MBA Boy the Interviewer (MBI): Hi.
MBA Boy the Interviewee (MBE): Hi.
MBI: Thank you for doing this interview!
MBE: [Fake smile] Of course.
MBI: Let’s start by talking GMAT books. Which books did you use to prepare for the GMAT?
MBE: I originally purchased two Manhattan GMAT books — Sentence Correction and Number Properties — to brush up on my foundational knowledge and also to gain access to the six Manhattan GMAT practice tests that I would eventually take. I later on added the official guide andofficial quantitative guide as they provided actual questions from past GMAT tests.
MBI: Were they useful?
MBE: Most definitely, and they would have been even more useful had I read them more. In the end, I didn’t go through more than 25% of any of the books — and not because I knew the other 75% of the material, but simply because I didn’t have enough time. Anyway, the official guide is pretty much the one essential book for GMAT preparation. The advice I’d offer, though, is to focus on the questions you struggle with. The book orders questions from easiest to hardest, and so I started at the beginning, answered a bunch of easy questions correctly, then realized that this was not really preparing me for the test in any sort of way. As for the Manhattan GMAT books, they’re great for attacking problem areas. I didn’t really know my problem areas, so I just bought the books that the forum folk seemed to most often recommend. As it turns out, despite being a writing tutor in my past life, Sentence Correction really keyed me on the finer points of the English language. Number Properties proved much less useful as it clearly wasn’t one of my problem areas — I happen to think about numbers all day (even when I should be doing other things).
MBI: How did these books actually affect your performance?
MBE: Well, I took a diagnostic test before I began studying and scored a 720 (Q47 V41). Then, over the course of my studies, I managed to top out at 50 for quantitative (three times) and 45 for verbal (four times) on my practice tests before scoring a 760 (Q49 V45) on the actual exam. Not all of this improvement can be attributed to the books, as mastering the test format can oftentimes actually make as much, if not more, of a difference as learning the material. That said, my verbal score literally jumped straight from 41 to 45 after going through the opening chapters of Sentence Correction, at which point I thanked the book and then set it aside to collect dust.
MBI: Great. Let’s move onto MBA application books. Which books did you use here?
MBE: I did my round one (R1) applications sans books; alas, I did not gain acceptance into any of my R1 schools. As the rejections trickled in, I decided to buy a couple of essay-focused books (Great Applications for Business School by Paul Bodine and 65 Successful HBS Application Essays by Lauren Sullivan and The Harbus) to see if I was doing something wrong. Accepted.com kindly sent me a copy of MBA Admission for Smarties by Linda Abraham and Judy Gruen as well.
MBI: Three rejections in R1 versus an acceptance and a waitlist in R2. Obviously you just couldn’t get it done without the books.
MBE: Truer words have never been spoken. In reality, though, I did things quite differently in R2 after my R1 goose egg. For one, I bought the essay books, but I also spoke with current students at my R2 schools (after stupidly neglecting this tactic in R1) and had one of these current students review my essays (which was a tremendous help).
MBI: How did you utilize the essay books, and which one did you like better?
MBE: I read through a number of the essays to get a feel for what constitutes an effective business school essay, which isn’t necessarily the same as an effective English class essay, for example. One of the things I quickly noticed was that the essays were more direct than ornate — certainly more to-the-point than my R1 essays. The idea being that it’s better to clearly articulate your points in a straightforward manner than to write beautiful prose in which you lead the adcom on a ‘journey’ to discover your underlying message, because what if they never discover it? As a result, I went back and crafted my R2 essays with greater specificity. As for the second part of your question, I’m going to be lame and say that I liked them both equally, and that I would recommend them to any prospective applicants.
MBI: Lastly, what about this MBA Admission for Smarties book?
MBE: I didn’t receive MBA Admission for Smarties until January, so I really only started reading the book after submitting my final application. I promised Accepted.com that I would do a quick review of the book, so I’ll go ahead and do that now if you don’t mind.
MBI: Have at it. I’m all ears.
MBE: Fantastic. For starters, the full title of the book is MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools, and I think that accurately depicts the content within. I think the key merit of the book is that it neatly organizes all the considerations of the business school application process in a concise manner (the book is only 180 pages). You could probably actually go and find 95% of the information contained in the book on GMAT Club, Beat the GMAT, and other sites, but it would take you forever, and you’d sift through an overwhelming amount of information to dig out the gems that Linda and Judy have already identified through their years of experience in admissions consulting. The flip-side of the equation is that, since it’s meant as a guide, it provides a limited level of detail on each of the topics. For example, the book points you in the right direction when it comes to essay writing, but I wouldn’t use it as a replacement for the aforementioned essay books, which go way more in-depth and offer tens of actual essays to boot. In summation, MBA Admission for Smarties is a nice resources that I definitely could have used at the beginning of (and throughout) my process. I ended up sifting through the impossible mountain of information available online, but that doesn’t mean you need to do the same!
MBI: Well, that wraps up our interview. Thanks again for taking time out of your busy day to talk some shop!
MBE: Most definitely. I can’t believe I just spent over an hour talking to myself, even deriving some pleasure from it in the process.
MBI: It was awesome.
MBE: We’ll do it again for sure. Ciao!
This post is adapted from MBABoy, a blog written by an investment banker and anonymous MBA applicant who has a GMAT score of 760 and is targeting Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT Sloan, Tuck, Columbia, and Chicago Booth.
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