Top Grad School in Sight? Prepare for Suffering

I thought I would devote my weekends for a few months to studying and get a 700+ score, which would qualify my admission into a top graduate school. False. That’s not at all how the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) went down for me. It was a long and arduous process that lasted an entire year, peppered with many lows that wreaked havoc on my emotional and mental stability. Satisfaction was withheld until the culmination of the process, when I finally received my 710 (92 percentile) one year after I originally set my goal.

Most endeavors in life have peaks and troughs, the good times and the tough times. But the soul-sucking GMAT is different. It’s all bad. The adaptive aspect of the test ensures that everyone feels like they did poorly, regardless of their level of proficiency. The trickiness of GMAT questions gives new depths to the meaning of frustration. And the competition is ridiculous. How am I supposed to compete with Indians who already studied the same material for a make-or-break college entrance exam?

Studying for hours on end while everyone went out and enjoyed thesmselves was torture. Self-imposed torture over and over again. I had to pass up reunion trips to Outside Lands and Santacon, which of course were followed by the obligatory exchange of pictures, stories, and inside jokes on every social media platform, thereby perpetuating the sting of FOMO for weeks after the trips. I missed out on countless beach days, weekend parties, and surf swells in my Venice Beach backyard. Instead I would feebly attempt to disregard the onslaught of cheerful voices while I converted fractions into decimals.

After nine months of studying and one test attempt under my belt, I took my second GMAT with no doubt that I would now achieve my 700+. But I was rudely awakened by the everlasting GMAT stopper that denied me gratification and I fell short of my goal by a mere (yet imperative) 20 points. I never once felt dumb in my life, that is, until now.

I heard first-hand accounts of people studying for a month, two months, and receiving a 730. Yet, here I was, putting in three times the effort and unable to prove my wit, which I always believed was up to par with the best. I started thinking thoughts that never occurred to me before:

“Am I incapable of getting a 700+ because of my lack of intelligence?”

“Does this mean I don’t belong in business school?”

This was the pivotal moment. The way I reacted to this defeat would set the course for my entire career.

So, I reenergized, regained confidence, and got some perspective the best way I know how; I went traveling (to Cuba). I returned home with a Napoleonic motivation to do only one thing: to make the GMAT my bitch.

All in all, I devoted over 800 hours to studying — sitting in class every weekend at UCLA, practicing problems in airports, studying in the shower, taking practice tests locked in my room, and enlisting the help of a private tutor. I also spent nearly $10K for tutoring, materials, and tests; GMAC and the entire testing enterprise is a money hungry machine with a never-ending supply of pre-MBAs to feed its appetite.

One year later, I finally beat the GMAT. Never have I held a single goal for such a prolonged period of time. Maintaining the unwavering determination to get a 700+ score and ultimately land at an elite business school was key. I wasn’t the smartest person who took the test, but I was willing to put in the requisite time and work to get the score. I think that’s the biggest takeaway. Anything substantial in life will take a while to achieve, but you gotta stay focused, stay in the zone, flow, find a burning motivation, and don’t be afraid to die on the treadmill.

Success on the GMAT is just the first step on a long journey to achieve my goals, but relative to my accomplishments thus far, it was a major milestone. As I progress along my career path, I know that from the outside looking in my successes will appear as if they came to me with ease, but that’s just not the case. I fought and overcame hundreds of tiny obstacles that will never be acknowledged — yet winning those personal battles was essential to open the door for greater future successes.

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