GMAT prep: useful materials

In an effort to engage with social media here a link to the Pinterest board which shows the materials I found useful studying for the GMAT.

Happy Easter.

What do I really really want?

One discussion panel later on the future of business education at Chicago Booth’s London campus I feel the need to reflect and challenge myself with three questions that were posed during the event.
1. Do I really, really need a MBA?
2. Is a professional qualification better eg CFA, or maybe even an accounting qualification?
3. What do you want from a MBA? Is it all about buying a network?

Do I really, really need a MBA
Excellent question. The speaker at the event seemed to assume that if you have a good undergrad that all you need. I would say at 24 that might be true. Now for me it’s not. I have two option go deeper into my expertise or go for more breadth. Deeper in my world is a MSc in data analytics or something of that ilk. But I left that world behind for a Reason, I’ve chosen to go broader.

But broader has left me with a problem in the external job market. Lack of specialised skill to sell or particular sector expertise market. So if I want to move in the job market I need to do something else. MBA seems like a good answer.

Is a professional qualification better 
This time last month I would have said I had all the professional qualifications I needed. This month the office has signed me up to do an industry recognised qualification in corporate finance. Yes, I know work for the public sector. But this what happens when you not only move teams you get new directors! So I’m getting an industry qualification but a MBA will compliment it, not replace it. Getting the industry qualification may even help me get into a MBA programme.
But there was a good case made by the CFA  (Chartered Financial Analyst) rep at the event if you want to move industry it might be better to sit an industry exam of the field you want to move to. And it’s probably cheaper!

What do you want from a MBA

Thankfully, after going to the states I have much better idea about this one! So let’s see. I want to learn new skills and change career. But I also want to be challenged by my contemporaries both in and out of class. It not about buying a network; I can do that cheaper in other ways. I want case study method that allows me to apply the theory to practice and think about the wider issues. But I want the cases to be written by the University and fairly new and have an international dimension.

But one issue, if you had to ask where would I rather be: sitting in the class or teaching the MBA class; I would choose teaching it.

Random thoughts on the states

So after three weeks in the States here are my random reflections and comments.

While it maybe the land of the car; the roads are awful. Not even the interstates were well maintained. However the states has an odd policy called Adopt a Highway. So bits of highway have been adopted by the various local organisations including the Scouts, TGI Friday and the Fire Department. Without fail, these stretches of road were well maintained and not a pot hole in sight.


Nutters. Some states were crazier than others. You could in general overtake and undertake. In Maryland the speed limit was more of a suggested minimum speed. Not even the police obeyed obeyed the rules; we saw them speed and undertake. As a Brits we thought the worst offence was undertaking and then secondly lane hogging, forcing people to undertake. By the end of the trip both me and my friend were undertaking and speeding like a native.

Places to stay

    In three weeks of road tripping we used lots of hotel brands and stayed in the basic to the posh. We were happy if it promised and delivered. No breakfast included fine. We weren’t happy when the included breakfast was an apple and a cup of coffee. We thought our expensive historic inn was over priced. They couldn’t do afternoon tea to save themselves. Seriously if your going to offer it do it properly. Tea pot per a person and put the tea bag in the pot. Breakfast waffles were boring. The Quality Inn’s waffles were much better. While the Red Inn was a basic motel it delivered. I was slightly annoyed by being woken up by odd noises next door. But it was simple and good. We done a mix of booking in advance and walk-ups. One time McDonald’s wifi saved us; we were at risk of spending the night in the car, as we couldn’t even see the signs for the motels that we knew should exist. Thanks to our new found internet connection we were able to find a place to stay.

We alway got great recommendations from the locals. We tried oysters for the first time in a wee fish restaurant in Maryland. We tried the famous chicken and waffle place in Durham. It does work. We thought it was great more for the concept rather than the food. But it’s definitely be something I will make when I get home. I also learnt how to eat McDonald’s whilst driving. My friend was amazing pretty every time we had room for dessert we got it on the house. :)

Fuqua business school: amazing

My expectations were exceeded by Duke and Fuqua. After seeing Fuqua and its great community ethos I am tempted to reapply. I would highly recommend the school to anyone who is thinking of applying to do an MBA.

The campus
Duke is a beautiful campus and the business school is on it; enabling you to get the full Duke experience. However the business school building is built in such a way that means you never need to leave it. Not sure I like that type of experience. You are literally in a goldfish bowl. I think almost every business school tries to offer a similar experience. When I go yuck; I have to remind myself that due to the course load on my masters all my friends were on the same course as me. And having your lectures, seminars and canteen in one building does make life easier and help build community spirit.

I went to a marketing lecture; I agree with my finance student tour guide. Marketing is just a bit fluffy, not sure I care that much about the subject.

On the upside, the class had a good positive vibe a about and a good level of energy. The students made a point of talking to us. Fantastic! And we even got introduced to the lecturer and the alumni who was the guest speaker also took the time to speak to us. Duke community ethos was alive and well! Lecturer managed the class well and encouraged participation and class discussion. The female students actively engaged in the discussion and were willing to speak up, even when not a 100 per cent sure. Just a nicer environment than HBS.
Me and my friend had a great discussion in the pub exploring the dynamics of the class and how it compared to HBS. I personally preferred the HBS way as it got straight down to business and dived into the case study and all the issues. While Duke was a fluffy and spent longer on the intro and the context. I would have liked to get down to business a bit quicker and I thought the pace of the class could have been quicker.

Case study material
Duke used HBS case studies. The lecturer moaned about the content and the students moaned about the fact that they can only get them on paper. If you don’t like HBS case notes why use them? Your a big enough school to make your own. I want to find out about Duke’s view of the world, not Harvard’s. So here my challenge to Fuqua, make your own case studies and sell them. Give HBS a bit of competition.

Underwhelmed by Boston

I give Boston a four out of ten.  I was surprisingly underwhelmed.  Harvard and by default Boston is someplace I’ve wanted to live since I was 21.  Overall, I wasn’t convinced that this was the place I would want to study or live. The reality does not live up to the hype.

Caveat: In an effort to be fair to Boston my friend rated it as seven out of ten; but wouldn’t live there.

Boston in general

The people were amazing, friendly and chatty. We had a great time chatting to the locals. But Boston look wise wasn’t very inspiring. My camera hardly came out! I think, I have ten picture of Boston and four of them are the Duck and dDckling sculpture in Boston Commons.

The underground thing; well it is odd.  The Green line which I rode on most days is not a train, a tram or a tube.  I’m not even convinced it is trolley.  But it does squeak, a lot! No one heard of WD40?  Now the Red line out to Harvard, that is a train!

The Freedom trail; it’s follow the red line to lots of places that don’t exist.  Highlights I got to see Mother Goose’s grave and we accidentally came across Mike’s (the place where you obviously have to buy cakes.) honestly the trail needs a bit more work.

There not a lot happening in Boston.  There was lots of sport, but little else to do.  Though King’s Bowling was very good!


Harvard Business School

The highlight of the trip was a bit of a let down.  HBS is over the river from the main college; and stuck in the middle of nowhere.  The campus has some pretty bits and some 1970′s special concentrate buildings.

I sat in on a first year finance class.  The section gave us guests a very loud round of applause; and then I managed to leave without saying a word to anyone.  After the terrific support I got from HBS students when I was researching HBS, I was expecting better.  However if they have guests in every class; I do get the point that they get a bit tired after a while; and don’t really need to see the reason to engage.

The female participation of the class was very low.  The girls generally spoke if directly asked by the professor and generally didn’t volunteer.  Large tracks of the conversation as dominated by four blokes (I suspect they were the section’s usual suspects.) I was surprised.  Seriously girls; speak up! (See the NY time article for more background.)

The discussion wasn’t that engaging or dynamic. (Though my accountant friend said the lecture on WACC was a lot more interesting at HBS than what she had when learning about it for her ACCA qualification.) The professor was engaged, knew the students and knew the case and the issues very well.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention; The case study method.  It worked!  I learnt about WACC and how to apply it; and how would I use to inform a business decision that was actually made.  Stopped the subject from being dry and put it a real world context.

On a side note; almost all students had laptops or tablets in the class.  Most students had apple air notebooks. One or two had the black ugly IBM laptops and one or two enterprising ones had the Microsoft surface pro.  They got the benefit of having excel and a tablet.


After the class chat we went to Cambridge’s famous burger place.  It had burgers like the fiscal cliff, bill Clinton, Obama healthcare.  Burgers were good.  But neither me nor my friend could see why the sweet potato chips or onion rings had won prizes.  Just not that good!

Not going to America

I Sat by the phone and waited; and then waited. Nothing. (In reality I spent the day freezing in Salem.) I Finally got an email but couldn’t even see the outcome of Duke’s decision until I got back to the hotel to use my computer.
Final outcome: didn’t get in.

I’m ok with that. In recent weeks I was was thinking how to balance working and paying off a £100,000 loan and in ideal world getting married and having kids. I just couldn’t think how it would work. Yes all my uni friends are laughing their socks off as I make that statement. if I went to an American uni I would 35 before I graduate. And I would want kids before I was 40. That’s Very limited time to pay off loan as I don’t think these loans allow you to take maternity payment holidays.

The other reason why I’m ok. After going to a HBS class I wasn’t in love with the experience. The girls hardly talked; and the class was really young. I want to learn from people who have a bit more work experience. A part time MBA might be a better fit.

So I won’t be reapplying next year. In its current format my American adventure is over. I’m very glad I tried. For me the journey is as important as the destination.

Upside my hockey team will be happy.

But the MBA dream lives on. Next step the part time MBA.

Standardised Tests: SAT

I don’t like standardised tests after my GMAT experience; So I feel for everyone who needs to take SAT for college.

NY times just posted a really interesting article about whether SAT are useable when deciding undergraduate admissions.

Wonder when something will take a look at the GMAT?


Holiday time: USA road trip

I’m off to the States on Monday :).  It’s a bit of shock, my holiday has crept up on me almost unnoticed.  Thankfully my friend who coming with me kept me updated with a count down! This was planned back in November to allow me to go campus surfing.  Now it’s finally here and I might not even need to visit a campus!

We’ve got of a bit of road trip planned.  First we land in Boston, then head up to Niagara Falls, then swing down into North Carolina, and finish off the trip in D.C.  First time ever renting and driving a car in the states.  Excited and scary at the same time.

Anyone got any hints or tips on what to see, how to get the best bargains? Already got a distillery tour in Chapel Hill off Groupon.

What’s even more scary is is that decision day for Duke is on the 13th March; same day as I’m having a nosy round HBS.  Now that’s bad planning.

Hopefully my MBA blog will briefly change into a travel blog, please forgive me. But to keep in the spirit I will post my thoughts on HBS and Duke (if I take a tour.)

Side benefits of an MBA

I read a really interesting article in the FT today. It explained that while an MBA might not help Indians in the job market it might help in the marriage stakes. Essentially a MBA is a good selling point and less common than a degree.

This got me thinking what are the unusual benefits of studying for a MBA?

  • Successful author; publish a book on the experience: What they teach you at Harvard Business School.
  • Another chance at the uni marriage mart. Here’s a blog entry on the rules.
  • Play a new sport; anyone heard of a signing?
  • Form a successful music group. (There is bound to be a story; anyone heard of it?)

Magoosh GMAT online course: review

I was really pleased with Magoosh GMAT online GMAT prep. It is Good value and does what it says on the tin. I bought complete package both quant and verbal and it done the business. Definitely recommend it for GMAT prep.

The look is fairly basic. It’s mainly PowerPoint with voice over but it does the trick. There is an opportunity to personalise practice questions to reflect what you learnt and there are good video explanations of every question, Which is very useful. You can also adjust the time you have on questions which I appreciated.

I could even use the app for lessons on the go. However it would have been great if this also extended to their question bank.

The section helped moved my score from the 60th percentile to the 80th percentile. So it definitely works. It shows you the key strategies for critical reasoning and they work. Disliked the sentence correction as there was too much focus on grammar. However I do know more than I once did and it has improved my general writing.
It’s really good at teaching you the content you need for the test.

This combined with my maths tutor moved my quant score on paper from 24th percentile to about the 50th. So it certainly teaches the content. It is broken down in to very digestible chucks. I would say its suitable for someone starting from a low base. I’m not convinced at how useful it is for learning the advanced strategies you need to score 700+. Though I think Magoosh recognises this and there advanced study plan recommends using manhattan study guides.

Good value for money, if you need to brush up in the basics go here but if need the advanced content go elsewhere.

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