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GMAT™ Examinee Spotlight: Kathleen Da Silva

kathleen da silva imageThe GMAT™ exam is your opportunity to showcase your abilities to the world’s top business schools. Nine in 10 applicants to MBA programs ranked in the top 100 by the FT apply with a test score, and of those, 7 in 10 use the GMAT exam—the only assessment tailor-made for business school.  

mba.com is teaming up with Admit.me Fellows, a free comprehensive admissions support resource for under-resourced underrepresented minorities and women, to highlight the stories of GMAT examinees from underrepresented backgrounds.

Meet Kathleen Da Silva

Kathleen Da Silva is an Admit.me Fellow who grew up the child of Brazilian immigrants in Newark, New Jersey. She’s a first-generation college graduate of Harvard College with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Economics.

Read on to hear why Kathleen is pursuing her MBA, her GMAT prep journey, and her advice to prospective applicants beginning their own GMAT journey.

What’s your background?

Kathleen Da Silva: I was born and raised by immigrant parents who moved to the United States from Brazil to give their children a better education. Growing up in Newark, New Jersey, the educational inequalities were always prevalent. However, I was privileged to attend a private boarding school on a full scholarship and continue my educational journey at Harvard College. I graduated as a first-generation college student, and this accomplishment as a Latinx has been my biggest accomplishment yet (until I get an MBA acceptance, that is!).

During college, I did not consider attending graduate school. I was determined to climb the ranks at a company and work my way to the top. Post-college, I worked in operations at Goldman Sachs, and while I enjoyed the operational work, my role was not fulfilling, and I was not using my skills to benefit people in the way I wanted to. Determined to give back to my community, specifically underrepresented students, I joined AdmitHub, an EdTech start-up committed to fostering academic success in Higher Ed, in January of 2017. During my time with AdmitHub, I guided colleges to use our technology to increase their Pell-eligible and first-generation enrollment on campus. I continue to support this mission through mentoring middle school and high school students.

Why are you pursuing an MBA?

KDS: My time at AdmitHub exposed me to the impact of technology in education – I witnessed how technology could solve an educational problem at scale. At the time, I was not sure what I wanted to do with that information, but now I am certain that I want to launch an EdTech venture that uses predictive analytics to identify underrepresented middle school students at risk of failing and connect these students to academic programs and mentors.

While I have expertise working in operations and the education space, business school will equip me with the skills I need to launch a sustainable company. Business school will teach me how to manage a company’s finances, how to develop a go-to-market strategy, and frameworks to build a competitive product. Business school will also allow me to build a community of leaders who will help me achieve this dream.

What was your GMAT preparation experience like?

KDS: In November 2019 I was accepted to a fellowship program that helped prepare me for my journey ahead by educating me on the admissions process, providing me with GMAT prep classes, and holding me accountable to my commitment to starting school in the fall of 2021.

To get a baseline of where I was testing, I took a practice exam and scored in the mid-500s. I was expecting to score lower, so I was thrilled with the outcome but acknowledged that I had some work to do. I was excited to overcome this hurdle. Having a non-traditional background and wanting to highlight my quantitative abilities, I decided I would use the GMAT exam to apply to schools.

From February through April, I studied at least 3 hours daily during the week and at least 6 hours daily on the weekend. I used the GMAT Official Guides and created Verbal and Quant problem sets that would each take me about 30 minutes to finish. I started tackling lower-level questions then graduated to higher-level questions. In April, I decided to hold myself to ~2 minutes per question but I wasn’t finishing the sets in time.

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At the end of April, I took another practice GMAT exam and scored mid-500s. I was disheartened that my score did not improve, so I decided to sign up for a tutoring program to understand testing strategies and techniques better. I started my tutoring program in May, and on my first day of the program, I scheduled my first official GMAT test for late July 2020 (a week after the completion of my program). Before taking the official test, I meditated for 20 minutes to ground myself and try to give myself the mental confidence I needed to ace the test. I scored in the mid-600s and left the test center in tears. I felt like all my hard work was not paying off.

At this point, I was already an Admit.me Fellow and shared my testing experience with my mentors. They encouraged me to believe in myself and keep working hard. I decided to cancel my first score and retake the test in August of 2020. While I was way more rested and confident for my second attempt, I was still quite nervous. I scored in the high 600s. It wasn’t the 700 I was aiming for, but the score increase gave me the energy I needed to continue studying for the test. I decided I would give the test one final try then spend my energy on the rest of the application. I tried the GMAT Online in October of 2020 and scored in the low-600s.

What was your outcome?

KDS: I scheduled my final exam for December 2020 and did not reach my 700-target score.

Regardless I was committed to applying to business school. I applied to a total of 10 schools. Here is where I stand: Five interview invites, one waitlist decision, one denial decision, and three schools to hear back from. I couldn’t be happier!

What advice would you give others?

KDS: In hindsight, here are some of the things I wish I had done sooner:

1. Learned the test structure to understand techniques to score higher.

2. Identify patterns and understand how to solve certain questions quicker.

3. Learn to let go. You can’t get all the questions right and you have to determine how to best invest your time.

4. Use the error log effectively because there is so much to gain from it.

5. Keep the right mentality for each test and truly be confident in my abilities.

6. Leverage more group studying to learn from others.

7. Focus on the concepts I didn’t understand well instead of focusing on all the different topics that could be tested.

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