Entries in Theme #5 Know How > Know About (6)

Prep Goals: Comfort, Efficiency, and Proficiency

Here are some comments from a Tuck first year that should provide some pointers to prospective students who are willing to prepare but want some help prioritizing their efforts.  I particularly like the emphasis on efficiency and the difference between going to bed at midnight and 2 AM. 

My Background: I have a science background, majored in biology and psychology at Middlebury College, and following that worked in market research, then consulting in the pharmaceutical and life sciences industries.

Here are my two cents:

If you are somewhat of a poet, or even if you have seen this stuff before but haven’t touched it in years, preparation before diving into a full-time MBA program can be incredibly useful. Given the time pressures of the first term, spending an hour here and there over the summer before starting your program will go a long way. Here’s what was most useful for me:

  • Familiarizing myself with the basics. You can’t expect to remember specific formulas and all of the mechanics, but to gain or revitalize a basic understanding of excel modeling, the time value of money (e.g. discounting cash flows, annuities, perpetuities, etc.), statistics, implications of supply and demand, etc. will significantly pay off. Remember, though, that no one problem is the same, and therefore no solution is identical to the next. It’s not about memorizing formulas or finding out all the answers, but rather it’s about gaining some comfort, efficiency, and proficiency in how to approach problems and how to employ some simple tools to aid you in rational decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Building the toolkit. Learning simple excel formulas can help cut down the time it takes to solve problems. You may understand how to work financial formulas, but learning to do so quickly in excel can save enormous amounts of time in the long-run. It’s the difference of going to bed at midnight and 2am. Trust me.
  • Stress. We all know the first semester of business school can be stressful, but what amazes me is how easily that stress can be countered. Just taking the time to become comfortable with the basics before you start gives you confidence to excel and one less thing to think about. The mechanics become second nature, and any preparation you’ve done allows you to focus on the big picture – which of course is most important.

Goals Drive Time Management Choices

Thanks to the Tuck students for sharing their perspectives.  While there may be some specifics unique to Tuck, I suspect that the sentiments are relevant for prospective students targeting top programs other than Tuck.  I welcome input from students in other programs. 

Below is another Tuck student's perspective.

My Background:

The highest math course I ever took was pre-calculus back in senior year of high school. I graduated from Harvard in 1999 having taken only one vaguely quantitative course. I did IT consulting for two years after school and did very little quantitative work there. In 2001, I moved to an environmental consulting firm. I built some Excel models and routinely used Excel to create budgets, but my job wasn’t very quantitative and involved almost no finance, mathematics, statistics, or accounting.

Protect Your Investment by Arriving Prepared

This is a must. It took me until the middle of Fall B to be comfortable doing math long-hand again. Even something simple like solving a pair of equations for two variables can be challenging when you haven’t done it in a few years. I could have used more preparation, but I’m very glad that I didn’t do any less. I had used Excel quite a bit at work, but people without that background really struggled for a bit.

Another aspect of preparation for me was figuring out exactly what I wanted to get out of the program. Knowing this helped me navigate some of the choices about time that I had to make this fall. The times when I was most frustrated were the times when I forgot this.

Know Thyself: Confidence is King

This has been a hard one for me. To be honest, I’ve really sucked at accounting and capital markets, and it’s been hard not to let that affect how I feel about other courses, in all of which I’ve done better than I expected. There was one night in Fall B when I was feeling especially miserable about life in general when I said to myself, “well, stats is going great…economics seems fine…mancomm [Management Communication] seems intuitive and I seem to be doing very well…I know most of the people in my class, no real complaints on the social front…the weather’s been great…but I’m really stinking up the joint in capital markets.” That class alone managed to give me a negative perspective on pretty much all of Fall B.

Summer Before B-School is Chaotic

I can’t relate to this too much in retrospect. Compared to the fall, it seems like a halcyon period of calm and tranquility.

"Knowing About" Is Not "Knowing How"

I agree; I’d add, “knowing how now is not the same as remembering how in 2 weeks” and “knowing how now may not be as valuable as remembering where to go to figure out how.” If that makes sense.

Bankers, Engineers, and CPAs, Oh My!

Having an analyst in my study group this fall definitely helped me enormously. I don’t know if I’d have made it through accounting unscathed without him.

(Limited) Time is of the Essence

You might consider re-naming this “you will not have enough time no matter what you do.”

Quant Struggles are Emotional

Couldn’t agree more. It’s easy to let frustration with a particular problem translate into “there’s no way I can understand this topic” in my head. It’s also easy to let that frustration extend into other unrelated areas, as I mentioned above.

Another Quant Perspective from Tuck

My background:

I was a political science and international relations major in college and worked for the Federal government as a legislative aide in Congress. Thus, I had little quantitative background besides the beyond basic statistics and economics before coming to Tuck.

Getting In is the First Foothill, Not the Mountain –

This is absolutely true. While you should take some time before starting business school to relax, you should also prepare yourself for what will likely be a more rigorous course load than you experienced in college. It can be a shock – especially if you don’t have much experience with economics, statistics, accounting, and finance.

Protect Your Investment by Arriving Prepared

You are spending too much time, energy, and money on business school to risk failing. Preparation and some familiarity with the material will go a long way in helping you stay afloat in difficult and fast-paced classes.

Know Thyself: Confidence is King

Many people are intimidated by their classmates’ intellect and resumes. Don’t be. You were accepted to the same school, so don’t sell yourself short just because your classmates are impressive. This sounds simple ahead of time, but when classes are difficult and people begin to panic, it’s easy to lose confidence.

Summer Before B-School is Chaotic

Yes, you’re going through a big transition, but take the time to travel and relax. You won’t have this kind of opportunity for a long time, so take advantage now. At the same time, many people overspent during the summer and were struggling until loans came. Remember that (if you’re going to school full-time), you don’t have an income anymore, so you should probably adjust your lifestyle. Easier said than done, I know.

"Knowing About" Is Not "Knowing How"

I had heard about bonds but couldn’t price them and didn’t know what the Wall Street Journal indexes really meant. Let’s just say my paper thin knowledge of financial markets was passed over in the first 10 minutes of capital markets. Don’t convince yourself you know a topic because you’ve heard something about it.

Bankers, Engineers, and CPAs, Oh My!

While they may raise the curve in your classes, they can also be your best resource when you don’t understand the material. I was tutored by a CPA for Managerial Accounting. It worked very well.

(Limited) Time is of the Essence

Time management is the most important thing to master in your first year at Tuck. Closing my Outlook when I do work has saved me dozens of wasted hours. I highly recommend you try it.

Quant Struggles are Emotional

The worst thing to do when you don’t understand material is to let it get you down. Getting upset will keep you from asking the questions that you need to ask. The truth is that 20% of the class is probably confused about the same thing, so do your best not take quantitative struggles personally.

Quant Experience at Tuck

I asked some Tuck first years for their perspectives on quant issues as they look back on fall term. I'll be posting responses as they come in. Here's the first, which I've organized along the quant themes that I mentioned in my message to them.

First, the student's background:

Before coming to Tuck I majored in economics and spent three years working for a small executive search firm. This job prepared me very well for most aspects of business school, but did not include much quant experience. I did a bit of brush up work over the summer and came early for math camp, which was tremendously helpful. Not only was I able to remind myself of the accounting and economics I learned in college, but I also learned a lot of useful modeling tools that I had not seen before. Also, math camp was a great way to get to know classmates and get your mind ready for attending classes again.

Getting In is the First Foothill, Not the Mountain

Your quant struggle is directly related to your background and your aptitude for the material. For me I had seen most of the material in some form and learned it without too much pain. However, some of the capital markets material was totally foreign to me so that required a lot of work.

Protect Your Investment by Arriving Prepared

It is crucial to stay on top of the material in school. If you fall behind, it is all over. The amount of preparation also depends on your background. Some people need none and others need to spend most of their summer working on their skills. You have to know where you stand. At first, I did not want to do math camp because I did not think I needed to, but I am very glad I did and it left me feeling very comfortable to start classes.

Know Thyself: Confidence is King

Self-confidence is critical in school and beyond. So long as you are keeping up in your classes (even if you are having to work very hard to do so), this should not be a problem. People come to school to learn and if you are not being challenged it is not a worthwhile experience.

Summer Before B-School is Chaotic

The summer before school takes on a life of its own and differs widely among various students. It is important to get some relaxation in so you are charged when school starts. However, if you are a student who needs quant experience, the summer is the time to do it. Once school starts the schedule gets crazy and the time won’t be there for extra practice.

"Knowing About" Is Not "Knowing How"

B-school is different from college because everything is applied to real life. The other key difference between college and b-school is that the cases don’t give you direction, so you need to know exactly how and when to apply all the concepts you know.

Bankers, Engineers, and CPAs, Oh My!

In the beginning of b-school there is a serious gap in quant expertise across the class. It is important to remember that some people are CFAs and some are CPAs and that they can help you. Along these lines, don’t get frustrated by the fact that you will have to work MUCH harder than they will in the finance classes. That is just the way it is – they already went through this earlier in their careers.

(Limited) Time is of the Essence

Time-management is the key to first year. The programs intentionally overload you and it is important to keep stress in check and make sure to work efficiently.

Quant Struggles are Emotional

The big thing about the emotional side of it is to remember when someone else is having an easier time that they have probably studied this before. The best thing to do is to ask the pros for help if you are lost and not to worry that they are ahead – so long as you get it before the test.

#5 "Knowing About" is Not "Knowing How"

First-year MBA quant courses require students to learn how to crank out answers correctly.  Knowing about spreadsheets, finance, accounting, economics, or statistics in a conversational sense is not the same as knowing how to solve problems.  Knowing about business will help with some aspects of business school--understanding cases, considering strategies, making connections in class discussions--but much of the first-year curriculum consists of computing correct numerical answers rather than answering essay questions.

Posted on Thursday, November 16, 2006 at 12:44PM by Registered CommenterPeter Regan in , , | CommentsPost a Comment

8 MBA Quant Themes

I'll start with some of my thoughts about students' experience of the quantitative demands of the first-year MBA curriculum.  This is the mental landscape that motivates and orients my MBA Math work in the classroom and on www.mbamath.com.  My hope is that laying these ideas out and then asking for perspectives from other faculty, administrators, as well as enrolled, admitted, and prospective MBA students will help me to broaden my views, resulting in improved live and online teaching.

Here's my list:

  1. Getting In is the First Foothill, Not the Mountain
  2. Protect Your Investment by Arriving Prepared
  3. Know Thyself: Confidence is King
  4. Summer Before B-School is Chaotic
  5. "Knowing About" Is Not "Knowing How"
  6. Bankers, Engineers, and CPAs, Oh My!
  7. (Limited) Time is of the Essence
  8. Quant Struggles are Emotional

I'll expand on each of these themes in subsequent posts.