At the outset, be warned that this article on improving GMAT Quant score may make sense only if you are already scoring at the 45 raw score level in GMAT Quant.
Many of the top MBA programs are unapologetically quant-driven. Whether you are pursuing a career in consulting, marketing, or finance, what you’re walking into is a world of big data and statistics.
A world like that requires solid quant skills, no matter what role you end up taking.
The good news is that if you are willing to properly prepare for the quant section of the GMAT, using the best materials and following a strategic plan of study, you can earn an impressive GMAT quant score.
In this article, we will show you how to improve your GMAT Quant score to a 50-51 using these methods:
- Get Your Basics Sorted
- Learn to Use Numbers Effectively
- Do Not Jump to Conclusions
- Identify Simpler Solutions
- Use Logic Over Math (Especially on Hard Questions)
- Do Not Depend Only on the OG
- Never be Rigid with Techniques
- Master Data Sufficiency
If you have not yet taken a full-length test, it might be a good idea to take the official GMAT prep test now.
Let us first try and understand how the scores on the quant section have changed over time. These GMAT score charts should give you an idea about the correlation between raw scores and percentiles on the GMAT quant section for July 2016 and December 2018. (Source: mba.com)
Sample Size: 794601
Standard Deviation: 11.00
Date Period: July 2016
Notice that a scaled score of 49 now corresponds to a 74th percentile as compared to a 79th percentile in 2016.
So, what exactly does this tell us?
The simple answer is this:
More people are getting perfect or near perfect scores.
In fact, the way that the GMAT quant percentiles are now, there is no 99th percentile. You can only get to the 96th percentile, at the most. This is because a full three percent of GMAT test takers are ringing up a perfect quant score.
Why are people doing better?
It has to do with the shifting demographics of GMAT test takers. People from countries that tend to provide a better math education than the US have been taking the GMAT in much greater numbers, making the GMAT percentiles (on the Quant side) much more competitive.
Typically, Indians score anywhere between 45 and 51 in Quant. This is partly because most Indians who take the GMAT have an undergraduate engineering background, and partly because the Indian education system does require better-than-global-average skills in mathematics.
However, this scale of 45 – 51 has a huge deviation in percentiles.
A 45 yields a measly 55 percentile while just 6 more raw points ahead, a 51 sits at a comfortable 96%ile (the maximum you can score on the quant section). Although the difference in raw scores is small, the real difference in terms of percentiles is huge.
So, if you are at a 46/47, don’t assume that scaling the 50 – 51 mountain is easy. If you are an Indian IT Engineer, there is a possibility that Quant could end up being a bigger problem for you than Verbal.
In any case, here are eight specific suggestions that you can start using to improve GMAT Quant scores.
1. Get Your Basics Sorted
The GMAT tests you on high-school math.
Yeah, you read that right.
The GMAT assumes that you understand certain concepts and use them as the basis of reasoning to solve the Quant questions. Since this is predominantly a reasoning-based test, a lot of emphasis needs to be laid on getting your basic understanding of concepts in place.
Way too many people fuss about learning advanced concepts without investing sufficient time into getting the basic concepts right.
Mastering math, especially the math tested on GMAT quant, requires that you take a linear, systematic approach towards developing your knowledge and skills. If you skip to the hard stuff, it will be challenging for you to develop a strong command of the material.
Try this GMAT sample question:
A set of 15 different integers has a median of 25 and a range of 25. What is the greatest possible integer that could be in this set?
If you caught yourself saying “Uh-oh, I forgot to brush up on my basic statistics concepts”, you are in trouble on the GMAT!
Ensure that you know the basics like Pythagorean triplets ((3,4,5); (5,12,13) ;(7,24,25)), Percentage to Proportion (1/8 = 12.5%), basics of numbers… you get the hint.
By the way, if you’re wondering what the answer is – it is 43.
2. Learn to Use Numbers Effectively
One thing you have to realize is this:
In GMAT Quant, the difference between the guy scoring 45 and the one scoring 51 is NOT that the latter knows more formulae.
It’s just that the 51 scorer is better at “hacking” his way through the test.
Remember, the GMAT does not worry about ‘how’ you get to the answer, but ‘if’ you get to it.
Try this GMAT sample question:
The number 75 can be written as the sum of the squares of 3 different positive integers. What is the sum of these 3 integers?
Is there really any formula you can apply here?
It’s about how your brain is going to pick the right values and “hack” its way to the answer. The better you can prepare your brain to do that, the better your GMAT Quant scores will be!
So here’s how you hack your way through this one:
Begin by plugging in values on the number line (especially for inequalities).
The standard values are a large negative number, a large positive number, -1, +1, a negative fraction between 0 and -1, a positive fraction between 0 and +1, and the number 0 itself.
The question here is a classic case – the square of 9 is 81, so you know the numbers should be a number between 1 and 8.
Next, quickly write down the squares 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49, and 64.
Now, start playing with the numbers. You know it has to be one large plus one small number, so keep adding any two values (1 and 64, 4 and 49, etc.) and subtract it from 75 to see if it fits any remaining value.
Soon enough, you’ll realize that the numbers are 1, 49, and 25, i.e. 1, 7, and 5 = 13.
While practicing, try to get the answer within two minutes. Then try it without time-limits.
If you arrive at an answer, check the explanation to see if you are right. If you are wrong, then without looking at the solution, take a stab at solving the same question again – repeat the above loop.
Exercising your brain this way can be a lot of fun! No, seriously, just try it!
3. Do Not Jump to Conclusions
“How many questions can I afford to answer incorrectly if I am targeting a score of 50/51 in Quant?”
This has always been, and will always be, a question that students toy with at some stage of their quant prep.
Here’s why that is a bad idea altogether:
The quant section has a total of 31 questions, 3 of which are experimental and do not contribute to your overall quant score. You will not know which ones the experimental questions are. Your score depends on getting the remaining 28 right.
Check out this blog on the GMAT Enhanced Score Report to know how this scoring thing works.
If you go by the logic of allowing yourself to make mistakes, you will never know which side of the fence you’ll land up on.
If you get 3 questions wrong and none of them are experimental, you can kiss your perfect quant score goodbye.
To get a 51, a test taker can only afford a maximum of 1-2 errors and to get a 50, a maximum of 3-4 errors. This means that careless errors are going to adversely affect your score.
Remember, the test maker is always trying to get one up on you. Questions (and answer choices) are designed specifically to trip you up.
Here is an example of a relatively simple GMAT question. Try solving it.
The sales tax on an item is 8%. If sales tax had been only 5% Ben would have paid $12 less sales tax. What was the total amount that Ben paid for the purchase
Now if on solving you got an answer of 400 and picked C, then you fell into a very well-laid trap.
Notice that the question does not ask us for the price of the item (which is 400). It asks us for the TOTAL AMOUNT that Ben paid for the purchase. The total amount will be the price of the item plus the sales tax (8% of 400 = 32).
The correct answer here is E.
On an adaptive test like the GMAT, making silly mistakes on problems that you should get right can have a devastating effect on your score. Not only do you get that question wrong, but now you’re being served easier questions subsequent to that, with an even more heightened necessity of avoiding silly mistakes there.
So, make it a point to notice the mistakes you make on practice tests so that you’re careful not to make them again. Particularly under time pressure in a high-stress environment, we’re all susceptible to making mistakes.
4. Identify Simpler Solutions
Every GMAT quant question has a certain finesse to it, a finesse that is engineered by the test-maker.
So, when preparing for the GMAT quant section, you must learn to think like the test-maker. Even when you are correct, spend time trying to understand if you could have done a problem faster.
Let us start explaining this concept with a GMATPrep question.
Take around two minutes to solve this one.
According to the directions on a can of frozen orange juice concentrate, 1 can of concentrate is to be mixed with 3 cans of water to make an orange juice. How many 12-ounce cans of concentrate are required to prepare 200 6-ounce servings of orange juice?
Take the ratio as 1:4 (concentrate: juice) and ask yourself how many 12-ounce cans of concentrate you would need to make 100 12-ounce servings of the juice. The answer is 25!
However, the same question can be convoluted if you take a ratio of concentrate to water instead of concentrate to juice or start converting everything into a single unit (ounce). Be careful of overcomplicating solutions.
5. Use Logic Over Math (Especially on Hard Questions)
One of the themes we always stress is that the GMAT Quant section is not, primarily, a math test.
Though math is certainly involved – How could it not be? – logic and reasoning are far more important factors than the conventional mathematical facility.
This is particularly true on harder questions on the test. Learn to hone your reasoning skills and always be on the lookout of critical pieces of information that you can leverage to make your working simpler.
Try this hard GMAT sample question:
In a certain class, 1/5th of the boys are shorter than the shortest girl in the class, and 1/3rd of the girls are taller than the tallest boy in the class. If there are 16 students in the class and no two people have the same height, what percent of the students are taller than the shortest girl and shorter than the tallest boy?
A large percentage of test-takers see this question, rub their hands together, and dive into the algebra.
But here’s the thing:
Even if you were fortunate enough to possess the algebraic virtuosity to solve this question using algebra, you’d likely chew up 3 or 4 minutes.
The best way to solve this question, instead, is to leverage the information the question stem provides.
1/5th of the boys are shorter than the shortest girl. Now, common sense tells you that the number of boys must be a multiple of 5. So, the number of boys can be 5, 10 or 15.
1/3rd of the girls are taller than the tallest boy in the class, so the number of girls needs to be a multiple of 3. By that logic, the number of girls can be 3, 6, 9, 12 and 15.
Since there are 16 students in total, we can easily conclude that there must be 10 boys and 6 girls. Beyond this, the question just deals with a basic percentage concept.
If you are wondering about the answer to the question – it is 62.5%.
Important Note: For those who answered 75%, you fell for the trap of not understanding what the question asks you. The question here reads, how many students are BETWEEN the shortest girl and the tallest boy. So, the number of students in between will be 10 and not 12.
6. Do Not Depend Only on the OG
Don’t rely only on the Official Guide.
As awesome a source as the OG is, it still caters to people in the middle of the bell curve, i.e., those who get around 40-44 as a GMAT quant raw score.
If you are gunning for a raw score of 51, you should be looking at GMATPrep questions available freely online from various sources. Try your hand at these threads on GMATClub for both PS and DS problems from the GMATPrep tests.
CrackVerbal students get a curated compilation of GMATPrep questions put together by our team (of course!)
Ensure that you take the GMATPrep tests a minimum of three to four times before you start practicing these questions; otherwise, you will get inflated and unreliable scores.
Another downside to relying on the official guide is this:
The explanations that accompany the questions tend to be biased towards algebraic solutions.
Before you begin to wonder what’s wrong with using algebra to solve an algebraic question, give us a moment to explain.
Quite often on the GMAT, using pure algebra takes longer than you have to solve a given question. In general, the GMAT is a test of your intelligence, not your knowledge. This means that the test is trying to evaluate how smart you are, not how much you know.
Thanks to this, although the given algebraic solutions are always technically correct, they present suboptimal ways to solve the question.
That’s why we offer this important piece of advice:
Never take a formal solution to a problem at face value. All you’re seeing is one way to solve a given question, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only (or the best) way there is.
The best workaround in this situation is to review the questions on GMATClub or on the CrackVerbal forum and take notes about alternate approaches used to solve the question.
7. Never be Rigid with Techniques
The whole point of reviewing questions using GMATClub or the CrackVerbal forum is to bring to light new techniques that can help you solve questions faster.
Let’s take a sample question and review the various methods we can use to solve it:
If |4x − 4| = |2x + 30|, which of the following could be a value of x?
As far as we can see, this question can be solved using 3 methods.
The first method is to use pure algebra: create 4 different equations and solve every one of them to get the solution.
Clearly, this method is tedious.
So we look for an easier way, which is to use the “plug-in” method. Here, you have the absolute value equation with the potential values of x given in the answer choices, but the values of x that are given are all fractional, making this method tedious as well.
A third, faster method is to be aware that |x| = √x^2.
The above equation can be written as √(4x – 4)^2 = √(2x + 30)^2. Squaring both sides gives us (4x – 4)^2 = (2x + 30)^2. If we take the term (2x + 30)^2 to the left-hand side, we have an equation of the form a^2 – b^2 which can easily be broken down to (a + b) (a – b). If we solve this, we get x = -13/3 and x = 17.
So, the answer to the question is option C, x = -13/3.
Make it a point to take notes of these techniques and try putting them to practice on different questions.
8. Master Data Sufficiency
Data Sufficiency questions generally make up just under half of the questions in GMAT quant. Since there are 31 questions in the Quant section, about 14/15 of them will be data sufficiency questions.
Simply put, the DS section of the GMAT is different.
It’s different because you aren’t trying to solve for one answer. Instead, your goal is to test for sufficiency. That means you’re trying to determine whether you’ve been provided enough information to definitively answer the question stem.
Since you are not required to get down and dirty with the math, these questions are time savers.
But, on the flip side, since this question type relies heavily on reasoning, the chances of getting the logic wrong and falling for well-laid traps is high. It is important that you master this question type if you want to improve your GMAT quant score.
Here are a few points that will help you approach DS questions better:
- Write out all the important information in the question stem, whether it be certain constraints (integer, pos/neg etc.), equations, or the actual question. This helps avoid silly mistakes.
- Always break down and rephrase any equations, inequalities, fractions etc. For example, try to write expressions with exponents in such a way that all the bases are the same, or whenever you see a sum with a root contained in it, try to multiply by its conjugate.
- Always translate word problems on DS into an algebraic equation. There will most likely be an opportunity to break this equation down further and rephrase the question. This skill is key as it saves time in computing the two statements.
- Never try to prove a statement to be sufficient. Always try to prove insufficiency. Being a contrarian on DS questions will help you avoid well-laid traps.
- Never make assumptions. On most questions where there aren’t any constraints given, people sometimes still assume that there is some constraint and thus only test integer cases. By really paying attention to what is given and what is NOT given, you can find the correct answer on a lot of questions.
- Never eliminate a statement just because you ‘feel’ the statement is insufficient. This is a very common DS trap. Especially with quadratic expressions, people assume the data is insufficient since they can’t find a single solution. This is a big mistake. Always finish your calculation, because you don’t want to spend a lot of time on a question and end up being wrong just because you skipped the last step(s) of the calculation.
- In questions where you are forced to work with numbers, always test numbers systematically. Test for 0, positive and negative integers and positive and negative fractions. On some occasions, it’s also crucial to pick boundary values, for e.g. if a question asks whether x is less than or equal to 1 and a statement gives you x² less than or equal to 1.3, you can pick x=1.1 to prove insufficiency.
We hope you have found this blog useful to improve your GMAT quant score. Do let us know what you think in the comments section below!
What is the best way to study vocabulary for GRE?
This is probably the most frequently asked question among GRE test-takers, one that everyone wishes they had an answer to.
Fear not, for we are here to help! In this blog, we will discuss the most common mistakes and misconceptions about GRE vocabulary and then give you some highly effective resources and strategies to build vocabulary for the GRE.
So, first off, let’s address the elephant in the room!
Is GRE Vocabulary all about mugging up words?
A huge misconception that students have about preparing for GRE vocabulary is that it is all about mugging up words.
It must’ve taken some serious “creativity” for someone at the UP Ministry of Tourism to approve this ad on Twitter:
This is a classic example of why mugging up dictionary meanings of new words simply doesn’t work.
As part of a graduate program – a Master’s or an MBA – you are required to not only read a lot of journals and books but also to write lengthy theses and project reports. You need to be clear, crisp, and concise in the words you choose.
For this, you need to understand words in context. And that is what the GRE is meant to test.
How Context Matters
What is the difference between “John is firm” and “John is obstinate”?
“Firm” and “obstinate” have meanings that are very similar, yet, the first statement carries approval whereas the second is criticizing John. The meanings are similar but there is a huge difference in the tone.
Context almost always affects the meaning of the words themselves and this is the stuff that the GRE expects you to know and be able to judge while reading or writing in English.
Expertise in Verbal Reasoning becomes very important when you try to get your work published in a scientific journal – it has to be ready for scrutiny by Ph.D. holders who have spent more time reading books than you have spent binge-watching “Game of Thrones”!
This brings us to the next elephant (or wait, is it a hippo?) in the room.
What is wrong with preparing from GRE word lists?
We have had students who come to us and say “I’ve learned words until “P”!
There are two sections on the GRE that test you on words and their meanings: Sentence Equivalence (SE) and Text Completion (TC). Both these sections test you on the nuances in meaning, and simply knowing the meanings by heart will not help you with that.
Here’s what’s wrong with using word lists for GRE vocabulary building:
- Lack of Context
Yes, we’re stressing on this yet again. Word lists do not provide any context whatsoever, which seriously compromises your ability to answer the kind of questions the GRE will pose.
Every vocabulary-intensive question on the GRE will require you to pick the correct words with reference to the context they’re in. If you’ve only learned from word lists for GRE vocabulary, this isn’t something you’ll be able to get through easily.
- Isolated Definitions
Some words have definitions that are of no help whatsoever. Here’s an example.
This is the definition of Transcended according to WordWeb:
“Be greater in scope or size than some standard”
Does it make sense to you? Not to us!
Now, let’s take a look at the same word in context:
“Dante embodied all the learning and thought of his age and transcended them: he went far ahead of all his predecessors, contemporaries, and successors.”
Dante went over and beyond what his contemporaries were doing, so he was greater than the “standard”.
Does that definition make sense now? In case we haven’t stressed it enough already: Context matters, even just to understand a definition!
- Alphabetical Order and Retention Power
Every word list presents words in alphabetical order, so by the time you’ve reached words beginning with “B”, you’ll begin forgetting what you’d learned under “A”. This is because alphabetical orders present no pattern at all.
The human mind is wired to learn and remember new things by connecting them with the information it already has. By learning from a word list, you’re creating zero connections between what you already know and what you’re learning now.
Not much of that will be retained!
It’s always safe to assume that you WILL come across words you don’t know when you’re taking the GRE. Even so, it is understandable that you’d want to learn as many new words as you can in a short span of time. If you still feel like GRE word lists will help you, read our post on why they won’t.
How To Build Your GRE Vocabulary Quickly
In an ideal world, you should be building your vocabulary through years of exposure to good quality reading such as The Economist and The New York Times. Vocabulary building needs to be deep and meaningful.
However, this is not an ideal world, and you are probably worried because your vocabulary isn’t exactly great. What do you do?
3 GRE Vocabulary Building Strategies
There are no less than three super effective strategies you can employ to build your vocabulary quickly for the GRE.
#1 Learn New Words Through Grouping
As we’ve said before, people are wired to learn and remember new information by linking it to what we already know. Grouping is one way to form associations between words so that you can remember their meanings and connotations.
- “Juggernaut”, “guru”, “avatar”, “jungle”, “bungalow” – the list can go on. These are all words with Indian origins.
- “Procrustean”, “narcissism”, “mercurial”, “herculean”, “plutocracy” – English words with Greek origins.
This is grouping by origins. You can find your own ways to group words, in whatever manner suits you, like ‘words related to the Church’ or ‘words related to medicine’. One other interesting technique is to group words by “inclines.”
When you classify words by inclines, you place two words at two ends of the spectrum and study the words in between. This could be in increasing order of intensity, or it could be from one opposite to the other.
- Annoyance, irritation, anger, rage, fury – increasing order of intensity.
- Malevolent, truculent, irascible, imperturbable, equanimous – opposite to opposite
For more, read our post on using grouping for GRE vocabulary.
#2 Learn Words Using Roots
A lot of words in the English language are derived from other languages. Often, a variety of words come from the same root word.
Learning root words and their meanings does not only help you remember more words better, but it also allows you to make more accurate, educated guesses when the time comes.
Here are some examples:
- “Chronos” is the Greek god of time. So, “chronograph” means a device to measure time with (a clock or watch), “chronological” means arranged by the time of occurrence, “chronic” means something that persists for a long time or keeps recurring.
- “Anthropos” is also a Greek word; it means ‘man’ or ‘human being’. So, “anthropomorphic” means suggesting human-like characteristics for animals or inanimate objects, “anthropology” is the study of humans and their societal relations, “philanthropy” is the love of mankind and a “philanthropist” is one who makes charitable donations for the greater human good.
Another benefit of learning new words via roots is that some of the words you already know will suddenly make more sense.
Additionally, you can always branch out from one word root to another – for example, “philos” from “philanthropist” means “love”, which leads to “philosophy” which is “philos” (love) + “sofia” (knowledge).
Do you see how a Doctorate in Philosophy basically goes to say that the holder of a Ph.D. loves studying the subject they’ve done a Ph.D. in?
For more, read our post on using word roots for GRE vocabulary.
#3 Learn New Words Through Mnemonics
A simpler way to say this is, learn words by associating them with pictures.
You may have gathered that a mnemonic is a picture that acts as a cue for your memory, helping you remember words associated with it.
We remember the things we see better than the things we read.
Besides, the number of senses we use to understand an idea or a word determines how easily we will remember it.
For example, you’ll remember things better if you read things out aloud – does it suddenly make more sense that your school teachers made you read your multiplication tables out aloud?
Anyway, the idea is, the more information you associate with a given word, the likelier it is that you will remember the word.
Mnemonics for GRE, otherwise known as GRE flashcards, exploit this basic fact to help you trick your brain into learning and remembering a lot of new words very quickly.
CrackVerbal’s GRE Flashcards are specially designed to incorporate humor into the imagery they create because human brains will retain more information that is entertaining.
(Yeah, that’s why you remember so many completely random and fairly useless things but find it hard to recall what’s in your GRE word list.)
For more, read our post on using mnemonics for GRE vocabulary.
In spite of all this, as we’ve said before – no matter how many words you learn in preparation for the GRE vocabulary section, you WILL encounter words you’ve never seen before.
This is because, to be honest, the words you’ll find in the GRE will not exactly be the kind you may encounter in daily life or popular culture.
Chandler and Ross may use some unusual words on occasion in “F.R.I.E.N.D.S.” but watching the show is NOT going to be enough to help you with your GRE.
So how do you deal with it when you do come across completely new words?
The key is not to become too dependent on REMEMBERING words but to understand the ones you learn. That way, when you encounter new words during the exam, you can at least eliminate your way to the right answer.
Remember that guessing on the GRE is not only a good idea but it is also something we recommend for a variety of reasons.
However, we do not mean blind guessing. Here’s what you should do instead:
Make an educated guess from time to time – and employing these vocabulary building strategies for your GRE preparation will definitely start you off in the right direction for that.
We hope you found this article helpful.
Do let us know if you have any questions or doubts in the comments section below!
Feel free to follow any of the links in this article for more.
One question that frequently pops up in a MBA aspirant’s mind is – ‘How do I go about choosing the right MBA program?’
This is probably the second most important decision of your life, after the one you make about whom to marry! ☺
In terms of your commitment, an MBA costs you 1 to 2 years, and between 50 lacs to 1 crore on an average ( including opportunity costs).
The difficulty of choosing the right MBA program is further aggravated by the fact that all the brochures and websites look the same and talk the same language!
But let us begin with a more fundamental question –
Why would anyone do an MBA?
There are two reasons we keep hearing again and again:
My job sucks: Many of us are stuck in jobs we don’t enjoy. Maybe the work is boring, maybe there is no easy way up, maybe we just want to start over. An MBA seems like a very alluring ticket out of boredom.
I want to make more money: For good or bad, we live in a capitalist market – and a lot of us seem to want to make more money and retire rich. An MBA seems like a good option to achieve this end.
But, these are reasons you would ( should not) not put down in your application.
If you were to look deeper, beyond just money, there are many valid, real reasons why an MBA will help your career.
In some positions, in order for you to reach a particular position, it is mandatory to have an MBA. If you look at a typical IT profile, you eventually become a project manager because of your skills. But after that, becoming a delivery manager or a VP is not as easy. What has taken you so far may not be enough to take you forward. What does it take to be successful at the start of your career? You need to be smart, hardworking and show results. After a point, once you reach middle management, you will realise that everyone else on the table has similar traits which is what bought them there. At this stage, an MBA could be your differentiator.
This is applicable for people who are still in the early stages of their career. ‘I got into IT, because there is no option but to do engineering- the only companies worth paying something those days were IT companies. When I looked at the package, I didn’t think I would end up doing mundane work. But now with experience, when I look forward, the future looks really bleak, my potential lies in something else.’
Does that sound like you?
An MBA gives you the pedestal to reach out to another career.
It’s not easy to switch careers after a certain number of professional years have passed. If you have 10 years of experience and you’re 32, your chances of breaking into the financial belt are slim. In fact, it may not be worth it because after 10 years of experience, you don’t want to start at the bottom of the ladder once again. But if you are aiming to shift your career after 2-3 years of working in one area, an MBA fits the bill perfectly.
An MBA is not really going to make you an expert in anything. Knowledge is important but how much of what you learnt in school or college do you remember? Probably very little. When you go to a Bschool, you have a better appreciation and perspective of the business world, but in terms of pure cold knowledge, you won’t learn much that you can’t learn from a book.
B-schools don’t want you to be an expert or manager, but a leader- a CEO. You’ll have a lot of people reporting to a CEO- HR, Sales & Marketing, Finance. On an average, the span of control of a CEO is not more than 6 reportees. The idea is that each one of them manages the entire vertical by themselves.
For example, in the technology field, is the CEO expected to understand technology and argue with the techie on why a particular architecture should be in that way? No. He only needs to understand what is the cloud and how it will affect the total cost of ownership of his solution, how to implement or leverage IT for whatever he’s doing.
Similarly, if you deal with Sales, you just can’t go and say to your salespeople “My next target for you is 5 million dollars.” They will tell you how the market is poor and give you dozens of reasons as to why the target can’t be met. As a CEO, can you stand, look eye to eye and say, “these are the numbers and this is how we’re going to do it. “
Take finance for example. This guy has a truck load of charted accountants working for him. Are you going to say that you know more accounting than him? Probably not right? However, you do need to know enough of finance, you need to know how equity is raised in a company, how underlying money is being utilised and so on. You need to know how to read a balance sheet and recognize patterns in it.
If you look at HR, one of the toughest jobs that a CEO has is the mandate that is usually given when he enters the company. The morale of the company is very low and you are expected to charge them to have a high performance team. It’s like you went to college, got 50000 graduates who have no clue why they’re there, put them on bench and you’re expected to somehow magically transform them on how they see the company and how they see the future. But that’s a challenge right. Sometimes the HR would say, “There’s no need to worry, some other company is having a 20% acquisition. We can have a 17% acquisition.” The right question to ask at this point would be, “Why should our company have 17% acquisition? “
So coming to the point, an MBA at best, is a general management program teaching you cross functional skills. It is not expected to make you an expert in any one field. You need to be a generalist rather than a specialist – this is the knowledge that an MBA imparts to you.
This is a word you keep hearing. So what is networking? Do I go to a B-school to build my network? How do I measure it? Do I measure it by the number of people that I add on Facebook? Or the number of connections I’ve made in LinkedIn?
I think a lot of people have a misconception that networking is the number of people that you directly know. But it’s not that. The way in which you need to probably look at this is how many people do you know who in turn know people who are important enough.
If I were to give an analogy, you are surrounded by 10 other powerful people who have large networks. If you have 500 such connections and each of them in turn have 500 connections, you actually have 250000 connections- the actual reach you can access.
How do I know each of these guys? Here’s the good news. When you graduate from a top B-school, the whole world acts like an old boys’ school association- that’s the truth. People like you not because they know you but because you went to the same school. How many times has it happened to us that we meet someone who happens to come from the same city as we do, or went to the same school and the first conversation that you strike up is “Hey, so good to see you. What happened to that guy? That teacher we had? Which dorm were you living in? and so on.
So the point is, people know you only because you graduated from the same school. They don’t know you because you added them on Facebook or LinkedIn. But eventually, if you were to add them – if you tell them you’re an alumnus from Stanford, they would become your friend. Now, how do you leverage that? Let’s say you’re a businessman. There are 180 places where HBS has an alumni association. If you go to Botswana and you want to set up your business over there, you just need to go to HBS Botswana chapter and you’ll probably find a couple of people who are going to help you deal with the government and the local policies.
Of course you need to know people, but it’s important to know people who are in turn powerful.
What does brand equity mean? It means the recognition or the value of your title. Let’s assume you were to come across someone who has an MBA from a top school – the moment you hear that the person has an MBA from Stanford, you automatically confer a high level of intelligence and smartness upon that person that would otherwise take a person a few months to prove.
A lot of times I’ve seen that in consulting when there is a client case, the manager would come in and say “Hey, we got the new associate on role. Don’t worry he’s a smart guy- he’s an MBA from Harvard.” The moment they say this to the client, the client is assured. He assumes that he’s perhaps got one on the best minds to work on his case. So brand equity definitely helps.
This is a question that usually comes when people have accumulated more than a few years of experience. Usually self-growth occurs when you start working- you spend a couple of years of doing the same thing. And then, one day you wake up and say- “Hey, you know what? I don’t want to wake up to the sound of the buzzing alarm and the grind of the traffic and get to work and sit in this little cubicle tucked away somewhere in some corner of my company’s premise. I’m looking for something a lot more fulfilling in my life.”
An MBA helps you take out 2 years of your life and give time to yourself. This is something that a lot of people won’t accept readily, but I think it’s a great way to think about an MBA. So think about all the financial instruments that you’ve invested when you probably started your career. Think of fixed deposits, think of the stock market.
Probably, the only financial instrument, if I could call that one, is your career. The biggest investment that you want to make is in yourself which is why self- growth is a very important aspect.
Probably the last time you had the freedom to learn and grow on your own time was when you were in college. At that point of time, you had the independence, but you did not have a perspective. Now, when you’re working, you have the perspective, but unfortunately you do not have the independence and the time.
What an MBA does is it gives you that independence along with the perspective because the next time that you’re going to get the same independence for a year or two is probably after 35 years – after you retire.
Change of Geography-
You have lived in India, worked in India and India’s been all that you have known, but let’s say you now want to go and work in the US. But, you don’t want to work as an entry level programmer and the chances of going through an Indian company through L1 seem to be very slim.
Whether you want to go to Singapore, Europe or the US, an MBA gives you an opportunity to explain to them that you’ve been in this culture for the last 2 years and you’ve have taken so much course work, you’ve worked with peers and professors, all of whom understand this culture. The entry-level barrier drops steeply when you have studied in the country you want to work in.
Choosing the right MBA program
Post MBA Goals-
The first thing you want to ask yourself is what is it that you want to do post your MBA? Can you specify which country you want to work, which industry you want to work in, what is the kind of title you’re looking at. It is very important that you look at your post-MBA goals and fit in the MBA program that will help you realise your goals. For example, if I want to be a consultant at McKinsey and I end up going to a B-school where McKinsey does not even come for interviews, then the chances of getting into McKinsey are next to zero. Be clear about your post MBA goals and how your MBA program fits into it.
1-year v/s 2-year courses-
The second question that I keep hearing a lot is whether I should go for a one-year program or a 2-year program. According to me, if you’re above 30, if you’re married, have kids, you already invested in a house, then probably a one year is meant for you.
If you’re 24, you have a couple of years of college experience and you don’t have any liabilities, probably you should be looking at a 2-year program. Especially if you’re deciding on a career change, a 2-year course is always preferable over a 1-year program.
Is there a thumb rule or a way in which I can decide whether one year is better or 2 years is better? It’s like neither is better- it’s just a question of where you are. It’s a very subjective question. Usually what happens is, the people who are struggling with this question would be 28, about to get married – they are just around the threshold- they are not 22 and unmarried. Nor are they 32 and married with kids- they are somewhere in between – this zone is where the confusion is.
2 years is more expensive but you also have an opportunity to do your internship- it’s a lot easier on you mentally because you have time to assimilate the course. One year is obviously going to be relatively inexpensive because you finish it off in half the time but one complaint that I’ve heard from a lot of people who did a one-year course is that it got over so fast that they wished they had more time. So it’s a call that you need to take.
The third thing is that you need to also be very clear on the Geography. As I mentioned earlier, that if you want to work in the US, then probably you shouldn’t be doing an Indian MBA or MBA in Europe and vice versa. If you want to eventually work in India, why would you want to do an MBA from the US? So the question eventually becomes- India vs Foreign MBA.
Should I apply for ISB or Greatlakes or XLRI v/s should I apply for a top b-school abroad? According to me there are pros and cons so let’s look at the pros and then the cons.
So what works for an Indian MBA is – Most of the times you have a non-collateral loop- for example if you get into ISB, you probably have 8-9 nationalised banks waiting for you. You just have to hand over your degree certificates and whatever else they require to give you a complete loan for the course.
When you are to apply to a foreign b-school, it is a little tougher for you to get the loan. So, that’s one thing that you need to consider.
All your experience and education has been in India which means that your maximum network is in India and there are maximum chances for you to get a job. Because if you think about it, this is a culture that you understand, this is a culture that you very readily fit in and people know you. So that I think works for an Indian B-school.
I’m assuming that if you’re going to be applying to an Indian b-school, you’re an Indian citizen, then you don’t need to really worry about visa. Whereas if you were to look at the schools abroad, that usually becomes a very big problem.
If you go to US, while you’re studying there, you have an S1 visa. Post that, for a period of 12-24 months, it’s called the Optional training period (OTP) during which time you have to find an employer who can give you an H1B1 visa- H1is the work permit.
About 3 years ago, I used to think that UK is probably the easiest place for you to go post MBA to get a job but that has changed. They used to have something called as HSMP – Highly skilled migration program which is now being scrapped and now it is almost very tough. It is very hard to get a visa post your MBA in UK. So things keep changing.
On the flip side, here’s what works for an International b-school
So IIM and ISB, these are all great brands within India, but the fact is if you look at the global arena, it cannot really beat the brand equity that a Harvard or a Stanford or a Wharton MBA has. It is almost like a global passport that will take you anywhere that you want.
The second thing you need to consider for a foreign MBA is that most of these MBA’s – they have various departments. You can optionally take courses across these departments. So the variety of electives that they offer is mind boggling if you go to say, one of these top schools.
So Harvard means you also have access to Harvard law, it means you also have access to Harvard medicine and the alumni base of these institutes is huge. Every year Harvard churns out 1000 MBA’s and maybe 10-20000 other different streams which means that over a period of time because these schools are 100 years old, the kind of depth that you have in alumni in terms of internationalisation is pretty huge.
The third part that probably works for them is that it is really a passport to a global career and you have a very international mix. Lot of people want to do an MBA because they want exposure to different perspectives.
Although Indian b-schools have little variety in that sense, that they take people from different backgrounds, its predominantly Indians. If you go to an IIM or PGPX or if you go to an ISB, you can be guaranteed that majority are going to be Indians, but not true for example, a school called IMD in Switzerland- they have a batch of around 90 students and usually the nationalities represented are between 45-50 and even of the others, it is not necessarily an Indian staying in India. It could be an Indian staying in Singapore or US.
So the kind of diversity that you have in terms of culture is probably a lot more when you look at a foreign MBA.
Though it might sound a little contradictory to what I said earlier which is that MBA is a general management programme that provides you with a cross- functional exposure, the fact is you don’t become a CEO by becoming a deputy CEO or becoming associate CEO. There are no titles like associate CEO or deputy CEO. You essentially are going to end up becoming a CTO or Senior VP Sales or CFO or COO in order to become the CEO.
So MBA will essentially help you rise along these individual growth paths. So that’s what an MBA does, it helps you reach the pinnacle of these individual growth paths before you eventually end up thinking of becoming a CEO. If I were to choose between specialisation/expertise and the school ranking, I would probably choose school rankings.
For example, a school called Babson in the US specialises in entrepreneurship. If I get a choice between Babson and MIT, I would still go in for MIT because even if they don’t have a proclaimed specialisation, I know for a fact that MIT in terms of the brand, in terms of the network, in terms of the infrastructure and facilities would give me a far greater reach than Babson.
Just to give an idea, if I were to take all the companies that were started by MIT graduates and if that were to be a country, it would have the 5th largest GDP in the world. So you can imagine the size of something like MIT. But all things being equal, you know for a fact that Kellogg is good in marketing, you know that Columbia is good in finance, Wharton is good in finance, etc.
So there are some stereo typical specialisations that we want to consider which is aligned with what we plan to do.
This is one thing where you’ll have to be conscious. It is important that you do that and try to ask yourself, “Is this the class I really want to be in? Do I want these classmates to be the ones who I’m going to spend one or two years with?”
I’ll give a very simple example. Take IIM PGPX- the average age is 34 years and when you compare it with Stanford, the average age is 24. So not only do I have a question mark whether I’ll get into a program where the average age is a lot lower than my age, but I also want to know if I want to sit with people who are 34 and more mature, who probably can understand the conversation, who have the depth of experience that I have rather than with people who are just starting off their career- they are also equally smart.
On the other hand, if you’re 25, you probably want to sit in a class where the average age is around your age rather than sit with a bunch of oldies- if I could call 34 year olds that. Make sure your profile is fitting into what the school has to offer because at the end of the day, it’s what you learn from them which is more important and a coronary to that is also accepted. So be very clear that you don’t end up applying to 5 schools which are going to be very picky.
If I’m going to apply only to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg and MIT, then I’m going to tell myself that with my profile I may get in but there is a chance that I may not get in – in which case I choose not to do an MBA.
But if you’re very clear that you want to do an MBA this year and you’re ok to go to beyond the top 5 or 10, just pick 3 categories:
Dream schools– Schools that you really dream of getting into. E.g.: Harvard, Wharton’s
Reach category– I can get there, It’s a stretch but I can get there.
Safe category– Now what happens is its easy for me to get in but the question I have to ask myself is “Do I want to get in? Do I want to be in that school?” It’s very important that you don’t lay all your eggs in the same basket.
Typical Post MBA Career Paths
Product management & Marketing
Project & Delivery management
Hedge Fund & PE
Just one thing, be careful not to confuse IT consulting with strategy consulting. These are 2 different things so when you look at IT consulting, it is where the Accenture’s of the world come in and strategy consulting is where the Bains and McKinseys of the world come in. So they are slightly different in that orientation.
So lot of IT guys end up doing one of the 3 things. If you get to be the product manager of Microsoft or Google or any of these awesome IT companies that have pure product management or delivery management roles, you will end up taking care of large turnkey projects or you could get into IT consulting where typically you’re working with enterprise software such as CRM or SCM or ERP.
When it comes to finance, it requires a lot of background work to get into hedge funds, PE and venture capital. You need to very well networked and you already need to know key people before you get into a b-school.
But investment management and investment banking are two areas that you can get in; it requires a lot of quantitative skills especially something like investment banking which will require you to structure these but with obviously a knowledge of finance.
With regards to entrepreneurship, people ask if they should do an MBA before they get into a start-up. My personal opinion is probably not. You don’t want to start a business with a 100k loan on your head.
But if entrepreneurship is few years down the line then I definitely think you should consider it because that time your student loan would have gone, you would have got significant experience and built your network and you know exactly what you’re getting into . That’s also the right time to leverage the brand equity of your MBA.
I think sales has a lot to do with personality. So just ask yourself if you’re cut off on a sales role. Can you handle the pressure of taking a monthly quota, quarter after quarter? If that’s you, then an MBA is a great way to get into sales.
Marketing has digital marketing, offline, PR- there’s a whole bunch of things that come under marketing so these are all valid post-MBA careers.
You need to be very clear on what is it that you’re planning to do and how do I actually get there. These are 2 questions you need to ask yourself.
North American Schools
Land of opportunities
In North America the economy is still great. If you think about it, all the top IT companies, great product and service companies are there. It’s a land of opportunities- you really get a break, you can rise as far as your potential can take you. Not many countries can say that but the US and Canada can help you do that. It has great schools that has helped build MBA so they know what they’re talking.
M-7: Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, Sloan, Columbia, Booth, Kellogg
Top: Haas, Darden, Fuqua, Ross, Tuck, Duke
Mid: Marshall, Kelly, Krannert
Canada: Richard Ivey, Schulich, Rotman
Most of the programs in US are 2 year programs, whereas in Canada there are some great one year programs. In fact, in US I think there are only 3 programs which are 1 year- top programs like Cornell, which offers a one-year program for those who have a master’s degree. Then you have Kellogg which offers a one-year program if you’ve already completed a set of prerequisites. And you have Emory which provides you a one-year program if you have the relevant experience and background.
Closer to home
It helps since these schools are closer to home. Some of them are advanced countries but still growing. So lot of growth options are there. It is relatively inexpensive but it’s not going to be less than 20 lakhs or so.
Australia: Melbourne Business School, AGSM Sydney
Singapore: NUS, NTU
Others: HKUST Hongkong, AIM Manila, CEIBES China
Schools in Australia like MBS have started an accelerated one-year program. Other than NUS and NTU, SUM in Singapore is also there for people with a slightly higher level of experience.
One question that a lot of people ask is, “How good is AIM Manila?” The point is you can’t ask a very objective question. There is nothing like how good or how bad. It is subjective- what is it that you want to do? If it helps achieve your career goal, it’s a great school but if it doesn’t help achieve your goal, either you have to reset your expectations or you have to choose a different school.
So instead of asking that, ask yourself what is it that you want out of a program and whether the program will be able to deliver it. None of the programs can guarantee anything. There is nothing like 100% guarantee.
You will have a reasonably safe probability that you’ll end up doing something. So if you go to Harvard, you can have reasonably good probability that not now, but 10 years down the line the brand equity will help repay the loan.
Easier work permits
Great culture/ quality of life
What has changed over the past few years is the easy work permit. It isn’t as easy as it was earlier. It has a great culture. Just imagine, SDA Bacconi is in Italy- who doesn’t want to spend 2 years of their life in Italy – going to Rome and Milan and all these nice places.
Top: IMD, INSEAD, LBS
Mid: SAID, Judge
Others: SDA Baconni, Rotterdam, Eramus, IESE, ESADE, HEC
A lot of people ask if INSEAD is a Singapore college or French college. The idea is, INSEAD started its campus in France and even now the admission happens out of France. You can choose whether you want to be part of the French or Singapore campus. But you have to be good enough to get into INSEAD in the first place. So I’ll still put it as a European school.
The reason I put SAID Oxford and Judge Cambridge as mid-tier schools is not because they are mediocre. They are awesome schools- think about the brand that they carry. They carry the brand of Oxford and Cambridge – this is as gold plated brands you can possibly get.
Plus, they offer a one-year program if you’re interested. Probably what works against them is right now the economy and the fact that these are relatively US Schools. Oxford has been there since 1300 or 1400s, but these schools have started relatively recently so in terms of the alumni penetration and a lot of other things, they are probably not up there as some of the top US b-schools are.
IIM A PGPX
IIM B EPGP
IIM C PGPEX
IIM L PGDX
IIM B PGSEM
On our website, we have listed all the programs which take GMAT score, so you might want to check that list because this list constantly keeps getting updated as more and more schools have started to accept GMAT scores. ISB and the PGPX programmes offered by most of the top IIMs are pretty much the most preferred schools.
XLRI has a great 1-year general management programme. GLAKES started GLIMS- Great Lakes Institute of Management Studies, a one-year program in Chennai. SP Jain has an international global MBA with one campus in Dubai and another one in Singapore, so you actually get an option to do it in Dubai or Singapore.
You also have a part time course offered by IIM Bangalore called PGSEM, so those of you who have a few years’ experience and are okay with a part time MBA, would want to consider this. The forms of this are already out for this year and the deadline is around December and they take GMAT or CAT scores.
You can google for Businessweek MBA rankings or check the financial times for the current year rankings. With this list, you would be able to think about where is it that you should apply.
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