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.