Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Lessons from the GMAT

A few weeks ago, I finally went to battle against the GMAT (Graduate Management Assessment Test). Studying for this grueling 3-hour exam was an "interesting" process (to say the least). But the more I think about it, the more I start to realize that the lessons I learned from this process actually apply to every aspect of my life. Learning from these lessons has truly made me a stronger person, and hence, has inspired me to write this post. Below is a summary of the key "learnings":

Time Management
This was honestly one of the hardest challenges for me to overcome. The average study time for the GMAT is estimated to be about 3 months. Now, 3 months sounds like a lot of time to study for a stupid test, doesn't it? As a result, it's very easy to be passive about your studying in the first couple of months. Furthermore, it's also very hard to be aggressive throughout the life-span of your studying. Knowing this, I finally did what I've intended to do for so many years...make a schedule that I could actually stick to! The trick here is to be REALISTIC! Just like when you make a gym, reading, or diet schedule, the harder and more aggressive you make it, the easier it is to fall out of it. Don't tell me you haven't tried making that 6-day-a-week work out plan and dropped out half way through the first week:P Making realistic schedules (with benchmarks along the way) is absolutely critical when you want to introduce something into your hectic/busy life.

The art of Persistence / Never Give up / Keep a Possitive Attitude
How many times have you heard these clich├ęs? Maybe to the point where they have lost their effectiveness? Is there even a point to me mentioning them? Maybe not, but I'm going to do it anyway. When I first wrote a practice test (2 weeks before the real test date), I scored terrible! So terrible, that I'm not even going to mention my score. To make this situation worse, I had talked to many people that bragged about how well they did on practice tests without even studying...I had already been studying for 2.5 months:S This was quite a low point for me, but I sucked it up, and told myself that I'd do better next time. Funny thing is, I actually did worse on my next attempt. At this point, I was so close to giving up that withought a ridiculously positive attitude, I would have canceled/rescheduled my test date. I'm not going to delve into the details, but eventually my scores started to go up...and up...and up...all the way until the real test. Just like this experience, we face so many low points in our lives. It is our attitude, and what we decide to learn from these experiences, that will push as forward... Oh man, that sounds like something from Quotes of the Day.

Verbal Skills
This one is a little cheesy, and not quite as generic as the first two...but I think it's worth mentioning. The GMAT forces you to re-learn the foundations of the English language. Anything from subject-verb agreement to dangling modifiers. Coming from an engineering background, I never realized how many grammar mistakes I made on a consistent basis:P Learning all these rules again was tedious and quite annoying, but extremely useful!

Quick Thinking / Swift Decisions
This is an important one. GMAT questions are all about speed. You have to be able to break down problems very quickly, sometimes even make educated guesses. If you spend too much time on one question, it could ruin your entire score. (You get penalized for not completing the exam in time.) In business, this is actually a pretty crucial skill. I know it may sound completely opposite to the "never give up" rule...but they actually go hand in hand. Let me use an analogy to explain. I think of the studying part as a representation of the work you do on your own time in business. It's great to solve problems until they're finished, even if they take you hours, even days... because you find out what you did wrong, and tell yourself you'll never commit those errors again. On the other hand, writing the test is like a crucial meeting with your boss, or even an interview. In these types of situations, you'll have to be able to make swift and intelligent decisions...otherwise you'll come off as incompetent. The ability to do this is actually a the result of all the hours you spent learning and building your aptitude. So in summary: be meticulous on your own time, but be swift at game time. Making this distinction is so vital to success, and studying for the GMAT has taught me well:)