Sunday, February 6, 2011

Choices and influences: GMAT 740

A weird thing these "choices" are... The secret behind them, the way I see it now, is not who makes them - but where they take you. Guess this holds good till a certain age / period in each of our lives, obviously not perpetually.

Let me first start by letting out a secret on what precisely is the secret ingredient for success in any endeavor - here the GMAT. It's not the want to be the best at what you do, not the need to excel in every test you give, and neither is it the want for a more successful career. It most definitely is the need for one to reach a certain place intellectually, which would eventually lead one to a more rewarding life, however, never to confuse that as the primary aim.

It all started quite early for me - at the end of my 10th standard. This was a point where our impressionable young minds were handed the daunting task of choosing a future. And while some of us were lucky to have discovered where we wish to head, some of us were brave enough to attempt to follow someone and try our luck at it - be it entrance to the IITs or medicine or commerce. Fortunately, I wasn't brave enough to do so. This is when the most trusted and reliable force in my life took to guiding me. And what was it that I was to do - study math and science to eventually be an engineer. And so it has been - today I am a bachelor of mechanical engineering and have a basic knowledge of how most stuff around me works, except of course the most intriguing thing - ME.

Well then - so where were we? I took up the path to be an engineer - yes. This was where another influencing factor turned my tide toward an MBA and therefore the GMAT: my college buddies. End of my undergrad course - did ok and had opportunities galore at hand - with a couple of job offers - and an option to apply for M.S. But then what happens - Acumen-Euphoria '07. And what comes with it - a lot of drunk nights, a lot of conversations, and a lot of ideas in my dumbass head. The outcome: I decide management is what I'm meant for - and what I must do... Thus began a more defined path on my quest to lead an organization with my ideas.

Here starts work, life, and the art of studying-while-working. 2 major jumps in professional fields - from being a software engineer at Infosys to being an account management professional at Ogilvy and an intermediary role as a marketing professional at a construction firm. Only 1 thing remained constant - my drive to prepare for an MBA from one of the best schools in the world... So where did this get me? 3 failed attempts to enter the IIMs - if it was a school in India - it had to be the IIMs, nothing else made sense. But what this did to me - gave me a strong foundation on my already quite stable math background, trained me to use logic and reasoning in different ways to solve different problems - and bolstered my basics in English.

This was when I thought something is not working - maybe I'm destined for better stuff. Might I be considering only a closed field while in actuality, the world was my playground...

Thus began my GMAT quest. This was where everything made sense - my training as an engineer, my attempts at the CAT and my vision for myself. The math wasn't much of a problem. What was though, was the verbal section - more specifically the sentence correction and the critical reasoning areas. These were nothing like what I had trained for. The sentence correction tested the most basic to the most complex of grammar concepts - without a set pattern of questions. I had to bring out the most basic grammar book and work my way through it to get enough command over the language and it's specific usage. The critical reasoning section too - was quite tricky - it focussed more at the completion of an idea than the idea making sense. This was quite a struggle, but after a few exercises from the official guide, I did manage to answer these with confidence. AWA though was never a problem... fortunately been always good at essay writing and with a fortified grammar knowledge, I was confident I needn't worry about it much.

This was when I took my first test - and surprise surprise. I discovered the toughest part wasn't answering the questions right - it actually was inculcating the ability to concentrate for about 4 hours at a stretch.

4th Feb, 2010. The day I set my foot in the Pearson VUE center. I got there 60 mins prior to my test time, run up and down the stairs a couple of times, flexed my body a little and was ready to do it. I enter the test center, finish the formalities and enter my testing room. "I am here... be cool - u know ur stuff - just take it one question at a time..." and many such thoughts running through my head, telling me what to do. The test starts, I finish the 2 essays - was quite happy with they way I wrote them. And then I notice... wow - this place is quite cold... I take the break, bend my knees and elbows, and sit down to start the test. Hmm... concentrate on the questions - take them one at a time - don't think about what would happen if you answer it wrong - relax, it's not that cold in here - just don't let ur mind stray...

Test finished. Score: 680 (with a sad performance in the verbal section). Status: doomed!

I call my mum, dejected with myself - and tell her about my performance - she was quite surprised as well. That's when I heard the magic words. "Don't worry - sign up immediately for a 2nd try. I'm sure you'll get a 750." This got me thinking - yeah - i'm certain i'm capable of way more than a 680. And GMAT isn't an easy test - most people write it 2-3 times just to get a 680. I can do this. I got back home and booked myself a second GMAT slot - 10th March.

Time: 4 weeks. Task: concentration under any circumstance. Additional task: relax, losen up - you have a pretty good score already - you have nothing to worry about - just be confident about yourself. Well, this involved restructuring of my mental setup and temperament also. Started with revising my basics in verbal and also a little look at math. Took a couple of Princeton tests and scored in the range of 720-730. 3 weeks left now. I realize if I wish to get where I aim - I need to raise the bar - and so I started working on the Kaplan GMAT material - touted as one of the toughest preparation materials. And with 5 days to spare, I decide I'm ready and put an end to my relationship with the preparation material. Watched a few movies, went on a few jogs and just stopped thinking about the test.

Date: March 10th. My test day. But strangely, this time it was different. I walked into the test center, finished all the formalities and walked into the testing room like I've been doing this for ages. The test starts... the test ends - no perceived problems at all so far. But when I finished the last question with a few minutes to spare - and was pressing the "Next" button - that's when the tension set in. I suddenly start perspiring - I finish the other stuff after the test and walk out. Waiting for the test administrator to hand me my score report.

And I get it in my hands - score: 740, reaction: damn! i missed 750, afterthought: whoa! I scored a 740 - with 41 in Verbal and 50 in Quantitative. I had done it - I am now a capable candidate for any school I wish to apply to. This was victory, this was joy! And then almost 3 weeks later - I get the official scorecard - Analytical Writing: 6.0. Now everything made sense - all the experiments, all the failures, and all the wishes.

Well, the doors opened up for me to take the next step in my life. I guess I have a few people to thank for it. It's also intriguing to see how beautifully situations tailored themselves to guide me to the place I am at. This also goes to show how when sometimes one doesn't know what to do with oneself, what influence the family has in shaping one's future. I guess some of us are fortunate enough to have parents, in my case my mother, who was educated enough, outgoing enough, and wise enough to guide me on the road on which today I am capable of supporting myself, comfortably.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: in the developed nations such as the US, it's really not a bad thing if the kids are open to suggestions from their parents - when they themselves aren't sure about their path. And in the developing nations such as India - the parents should be aware enough to guide their kids when they need support. This surely would see an increase in opportunity for us youngsters and gradually make all of us more equal - intellectually and professionally.

Well, so a GMAT 740. That's where I stand today - let's see where I get now on... :)