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A How-To For Wharton’s Team-Based Test

The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School – Ethan Baron photo

Imagine it’s the day of your Wharton Team-based Discussion (TBD). You’re seated in a conference room, looking into the eyes of five other highly qualified and highly motivated MBA applicants. You’re competing for admission but expected to treat each other as teammates. You’ve probably traveled to get here. You have only 35 minutes to distinguish your candidacy. Everyone already knows and has thoroughly analyzed the topic.

Some participants have even strategized with friends who succeeded in the same exercise back in Round 1. Wharton will be monitoring this session and expecting the group to reach a tangible, shared conclusion. Right after the TBD, you’ll meet 1-on-1 with an admissions rep for 10 minutes to describe what just happened. And, oh yes, the admissions director advises all participants to “relax.”

As Round 2 Wharton applicants around the world contemplate this rapidly approaching “moment of truth” in their admissions campaign, emotions can kick in that are a far cry from relaxation. So, how can you gain a sense of confidence, clarity and control in order to maximize your chances for admission?

Drawing from our experience at The MBA Exchange, after five years of providing Wharton applicants with a real-time, video simulation of the Wharton TBD, we’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. And with a consulting team that features a former Wharton admissions officer and ten Wharton MBA grads, we definitely get it. In fact, our colleague Inna Rudsky facilitated actual TBD sessions at Wharton as an Admissions Fellow.

So, here are our best tips for those Round 2 Wharton applicants about to experience an actual Team-based Discussion:

BEFORE YOUR TBD

Thoroughly study and understand the assigned prompt. Not just what it means to you, but also how other people might interpret it. So discuss it with smart, trusted friends. Test and refine your abilities in advance by participating in a facilitated, video simulation with actual Wharton applicants. And be sure it’s video-recorded so you can review and improve your performance after this mock session.

DURING YOUR TBD

As participants make their first comments, quickly spot the “alpha” at the table who may try to dominate, and the “wallflower” who may try to hide. Be ready for the conversation to take on a life of its own after you’ve shared your perspective. Odds are that someone at the table will state a viewpoint that is more compelling and engaging than yours. Don’t panic. Just thoughtfully work yourself into the dialogue by contributing valuable observations, questions and suggestions. “Lead but don’t dictate,” suggests Rudsky. “In addition to advocating your position, graciously encourage the quietest participant to share his or her views with the group. Be the synthesizer who diplomatically frames disparate thoughts and comments into a meaningful whole.”

AFTER YOUR TBD

Even after the discussion ends, the “observation” by Wharton continues. So, be sincerely gracious to your teammates as you part company. In the brief, 1-on-1 interview that follows, remain positive about your TBD experience, emphasizing the aspects that confirm your leadership and teamwork strengths, and convey a strong fit with the collaborative culture that Wharton advocates. This is your last chance – literally – to express your passion for this MBA program and to summarize your distinctive value proposition, so go for it!

Unlike the admissions process at most other schools, Wharton’s Team-based Discussion gives MBA admits an opportunity to not just describe, but to demonstrate, the behaviors, skills and attitudes that define the candidacy. Those applicants who wisely prepare for and fully leverage this chance will directly and immediately influence the outcome of their MBA admissions campaign. No candidate could reasonably ask for more than that.

Alex Min

An MBA graduate from the MIT Sloan School of Management, author Alex Min has advised MBA applicants at The MBA Exchange since 2007. He earned acceptances to Wharton, INSEAD and IMD. His professional background includes entrepreneurship in the general aviation industry as well as international and domestic business development, sales, sales management, and corporate strategy for Fortune 200 companies. Alex was as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, serving as a pilot in Asia and the Middle East.