Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Head down - fingers crossed!

Not a lot to report since the last update - cash/job situation still stuck awkwardly in low gear, meaning reliance on scholarship funding / loans is all the more magnified at this point.... still awaiting good news from the Fulbright Commission - so fingers crossed!! :) :)

As August behins to rear its head it looks like it's time to hit the round one applications - funding or not!  I sense much essay-writing, reference priming and suchlike in the coming days.....

Monday, 13 June 2011

Been a while!! Update :)

Well it's been a little while and thought I'd better get recording the various 'going-on's  here :)

Since last update, my final references were submitted on-time and I managed to get the application for the Fulbright scholarship hand-delivered to the commission before the deadline so am eagerly awaiting a response!  Hopefully will hear within the next month how things are looking, though plan to get started on planning the admissions essays for my chosen universities *now*. :-D

A few more universities are definately appearing on my radar as far as a potential match to study-requirements is concerned, most prominent of which being Stanford - whose MBA course appears to match my own aspirations as far as subject matter is concerned.  The issue of funding is still my most pressing concern, as work is still in short supply, but am really getting stuck into volunteering for a project that focuses on London's hosting of the 2012 Olympics in the meantime :)   It would be a shame to leave the project if/when paid work comes along, but bills have to be paid and savings need to be replenished if I'm going to have any chance of starting the course next year!!

Apart from that, I've taken a break from GMAT studies in order to round off my language skills (french refresher course) as such skills should be greatly beneficial in coming years.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Submission!! :)

With final references submitted, essays written and a bit of good research on business schools done (as had to select a few as part of the application), my Fulbright application is complete and is sat looking at me across the desk from in its white envelope....  I'll walk this down to the commission later today, and just in time too - the deadline for applications is the 31st of this month.  I think next time I need to seek references a few more 'back-up' approaches may be needed, it got a little worrying in the lead-up to this week chasing up the final submission!!  I imagine there'll be quite a few others in the same boat.

The finance situation is still looking a little grim, as work has yet to pick up and the nice pot of savings I've collected over the last two years for the MBA is being eroded swiftly.... all one can do is keep their fingers crossed and hope for the best!  (that and hope that there's something resembling a chance of full funding out there! lol) 

In the meantime, I've found some great volunteering opportunities in the local area - if anyone else finds that they have some free time I'd really recommend getting involved in local projects as I'm sure you'll get a real buzz from making a difference to the projects you get involved in :)  (for anyone based in the UK, it's worthwhile checking out BTCV, formerly the 'British Trust for Conservation Volunteers' -- there are a lot of great projects country-wide)

Next week, as well as the regular jobhunt, I'll be starting a new project assessing applicants for the London Ambassadors programme - the initiative for supporting the London 2012 olympics.  I'm really looking forward to getting involved with this one and it looks like we're going to be very busy interviewing all the volunteers!! :)

Thursday, 12 May 2011

A break from studies :)

Well it's been a little while and whilst I've been working through the GMATClub app's set of 'Hard Quant questions', I've also taken a slight break to focus my efforts on three of the other workstreams that would enable me to take an MBA next year:

1) Fulbright Commission --- I'm still working on the application and have become a little nervous that my third and final referee has yet to submit his letter online.... a little bit of chasing is required!!

2) Work --- Whilst the song says that 'starting from zero you've got nothing to lose', an empty bank account does not make for an attractive application when it comes to Visas or indeed when looking at funding two years of studies in the states.  Numerous applications have been filed in the last few weeks and hopefully one will hit the mark!!

3) Volunteer work (aka 'keeping sane')  --- spent the last couple of days digging up bits of a nature reserve in the hope of supporting the BTCV's efforts to improve biodiversity and make the Russia Dock area of east london a more pleasant environment :)  unfortunately I've also been severely bitten by the local mosquito population and am suffering as a result....  it'll give me something extra to talk about when it comes to University interviews though!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Distracted by flashcards :)

Stumbled across a good resource courtesy of GMATclub that has somewhat distracted me from the iPhone app question bank this last 24hrs.... very much worth a look!  (some corrections pending).

That's all for today :)

Sunday, 1 May 2011

End of the holidays - back to work :)

Righteo, it's been a few days since this blog has been updated and admittedly I've done very little in the way of revision since the last post.  In the interest of avoiding burn-out, however, this short break was muchly needed to keep spirits up, which will undoubtedly benefit me in the coming weeks as I approach the re-sit :)

<< a weekend of friends visiting, watching the royal wedding from outside the abbey and general relaxation >>

It's also one month to go before the Fulbright Comission MBA Scholarship application deadline and it looks like I'm one reference short... I'll have to chase this up next week!! (as well as re-visiting the draft essays)

My plan for this evening is to attempt the questions asked in the GMATClub iPhone app - the version I have contains 111 'hard' (700+) quant questions - so should be useful practice.   Before starting, I see there is a useful 'History' function built in that will not only allow me to re-visit those questions I got wrong but also highlight any questions taking 1min30+ and 2mins+ to answer correctly... this should be very useful! (results to follow)

Monday, 25 April 2011

Park life

All the people, so many people... :)  Okay, I'm not about to break into song, but I have spent the entire day down in the park getting mildly irradiated, watching people wander by and revising DS-type questions from the OG12.

Happy to say that I've flown through them, up to about 60 so far - luckily I've seen so many other questions since my last run-through of the book I'm actually having to think about the reasoning behind the answers instead of playing a game of 'lets remember what I said last time'.

Unfortunately, I can remember RC/SC sections fairly well and so when I come to revising these sections again I'll need lots of new source material and original questions to play with.

The thought of spending another $300 on the GMAT is somewhat sickening, especially finding myself out of contract and seeking work - perhaps I'll spend tomorrow chasing up potential jobs (as a lack of cash may indeed be as restrictive to future MBA plans as a deficient GMAT quant score)...  fingers crossed for tomorrow!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

References + more studies....

Well, I'm a month away from the Fulbright scholarship deadline and have just been pinged a note by the system that two out of three references are secured + submitted! :)  Next week I'll polish off the remaining essays I've previously worked up to a decent draft stage, leaving just the final reference to chase.  No sweat!

These last few days I've been hammering the quant questions available through the forums on - lots of fun (!).  Was stumped by one particular combination question that asked:

"There are three secretaries who work for four departments. If each of the four departments has one report to be typed out, and the reports are randomly assigned to a secretary, what is the probability that all three secretaries are assigned at least one report? "

What had me really stumped was that once I thought I had the answer, it was significantly different from the OA.  As the OA looked a bit dodgy, I thought I'd trawl google for suggested solutions and answers and was somewhat dismayed to find a number of different answers posted by various tutors and quant-proficient individuals.....

Being something of an excel geek, I then decided to check this out long-hand myself.... as I thought, the OA offered in the gmatclub download was wrong.  Nevermind, the combinatronics document is otherwise a good resource and my the learning experience has been enriched somewhat by having to prove why my thinking was right :) :) here's my final answer ......

Spoiler:  There are 3^4 (or 3*3*3*3) possible combinations = each option therefore is 1/81.

You then choose 1 of three secretaries (3C1) to receive two reports (4C2), and then work out the number of permutations to assign the remaining 2 reports to the 2 remaining secretaries (2P2).

3C1 * 4C2 * 2P2 = 36

Answer: = 36/81 = 4/9

Now it's time to cycle down to the lake, enjoy the sunshine and run through some DS problems.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Blown fuse

I've somehow blown the circuits in my mental 'maths-fusebox' and am now fudging even the simplest of calcs...  time to hit MGMAT's quant guide and start from the ground up :-/

Hopefully I'll get this text polished off in the next week and I can get attempt #2 booked into the diary before everyone descends on my flat for the royal wedding :) :)

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Keeping it up - the revenge of the GMAT :)

Broke my promise to myself on Thursday and ended up in the Fulbright library, running through MGMAT quant books :) :)  Since my score in the math section was almost the definition of 'average' I figured I'll really need to brush up on DS, properties of n! and so on before launching the bid for a spot at one of the top 5.

That said, 680 should be good enough for most business schools out there, so will proceed with applications for scholarships and other schools who are already a good fit, whilst plugging away at my math skills.

Talking of schools with good fits, I'm not sure about whether I should actually apply for LBS... the pros are that it:  is literally next door (so no relocation costs etc), can provide access to 'the City' for projects / internships and so on, is ranked #1 by the FT and comparatively highly in other publications this year.

The cons, on the other hand are: by being 'next door' there isn't the comparable expansion of perspectives and personal development that is offered by schools abroad,  funding is very difficult to come by for UK based MBA's - it will basically be a full bank loan at a rather painful rate, and having attended a lecture (+information evening) there I'm not yet onvinced it provides the teaching environment I'd be comfortable in.... I'm quite the proponent of the case method and find the standard lectures (such as those offered by most courses here in the UK) do not make full use of the opportunity to learn from other perspectives offered in the room.

Decisions decisions....

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Post-GMAT cooldown

Well, that wasn't so bad - albeit I fluffed up on the Maths... just how many data sufficiency questions can you ask on obsure powers of x??  Q40, V42 - overall 680.  

Whilst I'm quite happy to tackle Harvard with this, I might try a re-sit in a month or two just to see if I can bring that quant up a bit... or maybe just throw myself into some investment management studies in the meantime (as most of it's on the RC, I'll sit the IMC in the coming months and count it as useful prep)

oh and happy birthday to me.... will celebrate by not studying for the next 24hrs... lol


Edit: (20/04/11) -- Definately need improvement to Q45+ for HBS... resit is inevitable :)

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

GMAT studies (7) - one day to go

Well, I've been rattling through more online prep material (GMAT club has a good few online tests to try out, as well as an active discussion community) for the last few days and feeling faily relaxed  - I'm not expecting to get 800 (there's a lot more to life than being able to work out all the values of X in a formula that won't work in 10 seconds - great if you can do it, but I'm pretty sure that's why computers and junior analysts exist), but pretty confident that I can pull off a 700+

Some new free stuff to look out for: GMAT Club, Veritas, MBA toolkit and BeatTheGMAT apps for the iPhone.

Just spent the last few hours running through my final practice CAT, only had 20 seconds on my last math question (timing is getting there!!) and got a 730 for my efforts... okay mr test, I'm ready for you! ;)

Friday, 8 April 2011

GMAT studies (6)

Buoyed by a 730 on the last practice I took a look at the 'tougher' questions on - focusing on Manhattan GMAT and Kaplan's regular 'challenge' posts.

Oh my... if anyone can do these in 2 minutes, they deserve an 800.  I'd hope that these questions are not representative of potential 700+ level questions as they take me at least 10-15 minutes (if not longer).

5 days to go, 2 practice tests left....

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Fulbright Commission (2)

As posted earlier, I've spent the day down at the Fulbright Commission library to read up on various schools, to see what a good reference letter is supposed to look like (to give pointers to my referees) and to run through a number of practice questions from the vast collection of prep books they have over there :)

The number of silly mistakes being made on the quant section is still worrying me, mistakes that I hope not to repeat next week as the exam isn't the cheapest one I've sat.....  time will tell and there are still two practice tests to get through.

Also met two nice folk who were planning to take their undergraduate degrees in the US - one of them had been wait-listed for Harvard and both were looking seriously at the funding options available to them.  It's pretty amazing that despite the high headline figures often quoted for the top universities there are so many opportunities for having the course funded without knocking on the local bank manager's door (and probably being charged for the honour of doing so).

I saw a neat trick of simplification the other day - a combination question where you knew how many you choose (2) and you knew the number of combinations (15), just not the overall sample size

starting with: nC2 = 15

n! / 2! (n-2)! = 15    <<< the formula for nCr where r=2 and we know the result = 15

n * (n-1) * (n-2)!  /   2! (n-2)! = 15  <<< as n! = n*(n-1)*(n-2)*(n-3)....*(n-n)  or simply n*(n-1)*(n-2)!

(n^2 - n) / 2 = 15  <<< as we have (n-2)! on top and bottom, we can eliminate to leave n(n-1), which multiplies out to n squared minus n

n^2 - n = 30

n = 6

GMAT studies (5)

Two more practice tests, 680 and 700 respectively.... I'm feeling a little better about things as it's a clear improvement on the first one!  Still too slow on the maths though - really need to get the timing sorted out asap as I'd hate to miss out on a 700 just for being a little bit slow!

Off to the Fulbright library today - application is well underway, draft essays are starting to look good and references are starting to come in! :)

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

GMAT studies (4)

Just finished the Kaplan online practice test and review seminar - overall I thought it was very good.

The best part is the handling of the test itself.  It runs pretty much as the GMATPrep software is presented - standard blue layout, question / answer formats as they are presented in the real thing - a good range of difficulties too. The advantage here is that you get a good breakdown of where you went wrong, how long each question took you (good to spot those questions that take 7 minutes where only 2 are available!) as well as answer explanations in a follow-up email. 

Of value, but less so (I found) is the interactive session a few days later with one of their instructors, in the company of several other students (also attending online) - which is a format representative of their online teaching environment and so useful for those contemplating this method of tuition. 

I found the session was well delivered, both technically (streamed online) and professionally, with a friendly instructor who (whilst obviously having done this many times before) really handled the session well, even when students (i.e. me) chip in with comments during the session.   

The only down-side is that relatively few pre-selected test questions are touched upon in this session, as the time allocated for the session is 90 minutes, the remaining portion of which runs through their standard explanation of the GMAT format which I've now seen a good few times at other events.

That said, I did spot a new way of analysing the question types, a way which would've saved me about 10 minutes on my answer-time (getting all the answers down in the time limit is now looking much more achievable). In summary, it's another great free opportunity to get a practice test under the belt.

Fulbright Commission

Having been investigating finance options for quite a while, I was delighted to discover the Fulbright Commission ( who have a range of resources available for students looking to study in the US, as well as various scholarships that one may apply for.

The aims of the organisation are to promote peace and understanding through cultural exchange, an ideal I'm fully supportive of having been actively involved with AIESEC in the past - who similarly promote cultural understanding through the exchange of students on work placements around the world. (a big 'HEY AIESEC' to anyone out there!)

That said, the situation in the US is rather attractive compared with that of the UK anyway, considering the availability of funding direct from US schools in the form of fellowships and loans.  Hopefully the UK will catch on to this idea quickly, as whilst we see tuition fees increasing for the undergraduate population we also see a reduced willingness from the banks to lend sufficient funds to students.

The deadlines for applications to the Commission are varied, depending on which of the schemes one applies to - though it is worth noting that key deadlines for 2012 intakes are swiftly approaching.

Good luck to anyone else out there applying for scholarships!!.

GMAT studies (3)

Another day and yet another practice CAT - pretty much the same performance on the maths (timed out yet again), though aced the verbal.  It's amazing the effect that time pressure has on performance, as looking back over the wrong/missed questions it's clear that most of them were actually 'easy' but were relying on the candidate to spot simple tricks...

Example sufficiency question:
What is a+b?
(1) (a^2-b^2) / (a-b) = 5
(2) (a+b)^2 = 25

answer = A. (a^2-b^2) simplifies to (a+b)(a-b), which divided by (a-b) leaves a+b=5   ... sufficient
(a+b)^2 = 25 means a+b= +5 or a+b= -5 ... insufficient

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Countdown to exams

Having spent several days ploughing through the 'verbal' textbooks, I now find myself second-guessing every sentence I type and wondering whether I am using the correct structures and idioms(!!!!!!) - hopefully this will wear off soon as I'm not sure I can keep sane if this continues.

I've also had the chance to run through McGraw-Hill's 'Conquering GMAT math' 2nd ed again.  In short - a good basic overview of some of the maths required for the test, but it is *basic*.  For tougher questions, I'd look elsewhere and be warned - this book has quite a few typos and errors throughout, including within the 'gmat practice test' section..

I have also been grabbing as much as is available on grants, loans and scholarships - although it still seems there is still a gap between what I can afford and what is available.  Hopefully I will have time in the coming days to post links, as soon as I have had chance to digest all the information.

Finally, this years birthday present to myself is: the exam.  Oh great.  Two weeks and counting.

Free stuff
Todays jolly freebie comes courtesy of Kaplan (yet again). < >  I've booked myself onto one of their free test and review seminars - basically they e-mail out a full set of questions to work through (try to do this against the clock under usual conditions) and then have an evening session to run through the result.  At the very least it provides yet another full set of questions to work through for practice material.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

GMAT studies (2)

My last update was a week ago and I have spent most of that time locked away in the British Library, practising answering as many examples of verbal questions as possible.  I think it has made a difference, though time will tell... I'll get stuck into a second diagnostic next week, after a quick refresh of the maths section (I tried a number of 700+ questions this morning and came unstuck on exponents yet again).

I'm sure it's quite sad, but my walls have now been adorned with highlighted task-lists (funding/application deadlines) and a rather fetching map of the US - with locations of various top Universities stuck on for good measure.... so far it looks like the northeast is winning in terms of the number of top schools... if I'm lucky enough to get in I don't think I'll need to pack the shorts!

This weekend may be a little less productive than usual as I'm off to a family wedding - hopefully will get cracking on final prep on Sunday.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

GMAT studies (1)

Following the scare given to me by the prep software the other day, I set about putting together a study plan to cover off all the basics. 

Adding to my general need for revision across all the areas in an effort to get my practice times down to under two minutes per question, it is also clear to me that further work on number properties (especially when applied to data sufficiency problems), exponents and general grammar rules would be highly beneficial.

Fortunately the local library appears to be well stocked when it comes to GMAT prep books - and I've spent a successful, if not particularly exciting, day crunching through old copies of 'Kaplan 800' (containing a set of the tougher questions from both verbal and quant sections), McGraw-Hill's 'Conquering GMAT Verbal' (fairly simple) and 'Kaplan's GMAT Verbal Workbook' (which in parts repeats some of the Kaplan 800 questions, but is otherwise quite good). 

Hopefully, with a couple more practice question sets in the coming days, I will break some of my remaining bad grammar habits in time for the proper GMAT (when it comes to assessing test answers anyway).

Free materials
I stumbled across this site last night, and it seems to contain a number of subject specific forums stuffed with practice questions posted by members of the online community.  (some of these questions may have been  'borrowed' from a collection of the more popular textbooks....)

As a source of further practice material I'm sure I'll take a look at the site again in the future - though have noticed that for some questions posted, whilst a large number of community members are more than happy to post explanations of why the answer they chose is the right one .... it's possible that they (and a large number of others posting to the thread) are quite wrong!  Look out for posts tagged 'OA' as they (in theory) should contain, or link to, the 'official answer'.

One further useful note; it appears that the GMATprep test answers do not provide explanations - there are a number of beatthegmat forums that attempt to help you out in this respect.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Preparing for the GMAT

Within minutes of researching admissions criteria for MBA programmes around the world, it became clear that in order to study an MBA at a top-ranked University, one needs to have a good score on the GMAT.

Whilst the GMAT appears to test a narrow area of quantitative and verbal skills, business schools tend to view GMAT scores as an indicator of future performance on the MBA.  As admissions tutors will tell you though, it is not the end of the world if you're just a few points short of the average GMAT for your chosen school (as you will have scored higher than at least some of those currently admitted to the school) - the rest of your application (including references and essays) is equally important, if not more so.

To balance this it is also worth noting that if you've scored 770 on the GMAT you're not guaranteed a place in your chosen school, so make sure the rest of your application is as polished as it can be (but congratulations on the score anyway - that's a great achievement!!!).

Official GMAT site:
For a basic overview of the GMAT, the first source of information to call upon is the official GMAT website: .  Here prospective students can learn about all the individual sections, as well as receive notification of any upcoming changes to the exam*. 

One book I have personally found useful is the Official Guide (12th ed.), which contains pretty much all of the information you need on the exam as well as 800 questions written by the same people who write questions for the exam.  Some of the large tuition providers will include a copy of this book in their study materials, so check with them if you are planning to buy one of these packages - it doesn't make sense to pay twice.

In addition to the books on offer (you may find cheaper copies through local bookstores or Amazon), I would definately recommend downloading a free copy of the GMATprep software which allows you to sit two mock exams on their own PC - giving you a basic idea how the questions will be presented to you on the day, as well as providing you with an opportunity to get a basic idea of your scoring potential..

As you are provided with two practice tests, one useuful suggestion would be to take the first as a baseline at the beginning of your GMAT preparation; the experience gained during the first practice GMAT will help identify any areas to focus on during your studies, with the second to be taken later on in your studies when you feel you've got the material understood.

Training providers
In addition to the home-study option there are literally hundreds of training companies out there offering courses, and as with any course of tuition it is down to the individual student to pick a style of study that is appropriate.

The two big names that I have come across, Kaplan ( and Manhattan ( provide a range of home/class study options, as well as free online materials that you can take full advantage of, whether you decide to buy anything or not.

As with anything, there is an option out there to suit pretty much any budget and learning style.

Free materials
I will post links to any more free materials I come across as time passes.  For now, enjoy Kaplan's youtube offering, which links to 20 short videos covering a number of GMAT basics:

My route:
I have chosen the home study option for now, and have bought a copy of the Official Guide to work through.  This will be of course aided by any free materials and library books I can find, and suits my budget and preference for studying in starbucks with a grande classic hot choc + hazelnut :)

Incidentally, I took my GMATprep baseline test the other day and got 600 - aside from a few mistakes, I lost focus on the timing and failed to answer a chunk of the later questions - hopefully I can get quicker once I've had time to re-learn the material.  (One lesson here is that missing a question on the exam is penalised harder than getting a question wrong).

For me, the studying starts now.....

* At the time of writing this entry it is expected that a new section to the GMAT exam will be added in June 2012, but any scores obtained prior to this date will remain valid for the usual five years post-award.  Updates relating to the new section will be found on

First post - 18 months(?) and counting...


Embarking on a major new course of study is a daunting, but nonetheless exciting proposition.
Whilst I have been considering taking a full time MBA for quite some time, it is only recently that these thoughts have evolved into deadlines, information evenings and the inevitable GMAT prep.

As the days tick by, I hope to post any useful information / resources / links I come across as well as my personal experiences - so even if nobody reads this apart from me, at least I have a diary to look back on. 

I am certain the next year will contain its fair share of ups and downs as the applications machine gets into full gear... I will consider my job done if this blog proves useful to just one person out there. (inc. myself)

A bit of background:
  • Male, English, three weeks short of 29
  • Consultant based in London, currently between contracts
  • Graduated from the University of Leeds with a 2:1 in Information Systems & Management Studies 
  • 8 years management experience, 3 full time in industry and 5 as an interim/consultant through my own company.