Making the grade

by Bonnie Wu

Shantanu Tandon
master trainer
The Princeton Review Hong Kong
Photo: Nolly Leung

Test-preparation company helps students pave the way to world's top business qualification

Apart from providing greater job security and a higher base salary, an MBA from a credited institution hones leadership skills, enhances business knowledge and broadens networks, ultimately making a person more marketable.

However, applying to an MBA programme can be a daunting process, starting with the standardised Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), used by most reputable business schools to assess applicants.

Before applying for admission to an MBA programme, candidates should reflect on how the qualification can help with their careers, says Shantanu Tandon, master trainer, the Princeton Review Hong Kong.

"If you don't know what you want out of it, you aren't equipped with the necessary knowledge for choosing the school or programme most suited to your career development," Mr Tandon notes, advising prospective MBA students to first gain work experience of about four to five years.

"This provides a foundation for the business school to build on," he explains. "MBA programmes focus heavily on group discussions and case studies, and students' return-on-investment would be extremely low if they didn't already have work experience to draw on."

Adequate preparation

To the untrained eye, the GMAT test may seem like a series of trick questions. They are, for example, filled with distracters that force people to make unnecessary assumptions.

As a test-preparation company, the Princeton Review Hong Kong aims to help students identify test patterns and develop the mental skills and strategies needed to achieve higher test scores.

The biggest mistake people make is to dive into questions with ineffective methods that end up wasting time, says Mr Tandon, who is in charge of training and upholding the performance and quality of the Princeton Review instructors in Southeast Asia.

"I tell students that it's about the journey as much as the destination," he notes, advising candidates to fully understand the questions before approaching them with a clear thought process.

Four Ps

The Princeton Review's "four Ps of practice" train students to recognise their own error patterns and improve their strategies for tackling questions. Mr Tandon explains, "We urge students to take time to reflect on their answers, ask themselves what went wrong and make sense of their thought processes".

The first P, which stands for "paradigm shift", trains students to shift into a mindset that adapts to the GMAT's computer adaptive test format since most students are predominantly familiar with paper-based tests.

The second, "pliability", helps improve problem solving strategies. "If you're a plumber dealing with water leakage, you must first find the source of the problem before digging into your toolbox for tools to solve it," Mr Tandon continues.

Students should similarly approach the GMAT by identifying the type of problem and having a wide range of mental tools and skills to tackle it.

GMAT critical reasoning is made up of eight types of arguments. With training, students can learn to recognise the type of argument presented in a question and learn to break down the argument to find the best answer.

"Pliability" goes hand in hand with "pacing", which emphasises the importance of time management. Since the GMAT is a computer-adaptive test, the questions at the beginning of the test are more important for the final score, so time allocation is critical.

"The rule of thumb is to spend about half the time on the first third of each section of the test," Mr Tandon advises.

Finally, "pattern recognition" trains students to understand the overall blueprint of a GMAT test. About a quarter of the test is made up of field-testing questions that does not count towards the final score. With practice, students can align their thinking with that of the test makers, Mr Tandon remarks.

Competitive edge

Objective measures such as GMAT scores weigh most heavily during business schools' initial admission screenings. Generally, only 20 per cent of applicants succeed in getting through to the interview rounds.

Achieving a high GMAT score increases students' chances to be admitted to a better business school.

Last year, students at the world's top 35 business schools averaged GMAT scores of 650 out of 800; those at the top 11 schools averaged more than 700.

Mr Tandon expects MBA programmes to continue evolving. "Business schools will place more emphasis on ethical business practices, including social and corporate responsibility and environmental sustainability. It's the competitive edge that MBA students need for today and for the future," he says.


Taken from Career Times 07 November 2008, p. B3
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