road to 700

At the start of 2018, I decided to do my best to document my journey toward and during b-school. Namely, I wanted to write down my thoughts, strategies, challenges, and successes related to my goal of attending UCLA’s FEMBA program.

It’s certainly not a sure thing (touch wood), but there are a myriad of factors that led to this decision stretching back the better part of 6 months. It culminated in my decision to leave my last job and move down here to LA. One important component of the FEMBA application (besides grades, work experience, etc) is the GMAT.

Now, nobody likes standardized testing, let’s be real.*

This aversion to testing probably dates back to elementary school days with CORE testing (aptitude test here in California) to the STAR/CAHSEE in middle/high school (during my time) to AP tests to SATs and ACTs and beyond. Somehow, there was always a test you had to take somewhere, somehow. Cut to 2012 when I took my GRE, having studied only ridiculously obscure vocabulary words so I wouldn’t completely flunk it. I did ok, good enough to help get me into my masters program. Fast forward once more to today, where I’m looking at these probability math problems laughing at Younger Me’s conviction that I wouldn’t ever have to take another test again because heck no, was I planning on going back to school. Funny how things turn out.

The GMAT is the exam of choice preferred by most b-school programs. A lot of part-time programs, like FEMBA, will also accept the GRE but I didn’t know that when I signed up. I figured that worst case, if I crashed and burned, I would take the GRE again because it’s a little more straightforward in some respects.

There are 4 sections: analytical writing, integrated reasoning, quantitative, and verbal. Two of the four, quant and verbal, seem pretty straightforward and are typically what comprise the numbered score everyone cares about. The IR section is interesting in that there’s more business sort of reasoning involved with all the charts and data interpretation. The essay didn’t seem like anything crazy either, just take a position and argue for/against in a slightly thoughtful way.

I gave myself less than four weeks to prep, which in hindsight was a terrible idea. I also set a minimum goal of 700 for myself since I figured that was a goal score that most people set for themselves and considered “good” for most b-schools, based on my internet forum research. There were a few concerns going in. Number one was math and number two was time. Those “data sufficiency” questions ended up being the death of me. Same goes for timing. It’s difficult to find the right balance between rushing and giving the right questions the right amount of thought.

But I did it!

700 flat. I didn’t take any of the breaks and I actually thought I did better than I really did. Turns out my percentile ranking for math sucked but I aced the verbal section so hard that it all balanced out to a 700 that I’m fairly happy with. The raw scores are balanced enough, Q44 and V41. I really, REALLY, don’t want to sit for another exam again. I also spent approximately 20-25 hours total studying for this test and the internet says that it takes a lot more than that to break 700, so I’m fairly pleased with how I did.

In true Asian parent fashion, Mum and Dad both interpreted that to mean that if I had actually taken it more seriously and studied the 120 hours, I would’ve gotten a perfect score. I doubt it, given how the scoring works, but heck, I’m just aiming to get across the finish line here.

So yay, 1 less hurdle to worry about on my journey to FEMBA. Time to start my application!

*The vast majority of the population, at least, so I rounded up.

A Month of No Shopping

The first step is always admitting it, right? So here goes: I have a spending problem. Don’t get me wrong – I still save quite a bit of my earnings. Before I moved down to LA this year, I was maxing out my 401(k), contributing the full amount to my company’s stock program, maxing out a Roth IRA, and still putting a little extra into savings. A lot of this was helped majorly by bonuses and unloading vested RSU’s, but nonethless, I made it work. I’m also very grateful to my parents (thanks mum) who put money in my account to pay for family travel expenses, etc.

Since I’ve moved, I’ve dialed back my retirement contributions in the interest of saving for a more immediate goal – paying for b-school (which I’ve still got to get into). Currently, there is a mandatory 7% pre-tax deduction, and I also put in an extra ~8% post-tax. I no longer receive all the nice bonuses and RSU awards I used to, since I work for the state now. I also took a pretty substantial pay cut, but I’ll talk about that some other time. Same goes for my personal finance strategy. Every person is different, but it’s something I want to examine over time.

Anyway, my point is that I have this bad habit of justifying spending sprees whenever there is a major life change or event that occurs. Some of it is definitely necessary, but a lot of is isn’t. I just get it into my head that a new phase in my life (or new travel adventure) necessitates a new wardrobe or new shoes or new toys. Yes, I did need to buy more “business-casual” clothes for my new job because I used to wear jeans everyday (that’s tech for you). Yes, I did need to re-furnish an entire apartment and am still in the process of doing so. And yes, I did need to buy that new $150 vacuum cleaner because for some reason, this apartment is dustier than any place I’ve ever lived and I don’t even open the windows? It was also my birthday month, which I subconsciously used to extra-justify all my spending (sigh).

What I didn’t need was to buy 8 pairs of pants in my quest for the perfect work pant, nor did I need to splurge on a gazillion new pairs of (nice) flats. And I most definitely did not need an X-Box. At least I had the good sense to return that one. I know this because I still reach for the same pairs of pants and shoes at least 2/3 of the week. And they’re not even the new ones. Sigh. So suffice it to say, I’ve been throwing my credit card around like nobody’s business and I’m pretty sure the UPS/FedEx drivers are very familiar with my front door by now.

So I’m going to press pause on any unnecessary shopping through the month of February. “Unnecessary” is categorized as just that – no clothes, no shoes. No toys. No sous vide gadgets. No junk food that I can make myself.


  • Furniture for my apartment. This most likely will consist of a TV stand and maybe a second floor lamp for my living room.Β A TV. (Bought it this weekend, actually.)
  • Groceries. But try to restrict buying things like pre-baked goods, candy, processed food stuffs. If I want to bake something from scratch, that’s acceptable.
  • Some house items. Stuff related to upkeep and cleaning are ok. Replacing things I’ve used up, but don’t have any extras stashed away for are ok (eg. I have a bajillion types of toner in my stash so I don’t need to buy new toner, but I’m almost out of face wash and I don’t have any of that).
  • Miscellaneous to-dos. Like repairing my major curb rash, or buying return flights and such.
  • Trip expenses. I’m going up to SF for President’s Day weekend, so I can spend on food and such then.
  • Kindle. After being lost to the void in China, I’ve been debating whether to replace this immediately or later on. What I’m worried about is having to take one last emergency trip back home, and not being able to read. TBD.
  • 1 movie. I might catch Black Panther in theaters this month.
  • Existing subscriptions. Currently just Crunchyroll and Shades Club. Spotify’s been paid for the year, and Elizabeth and Clarke is once a quarter.

There you have it. I’m going to make do with what I have, try to eat clean and enjoy watching the Winter Olympics this month. My credit card spending reserves have pretty much dwindled at this point, so I’m starting without any cheat funds available to put on my cards. To myself – good luck! You’ll need it. ;D