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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Survived an "earthquake", narrowly escaped a hurricane, all to return back to the West Coast, a GMAT retake and B-School Apps!

Mood: Thankful - to be alive and safe! 
Musing:  Flying first class in many ways is like a blind date: You and your seat companion start with drinks, then get served a fairly decent dinner, and watch the same in flight movie separately... and occasionally there's the possibility of an awkward and abrupt good-bye.   

Case in point: I spent the last two weeks working out east, and flying back home last week, I got upgraded to First on Delta which hardly ever happens (It's all about Star Alliance!).  I was seated next to a gentleman who broke the ice by asking me about my thoughts regarding sustainability in a factory environment.  He turns out to be a VP of Nike, and we chat at length as he had also gone to business school, and chose Thunderbird over HBS due to their excellent international program and "fit".  Apparently, back in the day, HBS didn’t even require the GMAT!  We both had some laughs about how things have changed.

2 important pieces from the conversation I remember:

#1: the MBA is a great degree, but I can probably get where I need to be without it.  It's not necessarily the MBA itself that is great, but what you make out of the experience.   
#2: make your essays stand out. He had someone coaching him through it as an international student, and drew upon his unique experiences and international background.
So I'm thinking this is a great networking opportunity and he would be a good resource down the line, but they happen to play "Water for Elephants" and I start tearing up halfway through (not because of the star-crossed lovers story, but because of the animal cruelty, though fictionalized, is still very upsetting) C'mon, it's Edward Cullen and Elle Woods - an odd combination, but it kind of works.  I'm too embarrassed to ask to connect on LinkedIn, especially since I pass out soon after and wake up to the plane landing. 

Music: Still trying to live the great memories of Vegas from a few weekends ago – David Guetta & French House Music

Not a Jersey Shore fan, but a super fun party with DJ Pauly D
I know its been a while since I’ve updated this blog, but I felt like after the GMAT, I just needed some time to decompress and detox.

Of course that happened to be in Las Vegas, where I headed that Thursday night with a group of 5 girlfriends.  Things to bring to Vegas: sunscreen. 5-hour energy. Good judgment. Small bills for tips. Comfortable walking shoes.  Spontaneity. 

Things to leave behind: Children. Significant others. Work. GMAT materials (I did not heed my own advice on the last two and ended up working and reading blogs poolside at our death rays hotel)

After talking so much smack about Sin City “There’s nothing to do here during the day but gamble!” and “It’s just a glorified desert!” I have to admit I was awestruck during the limo ride down the strip.  To my right was New York and to my left was Paris, beautiful resorts and people all around, excess and decadence and so much going on at all hours of the night – perhaps the complete opposite of my dear PNW city.  It was a blur of an amazing weekend – from a party at the Palms hosted by DJ Pauly D, beautiful city rooftop bar views, to free tickets to see Phantom of the Opera by a random couple on the strip, comedy shows, good food, on a roll at craps for 30 minutes (you can call me "Shooter"), and cramming 6 girls into a tiny suite, I all but forgot about the GMAT, yet emerged more motivated again to retake.  

Laying by our infamous hotel pool, I pulled up Poets and Quants, Beat the Gmat Forums, and my email on my iPad.  I started reading comments from others who expressed they were in the same position and were encouraging about retaking, then from others who recounted their own experiences and said I should just move on.  I realized – I’m not a quitter, and there’s no harm in trying.  If I just gave up on the GMAT then and there, without at least trying once more, looking back a few months, I would regret it.  I need to take it again just to know that I tried, and it is still perfectly reasonable to apply R2.  I just scheduled to take the exam on September 19th, about 3 weeks away.  I realize that my first time taking the exam was in a way, to get acquainted with the test, and now that I know what to expect, I can be more confident heading in. 

I received in the mail my official score report and got a 6 on the AWA - whoo-hooey!!  For someone who was not born in the US and grew up in a non-English speaking household, I feel pretty good about the essays and hope that section will also be stress-free in the retake.

Yep, we had some great views from our suite!

More importantly, I’m really looking forward to the other components of the application, and know that I need to start outlining my essays and asking for letters of recommendations.  The former, I look forward to with great enthusiasm as this is where I will have the greatest control in my application and can let my true personality shine, and the latter I dread, because that means I will have to let my employer know about my intentions of going back to B-School.

Now I’ve said many times that I love my job, and that it has been a perfect fit for me right after college.  Working in the educational sector, lots of travel, and getting to participate in a variety of assignments whether it is facilitating a workshop internationally or strategically planning with Superintendents and Heads of School, I get to tap into my strengths (creativity, interacting with others, presenting, client management) as well as work on my areas for growth (also presenting, client strategy, business development).  My company has implicitly stated that they won’t pay for a graduate degree, a graduate degree doesn’t matter there, and many of my colleagues who have attempted to leave to get their degree were unsuccessful; being wooed back with promotions, $$ and so on.  

Not me - I’m determined to stand firm with my reasons of why I want to go back, but my fear is that my supervisor, a partner of the firm who I have a great relationship with and knows my strengths, will not write me a recommendation, or do so reluctantly.  Though he also has a graduate degree, I can anticipate there will be some tough questions especially since there are also some major organizational changes underway within my company and now more than ever, it would be important to retain the existing consultants.   

My new dilemma is the ask – by nature, I’m a giver and am very eager to help others, whether it’s lending my roomie my car or letting people stay at my place, and can easily ask strangers for things.  I have a difficult time asking at work, partly because I haven’t really had to, as many of my assignments and projects have been assigned, but also because of the fear of the “no”.  I also worry about making my intentions of going back to school known too early, and forgo getting additional responsibilities or promotions, so I will continue to struggle with timing and the approach of “the ask”.  My best bet now is to put together a good packet for my recommenders with talking points, how B-school can help me reach my goals, and give them plenty of time.
The last thing I feel like I should mention is, I’m finally firming up the list of schools I’m applying to and realistically, will need to target R2.  Working in DC, I texted a girlfriend from undergrad – she is also applying for the MBA, and while we are on opposite coasts, we will be encouraging each other.  These last few weeks right after the GMAT really convinced me that I need to narrow down my list.  I've submitted my profile to be *hopefully* evaluated by HBSGuru aka Sandy on P&Q and will probably ask a few other consultants of their thoughts, but want to make sure that I have a solid list of schools to work from as I will need to do more in-depth research and connect with students and faculty.

All the advice and blog comments regarding whether to retake the GMAT has been wonderful - it's comforting knowing that others have been in my exact same place and that I'm not paranoid for thinking about retaking or even being a bit frustrated with that score.  I've said it many times and I'll say it again - I'm excited to be a part of this collective, ridiculous journey of applying to B-School and to hear from others that are also a part of it just makes the journey a lot more meaningful, and even more enjoyable.   There is some corny cliche abound regarding "the journey rather than the destination" but I think it does make sense in this case, as I'm learning a lot about myself through these small steps - essays, school research, and of course, even the GMAT :)

Alright, time to hit the sack.  After 2+ crazy weeks of non-stop traveling and on-site client work, 16 hour work days, and eluding natural disasters (was conducting a session in Baltimore when the earthquake hit a few miles south, and driving back to Boston from Cape Cod with gusts from the impending Irene), there's a ton of work to catch up on, practice GMAT exams to get back into, and sleep to relish!

I can't believe I had to leave the West Coast to experience my very first earthquake...!!!

Bucket List Continued:

29. Join a board of directors for a non-profit. In high school, I was a youth representative on a board of directors for the local chapter of a national non-profit (Camp Fire USA) and learned so much, and was excited that I had some say in the direction of an amazing organization.  While one of my many dreams is to lead a non-profit type organization, being on a board can be a hugely influential role depending on how you leverage it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

G-Day finally arrives....and my biggest fear is realized

Mood: A little disappointed but not defeated. 

Music: Ice Cream Paint Job; my roomie’s CD wound its way into my car when she borrowed it last week and I’ve been jamming to her hip-hop beats.  I was really hoping that my theme song would be “All I do is win” by DJ Khaled but today’s results provided that, well, that song might have to wait.

Musings: Most people in line at the test center are entirely way too relaxed.  Maybe its because I live in the PNW, and a test center in Manhattan might have a very different atmosphere.  Then again, it's probably because not all of them are there to take the GMAT (I'm pretty sure I was the only one).  Among the tests Pearson VUE offers include "Florida Auctioneer", "DC Board of Funeral Directors" and "North Carolina Bail Bondsman".  I'm kind of curious as to the actual test you have to pass to be a certified, legitimate auctioneer; I've been told I talk way too fast and figure that might be a viable career option if B-school doesn't pan out.  :)

G-day has finally arrived!

They need to start making these SomeEcards for the GMAT...
After what seems like months of preparing, panicking, mini-celebrating, and a whole range of emotions, G-day finally arrives.  I spend the final days reviewing my weak spots (still data sufficiency and certain word problems) and take my last practice test Sunday morning, at 8am with timed breaks so I can get used to testing early morning and score a respectable 720.  I know that much of the advice has been to "rest my brain" before the exam.  I take it relatively easy on Sunday, attending a co-workers baby shower, grocery shopping and catching up with a friend on the phone for an hour, but I still felt the need to be immersed in GMAT - historically speaking with studying, this is how I've always been.

So this morning I get up early, shower, eat, put on yoga pants (elastic waistband makes all the difference!) and a red sorority t-shirt (for luck).  After receiving text messages of support, Facebook wall posts and even an E-card, I had some amazing support and I'm very thankful for the great friends that have put up with me during this time.  As I hit the freeway my mind alternates, dancing between thoughts of Vegas and the test.  Part of me wanted to just be done with the whole thing and the other part of me already started to miss the GMAT.  If I can make a bizarre analogy - it’s like that eccentric, slightly annoying family member that comes and stays with you for an extended period of time (think cousin Cody on Step-by-Step), but after a while starts growing on you because you are forced to spend so much time with them, and when they are gone you are wondering how to fill the void in your life.  Hah.

I arrive at the test center 30 minutes early, which is a rarity since I’m usually right on time or late, and I spend the time in line reviewing this very helpful guide to writing the AWA – it was the first time I had given any thought to this section, since I've been told it would be a breeze.

Now onto the test itself:  I started with the AWA and emerged very confident.  Both topics related somewhat to shopping and consumers, which of course are right up my alley, and found myself referencing Gilt Group, Netflix, Zappos, Amazon, Yelp, Vogue and Lucky magazine and feeling pretty good throughout.  Took the short break, then headed into Quant.

Oh boy Quant.  This was probably the most random, unpredictable Quant I had ever seen, and more than a few times got thrown off.  Not necessarily hardest, but question types I had not encountered before.  With the exception of the first question, I started out strong, but then ran into some very basic questions in the middle which made me nervous.  I was doing great on time as compared to before, but got bogged down on a few questions towards end and was barely able to finish.  Verbal was not much better, in fact, this was the toughest Verbal I had seen yet, and Verbal has always been my strength.  Usually I rush in Verbal but told myself to slow down.  Perhaps too slow, since I ended up running out of time towards the end and guessed on some final verbal responses, something I had not ever had to do.  The last few questions was a blur, and ended knowing that I had paced myself terribly.

By the time the 30-minute experimental section for the upcoming 2012 GMAT rolled around, I was a ball of nerves. I knew for experimental purposes I was to try my best on the questions, but I was mentally drained.  Side Note: If the GMAC really thinks that test-takers are going to put in 100% effort on these problems, they are severely mistaken.  If test-takers are going to do a mental marathon for nearly 4 hours beforehand, how can the GMAC expect us to take this section seriously when all we want to do is see our score and get outta there?!

More interpreting graphs, charts, I slugged my way through, guessed on some, felt relief that I would not have to take the 2012 version of the GMAT and finally got to the review screen.  I had 2 minutes to decide whether to send my scores or cancel, and for a split second considered canceling.  Then I realized that I had spent $250 and grudgingly clicked on through to the result screen.

A great visual of how I results don't accurately reflect my time spent!
My score? 690 (88%) with a 47Q (76%) and 38V (83%).  My biggest fear had come true, I was stuck at the 690-mark.  How did the timing get to me again?  I had resolved that if my score was in the low 700’s, I would stick with it and move on to my application.  My last two scores were 720 and 750, before that a combination of 710's and 690's so I wasn't entirely surprised.  But this was a score that I did not think accurately reflected my test-taking capacity and preparation, but instead encompassed my nerves and lack of pacing.

On my drive home, I was determined to schedule a retake.  Yes, I would have to drag it out an additional month, and yes this might mean less time on applications (Round 1 is a little under 2 months away) but did I really think that I would only take it once?  I took the SAT three times, and drastically improved my second time (1420 to 1530).   Some people thought I was crazy then, but I knew I had a better score in me after I completed the first time.  (If you are wondering why I retook the SAT after the 1530, no I was not a deranged perfectionist in high school, but I had scheduled the 3rd test before I took the 2nd test, so I figured oh what the heck.  Needless to say, my score went down, which I definitely want to avoid here.)

Back home, I immediately Googled "retake 690" to see what the recommendations were, and to see if I was crazy for retaking with that score.  Apparently this is a dilemma that is plaguing lots of people, as evidenced by the forums and blogs.  To retake or not to retake?  690 is a pretty frustrating score for most, just because it is right below the 700 cut-off.  Yet I truly believe that whether retaking is the right decision differs for everyone, and can think of good reasons for both.

The advice was all over the board, but I have condensed it and made it applicable to my situation:

Reasons why I should retake:
  • I know I can do better, I spent a lot of energy preparing. I want my score to be a reflection of my efforts
  • What do I have to lose?  According to many, schools only care about the highest score, even though they may frown upon taking 3+ times (which I do not plan on doing)
  • I took the SAT 3 times. Different tests, different circumstances, but I did my best the second time.
  • Retaking, or even debating whether to retake with a sub-700 score is not that uncommon, as evidenced by the plethora of forum and blog postings. I am totally a "what if" kind of person, and would kick myself if I didn't try just once more.
  • I was a bundle of nerves and ran out of time in both sections. If I can get my timing down, I will be fine, in addition to now knowing the testing center setup.
  • The schools I am applying to (top 15) are highly competitive and only take the highest scores, with averages around 720.  While I'm in the 80% range, I think my chances improve if I'm at the average instead of below it.
  • My college grades are average but not stellar.  Though attended a top-10 non-Ivy university, I was in the middle of my class and majored in a social science, not a numbers-heavy discipline.  With respect to the quantitative component of my application, I want to have a GMAT score that will at least make up for some of what my GPA lacks.
  • Apparently some employers ask for your GMAT score.  While I’m certainly not looking to go into Finance or I-Banking, some of the top Management Consulting firms ask for the GMAT on the resume and it could be a hindrance down the road, even if I do make it into my dream B-School.
Reasons Why I should NOT retake:
  • Could spend that time writing essays, working on the rest of my application.
  • Other parts of my application are strong, including work experience, leadership and extracurricular activities and I feel like I can put together solid essays. 
  • $250 can go a long way  5 hours in Vegas :)
  • I would need to take another vacation day for the exam, since weekend slots have filled up, which I would love to save up for actual vacations.
  • I've been looking forward to getting the rest of my life back in place after the GMAT. Oh well, what’s another month in the grand scheme of things?
  • Of course, there is always the possibility that my score could go down, and that might reflect negatively. 
Was I overly confident heading into the GMAT? Not as much confident as ready, since I felt like I had practiced sufficiently, though the quality of my practice is up for debate.  For the GMAT, there is a margin of error of +/- 30 points.

Where do I go from here?  I'm a pretty positive, optimistic person and really think I need to keep moving on, but most importantly, I should probably start on the applications, especially the essays.  To get organized, I'm putting together an Excel spreadsheet of where I am planning on applying, with the Essays prompts and starting essay outlines.  I really didn’t want to be writing essays at the same time as my exam, so I will schedule the retake as close as possible to the 31 day mark.  I'll be meeting with my study buddy "H" and plan out application strategies.

My friends are excited to be seeing me again, and of course I am looking forward to being more social, though I'll still be hard at work to make the R1 deadlines.  After Vegas this weekend, my travel schedule picks up again starting next week for two weeks and before I know it, it will be GMAT time all over again.  This time, I plan on not letting my nerves or the test pacing get the best of me :)

Can't lie...I'm kind of excited for this!

Alright, heading out to turbo-kickboxing class (it's been too long!)


Thursday, August 4, 2011

I am seriously doing a happy dance right now.

This is going to be a really [relatively] short entry, because I am dancing around my living room at the moment.

The title of my posting says it all.  After a long day at work, I decided to head over to visit home.  My sweet mom offered to cook dinner for me during the final countdown week to G-Day - she refused to let me subsist on microwave dinners and take-out, and I have a hard time turning down a home cooked meal or food of any kind :) .  

After my CAT exam performance this weekend, I resolved to keep practicing and to not be disappointed.  So I went home, took a nap for an hour, reviewed the problems I missed on the last CAT exam, ate dinner, and sat down on my computer to take yet another timed practice test.  Working through the test, I felt the same familar panicky feeling setting on as once again, I was running out of time on quant.  I took some deep breaths and grudgingly moved on to take my best guess at some questions when I realized I wasn't going to be able to solve the answer in less than 3 minutes.  When it came to Verbal, I decided to take my time and went through each question slowly.  Before, I usually had 5-7 minutes left, but this time, I resolved to stare at the screen until I was absoutely confident in my answer.  After what seemed like forever for the exam, down to the last second in Quant and with a minute left in Verbal, I finally finished, feeling dread at seeing my Quant scores.

The result?

750 with 48q and 45v! Oh yeahhh!!!

Emotions: shock, happiness, hope, relief.  Can this be replicated on G-Day with the addition of the experimental section and AWA?  Was it because I was well-fed and rested and wearing pajama pants?  Or because on the bus ride to work this morning and home, I poured through the MGMAT Sentence Correction book instead of playing Angry Birds?  Whatever the reason, I'm intent on keeping it up in my next practice exams and hopefully that will transfer over to the real thing.

Going to catch some sleep...but I feel like I have a renewed energy for the next four days leading into G-Day!

Still dancing,

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Getting down to the Wire (Good thing I didn't start watching the show, I've learned my lessons in procrastination from college)

Mood:  Inspired. Just co-facilitated a workshop today on multidisciplinary 21st century skills.  If you haven't deduced yet, I work in consulting in the educational sector :)  After sharing this TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson to highlight the importance of inventive thinking, I was reminded again of why I'm in the field of education, why I hope to remain here long-term, and why there needs to be change especially in the approach and organizational structure.  This is a rant best saved for another blog entry, but it is something that I'm quite passionate about, and hope to shape it into a running theme of my B-School essays.

Music: Revisited my Jack Johnson Pandora station.  It reminds me of last spring when my best friend and I backpacked (we like to call it flashpacking) through SE Asia and would put Jack Johnson on in the evenings while were sitting in our cabanas, looking up at the stars.  Those flashpacking trips (we've covered Puerto Rico, SE Asia, Mexico, and most recently, Brazil) bring me back to when I was truly carefree and removed from the crazy realities of life.  On a bus once, we asked our driver to put on our iPod.

His response?  "As long as its not that awful Jack Johnson or John Mayer sh*t the backpacker kids always make me play!" to which we responded, " It's Britney :)"

Remote Ko Lipe Island in Thailand...the best 2.5 weeks of my life :)
Random Musings:  I've just updated my LinkedIn page, started connecting with my clients, and am trying to pull all my different social-media identities on the web into a central location, through an "" page.  I figure is the quickest way to summarize what I am about, almost like a virtual business card! 

With 1 week left, the pressure is building!

In the past, when I have had to cram for exams, I've always found reasons to procrastinate.  Case in point: My sophomore year, I had stayed away from all the hype surrounding Grey's Anatomy until finals week when I was looking for a distraction.  That came in the form of McDreamy, McSteamy and during those fateful few weeks, I crammed while watching almost an entire season.  Two years later, it came in the form of Pac Man on Facebook.  Amidst writing final papers, I perfected my Pac Man strategies and wound up as one of the top 50 players in the world, my profile proudly displayed on the winner circle.   That week I received a flurry of messages from Pac Man fans all over, friend requests, some asking for pointers while others had more uh, odd requests.  They're pending in case I am ever in need of a self esteem boost, ha!

Surprisingly, I've avoided getting hooked on any new TV show or achieving champion level of any games (though I'm so ready to get back into bar trivia nights!).  I chalk this up to maturity, and of course, my job.  Last week, we had our quarterly, all-day firm-wide team meetings where I was catching up on work in the evenings, which is generally reserved for GMAT.  Last Tuesday afternoon, I was looking forward to getting in some much needed time with permutations and probability, my greatest weaknesses in Quant, when I was shooed along to a company-mandated associate dinner.   It was like a family reunion, with many of my out-of-town co-workers coming back and we had a blast indulging in delicious PNW food,  sending drinks back and forth, and catching up.  As much as I wanted to socialize afterward and go karaoke with the group, I knew that studying was the wiser decision and I couldn't give my best rendition of "Since U Been Gone" knowing that my GMAT books were probably thinking the same thing about me.

Of course, this past weekend was dedicated to more studying. After taking another practice test on Sunday, my score went down to 690.  When I saw that score, I panicked. What is going to happen, am I doomed to be hovering around the 700-mark, not knowing if I would go over or under? I know that 700 is the big hurdle to jump over, but I didn't want to just hop over it, I wanted to clear it with a lot of breathing room.  So I decided to analyze my test scores, and direct my focus to my weak spots.  Since I had purchased the Manhattan GMAT set, this provided access to 6 practice exams online. I could take each exam multiple times, and I had two others from the GMAC, so I did not need to worry about running out of exams to take.

Here's the crazy thing - I've worked through much of the GMAT OG, Manhattan GMAT series, as well as Kaplan and Princeton review guides.  I placed sticky notes on each page detailing the problems I got wrong and right.  I timed myself on individual problems from the books and generally stayed under 2 minutes for math, close to 1 minute for writing.  Why was I doing well in practice problems but not so well on the Exam?  Why am I coming out confident but missing almost half of the problems?  I've come to realize that a lot of it is just due to the nature of the test and testing - I have a terrible time pacing myself in Quant and need to be better at distinguishing when to complete and when to skip problems so I don't get trapped at the end. 

So.  Crunch time counting down to test day, a week away.  My goal? Take a practice test daily leading up to G-Day.  A little extreme?  Nah.  I am determined to conquer and be comfortable with the test!
Yes, those are Sentence Correction post-it notes stuck on my door :)
To close, I'll admit I'm a huge fan of success stories and happy endings.  When a hero faces an obstacle and over comes it despite their shortcomings.  Well. I'm definitely no hero but the GMAT is a beast.  I remember referring to the application process as a marathon not a sprint. The GMAT is a huge mental marathon. And all the practice problems are like mini sprints.  Looking back, I should have spent equal time on my test-taking abilities, as those have declined as well.  Knowing the information is one thing, but being about to pound it out problem after problem and while your confidence is eroding?  That takes instinct, resolve, and of course, practice.

Steve Prefontaine is a great hero where I'm from.  This was one man who embodied charisma, confidence, and endurance, not to mention he really knew how to rock the 'stache ;).  "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift"
I know my best is somewhere in there... Let's hope it comes out when it really counts!
Less than a week until G-day!!


PS - A recent incident (aka realization that I am reaching my quarter-life mark) prompted me to reflect on what I hope to accomplish by age 30.  As determined as I am to attend B-School, I don't want that to be my only significant accomplishment in the second half of my 20's.  As I post entries, I hope to add to the 30 x 30 list and hopefully that will reveal a little more about my aspirations outside of my career, and my personality :)

to start...

30. Give a TED talk about something I can claim some sort of expertise in (outside of Pac Man). Inspire others. Make them chuckle.