Friday, June 7, 2013

MBA entrances: Do they actually test you or your rote learning skills?

A year and a half ago I tried preparing for an MBA entrance exam mostly because I was bored and was looking for avenues other than engineering and partially because I found the tests intriguing, the test of your English ability, the analytical and logical ones and all. So I joined an institute with some of my classmates and soon enough I was completely disillusioned and left it after a month.

I have always had a romantic view of examinations. They test you on what you know, what you have learnt and liked. I never liked rote learning and the obtuse importance placed on them by every institution of learning. I have always read my books with great joy and loved learning from them, from genetics and particle physics in school to reading Shakespeare and renaissance history, maybe because I had such teachers who placed more importance on what I have learnt and grasped rather than what I could vomit, it had always been a pleasurable experience.

So when I sat for my first MBA coaching class, the teacher gave us an English ability test, asking us to fill in the blanks and choose synonyms for certain words. Good enough and a very good test at that. The test will check how much you have learnt in all your years of education, if you are a good reader, do you read good publications and do you use those words in your daily vocabulary. A very good test of your abilities and if you lack in something, you will go and read some more or engage in debates and conversations that improve your vocabulary. I was one of the top scorers of the class and was very happy; I knew I was on the right track being a book-whore (for a want of a better word). Then the teacher started discussing the answers and techniques and it didn’t really sound all that right, he wanted us to start mugging up words? What happened to learning words the good old way? What happened to using them in your day to day life? And why were obscure difficult sounding words a part of the book? And if that wasn’t strange enough, a week later all the vomiting types started scoring really well. They had to. They had the stuff they could vomit out; learn the words and their meaning forget about usage or anything else. That is not important, right? And so this person who couldn’t even pronounce “comb” and “Las Vegas” and whose grammar was something right out of class 5 was getting really good marks. I am not against her knowing the answers but she should have known them the right way and not by rote learning. The whole process of learning just gets lost in it.

Take a math or logical reasoning class. Ideally such questions test your ability to “logically reason”. The word is simple enough but here we were given set formulae and patterns. If this kind of question comes, do this or if this comes apply this formula. What happened to us actually thinking? Why were we made to think in a robotic fashion?

I am pretty sure when the MBA entrance tests were conceived this wasn’t on their minds, they actually
wanted to test a student for what he is. Is he really a manager material? You can get parrots anywhere but a manager is someone who has this quality in built or a talent enough to build it in himself and stand out. I know a person who is amazing in all of these. She has what it takes, an ideal MBA candidate if there ever were. She has a great abundance of knowledge and a sharp brain to learn. Wouldn’t you want someone like that for your company?

I decided to go for a GRE exam and in the language skills section I found my peace. They actually tested my usage and not my mugging up abilities. I loved it. I screamed out for joy and it was bliss. THAT is an exam. And then I found my calling in mass communication. Heaven.

As the MBA entrance results came out, I was less than surprised that many rote learners got great scores but happy for some of my friends who cracked those exams because I know they deserved it, they are made for the program and maybe in an ideal world, a world where your actual knowledge is tested and not your mugging up skills, they would be in better IIMs but wherever they are, they should know that they deserve it hundred percent if not more.

Oh and the ones who rote-learned their way to B schools, All the best. 


  1. Thanks for the detailed explanation and i completely agree with you on this, rot learning method and mugging are highly encouraged in all such exams. The preparation depends upon how many hours of rot learning and mugging you can do everyday and then when the exam comes you can spill all that out and forget about it later. I am not sure what is the use of such an education system.

  2. good post. The problem with coaching centers is the shortage of time. so they choose all shortcuts to teach us words. actually if a student is educated about the MBA programmes or if he has an idea of what an MBA is and what the entrance demands before he/she starts his graduation, I think they can use all their application skills of english words, grammar, logic and reasoning. A student who is an aspirant of MBA should know around 2000 words which are frequently used in magazines, dailies, novels etc. When they join coaching or see the Q cards they learn few more words and synonyms. MBA I think is all about skill and your speed to solve problems and which is what is tested. Thats the reason the syllabus is intermediate. If a student thinks well, he can solve the problems faster without their short cuts.

    When I took GRE in 2008, It was just mugging up of Barrons, all the wordlists and I saw no where any usage of words. Few in the RC section. Most of the time, you have to mug up those words to understand the passage.

  3. My GRE pattern had changed and I liked it. Still confused about what B schools actually want in a student?

  4. they want them to have better logic and reasoning skills and in depth knowledge of English language and good communication skills via GD. The exam wants the students to be quick with numbers, calculations and reading texts. whereas coaching institutes make the students mug up things and students too do that. There are many students ( I have known few) who have cleared cat and are in the IIMs without any coaching.