in a serious essay. So after a lot of review and edit, I could maintain the content and turn it into

"After realizing that I could not become a millionaire at 28, and that it would take a lot more hardwork to become one at any age, I have now set my goals and am striving to achieve such a position by the time I am 45."

Sure, the second one is more staid and is rather serious. But it isn't "me." If I take an essay that is 500 words, and then remove my style and rewrite it based of multiple inputs, it's no longer my style. I have a problem with that. What I think is a more appropriate thing to do is

1. Reviewers should comment not on style, but only substance. If you think my rationale of why I want an MBA looks weak and unconvincing, say so. But if you focused on how I said it (assuming no grammatical or syntactical errors), then you would alter my style and miss the point entirely.

2.Tell me if my sentences are wrong, or are badly formed. Be a grammar nazi, and for once I won't scream at you for being one.

3.If you know me well, give me ideas on what else I could highlight. Let me worry about the "how."

I'm writing my essays now, and these questions do haunt me. Am I forcing myself away from my natural writing style? Will a business school find my writing too informal (or conversely, too formal?). So instead of worrying too much about all this - I'm going to go ahead and be myself. That means smileys, exclamations, silly sentences, anecdotes and other personal embellishments. I got away with them even in my company performance evaluations, and I hope it won't butcher my changes in school applications. You might disagree with me. Well, what do you think?

September 24, 2006

Essays - Brevity and Precision

If there are word limits for essays, then brevity and precision are important. Brevity is to tell whatever you want to tell, briefly. Precision is to convey what you want to tell, accurately. It's perfectly possible to be brief and say nothing.

Example 1:

Original: I would like make a substantial contribution to my company's decision making process and play significant part in my company's strategy (21 words)


Brevity: I would like to play a substantial part in my company's strategy and decision making (15 words - a saving of ~30%

You're saying the same thing, in a shorter version. The words you save can help add more content to the essay.

Example 2:

Original: I played an important leadership role in my company's quality initiatives and disseminated process knowledge across the company.(18 words)


Brevity/Precision: As the lead quality auditor for my company, I trained different departments on processes.(14 words - 22% saving)

You're saying the same thing, with less words and greater precision. No vaguess about "some leadership role", the words "lead quality auditor" say a lot more.

Right now, I'm working through my initial essays. My strategy is to first write what I want to say, without worrying about word limits. Then, I apply these steps,

1. Are there repeating themes in the paragraphs? does anything repeat? remove them.
2. Are there "fluffy fillers"? hot air words that don't mean much but take up space? remove them.
3. Can some words be removed without significantly altering meaning? remove them.
4. Can I say the same thing by reorganizing the sentences?

By the time I'm done, I've usually cut nearly 30-40% of the original size, so I have that much space left to say other stories.

September 18, 2006

Schools of interest

These are what I'm targetting

  1. INSEAD Sep 2007
  2. Oxford Said Business School Oct 2007
  3. IMD Lausanne Jan 2008
No US schools for me, not a single top-10 1 year program that suits me, it sucks. Besides..don't want to fight with visa issues.

My choices are very limited, so I don't know when and where, if at all, will I actually do my MBA.

September 16, 2006

Will I get into any business school?

So what if my GMAT score is above average? I have several limitations I need to deal with,

  1. I am 33 years old, that puts me in the upper age range of B-school demographics and gives me little opportunity to re-apply.
  2. I plan to do a 1 year MBA - I do not want to apply to a 2 years MBA for various reasons. I don't want to do part time of EMBA. If I do it, it's got to be a ivy league full time.
  3. I want to do an MBA from only the top institutes - I don't want to get into "Krigzys Penkovsky college of International Mgmt" or "Shri Shri Chintamani school of mgmt"
When I put all this together, I sometimes think I may not be able to do my mgmt anywhere at all! The applications are competitive, and I don't know if I'm special enough.

Let's see. I've begun my application processes, and boy - it's painful.

Pick up and move on

Taking the GMAT and facing a painful result can be depressing. It can happen to smart, supportive people who were a source of inspiration to many others. Whatever I say will probably be pedantic and "arm-chair" exercise, because I took GMAT only once. When I walked out the test center, and discussed it at home, I did think many times how things might be if I scored lower - and even the thought was disconcerting.

However, what I can say based on my preparation and what I read, is this,

  1. You are not alone - Many good scorers are repeat test takers, and their perseverance and focus got them there.
  2. Evaluate your strategy - It is important to evaluate your study strategy and whether it works well. Blindly practising 1500 questions will not guarantee test success. A good result is a function of several parameters R = f(strategy, fundamentals, pressure,familiarity)
  3. Understand trade-offs - Be realistic - if you are ranging on 620 and struggling to hit 650 - then getting all worked up about reaching 780 in 2 months won't get you too far. It is really hard to cross from even 740 to 750, let alone 780. You need to understand your trade-off, what are you willing to let go so you can do better elsewhere? Why spend 50 hours trying to get 1 question right on permutations when you can spend 40 of those hourse getting 5 questions more on SC? My own strategy was to not obsess over every single question - so I studied perm/comb basics, I could solve simple questions, and I just decided to guess a harder question using some "not-a-wild-guess" techniques. Did it keep me from getting a Q(50/51)? maybe it did, but it also got me a 40+ in verbal because I spent extra hours on SC.
  4. Pick up and move on - a fall does not mean you can't get up. For catharsis, go ahead, feel depressed, throw a few things around, play a hard video game and blow up the stroggs, crib and complain. Then relax a few days and have a good time. And then come back.
  5. Space your tests - If you did really badly, then don't schedule another one just a month later. There are exceptions but most people are not that category. Give yourself some time to understand what went wrong, why, find a better method, and then set the next test.
If you are in this repeat situation, my wishes to you!

September 09, 2006

Official report arrived today...

Percentiles haven't changed - and got a 6.0 on AWA. *phew*, that ends my GMAT the application saga begins.

August 30, 2006

GMAT Sentence correction - 2 tips for effective learning

I received a bunch of e-mails asking for help with GMAT Sentence Correction. When I started preparation, I too ignored SC only to discover that it was my biggest weakness. I did a lot of catching up in 2 weeks.

The key to getting better at SC is practice - there is no substitution. If you are preparing for SC, keep in mind these things

  • You can certainly improve with some systematic practice
  • Do NOT rely on your basic knowledge of english to 'sniff' out mistakes. You have to understand the rules.
  • With some focused study and learning the typical SC 'corrections' that GMAT throws at you, you can substantially improve your score. But you must learn the rules and understsand how to identify mistakes in the paragraphs.
  • MGMAT SC and Princeton Review 2007 have good SC strategies. MGMAT SC is the best when it comes to teaching the concepts.
Now coming to practice itself, here is how I did it. (Click on image to see larger version)

The idea is this:

When you are solving a question, write down a,b,c,d,e with adequate space between them. As you tick off the answers, write down 'why' underneath them - using the standard terminologies. Don't write "this is weird", instead, write "pronoun reference error."

Once you do this repeatedly - identifying the type of problem, listing it, cross referencing the answer (both correct and wrong answers) - you will get better and better at it. I rapidly improved my score from low 60% to close to 90% within 2 weeks by using this style diligently. Maybe I'm suggesting complete common sense, but hey - I'm saying what I did.

You should also scan passages and catch errors as they occur. This will help you eliminate answer choices quickly.

August 29, 2006

GMAT Quant Strategies - 7 top traps to avoid

Minor updates. This page is quite widely read for GMAT quant strategies, so I thought a few little changes/additional links will help.

GMAT is important - no matter what your personal philosophy regarding it is. Here is my post written much later that talks about relevance of GMAT in management consulting

my detailed GMAT debrief, which also gets many hits, is here. It might help you as well. Also adding a  numerical ability / quantitative testing preparation resource that could be helpful for case interviews

Having difficulty with GMAT Quant? Here are some of my tips and strategies that'll help you what to watch out for, and be ready for GMAT traps. Just like how many test prep companies give names to different strategies/methods/approaches etc - I've done the same, this should make it simpler.

The original post is available here - and for some reason if you can't access it, here is the reproduced text as of 28 Aug.

GMAT Quant strategies

Here are a few strategies that helped me (they were borne out of many tips the members here have given over a period of time). Math whizzes may not find them helpful, for people like us - who go from low 600s to 700s might find them useful. Like how these prep companies give names to specific strategies, I too have given each technique/trap a name so you can identify them. Hopefully some people will find this helpful.

Some generic Quant points

1. It is possible, even with 9-11 mistakes, to get 48-49 in Quant. So don't freak out because you think you got 3 questions wrong. The test is adaptive - i.e. every question does not carry equal weight. It does appear, however, that early questions do determine how your test will progress.

2. I've noticed, through my multiple GMATPrep tests, that even if you get more wrong in the end, you can still maintain a high score.

3. To go from Q(49) to Q(50) or Q(51) is going to be hard - if you have time constraints for studying (like I did), and you aren't a math whiz (which I'm not), then you need to understand what your trade-offs are - i.e. what topics you are willing to relax on and guess in the test. I basically studied enough to solve simple problems in permutations and combinations, and told myself - "if it looks hard and I can't think of a way to solve it in 30seconds, I'm going to use my 'good-looking-number' strategy (which I'll cover here) and just move on.

4. If you spend over 4 minutes on a question, you certainly are excited about digging your own grave, or you're probably an adrenalin junkie who loves to jump off a cliff without a parachute.

5. With practice, you'll realize that the real time saver in Quant is actually DS and not PS.

GMAT Quant

Is not actually very hard in itself, but when you combine the time pressure, the tricks in the question and the wording - it becomes very important that you have practiced many standard questions types, many times over - because when you see a question, you don't want to be thinking "hmmm...which of my 34 cool strategies might work for this?", you want to be going straight into solving it.

7 Trap identifiers

Many GMAT questions have subtle traps in them - but thankfully, you can categorize many of them - they have a pattern. I've tried to identify 6 of them. So look out for these! At the end of the day, if even 1 of these helped you get 2 questions right bumping you from 660 to 680, it's still good, right?

Each strategy/trap identifier is not a stand-alone, a GMATQuestion might require you to employ more than one at a time. They are listed in no particular order of importance.

These tips can help if you are forced to guess, but want to make an intelligent guess, or if you want to shorten your path to solution (or salvation)

1. The Lone Wolf

A lone wolf question almost always has a free standing number(or numbers), and a more complex looking equation as the other option. For e.g.

"On a loan, evil necromonger charges X% interest in the first year, and Y% interest in the second. If he loaned Rhyme 20,000$ in 2006, how much Rhyme pay by interest in 2008?"

A) X = 10
B) (X + Y + XY/100) = 100

You can almost be certain, that in such questions, your equations to the stem will reduce to a form that looks like (B), so (A) is actually redundant. Be careful of lone wolves because they will bite you in the posterior if you choose (C).

If you notice a lone wolf question, and you have no clue on how to solve the problem, choose (B) (or whichever is the complex equation).

*as a side note, a wolf, contrary to the popular belief, is a very social mammal and is not at all a loner.

2. The Spy Girl

In a typical movie, an unsuspecting man may be enchanted by a hot looking woman, who comes on to him easily. He sleeps with her only to be stabbed in the moring, and all his nuclear secrets stolen. That's what a spy girl question does - it looks real simple, and if you fall for it - you've had it.

Consider this

if the membership of the drama club and music club are combined, what % of the combined membership will be male?

(1) of the 16 members of the drama club 15 are male
(2) of the 20 members of the music club, 10 are male

On the outset, it's very simple. (C) should tell us, right? wrong! DS is picky. This is an overlapping sets question, so you need to consider if some belong to both clubs - and that would lead to (E).

When you get spy girl questions, take a few seconds to re-read the question, looking for holes and any tricky stem ends. Many GMAT sentence tricks are at the end of the question stem. Spy girl questions are often in DS, and typically masquerade as word translations.

3. Twin trouble
Some DS questions have 2 choices that both reduce to the same form! When you see 2 similar looking/structurally similar answer choices, quickly scan them to see if they reduce to a common form. For e.g.

"Question: blah blah blah..."
A) 2x+3y = 10
B) 3.2x+4.8y = 16

Cool! 2 simultaneous equations with 2 unknowns - so should be (C), right? wrong. If you multiply (A) by 1.6, you get (B). They're useless. In general, twin trouble questions end up with (E) as the answer (E is the best choice if you do not know how to solve the problem. If you do know, then if either A or B works - then D would be the answer)

4. C of pain
GMAT questions love to put two choices that seem to give a nice answer when combined. If you get (C) as the answer, unless you're absolutely sure of your approach, look closely at A or B again. Consider your equations to see if they can be solved with only A or B before confirming C. There are certainly more A, B, D choices in GMAT than C. If you are absolutely stumped by the question and you want to guess, this approach might help.

-if the 2 choices look very similar in structure, apply the 'twin trouble' tip - if it is a twin trouble, then E is the most likely answer. D comes next.

-if the choices look very different, go with the one that has a more complex looking wording or equation - and preferably does not allude to an addition.

-if you have absolutely no idea at all, and you must guess - choose D or E.

5. The Rambler
Ramblers are long worded, paragraph level questions. Ramblers have lot of BS in them - so scan the question, then come back to writing equations. Ramblers are not always hard - sometimes they're pretty simple distance/time questions (or work rate). Don't be intimidated by a rambler. For e.g.

"Jim ...blah blah..., he then stopped for 30 minutes to have lunch before proceeding..." simply means add 30mins to your time equation.

6. The Twister

Twisters are among the worst when it comes to tripping test takers (including me). They start innocuously, but what they ask for is subtly different from what your mind thinks you're being asked. Twisters occur usually at the end of a question in word translations, or at the beginning in number properties.

For e.g.
In 2006, Company X revenue grew 18% from 200,000$, company Y revenue grew 30% from 90,000$ - at the end of 2006, how much more would X earn than Y if X grew 20%"
If the question was a rambler, your mind would dim by the time you get to the end, and you'd furiously compute the new revenues, subtract the two and look at the answer. But wait, the X 18% is actually useless because the question twists in the end asking something else. Actual questions can be even more subtle than this - something like, instead of asking, "by how much did A exceed B", it might say "by how much did A exceed twice B"? Get the point? Read your question ends carefully.

In number properties, it's always good to map your mind to
-2, -1, -1/2, 0, 1/2, 1, 2 so you don't forget what you need to apply. Twisters occur at the beginning,

If it says number, instinctually many of us look at 1,2,3,4.. but "number" should immediately trigger -1, and -1/2,+1/2 in your sample sets. Always look carefully at the beginning (I know it sounds common sense, but common sense isn't always common...) and memorize the properties

number => -ve, + and - fractions, +ve, 0
+ve number => > 0, +ve fractions, and integers
integer => ...,-ve integer, 0, +ve integer
+ve integer => 1,2,...
-ve integer => -...,-2,-1,

It's common mistake to ignore zero in calculations, so be careful. For e.g.
if X not -ve and y is an integer less than -1/10, is xy to the left of 0 in the number line?

Well, if you consider 0 for X, then xy is on the 0 in number line...

7. The lucky twin (thanks to, and suggested by GMATT73)
The purpose of this problem is to exploit a weakness used by PVue: complimentary answer choices. Almost always in complimentary probability questions, there are a pair of "LUCKY TWINS" among the answer choices. If in doubt and pressed for time, choose a TWIN by logical deduction.

Let`s take a crack at this Project GMAT bad boy without making lengthy calculations.

Set S consists of numbers 2, 3, 6, 48, and 164. Number K is computed by multiplying one random number from set S by one of the first 10 non-negative integers, also selected at random. If Z=6^K, what is the probability that 678,463 is not a multiple of Z?

a. 10%
b. 25%
c. 50%
d. 90%
e. 100%


[added note by necromonger] - also watch out for complementary fractions and be careful. You might see numbers like
a) 1/2
b) 3/8

notice that 1-3/8 = 5/8 - these choices can trip you up if you haven't paid attention to the question carefully.

The good-looking-number (GLN) strategy
*Use this only when you are stumped in a PS question and you have no idea how to solve it, but you need to guess.

GLN's are simply numbers that are formed by some mathematical combination of numbers in the question. For e.g. if a rambler has number like '12.....3....9' and the choices are


what would you choose if you're in a real hurry? 4 = (12*3/9), the others-you can't get them by any straight manipulation. So 4 is a GLN.

GLN tips vary, their success rate is questionable. But in the absense of any clue, what have you got to lose?

closing points:
Don't be scare of quant. It is conquerable with some practice and employing some time-saving techniques. I'll be glad to answer any questions. Finally, choose the strategy that works for you - do not follow anything blindly because it worked for someone else!

finally, the obligatory:
*no animals were harmed in the making of these tips, and these strategies do not discriminate based on race, language, sex, creed, caste, tv viewing habits or choice of shirt colors.

August 27, 2006

GMAT Debrief / Experience - 740 with Q(49) V(41) AWA 6.0

update: March 2008 - since I wrote this post on my GMAT Debrief / GMAT Experience in Aug 2006, much has chanced. I went on to get into INSEAD, and I recently wrote this post on Consulting Recruitment and Relevance of GMAT score that you might find useful.

The beginning

I decided late May 2006 that I might want to consider going into business school, and I had to decide on taking GMAT. On June 1st, I decided that I should - and even checked my calendar and mentally decided that I would take the exam on August 26th. Since I had zero knowledge of gmat format and all other statistics related to preparation - I went to, did some reading, downloaded the software and took my first test (and I had no idea that it was actually adaptive). GMATPrep1 - got a 620, and I just quit the results screen without even bothering to see my Q and V. Stupid, I know.

In a day or two after that, I knew 620 wasn't good enough, and that 700+ was great. In any case, by first week of June, I was absolutely sure I would do GMAT.

The preparation

Without bothering to research much, I just went ahead and purchased OG 11 and Kaplan 2006-7 around 1st week of June, and once I received them, I began to work out the problems. Needless to say, I wasn't doing well. My Math was creaky, and while I thought I was good in verbal (because while I'm non-native English speaker, I've done all my education in English and am quite fluent in it), I realized very soon that I at it sucked big time. This realization, though, came rather late (as you will read later on).

My preparation was spotty - my job requires me to manage multiple projects and also be technically involved in some, so I would spend about 30-45 minutes a day at an average of about 4-5 days per week - and this continued through July. However, I did manage to spend time over weekends to at least take a full length test and analyse my weakness. In August, I did not prepare for a full week as I was out on business travel, but I kicked up a notch in the last 2 weeks with some intense preparation. My preparation style is a little unusual from most others, so be cautious what you take from it (I'll cover it in a little while)

Preparatory books
I used the usual culprits, OG, Kaplan, Princeton and MGMAT. Here is my preference list:

a) OG - you should do this to get a good feel of all sections. In my case, I actually did not finish DS or RC by the time I got to the test.
b)MGMAT SC - great book for SC, a must for non-native speakers.
c)Veritas math - for permutations and statistics. Great book but return-on-investment was 0 because I got no frikkin question on perm/comb
d)Princeton review - from my own experience - I actually liked this book! I really liked their sections on SC and RC, and their on-line tests weren't too bad either.

Preparatory software

a) GMATPrep is your bible, bhagavad-gita, Quran, Zend-avesta, star trek guide, latest edition of playboy - whatever is holy to you. Nothing even comes close to how close GMATPrep is to the real test - I'll cover this in more detail below because it's really important.
b)Princeton review tests - Good practice, they don't intimidate you by giving you idiotic scores (like Kaplan). The flip side is that their Quant correction is very unlike real GMAT - I got 47 by getting just 3 wrong, where in the real GMAT - only 3 wrong might give you 50 or 51.
c)MGMAT tests - again, very good practice especially for Quant.
d)Kaplan - dog crap. What more do you want to say?

The ETS paper tests should be used purely for questions practice, they are in no way representative of real GMAT. Don't try to analyze how you would do in GMAT by how you did in ETS paper tests. The Powerprep software is slightly better.

My preparation scores

I'll put up my full XLS sheet in a link soon - so I'll only summarize my performance here.

Kaplan CAT1 - 580 !@#$%#$
Kaplan CAT2 - 610 !@#$$!@#
Kaplan CAT3 - did not finish, got so infuriated and lost interest
Kaplan CAT4 - did not do.

In words of my good friend Eric Cartman - here's what I say to their material, "Scr--w you guys, I'm going home!"

MGMAT CAT1 - 620
MGMAT CAT2 and 3 - 680, 690. MGMAT is quite tough, so it's a good sign if you're hitting close to 700 there.
PR CAT1,CAT2,CAT3 - 680,690,690 (or maybe I got 710 in one..not sure)

GMATPrep - 700,710 ; 740,750 ; 770, 760; 770; Now you'll wonder if I was nuts doing it so many times, and I'll tell you you'll thank me why. And I did all these in the last 7 days.

As you can see, my scores improved over time - and I hovered close to 700 in MGMAT/PR and touched 700+ on GMATPrep.

My study strategy/style

*warning: My style was a little unusual compared to most. You can choose to use aspects of it, but you need to know what works best for you. My reasoning may not be the best one for you!*

1. I actually did not even finish OG completely, I focused more on basics and then analyzed answers from my tests. My reason? OG has questions that sometimes repeat in the prep software - it skews performance in the tests. I wanted my tests to be as accurate as possible. I read initial parts of OG, did most of SC, some CR, Q and DS (about 50-70%) by Aug last week and then went through the problems after I finished a couple of rounds of GMATPrep only learn techniques for harder areas.

2. I did not use any error log as such. Once I did a test, I looked at my statistical performance - where did I get hit the most? how many questions? This worked nicely for me. Instead of obsessing over every single type - I focused on a category. Here is how it actually worked for me.

Initially, I was hurting in Quant, specifically number theory. My geometry and algebra were strong and needed only brush up. So I focused on number theory and fair enough - scored improved. I targeted statistics next, and finally word translations. I knew I had no time or patience to master perm/comb - so I brushed the basics and left it at that. Attack what you can master, and understand what you are willing to trade-off on. Once I hit 48-49 on Quant, I went after verbal. My CR improved quickly after I read through some tips on PR, and then went after SC. Lots of practice (about 200 from 1000SC, all of OG, and great summaries in PR) and I got better. Not great, but better.

3. Here's the most important thing: I did GMATPrep about 8 times! Of which 6 were in the last 5 days. This is unusual but it really, really helped. Do not think that once you do the 2 tests, you should stop because questions might repeat. The great thing about GMATPrep is that Quant will get you fresh questions for most part while verbal will repeat in increasing amounts (RC will repeat a lot, but you can get newer SC questions). GMATPrep is really close to the real thing, and when I sat in the real test - it just felt so comfortable and familiar! I knew the type of traps they were laying out for me, I knew what to look out for, and what approach to take to many questions. Even if you take everything else I say to be a rant of a senile mind, please don't ignore this! I will post a separate note on some useful tips on GMAT quant.

Leading to the test/The test day
I slept late the 2nd day before the test, and woke up early the day before the test. This ensured I would sleep fitfully the day before the test. Thankfully, tests have never fazed me all my life (regardless of my level pf preparation ;) ) - they don't make me nervous so I was peaceful the day before. I did 2 GMATPrep tests, practised 50 SC - and in the evening visited my test center (which is was really useful because the directions were confusing and it took me time to find it). I slept fitfully because I was exhausted.

Test day - my test was at 12:15 but I thought I'll take a chance by going in early. Was there at 11 AM and voila, they said I could take it right then if I wanted to. Nice center, friendly staff. After ID verification (non-US citizens take your passport to the center) I was taken in to the center. The first thing I did was to test the writing pen, it wasn't writing! I got a replacement immediately, and here's another funny thing - I actually liked the writing pad and pen! Center was reasonably quiet - I did not use the ear plugs, they annoy me. Ambient noise was not an issue.

I had never practised with AWA, not once. Hey, I'm a manager, I write reams of pompous stuff all the time, 2 essays weren't going to fatigue me ;) I think I did a decent job at AWA. Nothing much to say here.

took a break of 5-6 minutes, and took a deep breath to face quant.

Question 1: Wham! darned question - type of which I had never done before. Spent 3 solution...clicked on a guess, but hesitated to confirm answer. My mind was racing, can't get the first question wrong! Took an alternate approach by using a sample value - great! it worked! Next question - number properties, got it right. Then geometry, not simple - I think I nailed it. I knew the questions were not simple - but I couldn't really make out if it was getting harder and harder. My only guess was that since questions were longer and needed me to think, they were probably in the harder sections. Lot of number properties - so please prepare for them. No question on Probability, and I don't think even a single question made me think "what the hell..?" My repeat GMATPreps really helped in feeling familiar. By the time I ended the quant with 30s to spare (I guessed the last-second question), I knew I had done decently.

break. 4 minutes, some water. No snacks. Back for verbal.

Q1: Pretty involved CR - had to think quite a lot before answering. Second question was a big underlined SC - big but not hard, choices were easy to decide on. I could never make out if verbal was getting harder or easier - I felt good all the way. Couple of SC's got me, but that was OK.

Test over with 20 seconds to spare, and the survey started. I felt peaceful, so I went through the questions without any irritation. Finally, "do you want to see your score" (do you want to see carmen electra in a bikini?) - I clicked yes and it took about 15-20 seconds for the result. Man it felt long. Finally, 740 flashed! I grinned all the way to the car and home :)

Now I can get to the next step with confidence. To summarize some key points

a) Study basics first, get your fundamentals clear in quant. Number theory is important.
b) SC will get you the best improvement in score in verbal
c) Very important to be calm and composed during the test. Get good sleep beforehand.
d) During the test, don't let a hard question faze you. If you cannot understand the question, take a call whether you can solve it or not. If you can't, guess and move on. Try to get the earlier questions correct. I'll write a separate post on some tips.
e)Practise using GMATPrep, a lot. The real test is very close to it.
f)Don't try to guess if a question is hard, experimental etc. etc while testing. Just focus on solving it and getting it right withing 2 minutes.
g)Spend time on this forum. If you got a a question wrong, search for threads here and understand the solution. This forum and its people are fantastic, for guidance, help and inspiration. I spent some amount of time every single day on this forum.

What I wish I had done better

Given that I got 740 - in hindsight, it might have helped if I practised SC a lot more, that might have got me 760.. and some more practise in mixture questions might have got me a 50 in Q. But once you cross the 730-740 mark, every 10 points requires a lot of preparation - so I think I should shut up and be happy at what I got. Sure I would have liked 770, but then I would have also liked to have Warren Buffet donate me a 100 million dollars, "ain't gonna happen."

(The original post is in , a fantastic forum with great people, whose help and advice was a significant factor for my preparations and result. You can read the post and responses here

July 19, 2006

GMAT Preparation curve

It's easy to be tempted by the fact that if we went from 600 to 650 with 'x' days of studies, then it might be possible to go from 650 to 700 in ~x days and then onward beyond 700. It's simply not true. Once we cross that 67-680 level, every 10 points is a fight and requires practice, focus, and eliminating all weaknesses in approach. It's sort of a sharp skill curve increase in that bracket.

So if you've begun studying and you aren't the "genius" types (starting off at 750 and feeling pissed because you did not get a 790) then you might want to understand that this is very real for most test takers. There is a sharp upward skill expectation once you come closer to 700. Just gotta study harder.

June 23, 2006

GMAT Statistics quick sheet

Some important points for statistics.

June 19, 2006

GMAT Geometry quicksheet

This 'Quick Sheet' should help you in Geometry preparations. Click on the image for the full size, and then print it if you think it's useful.

June 17, 2006

Silly mistakes are your enemy no. 1

Here's my ugly list of "silly mistakes", those miserable "I-knew-it-but-I-marked-something-else" bastards. I've committed all of them and that's why they're here.

"My hand itches" syndrome

Not reading the question completely. Your hands are so itchy to scribble down that equation even before reading the friggin' question! READ the damn question first, and then write your equations. "Jim travelled 90 miles less than Sally did in her first leg of journey" is NOT J = S-90. There's probably something more than that!

"I know more than the test creators" syndrome

Making your own assumptions based on your knowledge. Yes, maybe the beauty queen from your country won the bikini contest in 2001, but if the paragraph says "The potbellied 3 ft midget from Angorra won the contest in 2001", then that is what you should consider.

"I do everything really fast" syndrome

No one is giving you marks for "doing your questions fast." Just like it doesn't help to do a sprint in bed (if you're a virgin that's a tip for you), stop being an idiot trying to do 15 DS questions in 4 minutes. Pace yourself well. Read the choices really carefully.

"I will conveniently ignore the signs" syndrome

Even If ab <> , it does not mean b <>

June 09, 2006

Biting the GMAT bullet

So I've finally decided to do GMAT. I suck at it right now, got a 620 in the first GMATPrep. My brain has degenerated over the years - I plan to take the exam in late August, so I have less than 3 months to prepare, and it's to be seen if I'll hit that magic 700. Looks tough.