Vantage point

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

A LITTLE GYAN ABOUT MBA IN INDIA..all you ever wanted to know about management education in India but were afraid to ask

This is a post which is different from my usual ones. I am using my blog to make life a bit easier for me. Ever since I got admission into an IIM, I have been getting a zillion mails from juniors in college and other friends/relatives/acquaintances asking for advice. I have no hassles giving advice, in fact I am honoured that people consider me worthy of dispensing it, but it gets a little cumbersome repeating the same things over and over again. So this post will be a list of FAQ's ( and answers) about the whole topic. I shall be sending the link of this post whenever I am quizzed similarly in the future. Please note that I am writing all this as merely a student who had these questions himself a year back, and I am not an expert.

Q- Why did you go for an MBA and not an MS or MTech?
I have done my engineering in electronics and telecommunications. I love the field, but I am not yet sure it is THE field for me. I feel that there are other career options, like Operations Research, Systems, Marketing, Finance etc where I may be able to do well. What MBA does is give me a wider range of choices. 2 years later, armed with an MBA from a premier institute, I have to option, of continuing with a career in electronics/telecom/IT or trying my hand at one of the above mentioned fields. Another issue is that I know what kind of a person I am and I would be aspiring to get into the management level of a company eventually. Starting out as just a techie may take a bit longer, so here too an MBA will help.
An MS or an MTech is an excellent option for someone convinced of his/her wish to stay on in engineering studies. So do not think of MBA and MS/MTech as two conflicting choices. It depends on what you want.

Q- Which are the good institutes offering MBA in India and where should I apply?
Having said all that about MBA, let me make it clear that an MBA is worth it only if it is from one of the top institutes in India. There are six Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) and they are considered the best of the lot, like IIT's are for engineering. The ranking of these 6 is unofficially accepted as Ahmedabad, Calcutta, Bangalore, Lucknow, Indore, Kozhikode. Among the non-IIM's, good schools are (in no particular order) SP Jain Mumbai, J Bajaj Mumbai, NMIMS Mumbai, MDI Gurgaon, FMS Delhi, ISB, IMT Ghaziabad etc. There are some institutes which are known for a specific field. NITIE Mumbai for Operations, MIC Ahmedabad for advertising and mass comm, XLRI for Human Resources, etc. For a more exhaustive list, consult any business magazine's website.

But my advice, especially to people with an above average intelligence and aptitude, would to be restrict their applications to only the abovementioned places. They are the best in terms on faculty, course, placements, peers and industry interaction. MBA's from other institutes are not worth it, in my frank opinion.

Q- Do we have to choose a specialisation in MBA?
A -
Not necessarily. This is a big myth that an MBA is either a solely Marketing guy or solely Finance guy. Most IIM's give you the option of not having any specialisation, in fact they encourage an all-round development. In our institute for instance people have 2 or 3 specialisations, so it is not one-track like in Engineering. These broad areas of specialisations, if any, are to be chosen after the first year is completed, and you are not expected to have made up your mind when you go for the admission process.

Q- What are the career options for an MBA?
If you are from one of the top 10 institutes or so, the prospects are great. You get good starting posts and good pay packages in good companies during the campus placements. The companies include Indian firms as well as multinational. In a place like IIM Calcutta or IIM Ahmedabad, a huge proportion of their students are actually placed abroad.
You can be anything from a Marketing Executive to a Sales Manager to an investment Banker to an HR Executive. You can also be a project manager in a software company or start your own firm if you have an idea.

Q- What is the entrance procedure?
The IIM's and a lot of other institutes conduct a Common Admission Test (CAT) in November-December each year. It is held only once a year and is not like GRE which can be taken any time you want. The exam is a paper based one with multiple choice questions on verbal, quantitative and analytical skills. There is negative marking, though the exact nature of the negative marking is not specified.
Many other institutes have their own entrance tests similar to CAT.
After the written test, each institute announces its own shortlist and conducts a Group Discussion (GD) and a Personal Interview (PI) of the shortlisted candidates, following which a selection is made. The ratio of shortlisted to selected students is roughly 4:1 for the IIM's.

Q- How do I prepare?
This is the most common questions. I can only tell what i did. I joined a class called Bullseye in Pune about 11 months before CAT. i preferred it over the bigger names like IMS and Career Forum because of its reputation of giving personal attention to each student. The strength of each batch is just 20, and the teachers know the students very well. As a result, they give you specific and potent advice about hiow to improve your score. Bullseye is also perhaps the only class that starts preparing you for GD's months before the written test. While other institutes generally have a hurried workshop 2 weeks before the GD process starts, Bullseye prepares you for it long before.
The only drawback of Bullseye is the same as its strength, very few students. This makes it tough for you to benchmark yourself with respect to the general public. So I joined the sunday test series of IMS. Around 25,000 students appear for an IMS test and it gives you a good indication of where you stand (CAT 2001 had 80,000 candidates). The two pronged approach (Bullseye for theory and concepts, and IMS for benchmarking tests) worked for me.
The fees for a training course, at least last year was Rs. 7,500 in all the classes. The duration is 6 months or 1 year. Fees for an IMS test is Rs. 200-300 per test.

Q- What is CAT like?
It is like GRE and at the same time it is not like GRE. The basics are the same- verbal, quant, anat, but CAT is considered a lot tougher. The number of questions varies from 150 to 180 , and the test is for 2 hours. Hardly anyone can solve more than 100 questions, so the factor of question selection comes into play here, unlike GRE where you attempt everything, and go for wild guesses if you please. Here, negative marking makes wild guesses suicidal.
The quant and anat of CAT is considered a lot tougher than GRE, with verbal, roughly the same. There isn't too much emphasis on wordlists, like in GRE, and it all mainly depends on Reading Comprehensions (RC).

Q- What is a good number of attempts? What about the sectional cutoff?
This is one of those questions which have no fixed answer. Firstly, it is not a GRE where your score is absolute. In CAT, there is a merit list, so your score is good or bad compared to how others so. In one year, 100 attempts may be considered good enough to get calls from all 6 IIM's, while in some year, it may be a below average number. Accuracy is another key issue.
Generally speaking, 90+ attempts is a pretty safe bet, if your accuracy is decent.
Agnother aspect is the cutoffs that each section has. Each institute has its own cut-offs for shortlisting. This means that you must score a bare minimum in each section to qualify. This makes sure that you concentrate on every section and are not unidimensional in your approach. Different institutes have different parameters for this. In IIM Cal for instance, it is rumoured that the quant cutoff is very high as compared to other schools.

Q- How important is work experience?
In USA, all the good B-school consider work-ex a must. In India, though by and large, B-schools prefer a mix of work-ex and freshies, some schools are starting to gravitate towards the US concept. IIM Bangalore for instance, has 90% experienced students this year. In other b-schools however, there is a healthy mix, and once you get admitted, there is no real difference in the performance of freshers and experienced students.

Q- Give me advice on how to improve my score.
This is the toughest question to answer. How can I tell someone how to improve their score? It is pretty subjective really. However here are a few tips that may help-

- Remove your watch and keep it in front of you on the desk. Give only 1 minute to each question. Be strict in sticking to this. Even if you are 4 seconds away from the solution, let the problem go at the 60th second. What happens otherwise is we tend to get stuck on a particular problem which appears easy, but is not, and the total attempts heads south. Remember, be it an easy question or a difficult, it has a weightage of only 1 mark. So it does not make sense to solve a toughie and impress the examiner (which anyway will be a computer). The smart way is to identify easier questions, and attempt as many of them as you can. Let the toughies go!!! Time management and the ability to let go of a question is very important.

- If you are weak at a particular section, and have problems clearing its cut-offs in the mock-CAT, practise it more. Otherwise you will end up with a high overall score but no shortlists, due to the cut-offs

- Divide time equally into the number of sections.

- For Reading Comprehensions, it is advisable to spend about 15 seconds just browsing the questions before reading the passage. there are typically 2 or 3 answers which you will be able to locate and underline while reading. Be careful not to spend more than 15-20 seconds on this though.

- Try imporving reading speed. In Bullseye, there was a session which helped us do so, by telling us to skip the prepositions and spot the kep words. You can read very fast this way. for example, a sentence like >"Shaft (2000): John Singleton's sequel to /retake on the cult Richard Roundtree vehicle has Samuel L. Jackson as John Shaft Jr., the nephew of the original John Shaft (Richard Roundtree, doing an affectionate cameo, and making good on the opportunity to take digs at the character that made him famous) and even reuses Isaac Hayes' classic Oscar-winning theme." It has so many words, but hardly 1/5th of those convey any real information. Practise and soon you will find that you can spot the keywords instinctively and make sense out of them, and your reading speed increases manyfold.

- Staying on reading speed, it is generally good if the topic is of our liking, but is lousy if we find it boring. For example, I would rush through a passage from a novel, or about sports or movies, but would take ages to go through something about sociology or economics. The problem is with concentration and attention. The best way to tackle this problem is to start reading boring stuff. Sounds corny, but I mean it. Start reading the business pages of the newspapers, the editorials on topics you hate, weird articles, ..anything that is boring. If your tolerance for printed tripe goes up, so will your overall reading speed.

So that is about it. If there are any more questions, I can be contacted personally.

My next post will be a normal one.