Find Your Perfect Way to Study for the GMAT

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Sandra Smith

Steven Sunmonu lays out his strategies and recommendations for GMAT success.

Steven Sunmonu, Dual Degree MBA/MPA at University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business, and Harvard University Kennedy School

I was born in Nigeria and came to the U.S. when I was two years old. I grew up on Long Island in a family of 13 (I was one of 11 children!) and went to Duke where I studied Political Science and Russian Literature. While at Duke, I discovered my love of media & entertainment by co-founding Duke’s record label. After college, I worked at Capitol & Virgin Records, where I put music in commercials. My proudest moment there was putting a song in a commercial that aired during the Super Bowl! I then transitioned to MTV International and Nickelodeon where I created and led strategies to turn shows like Beavis and Butthead and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles into toys and games that I eventually sold to retailers all over the world. I came to Wharton to add structure to how I solved problems and hopefully transition into a consulting or internal strategy career where I can practice the frameworks I’m learning in business school.

Dream career: Creating a music festival like Coachella in Nigeria and using it as a tool to encourage young professionals of the Nigerian Diaspora to invest their time and money in Nigeria’s future.

Why Business School? I wanted to add some analytical rigor and different problem solving approaches to the way I saw business. I also wanted to meet new and interesting people, travel the world, and safely test out new career choices and ways to live my life.

Before business school, I was: Manager of Nickelodeon’s International Consumer Product department. I led international strategy for the sale of SpongeBob, Dora the Explorer, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys and games around the world–seriously!

When I’m not in class, you’ll find me: Watching a WWII documentary, learning a new instrument or just hanging out with friends.

Advice for anyone thinking about b-school? Speak to as many people as possible and try to visit the schools. You won’t be able to determine if an MBA, and which type of MBA program, are the best fit for you until you see it yourself. One to two years is a short time if you’re having fun, but a long time if you’re unhappy. Spend the time up front doing research to determine the best program for you. Also, save up for those trips and pay down consumer debt! Look at waiving a core class or two if your school allows it and it makes sense for your academic interests.

My remedy for pre-test nerves: Go to the movies and spend time with my girlfriend. Her food is a great pick me up!

On the day before your exam, you should: Relax! Just have faith that you did all the requisite work already and have no need to cram the night before. You rarely learn something new the day before!

How did you fit studying for the GMAT exam into your busy schedule? I formed a study group and hired a tutor that helped keep me on track. I found that studying with others forced me to prepare ahead of time and made me stick to a routine that proved invaluable in making sure I had the knowledge and stamina to finish the GMAT.

How well-prepared for business school do you feel, after studying for the GMAT exam? Very well-prepared. The GMAT taught me to recognize patterns in old problems towards applying them to new ones and that you have to manage your time on tests and projects. A lot of business school is just learning how to apply frameworks to certain situations so having prepared for the GMAT, I was able to transition into business school already adept at pattern recognition. Also, doing well on business school tests is just as much about time management as it is about knowing the material. The GMAT was a great first experience in knowing when to cut a tough problem loose and instead spend more time on a problem that could be solved in the time allotted.  

Four Ideas to Find Your Perfect Way to Study for the GMAT

"Success on GMAT, just like success in business school, is about using patterns that you recognize in previous problems and applying them to problems you haven’t seen before."

Full transcript

"Hi everyone. My name is Steven Sunmonu and I’m a first year MBA candidate at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Today, I’d like to offer four quick tips to help you get ahead in your GMAT preparation. The first tip is study with a friend. Studying with a friend is great for three reasons. The first one: it’s just a really great extra piece of motivation. If you’re anything like me you’ve probably already put a lot of time and effort into your GMAT prep and occasionally you probably feel overwhelmed. Having a good friend in the room is going to give you that extra little boost of energy to help push you through to the next level. The second reason to have a friend in the room when you’re studying is by virtue of them being there, you’re going to be exposed to be different approaches to problem solving. That’s going to be incredibly valuable come crunch time when you need a different approach to solving a really hard math problem. The third reason is when your friend asks you how to solve a problem, it’s going to force you also to crack that problem and understand it really innately. I know that for me I have five great friends through an organization called Management Leaders for Tomorrow that were incredibly, incredibly valuable to my success on the GMAT.

The second tip I have for you is to practice recognizing patterns outside of the GMAT. Success on GMAT, just like success in business school, is about using patterns that you recognize in previous problems and applying them to problems you haven’t seen before. So, I know that at least for me, I would read articles such as The New York Times or The Economist and look how they structured their paragraphs and see what else I could glean from that to use on the GMAT.

The third tip I have for you is, if at all possible, try to get a tutor, preferably early on. Classes are great. But, I know that for me at least, it was not going to be the best opportunity for me to target my specific weaknesses. And again, I understand that tutors aren’t going to be possible for everybody, so going back to my first point pull aside a good friend who did particularly well in a GMAT and ask them if they can help you come up with a personalized study plan. 

My last tip of the day is to use memory devices or mnemonic tricks to help you remember all the information you need on the GMAT. There are so many rules on the GMAT and so many exceptions to each rule that it’s really difficult to remember those when the clock is ticking. One tip that I use to remember all these tricks was I would actually turn some of these rules into songs, so if I got stuck I would just sing one of my favorite songs, having changed the lyrics to a specific rule and automatically it would come back to my mind. 

Another quick tip is: take each process for each mathematical formula and turn it actually into an acronym, so then you can actually repeat like “ABCD” that stands for something else. Hope those tips were helpful and hopefully looking forward to seeing you guys soon. Take care. Bye."

Avoid the Challenges and Transition to B-School the Smart Way

"Now that you’re part of an MBA community you have a wealth of contacts and resources that can really be helpful to you as you start preparing for what careers are of interest to you."

Full transcript

"Hi, everyone, Steven Sunmonu here, Class of 2016 at the Wharton School of Business. I just wrapped my first year here at Wharton and I’m really excited to offer you guys some quick tips and insights on how you can also get ahead on getting ready for your MBA programs. I think there are two ways to take a look at preparing yourself for what you’re about to embark upon these next one to two years. There’s a social aspect as well as an academic aspect. On the social end, one of the first things you want to do before even stepping foot on campus is getting yourself ready financially for all the clubs and trips you’ll be taking part of. The second thing on the social aspect you’ll want to do is spend these next few months before business school just hanging out with friends and family. These people were incredibly helpful to getting you to where you want to go and showing them how appreciative you are now is going to pay dividends throughout these next one to two years, but really into the rest of your career and future. The last thing that I would do on the social end would be start pre-recruiting. Now that you’re part of an MBA community you have a wealth of contacts and resources that can really be helpful to you as you start preparing for what careers are of interest to you. Definitely start reaching out to alumni the second you get into your respective MBA programs. On the academic side I would also reach out to current students and recent alumni on what classes you should be taking, how to prepare for those classes and potentially if you can buy or borrow books off of them. The second thing on the academic aspect is reach out to your academic advising departments early and often. I know what at Wharton they were instrumental in helping me prepare the right course load for my specific skill set. That’s it for today and hopefully that was helpful. Looking forward to sharing more insights with you guys later on down the road. Bye."

Why You Need Get Involved and Develop Yourself Outside the MBA Classroom

"You’re going to leave business school a much better person and hopefully leave your business school a much better place by having been involved outside the classroom."

Full transcript

"What’s up guys? How’s it going? Steven here from the Wharton School of Business and I’m sure that by now in your preparation for business school you either intuitively understand or have been told a number of times how important it is to be successful within the classroom at your MBA program. But I'm here today to talk about just how critically important it is to be visible and active outside of the classroom via extracurricular opportunities. Being involved outside the classroom is really going to give you that chance to showcase some of your skills and talents to some of your classmates who hopefully will down the road become business partners, investors and clients of yours. Sometimes the traditional classroom experience really doesn’t give you that opportunity to show just how dedicated or how intelligent you are on certain issues. And being involved outside the classroom is going to give you that platform to show how dedicated and how passionate you are about something and what kind of value will add to your classmates’ experiences down the line. Being involved outside the classroom is also going to give you that chance to also practice some of the skill sets and theories that you’re learning within the classroom. When you look at an MBA experience overall business school is really just an opportunity to be involved in a safe but challenging space to test out new theories and assumptions on how you should live out your career and really your life moving forward. So, for example, for those of you who are maybe thinking about a consulting career down the line, I’ll definitely encourage you to use some of the theories and frameworks that you’re learning in your management and finance classes and apply them to maybe a non-profit to help them improve their operational efficiencies. Having that experience outside the classroom is really going to allow you the chance to hone some of the skill sets that will play dividends to you in your career moving forward. And lastly I think that most of us come to business school with the purpose, either stated or implicit that we want to improve the lives of those around us and we want to make the world a better place. Showing case that you are active outside the classroom is really going to give you that opportunity to have a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging that is going to be bigger than just tradition academic success. You’re going to leave business school a much better person and hopefully leave your business school a much better place by having been involved outside the classroom. I hope those tips were helpful in terms of making your business school experience the best it can be and hopefully I can be able to share some more tips with you guys later down the line. Talk to you soon. Bye."

Is a Dual Degree Program the Right Choice for Your Education?

"I used the GMAT exam to apply to Wharton where I'm a first year MBA candidate but I also used it to apply and gain entry into Harvard Kennedy School MPA program."

Full transcript

"Hey everyone, how’s it going? Steven Sunmonu back here again and today’s video is particularly for those of you about to enter or just even thinking about getting another degree in conjunction with your MBA. The GMAT is a pretty awesome test in that it’s actually relatively flexible in comparison to other tests in that you can use it to apply and gain entry most likely to other Master’s degree programs besides just the traditional MBA. For example, I used obviously the GMAT to apply to Wharton where I'm a first year MBA candidate but I also used it to apply and gain entry into Harvard Kennedy School MPA program where I’ll be a first year MPA candidate starting in the fall, next year actually of 2015. The dual degree option is phenomenal for a number of reasons I think. For me it’s going to really give me some flexibility in terms of the career options that are going to be available to me. I know that right now that I am particularly interested in pursuing a career in corporate social responsibility within the meeting and entertainment space and having the Wharton MBA as well as the Harvard MPA is really going to be able to help me marry the business as well as the nonprofit and government sector relationships that are really going to help me drive my career within the corporate social responsibility space. I know that particularly as well financially it’s really much better than doing two degrees separately in that I'm going to be saving a lot of time and money doing two degrees at once versus had I just done them on their own. I think, a special shout out in terms of understanding kind of what you’re getting into is going to be going out to my MD, MBA and JDMBA friends who are also studying for you know the LSAT as well as the MCAT. You certainly are going to want to put aside some time to prepare individually for those tests because the tests are pretty, actually pretty dissimilar from the GMAT in that what they’re asking you to do prepare and show that you have some fluency in. That being said, I think it’s a great opportunity if you have the chance to do it because it’s really going to add two different skill sets to your background, two different opportunities for you to meet two networking groups at two great institutions. That’s what the biggest choice was for me and I hope that these are some of the aspects that you’re looking at when you’re making your decision of whether or not to pursue another degree on top of your MBA. Hopefully that was helpful and looking forward to sharing some other further insights on my experience at Wharton and now Harvard Kennedy School later on down the road. Talk to you guys soon. Bye."

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