Category Archives: GMAT

Google Veterans Summit, Spring Break, Second Semester Wrap-Up

1. For all of you interested in tech, I have to advise you to apply to the Google Student Veterans Summit because that is probably the best shot you have at getting into Google. Google is famous for minimum GPA requirement and I think this is one way around it.

2. I loved Spring break and I highly advise that you go on whatever Spring break trips that your school has planned out. It is one of the best ways to learn other people at your MBA program. In fact, try to get on a trip with people that you don’t really know because by your second semester, you get so sick of networking and trying to meet new people, but you have to keep going.

3. Taking a step back from the fray, it is easy to see why people advocate going for consulting and banking recruiting in the fall so you can chill in the Spring while your other peers are busy recruiting. I have recommended doing consulting and/or banking recruiting even if you don’t want to do consulting and/or banking because of the networking skills you gain. You become a pro and if you recruit for other disciplines, you will definitely stand out.

 

More thoughts on GI Bill for Graduate School

One semester down and I’ve been already received $47,387.35 in benefits. The GI Bill rocks. So for all of you academy grads out there who are deciding whether or not to stay in for an extra few months to get 35%, DO it.

When you see the 36 months advertised by the GI Bill it is actually more like 4 years because you are not in school during the whole calendar year. This means that for those of you who are interested in doing a 3-4 year joint-degree, you can max out the GI Bill. Although I don’t advise going down that route (basically the JD-MBA).

Generally speaking, most of you are looking at the traditional 2-year full-time MBA program and I’m a huge advocate of the traditional 2-year full-time MBA program. You will exhaust roughly half of your GI Bill on this and I think you should put the remaining 18 months to good use.

Since you have so much time to use the GI Bill, I personally would consider going for a one-year mid-career policy degree (MPA/MPP) after a few years of working experience, if my career permits a one-year break. That would still leave a good 10 months of GI Bill left, assuming 8 months in an academic year.

What to do with the remaining 8 months? Don’t forget about the certification, licensing, and national exams! The Chartered Financial Analyst program is the most expensive to attempt (and possibly the hardest to pass) so I think it is great that the GI Bill gives you some cushion to try.

I read all over the place about the supposed “$1,460 = 1 month” equation in terms of how much benefit the tests will reduce, i.e. if your test costs exactly $1,460, it will remove 1 month of benefits from your 36 total. However, I haven’t actually found anything official from the VA that states that yet, so I’m going to submit a reimbursement in the next few weeks for the CFA and the GMAT and see how much benefits it reduces.

Done with the GMAT (700). CFA, you’re next!

Nothing feels better than chucking your CFA in the trash (recycling bin of course). I was aiming for a 720 but I got a 700, so no complaints here as I’ve broken the “elusive 700 barrier” that MBA programs say they don’t care about but they obviously do. The only bad news is that this is only a minor increase from my 680 from 2 years ago, however I did dramatically increase my quant section, which was weak. I’ll send the score along with a career update to my waitlisted schools and see how it goes.

 

I must admit that I did meet the most incompetent test center administrator today. I was the tenth person to show up at 7:40 AM for a 8:00 AM scheduled exam. I didn’t get in until 8:30 AM because the administrator didn’t know how to use the camera to take our pictures. Wow. And the guy sitting next to me waiting had the craziest case of sniffles – it was kind of gross. He kept sniffing like my dog. Anyways. One thing I regret not practicing enough is time management on the quant section, I basically guessed the last 4 questions and if I managed my time better, I had a good shot at 720 or above. On the verbal, I had 25 minutes left at the end which meant I could probably do better and didn’t have to rush through the early part. I had so much time left for the last 10 questions, I literally played out every scenario in my mind and I think that helped me.

 

I also want to mention that I completely skipped the writing section since I’m a published writer and the MBA programs know that already. So in my particular section, I didn’t need the writing section to calm my nerves or to expend unnecessary brain power on something that is kind of funny if you think about it – a computer grading a writing assessment. You get a 8 minute break between sections but I felt pretty good about everything and took 2 minutes to get over the fact that I guessed the last 4 on the quant and went straight at the verbal.

 

I took a Veritas prep course for $1,500+ and I have to say that the money was pretty well justified (even if it was only for a 20 point increase) just because of gaining a better philosophy for test taking. Furthermore, I could have just gotten lucky the first time (680) as I wasn’t really studying in Afghanistan.

 

I’ll have more reflections after the CFA tomorrow. Speaking of the CFA, for the past week, I’ve been reading the Schweser tri-fold when I wake up and before I sleep. It is a great overview of everything that is covered on the CFA exam

Final Preparations for the GMAT/CFA

About five months ago I decided to do what I thought was a foolish thing to do: take the GMAT and CFA  back to back. Five months later, I can confirm that that was a stupid mistake. It’s kind of like saying I figured out that the stove is hot after touching it. One’s brain has only so much capacity and there isn’t much overlap between both tests besides elementary statistics, and the GMAT doesn’t even have that much if any.

Anyways, as we enter the home stretch, I just want to rehash what to do and more importantly, what not to do during the last week. The most important fact for both tests is that the studying should be done by now. Cramming at this point can only have minimal success, unless you go to a week-long boot camp or something.

For the GMAT, the four things that you could improve is:

1) Fundamentals: Right triangles, inscribed angles, things that you will forget after you take the GMAT because nobody uses it in real life

2) GMAT-specific strategy: No other tests have data sufficiency type questions

3) Anxiety: GMAT is the only computer adaptive test that I know of – which means if you are doing well, you should be feeling pretty bad as the questions get harder

4) Dealing with complexity: Take simple tasks/questions and obfuscate them with words. How else are you going to make simple algebra and grammar challenging?

For the CFA, I recommend you just taking the mock exam and studying every question you get wrong. What I noticed is that every question I got wrong on this mock exam was the same type of question I got wrong on the last CFA exam, which means I didn’t focus on my weak areas.

I would continue to do practice questions for both exam up until the test day, similar to warming up your body before a marathon, you can still run a little a few days before.

Good luck everyone…

Don’t Try to Be Great

I recently read a fantastic op-ed at WSJ titled, “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You,” and it was item # 10 that really reflected a theme that I’ve been trying to beat into the heads of transitioning junior military officers (JMOs) for a while now:

“10. Don’t try to be great. Being great involves luck and other circumstances beyond your control. The less you think about being great, the more likely it is to happen. And if it doesn’t, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being solid.”

This is a great point especially for transitioning JMOs because your platoon leader or company command time in combat was great. It is easy to think that because you have done something great, you will continue to do great things. Let me take a second to define great. When I talk to JMOs, a 20-year career at a Fortune 100 company isn’t considered “great.” There is almost a delusional sense that any JMO can become the CEO of any Fortune 100 company, be the next Steve Jobs, or go win a Pulitzer/Nobel prize within the next 5-10 years. I’ve been trying to beat that out of my friends’ minds, but now I think I have the statistical tools to do so: probability and standard deviation:

Probability: When the weatherman says there is a 50% chance of rain tomorrow, it doesn’t mean that there is a 50% chance that it will rain tomorrow. It means that out of 100 days with similar atmospheric conditions as tomorrow, it will rain 50 days out of 100. So if I said, if you give me $1 million dollars (and that is all the money you have), there is a 70% chance that you will make $1 million dollars off of that and 30% chance of losing everything, that isn’t necessarily a good deal for you, because you could be a millionaire today, but tomorrow you don’t have anything to support your family with. If you look at probability in this light, it should make you more risk averse. The Black Swan talks about this, although this isn’t the central theme to the book.

Standard Deviation: To modify that a little bit for more realistic applications, let’s take the GMAT as an example. What does it mean to do “great” on the GMAT? Does it mean 800? 700? 750? And how are you going to prepare for that score? Are you going to study 1,000 hours? No, why would you? Your approach to the GMAT should be the same as the weather. I’ve put in x amount of hours (most recommend 100 hours), and out of 100 tests, I would usually get 680-720 on the practice exams (although practice exams aren’t a good indicator of actual GMAT score, it is an indication). So if you get a 680, I wouldn’t say you did very poorly and if you got a 720, I would say run with it.  Standard deviation measures how much variation exists from the mean. The better you get at the GMAT, the more you lower your standard deviation. If you can consistently get a 695-705, that is better than a 690-710, which is better than 680-720.

Hard work can lower your standard deviation of success in life, but you will always end up with a range. Nobody ever gets a specific score consistently on anything, i.e. getting a 700 on 20 attempts at the GMAT. Luck and other circumstances will make you a 680, a 720, or anything in between. So JMOs should stop worrying about the end goal – 720 (or 800 for my ambitious friends), and look at what they really want to get out of their next job, or their long term career.

Each job pays you in two currencies: US Dollars and Experience. Everyone needs money, but make sure you get some worthwhile experience as well. When you look back at your life 20 years later, you should feel comfortable being a 680 or a 720 because that is what you have built your life around. Luck might take you to 800 (Steve Jobs success level) or 600 (Mediocre level: stuck in middle management at a Fortune 100 company).

This is obviously much easier said than done and I struggle with this as well, but I think taking this approach to life is at the minimum, more fun and less pressurized.

 

Test Strategy and Approach, GMAT vs CFA

Since I’ve been studying for both the GMAT and the CFA, I haven’t had a free weekend off in about two months, and it’s only going to get tougher as I approach both exams: June 1 (GMAT) and June 2 (CFA). Before we get any further, I’d like to just say that is is utterly a horrible idea to study for two major exams at the same time. I could probably make up some excuses about why I am doing so but it’s probably all BS just to make myself feel better.

 

What I have found interesting is the similarities and differences between the GMAT and the CFA. For both, brute force and cramming won’t do much good and no one has ever scored all 240 questions correctly on any level of the CFA and no one has ever reached a 60 raw score for both the quant and verbal section of the GMAT. However, people have received 800 GMAT scores, just not with 60 (perfect) raw scores. The Verbal and Quantitative scores range from 0 to 60. If you are a person who likes to score 100 on exams, then you are in for some pain.

 

For example, the GMAT is an adaptive test that adjusts to your ability as you answer more questions. If you operate at a 45 raw quant level, the test will give keep giving you questions and hone you down to 45, i.e. you will receive a 48 level question and if you fail, it will give you a 42 level question next. If you pass, it will jump up to 46, and if you fail, it will go down to 44, etc. That means high scorers on the GMAT can potentially be getting a lot of questions wrong. If you consistently score in a high raw score range, you will have a high GMAT. Since you are facing off a computer which has limitless capability in finding obscure math and verbal topics to stump you, your best approach is to study the best you can and build an approach that works for you. If your approach fails to get you an answer, move onto the next one.

 

The CFA has 240 questions and like the GMAT, it has so many topics to choose from that it prevents one from memorizing or knowing everything. Unlike the GMAT, you don’t get a grade, you just need to beat enough other people to get a pass as it is a pass/fail exam. For the CFA, having notes really helps because the most important thing to know is the concepts and then answer problems testing your knowledge of these concepts. Memorizing formulas (most) usually doesn’t help without knowing the background behind the formula.

 

I find the approach to the GMAT completely different as I don’t necessarily need to take any notes or memorize anything like accounting or derivatives. By doing a bunch of practice questions, I’m basically building up a library of techniques to approach different problems. You have known the basic math formulas since junior high school so it isn’t really taxing to just refresh your memory on those.

 

The most important thing of all that I have learned is to approach both exams as an opportunity to learn. The biggest part of the CFA is understanding how to analyze financial statements for business purposes (non-accounting). I’ve started some informational interviews with investment bankers and the #1 skill they keep emphasizing is to understand accounting from an investors perspective. For the GMAT, I’m building mental endurance and agility as I have to keep answering high-level questions for an extended duration of time. Your mind needs exercise too. If you approach both exams only in terms of just trying to “beat it” – and you may succeed – you won’t get the most out of the hours you put in. I feel that is is more worthwhile to approach both of these exams in terms of learning something new.