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Cracking GD-WAT-PI: It all begins with you

  Today, B-schools are adding to the traditional methods of group discussions and personal interviews. The process is often augmented by a written ability test. Of course, the most important is the PI. We give you a few tips for the best way to get through this round.  

The Advanc’edge Team

Are you the hare or the tortoise?

Before you start introspecting, you should know that I refer to the "new and improved" version of our naive pal who, being very disappointed at losing the first race, did some introspection of his own and realised that he'd lost the race only because he had been arrogant, careless and laid back. He knew that if he hadn't been so, there was no way the tortoise could have beaten him. So he challenged the tortoise to another race and this time, without taking any chances, ran without stopping from start to finish. As expected, he won by several miles.

The moral - slow and steady doesn't cut it anymore! You need to be fast, accurate, thorough, confident, and prudent enough to learn from others' mistakes (yes, learning from your own mistakes is passe - a wise man learns from others' mistakes, a fool from his own, especially in this glorious age of information sharing and social networking.)

Those of you who have even a glimmer of hope of clearing any written test that you have taken need to start your preparation for the next selection round as soon as you put down this article (read all of it first, though). You can't afford to wait for that "shortlisted" status update. You will be able to enjoy the fruits of your initial labour with or without a B-school call.

GD-Case Study-Essay-Written ability test-Group task-Group Interview-Extempore-PI are the various selection tools that B-schools use these days. But do you know what the common denominator for all of these is? You! Your personality, which will get reflected in these tasks. And that is what you need to work on first. Not just because you might be facing a panel, but because it's high time you figured yourself out.

  • Why do you want to do an MBA?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What kind of person are you?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • Do you possess leadership skills?
  • What are your dreams and aspirations?
  • What is your definition of success?

What is common in all of these questions?
You! It doesn't take a genius to figure out the answers to all these questions, but you would be surprised at the sheer number of students who cannot answer these questions with conviction in their interview. Why? Maybe they trivialised the significance of these questions, maybe they aped their friends' answers, or maybe they thought they could pull the wool over the panel's eyes and make them believe something they themselves didn't the reasons are not important. What is important is that you know better than to lose out on the best opportunity of your academic life because you are "lazy". Yes, there is rarely another explanation. You have information and expert help at your fingertips. The challenge lies in time and motivation management. If you bring these two to the table, you are as good as selected.

So pull up your socks and start expanding your
Knowledge of self (your personality, skills, goals and hobbies), Knowledge of what is happening around you and how you feel about it (current affairs), and Knowledge of what you have done till now and what you have learnt from it (academics, work experience and extra-curricular activities)

You may have taken much in your life for granted. If there was ever a time to question why your life has turned out the way it has and where it is headed, it is now! Question your motivation and your past decisions and be bold enough to admit mistakes and take tough decisions. Better now than years later when you have a tonne of responsibilities.

Once you yourself are convinced of your life choices, it isnt hard to convince another person. And this second selection round is exactly that - a game of conviction! Bottom line, either you convince the B-school that you are what they have been looking for, or they convince you that you aren't as great as you think you are.

The B-schools are getting creative, and so should you.
Nowadays, case driven discussions are becoming more common, probably because they are a better test of a candidates solution orientation, objectivity, rationality and ability to differentiate between idealism and pragmatism.

Most of the IIMs, IIFT, and SCMHRD have included a written ability test in their selection process. IIM Indore, in fact, asked students to summarise a passage too.

XIM-B surprised students by giving quite a few abstract topics or figures for the GD. SPJIMR conducted a psychometric test, which had 30 questions that the candidates had to answer in 10 minutes. Most students could not complete the test due to shortage of time. The institute then went on to conduct group interviews. A group discussion was included as a part of the first group interview. Post this, some candidates were rejected and the ones who were still in the running had to face another, more stressful and detailed, group interview.

FMS, standing by tradition, continued to conduct an extempore followed by a PI.

NMIMS had a case discussion and a PI, but the HRM applicants had to write a case analysis, group exercise to participate in a case discussion on a new case, and finally appear for an interview.

SIBM Pune conducts 3 WATs, group exercise followed by an extempore and finally a PI.

TISS also required candidates to fill a Detailed Pre-Interview Form (PIT) before the interview.

As far as MICA is concerned, there is no limit to the creativity of the tasks. Students were asked to prepare a skit to depict audience behaviour either before the movie, or after the movie, or during the movie, re-enact scenes from classics, after tailoring them to their current situation, design a social networking platform for 2025, create advertisements using props, design marketing strategies, etc.

You need to be aware of the personality traits that are under scrutiny during all the above mentioned exercises, so that you can start developing them.

Clarity of thought: You need to think rationally and articulate well. What you speak must be relevant, well thought out, concise and precise. Some common fallacies in reasoning that you must avoid are:
Making hasty generalisations: Be very cautious about using terms such as “all”, “always”, “”never”, “everybody”, “nobody”, etc. Modify your language to make it more accurate.
Giving false analogies: If, for example, the Vice Chancellor of Mumbai states that the university should be run like a multinational company, the statement can be rejected on the grounds that the similarities between the two are incidental and not essential.
Confusing correlation with conclusion: Just because two events occur together doesn’t imply that one causes the other. I was wearing a new dress when I got a promotion does not mean that this is the reason for having got the promotion. This is not a valid statement. The assumption that the two events are related simply because they are related in time is invalid.
Using non-sequitur (it does not follow) statements: In this type of statement the conclusion does not follow from the evidence presented. “A teacher who does not believe in corporal punishment is a good teacher” is not a valid statement, because the conclusion is drawn from evidence that has no bearing on the issue.

Listening skills: A widespread misconception is that the person who speaks the most in a discussion is the one who qualifies for the next round. One cardinal rule to keep in mind is that the performance of the whole group is important and thus, you being receptive to others’ ideas is critical. Without listening, knowledge does not flow. Those who cannot listen cannot think, and those who cannot think cannot write and speak. So, listening comes first, everything else follows.
Active listening is imperative. It means listening responsibly, not merely absorbing words passively, but actively trying to grasp the facts and feelings in what you are hearing. The importance of active listening gets underscored in a group activity as listening to a group is harder than listening to a speaker. One needs to follow not only what is said, but also how it relates to what else has been said so that one can keep track of the thread of ideas and conclusions. It may so happen that you are asked to summarise the entire discussion, and in order to do that effectively, you need to listen.
 The major barrier to listening is that we get sidetracked; we lose tracks of what is being said. There are techniques that we can use to avoid falling into this trap. You can try the following process: (Source: “Are you listening?” by Ralph Nicols and Leonard Stevens.)
Think ahead of the talker: Try to anticipate what the oral discourse is leading to and what conclusions will be drawn from the words spoken at the moment.
Weigh the evidence: Consider the justifications used by the speaker to support the points he is making. Ask the questions “Is this evidence valid?”, “Is it complete?”
Review and summarise: Periodically review and summarize the points completed so far.
Read between the lines: Get at the meaning that is not being expressed by the spoken word. Pay attention to the non-verbal communication (facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice) to see if it adds meaning to the spoken words.
Critical analysis: Whenever allotted a topic to speak on, judge its chief concern and align your recommendations to it. Examine the facts and situations from the perspective of the overall impact on various stakeholders involved in the scenario. Assess the facts and information in this light and accordingly suggest solutions. This is even more essential during a case discussion. You will be presented with a case and given some time (about 2-5 minutes) to collect your thoughts before the discussion begins. You should prioritise the different recommendations you develop in the given period after reading the case thoroughly.

Communication skills: Fluent speech does not mean effective communication. Effective communication is the ability to put forward your ideas in a precise, convincing and concise manner. In a 15-20 minute GD, you will get very few opportunities to speak, so start practising putting across your ideas effectively whenever you get a chance to speak.
Work on your aggressiveness. You can be assertive but not aggressive. It is definitely desirable to have a manager who knows what he is talking about and does not get swayed by what others think, especially when his own thought process and conclusions are logical and carefully worked out. In the actual discussion, even though you may make a good point, someone else  might make a better one. You need to be swift in realising it and tone down your aggressiveness, if felt, with adaptability and receptiveness to the other’s ideas.
Get rid of the habit of using slang/vernacular expressions in your colloquial speech. While practising a discussion, ensure that you don’t make personal remarks against any individual participant.

Ability to interact within a group: Team building skill is another much-desired trait in a manager. During the two years at a B-school and later on, throughout your career, you will be working in teams. There have been numerous cases of individuals with potential becoming failures because of their inability to work in a team. For you to become a successful leader tomorrow, you have to be a good team member today.
A discussion is not just about getting a chance to speak. It is actually a group activity where all participants are required to be involved throughout the process. Even if you do not get too many chances to speak, it is important that you are involved in the discussion even when you are not the one doing the speaking. You can do this by actively listening to arguments being put forth by other participants. The act of listening and being mentally involved in the GD will also get reflected in your body language.

Whenever you speak, your contribution must be:
Sufficient: A contribution should be long enough to make its point. Most contributions that fail to get through are too short, rather than too long. Obviously, a contribution is of little value if too little is said to make the point clear and related.

Relevant: The contribution you make should be relevant to the topic being discussed. Sometimes the relevance may not be apparent at the outset of your contribution, and you may be checked by your listeners on that count. But if you are convinced about the relevance of your line of thinking to the topic, then upon being checked, you can ask your listeners to be patient with you, and assure them that you will demonstrate the relevance of the topic if only they would hear you out.

Related: Often a contribution is relevant, but is not related to the comments that have just preceded it or what is likely to follow. One good way to establish relatedness is to introduce your comment like this, “I’d like to go back to the point that X made and add some evidence.”

Clear: You should never assume that just because you have spoken, you have communicated. In order to make certain that everyone in the group understands what you are saying, it may be useful to define what you mean by certain significant terms. For example, if you are discussing “the secular nature of the Indian Constitution”, you may want to clarify that you understand secularism to be that “no one religion is to be given special preference in the country”, before talking about your opinions on secularism.

Objective: Try as far as possible to be objective, rather than opinionated. Basing your opinions on facts instead of on beliefs or faith will lend an air of maturity and open-mindedness to your contribution.

Open to evaluation: An effective contribution shows a willingness to have the contribution evaluated. For example, if a group is discussing the latest developments in the economy and one member offers this contribution “the price of gold stock is rising on the international stock market. This shows that the economy is headed for trouble”, he has presented his evidence and the conclusion he has drawn from the same. But he has not shown the reasoning process by which he reached that conclusion, making it impossible for other members of the group to comment on the evidence and bring forth other points of views. If he had rephrased his contribution by including his reasoning process, which is this – “the rising price of gold stock indicates a lack of confidence in other stocks and is therefore a predictor that investors will pull back on their investments in other businesses”, he would have left room for other participants to comment on this reasoning process and maybe point out other ways of looking at the issue. Evaluations of contributions are a must if the group is to reach worthwhile conclusions.

Provocative: Contributions must provoke further thought. Contributions like “this is it” or “two plus two equals four and no more need be said” or “it’s just as simple as that!” or “We’ve tried it before and it didn’t work” cut off controversy and dampen the desire to think further.
Start working on these skills and become aware of how many of the above criteria your spoken or written contribution fulfills. And remember that style can never compensate for substance. You need to start increasing yourself and general awareness and then work out what your opinions on various issues are. That, coupled with the valuable tips given here, will ensure that you impress your evaluators and bag that coveted seat.