Throughout our academic and professional lives, we are constantly tested and scrutinised. Our skills, knowledge, experiences, attitudes and personality traits are always in the line of fire.
While we accumulate a lot of information along the way, we never learn to use it effectively in times of need, especially during competitive exams. Writing competitive exams has always been an exhilarating experience for me. Over the years, these exams have given me a wealth of knowledge.
I started off as an academically-bright student. However, as I progressed through the classes, I started finding exams more of a brain-exercise, which required ‘playing back’ what had been recorded before. We are presented with plenty of data in our textbooks. When we write exams, we are tested on how much information we have been able to interpret from the data in the textbooks. However, we are wrongly told that our ‘knowledge’ is being tested in the exams. On the other hand, we gain ‘knowledge’ only after putting the interpreted information to use and then seeing and hearing about the results.
As we grow older, our general knowledge and IQ also starts getting tested. Being unaware, we generally prepare for these tests just like we prepare for other academic tests. This is where it all goes wrong. The general knowledge and IQ tests are intended to test our knowledge beyond academics. The objective of these tests is to find out how much we read beyond our textbooks and how much we observe and comprehend what is happening around us. Most importantly, these exams test us on our curiosity levels and eagerness to learn more.
Coming to the topic of competitive exams, there are certain fundamental things that are never told to us. The GMAT exam is a wonderful example. The GMAT exam is usually taken by professionals who aspire to do an MBA. However, unlike a higher degree in science or technology, people want an MBA degree only after reaching a certain stage of their careers. The GMAT exam can be taken by any professional – from an engineer to a musician.
So, how was the GMAT exam model created? In my opinion, the people who designed the GMAT format must be among the smartest people on the planet. They probably test people on English and mathematics for really clever reasons. Not many people in the world speak or write grammatically-correct English. Colloquial influences on the language are visible all around the world. Besides, the internet has also played its role in ruining our grasp of grammatically-correct English.
On the other hand, many people struggle through mathematics during their school days, and are relieved once high school is over. A lot of people choose to learn subjects without elements of mathematics, simply to avoid it.
This is where the genius of GMAT lies. We do not plan to sit for GMAT during our high school days. Hence, we do not know when the demons of high-school mathematics or English will come back to haunt us. Moreover, since there has to be a common ground to evaluate the examinees, what better way than to test them on high-school English and mathematics?
What do competitive exams test us on? They test us on the single and the most important factor we never understand – time management. The GMAT’s exam model is proof of this. They put the quantitative (mathematics) paper first, followed by the verbal (English) section. The objective is to make us waste time on mathematics questions involving calculation, so that we do not have sufficient time to answer all questions in the English paper. They know that if they present the English paper first, the examinees will sail through it and get enough time to answer the questions on mathematics.
Time management is a critical factor for getting admissions, as well. A high GMAT score does not guarantee automatic selection to the best universities. Top universities like Harvard look for what they call ‘well-rounded resumes’, which essentially means they are looking for academically-bright students, who have also participated in extra-curricular activities. Participation in community service, sports, arts and music all rank high on their list. Managing academics and extra-curricular activities adeptly indicates successful time management, leadership qualities, relish for new challenges and adaptability to new situations and places – all these are top qualities for getting selected.
There is one extra layer of challenge in competitive exams. Unlike in schools and colleges where we write our academic exams in the campus itself, competitive exams are held in locations new and alien to us, to which we are denied entry before the exam. Why? This is to check our adaptability to new surroundings which are out of our comfort zones. In fact, the effect of this is reflected in our final scores. This can well explain why many students or professionals perform excellently in mock tests but fail to perform in the actual GMAT test.
When we prepare for competitive exams by writing mock exams, we are pushed to get the maximum scores in every exam. What we do not realise is that our brain function cannot peak and keep peaking for as long as we want. The brain-function graph is a sinusoidal wave, rather than an exponential line. As our brain cells get tired and worn out, we fall down from the peak. This is the most important reason why people with high expectations get majorly disappointed.
Ideally, we should hit the top scores only during the last set of mock exams. There’s a high probability that these scores will match the scores in the actual exam – if we are able to successfully manage the other hurdles I have mentioned above. We can visualise this as climbing a mountain. Just as we climb the mountain, our mock exam scores should steadily go up with each exam. The competitive exam is equivalent to conquering the peak of the mountain. In such a scenario, the last mock exam should be equivalent to reaching the base of the mountain peak. I have successfully steered through my engineering entrance exam in this way – so I know that it works perfectly well.
We are assuming and taking everything for granted, when we believe that rock-solid preparations and excellent scores in mock tests alone can take us past competitive tests. Competitive exams are conducted for a thousand different purposes. So, when we choose to take a competitive test, we also know what we are going to study once we successfully pass the test. This will give us a good idea on what we will be tested in the competitive exam.
For example, MBA graduates become top executives in companies, or consultants, where the most important skills required are time management, leadership skills and adaptability to situations. These are exactly what the GMAT exam model intends to test in each individual. Once we understand these nuances of competitive exams, cracking them becomes as much fun as it is intense!