Sunday, November 27, 2005

How to Brag About Your GMAT Score

When I walked out of the Testing Center on the campus of the University of Utah a few years back, I didn’t immediately realize that the events of the few hours previous would change my life. You see, I had sat in front of a terminal, clicked a few dots with my mouse, pushed a pencil across some scratch paper a bit, and had a rather unaccountable jag of giggling. The net result was pleasing as well as surprising: a General Management Administration Test score (basis for entry into an MBA program) of unusual quality.

I got my first inkling that things were to be different from there on when I talked to a fellow test-taker who finished at the same time.

“How did it go?” I believe I asked.

“Sigh, not so well. I was really hoping to top 600, and wasn’t very close.”

“Oh,” I answered. “That’s too bad.”

“So, how did you do?”

“Uh, pretty well.”

If he only knew. My score was of a sort that could transform a young man’s resume into a story of untapped genius waiting to be trained, molded, and leveraged, rather than the tale of limited achievement and similarly proportioned potential it had previously spun, inconsistent and full of sudden starts and stops, generally describing the sort of unmotivated fellow that doesn’t even bother to prepare for important standardized tests.

This lone bright spot perched at the top of the document. I did everything but draw circles, arrows, and stars all about it when I applied to the Brigham Young University MBA program. And it got me in.

It is so rare that we jump through all of the hoops with such success. Wouldn’t you expect people to be happy to hear such a happy tale of standardized brilliance?

Well, they aren’t. Those that haven’t taken the test must take my word for it that this was indeed a special feat. And many that have taken the test do not care one bit to hear me brag about taking it cold; rather, when they contrast my experience with the time, energy, and exquisite anxiety they invested in preparing for and enduring the endeavor, they don’t have anything pleasant at all to say in response. I have learned to answer little and volunteer less.

Still, as touchy as the subject appears to be, it is nonetheless easy enough to find out how classmates did – just ask them. Many are just as eager to brag if not more. Those that demonstrate embarrassed reluctance will require more subterfuge. “To what other schools did you apply?” is a good tack. If they answer with places like New Mexico State and Wyoming; well, they’ve told you all you need to know.

Unfortunately, asking other students outright how they did is not a good strategy for getting them to ask you in return. People rarely reciprocate the solicitous inquiry (being generally more content to talk about themselves), so you must either continue to keep your peace or blurt it out insistently, like the arrogant fool you are.

And what about their performance? If they did better than you there isn’t much to crow about, is there. And heaven forbid they bombed the GMAT – for then social felicity requires you to pooh-pooh the importance of the exam, it’s only a number, no reflection of your intelligence, just a big popularity contest, blah blah blah lies lies lies. How could you possibly bring up your score after that? “Sure the score means nothing. Why, my 830 has done very little to enrich my life.” Rings hollow, doesn’t it.

So really, when it comes to these tests there’s not much to talk about. Your score doesn’t make you a good person. Additionally, your efforts to weave an entertaining tale about the events and particulars of the examination sound akin to that schlubby cousin of yours that is convinced everyone else finds World of Warcraft as fascinating as he does. And, bottom line, you didn’t get it because of any extraordinary effort or feat of learning. You didn’t learn to think any more than you learned to breathe – God and your parents made you that way, and since when is that something to brag about?

So why bring it up at all? Are we so uncertain and insecure that we seek solace from a number that will tell us what we are worth? Apparently the answer is yes. But why fight it – we should enjoy it while we can for the evaluation has an expiration date. There are few things more pathetic than that overweight jock that still trades on his glories long-past. The forty-five-year-old manager that adorns his resume with the glory of a decades-old standardized test score is similarly pathetic. Has nothing valuable happened since then?

Perhaps it would be appropriate to hold a GMAT appreciation day some time at the end of the MBA program, where all graduating students wear a badge showing their score and then compliment each other on their test-taking prowess. Sure, the event may be unbalanced, with most of the recognition going to finance students (and many OB/HR’s not bothering to attend at all). But it would be grand, a general celebration of the last day of life where the GMAT score actually means something, before the big numbers that people brag about start to have dollar signs in front of them.

1 comment:

Tuittu said...

Guess what. My little brother is into World of Warcraft. (I thought I'd sabotage your exellent essay by commenting on something extremely unimportant in it.)