In conversation with Saurav Mahopatra who scored a 700 on the GMAT…
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I passed out in 2008 from ITI Bhubaneshwar in computer science engineering. Post that, I worked as a developer in a company on multiple projects and one of my clients was American express. After two years of working there, I joined SAP labs and worked there for around a year, before I was offered a very lucrative and high designation with IBM which was a technical phase manager post. I quit SAP and joined IBM where I worked for 2-3 years before realising that to actually move into the management side, I would need an MBA.
What was your motivation behind an MBA?
I’m an engineer. In my experience of 5-6 years, I realised that there is so much that I could contribute to – the way management thinks, the way they go about doing projects, the way they decide how much to allocate for one project and the funding, strategy used to expand business – but I wasn’t a part of these decisions. And I wanted to be part of it. This gap could be bridged with an MBA from a top B-school.
Why an MBA and not an MS?
I was always more inclined to strategy or consulting. Even when I started working, I never thought of becoming a scientist or a researcher. So MS was always out of the way. My personal interest drove me towards an MBA.
How did you go about your GMAT preparation?
When I first appeared for GMAT in November 2013 and I scored a 620, I looked at it and wondered why I did not do well. I realised that with the work schedule that I had, it wasn’t possible to put my mind into something else other than my work. Because I used to work 12 hours a day, whatever free time I got fell into the ‘me time’ category and not for studying. I realised I got a 620 because I hadn’t studied hard enough.
The only learning I got was from CrackVerbal’s classes and the little reading I did over the weekends. So I wrapped up my project, quit my job, travelled around the country for 3 months and then spend the next 3 months preparing for the GMAT. I spent 3 hours daily for 3 months to prepare.
Another problem that I had was that I ran out of time when I scored a 620 on the test. So I decided to beat the GMAT on the time factor as well. I trained myself to complete each section in one hour rather than the 1 hour 15 minutes provided during the actual exam.
I took about 7 mock tests and timed myself for every test.
What did you find the hardest on Verbal?
That would have to be Sentence correction. It’s a basic problem with many Indians – the English that we learn and talk and the English that we believe is correct is not actually correct on the GMAT. I believe 90% of the students find SC difficult because a lot of options that we think are correct are actually not. There are certain rules we don’t follow. Maybe that’s the way we were taught English and we grew up with it. This is completely different from what the GMAT expects from us. There are a large set of rules we need to adhere to in terms of adverbs and modifiers and so on. I don’t believe you can mug them up. It’s got more to do with practice and the set of questions that you solve. That makes you stronger in SC.
If you’re good at it, you can finish your exam within an hour, because you see the questions, you sort out the mistakes, look at the options and eliminate the wrong answers. Boom! You’re done with the question in 40 seconds. This is one area where you can actually do very well if you’re used to the techniques and the rules.
What material did you use to prepare?
I started with the OG on the CR and then used the advanced documents that CrackVerbal provided for RC and CR which was really helpful. The CrackVerbal advanced documents are a gem- it’s brilliant work done by the CrackVerbal team and it’s done in such an organized manner. For SC, I used the Manhattan guide, advanced docs, 100 questions on SC and so on.
How did you go about with your application process?
I wrote the applications on my own and sent them to my friends and seniors who have already been to B-schools. They helped me with corrections and I asked them for advice on how to write a good application. I searched around online for applications from people who had backgrounds similar to mine. I formulated all of this into a strategy for my application process.
What were the colleges you applied to?
I applied to NUS, SMU, University of Hong Kong, Schulich, Simmons and Carnegie Mellon and got calls from Schulich, University of Rochester, University of Hong Kong and SMU.
What was your criteria for B-school selection?
I did not go for schools in the US because US is a very crowded market. Canada, when compared to US, is a worthy market that is still growing – the scope for the next 5- 10 years looks really bright. Also, the trade relation between Canada, India and Asian countries are really good. I targeted schools that had both the Asian as well as American mix.
What were your essays like?
There were a few common questions in all the essays like ‘Why MBA, where do you see yourself in the future’. Other questions were – ‘How do you differentiate Schulich from other universities?’ Carnegie Mellon asked- ‘What do you think you’re best at, why should we admit you?’
I was very clear on why I wanted to do an MBA and also clear as to why one should take me in based on my experience. Those are things I already had in hand with me.
When you’re faced with the question ‘Why this school?”, you’ve got to do research on a particular school, look into their MBA year books and listen to student speak videos. I listened to these videos multiple times, picked points that matched my criteria and put them together for my essays.
How do you plan to finance your MBA?
I would take the student loan, around 8-10 lakh of collateral fee and finance the remaining from personal funds, including my savings.
How was your CrackVerbal experience?
It was really good. The teaching efforts and energy level were amazing. They really helped me towards my MBA journey.
Do you have any tips for MBA aspirants?
I believe there’s no one strategy to prepare for the GMAT because everyone is different and has their own strengths and weaknesses. The first step is to identify which section you’re weak in and then strategize accordingly. You need to practice 3-4 hours for 6 days a week consistently on all the sections – this accumulative approach will surely help.
When you’re walking into the exam hall, or at least a week before the exam, have a completely uncluttered mind – a mind completely free of doubts. Don’t stress about how much you’re going to score or what you’re going to do after the exam. Just relax and look at the exam like a playground where you’ll have to face bouncers and you have to make your way out. Go out, have fun and relax your mind.
The reason I didn’t score well the first time was because I was nervous and thinking about the score even before attempting the exam- these are some mistakes that people can avoid.
For applications, you cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach. You have got to do enough research about each school. You have to listen and talk to people to understand each school well.
Thanks a lot Saurav for the valuable insight. All the best with everything J