I recently had the terrible idea that I needed to go to graduate school. Apparently graduating from a top tier university with honors isn’t good enough anymore. Not that I’m bitter or anything. And while I’d love to continue to pursue my passions of the English language and literature I’ve decided to do the only sensible thing I could do. Sell out. I’ve decided to get an MBA. I rationalized that I was able to get a great job with an undergraduate degree in English and the odds of me getting struck by lightning twice are probably about the same as me actually getting struck by lightning twice. So I decided to study for, and inevitably take, the Graduate Management Admissions Test, and then apply to any grad school MBA program I think will accept a slacker like me. But before I can go to school and learn to be a businessman, or something like that, I had to take the most hellacious test I’ve had to take in my long academic career. And it started like this…
1) The Building and Staff
I showed up on a Monday morning. The best way to start my week. At a nondescript, beige, three-story rectangle with all the warmth of my ex-girlfriend’s frozen heart. I open the door and am greeted with fluorescent lights and the smell of old coffee and faint perfume. I find the door to the testing center all the way down the hallway on my left. I open the door to see… no one. An empty reception desk. Awesome. I look around the room. If Disney World is the happiest place on earth then this office is the exact opposite of that. I can’t imagine anyone has ever been happy to be here. The only reason I’m here is because any decent MBA program makes you take this silly test. Whatever. I’ll play the game. Finally a person comes out to help me, an older black woman with grey hair. “I’m here to take the GMAT,” I tell her. “Ok then,” and she makes me read a form which I skimmed at best. And from there it was a whirlwind that not even Superman could have seen coming. First they take your finger prints on a machine that looks like it came out of Minority Report, with blinking blue and white LED lights and everything. I half expected Tom Cruise to come out of the closet (literally and figuratively) and start shooting and running like he always does. But sadly no, my life can’t be that interesting.
2) The Test
After all the admin stuff was done it was time to go into the back room and take the test. After making me take all my possessions – including my wallet and cell phone, but not my Driver’s license – and placing them in a large metal locker I was given my instructions on how to take the test. I had to show my ID and give a finger print to prove it really was still me and not a crazy look-a-like or someone with the cool face replica masks and voice changers like in Mission Impossible. Wow, two Tom Cruise reference’s in one article. After the lady (the same one who processed me in) agrees that it is still actually me she lets me through the door to take my test. And now we go further down the rabbit hole. Only there’s no fun rabbit and Mad Hatter. There are people crying. Literally crying. I look around and see a bunch of people roughly my age in suits and collared shirts with dress pants and make up and their hair all done nicely. I am wearing jeans and a t-shirt that reads “Keep Calm and Chive On,” a reference to theChive.com. I felt more out of place than Jesse Owens at a Klan rally. Now unfortunately the GMAC (Graduate Management Admissions Council) prevents me from releasing any information about the actual test itself due to their nondisclosure agreement, damn lawyers, so I can’t write about any of the asinine and idiotic questions which were required to be answered by future managers. However, I can write about the asinine and idiotic questions from my GMAT Study book, which are former GMAT questions – so I’ll write about those. And ridicule them.
3) The Questions
Business school is about the nature of business and employment and the managerial process, things I’m generally interested in. I work in an office during the day and process paperwork, present slideshows to my boss, talk about facts and figures and fonts and fun stuff like that. We have a staff meeting every Wednesday where we update our boss on what’s going on in each individual office. So I’m pretty sure I know what I do and do not need to know on a daily basis in terms of tasking the people below me to get things done, prioritizing tasks, and other stuff like that. Things I’ve never used in my office are pretty much everything the GMAT tests. Now the format of the GMAT has three parts – essentially there’s a math section, a reading comprehension and analysis section, and a writing section. Let me break it down for you in terms of the real world from someone who actually works in an office as a managerial type person and worker drone. In terms of math, as long as you know basic arithmetic and how to tip correctly you’ll be fine. Any math dealing with large numbers are why we have calculators. Any work with real equations and complex advanced higher levels of math is why we have engineers. At no point in time in my life have I ever needed to solve world problems for volumes of a cone half-filled with water, or figured out exactly the rate someone needs to run to get around a five mile track if they want to finish in two hours. Let’s be honest if it takes you two hours to run five miles then you probably should be spending some more time at the gym. And then there are the straight up numbers questions like what is [(.001)(.0002)(.05)] / [(.04)(.06)(.0001)] – NO. At no point do you need to do this in real life in an office in your head. I’m sorry but that’s just stupid.
And for the writing portion let me break it down for you how to write in an office – cram as much info as you can in as small amount of space as you can so you’re not wasting your boss’ time. This is why bullet formats and hitting the highlights on your slideshow are so useful rather than a longwinded novel breaking down every point of what’s going on. The goal here is effective efficiency. And as long as the end product is readable without any glaring grammar or spelling mistakes and flows pretty smoothly then you’ve done your job.
4) Leaving the Test Center
At the end of the test you raise your hand and wait for the person behind the mirrored glass playing mindsweeper or solitaire on their computer to notice you. I waited for about half an hour before someone noticed I was done. Then they came over and checked my ID again, in case somehow someone had switched places with me in a sealed room with cameras everywhere, verified that it was indeed me who took and completed the test and submitted my score. The cool thing is it tells you instantly what you got, so that’s the nice. The bad thing is that it tells you instantly what you got so there’s no barrier for people in the other room. You will be a witness to everyone else’s immediate reactions to their scores. Some are positive (I fist pumped) and some are not. I saw a girl literally break down in tears. I thought someone may have texted her that her cat died or something but I remembered her phone was in the locker outside next to mine. I guess she just really did that bad. After all was said and done and they took my fingerprints and scanned my ID for the umpteenth time, honestly it’s easier to get onto a military base than it is to scam this test center. And military bases have guns and bombs. About four hours after I arrived at this place I finally walked outside again for the first time and saw the sunlight. I heard birds chirping and felt the wind on my face and felt like a huge weight had been lifted. I got a score good enough to get me into most state universities (sorry, Harvard, you’re not getting my money) so I felt pretty good. Then I realized I actually had to start applying to graduate schools now. And then all of a sudden I felt like I was back in high school and was trying to figure out college applications again. Thank you GMAT for reducing me back to a sixteen year old boy. I’m so happy I paid $250 for this opportunity to make me feel miserable.