This holiday season will be different

With only six more weeks until the round 2 deadlines and so little progress over the last two weeks this holiday season will be a different one.

No parties, get-togethers, feasts, and shopping this time around. It's time to start working on my essays. When my friends talk about their vacation plans and all the lag time they have at their disposal, I envy it so much. But I am hopeful that my hard work will pay off. Talking about hard work, I have not made much of a progress since my last post - a week ago. First draft for two essays and speaking with my recommenders was a good start but I was hoping to get more done last week.

This week, I am trying to push myself more. I managed 4 hours today and the target is to devote 40 hours which leaves me with 36 hours over the next six days. This includes the time I on my GMAT study as well! Today I scheduled my appointment for the GMAT retake. I needed that to push me into moving at full throttle now.

Time to get to bed now and catch some sleep. 

A dull week

Since the last time I updated my blog, the earth has rotated more than 9 times on its axis. Now that's quite a long time. I wish I could put the blame on the hectic schedule because of my Round 2 research and preparation. Alas, that is not the case!

Last week was one of the least productive weeks in a long time with regard to my applications. We had a bunch of activities lined up at work and that called for a lot of extra hours. Moreover after keeping up with the frantic pace for over four months my body and mind called for some break! Everything contrived to make this a break week for me.

I did manage to catch up a little over the weekend, here is what I was able to cover.
  • Researched the schools I want to apply. I am thinking about scheduling a class visit (more about this later).
  • Logged into the on-line application portal for my Round 2 schools.
  • Listed down all the essays that I have to write for my round 2.
On a different note, the blogosphere and online forums have been buzzing with a lot of activity about interview invites. I am happy for all those who have been invited, all the best to them. For me, having completed my application initiated interview, it's just a matter of waiting patiently on the sidelines now. Come December and it will be a totally different case though.

Seven lessons from my round one application.

I have submitted applications to three business schools thus far – Tuck, Sloan, and Fuqua – in that order. The last one month, while I moved from one application to the other, has proved to be a big learning exercise for me. Though I think I did justice to each of my applications, in particular the essays, I keep getting the feeling I could do better. By the time I submitted my third application, I could already see things that could do with some improvement in my first application. But then again, that’s the case with afterthought – you always think you can improve.

Nevertheless, I still have learned some important things that I surely plan to apply in the second round of application. So this post is a summary of what I have learned.

1)      Start the application (not just essays) early – By application I mean the online application process – creating a login, personal information, professional and educational background, test score, and a few other things. I waited till the last week to fill in these details for my first application, which I learned was not the ideal way. These points are equally important and it is important to devote enough time. Also, it is better to have someone review these points for you.

2)     Don’t worry about the word count for the first draft: Word limits present an important limitation, sometimes they can be a blessing in disguise too. It is important to convey your story, so to begin with just write your heart out and don’t bother about the word limit. Once you know that everything that you wanted to convey has been covered, go ahead with the editing. Sometimes it takes the skills of a seasoned Editor to trim your essay, and it might be better to associate levels of importance with each paragraph (or for that matter sentence). This way when you have your scissors out you know what to chop off!

3)     Don’t try to complete an essay in one sitting: The human mind is so full of conflicts and biases, and once you get into one of those modes it’s hard to get out. No wonder, it so often happens that a problem that you struggle with for hours is solved within a few minutes after a good nights sleep. Same applies to essays too! Work on your essays with a schedule, give yourself 7 days and work 1 hour each day. You will be surprised how much your thought process and the output improves this way.

4)     Reach out to recommenders early and follow up with reminders– I was fortunate that my recommenders were equally enthusiastic about my application and devoted enough time on it. Most of the time they submitted the recommendation well ahead of the deadline, except for the last one. My manager happened to be on a two week business tour to Europe before the deadline and she had planned to do the recommendation during one of the weekends on her trip. However, as is the case with business meetings, she was pulled into other things and by the time she came back we were facing the deadline. On the day of the deadline, she marked few hours on her calendar, worked on the recommendation, and submitted my recommendation.
I had a few nervous moments, though schools are a lenient about deadline for recommendations, why take a chance? I started reaching out to my recommenders 4 weeks before the deadline; in hindsight I should have done it at least six weeks earlier. With the holiday season coming up, I will ensure that for round two I reach out to them at least by next week – 8 weeks before the deadline.

5)      Never recycle one schools essay for another: I think this is what we read everywhere. But after writing that one great essay it is not wrong at all to feel you have the right to use it for another school, especially if questions are similar. That’s perfectly logical, but what that does is it sets a platform for your essays which is hard to tweak or change. Best would be start with the bullet items for the new essay, form a structure, and then try to use content from the previous essay to fill in.

6)      Give your reviewers enough time: I had very good experience with my first essay, multiple reviews with 3 different people (2 friends and a current student) - all handled very nicely. But my third essay, that’s a slightly different story. I kind of rushed it and ended up rushing my only reviewer too. Though I feel extremely good about the third set of essays I submitted, I was not happy the way I did it. Allocating enough time for reviewers is important to get the most out of them.

7)     Do one school at a time: This is how I approached my first three schools and it worked out perfect for me. Sometimes, when the essay questions are similar, there is a tendency to tackle the similar ones together. I don’t think this is a good idea, though the essay questions might look similar each school is different in the way they ask for it and it requires extreme care to make sure those finer details are addressed. More importantly, working on one school at a time allows you to portray a holistic perspective of your candidacy by presenting different aspects in different essays.

Beat the GMAT Practice Questions : Review

Beat the GMAT is coming up with an upgraded version of their test prep product – BTG Practice Questions. It could not have come up at a more appropriate time, as I am preparing for a second shot at the test before I submit my second set of allocations in R2. So when the folks at BTG asked me to do a review of this product, I jumped on board immediately.

I spent some time on this new product late yesterday and today during my lunch hours and here is my take on it.
·       Highly customizable: Using the combination of section, subject area, number of questions, difficulty level, and mode (practice vs quiz) you can create a highly customized practice session. This is what I used to create a 20 question practice session for practicing during my lunch hour!
·       A simulation of the real thing: The new PQ is highly adaptive, like the real test. So if you setup a 30 minute simulation, you will start with a random set of questions and based on your performance it will present you easy or hard questions.
·       Online practice: The online practice feature gives you the flexibility to practice any time without having to carry books or being logged into a particular machine. This works really good for me, over the last few months I have been sacrificing my lunch table discussions preparing for GMAT, researching schools, or writing my essays. So this is a good tool to have for a quick 30 min practice during the lunch hours at your office desk.
·       Video explanation: The video explanation serves not only to help you figure out the right approach, it is useful for the questions that you might have got right too. Remember, the objective is not to just get the answers right, you have to get to it in the shortest possible time too. This is where it becomes very important to look out for the explanation to check if there is another/better approach.
·       Performance reporting & Benchmarking: The BTG PQ allows you to create customizable reports to track your progress as you chug along; it also provides you the average statistics which gives you a means to judge where you stand as compared to rest of the users.
·       More than 700 questions: The more than 700 questions is a great way to push yourself and practice more. A quick math will tell you this is more than 20 hours of practice, all high quality stuff!

Overall, I really liked the material, presentation, reporting, customization, and explanations. I also like how it's organized; practicing more questions is much practical and realistic than reading a lot of theoretical material.

The one thing that I thought needs improvement is the variety. Having taken the test once, I think there are more breakdowns possible for different subject areas in each section. So I would like to see more things covered, but again there is no single comprehensive guideline about the subject areas and it is up to the test prep company’s discretion how they cover all the areas.

As if all these great things were not enough, the BTG team has come up with one more reason - you could end up winning an iPad simply by trying out the new PQ.  On top of everything they also have a 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee if you’re not satisfied. That shows how much the BTG team believes in this product, and I do too!

PS: I already have an account, courtesy the BTG 100K competition. However, Eric has promised me 5 accounts for this review. If anyone is interested please chime in and drop a comment or write to me using the e-mail under my profile.

Duke Fuqua application – submitted!

Earlier today I submitted my third application, this one for the Fuqua School of Business. With this the first phase of my application process has come to a completion. The thing that stood out while I was preparing for these three applications was the drastic improvement as I went from one application to the next. I spent most of my time on my first application, and I thought I had come up with some terrific essays. But my second application, turned out to be much better (my opinion). By the third application, I was able to put more life into my essays. Essentially what I have learned is that as you move ahead with your applications you only get better, provided you devote sufficient time.
I have 2 months before the second round deadlines. But that doesn’t give me the license to relax. In fact, I think the next two months will be busier and more stressful that the last couple of months. I will save the reason for another post. 

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