Sunday, November 28, 2010

Q&A with Brian Galvin - Finale

Do you feel the need for more interaction between the students enrolled in the GMAT courses. I feel that there is a missed opportunity here. I've made a lot of friends through the MBA Application process. Participants might benefit from a forum to which allows them to engage with each other, and communicate outside of course hours e.g. a forum/ facebook page specific to that batch. I believe Knewton has just initiated something along these lines. Your thoughts?

The online format has been a lot of fun to teach, and I’m certainly grateful for the opportunity to “meet” so many people from around the world – I thought it was fantastic that after class was over you went for a morning run in Chennai and I went for an evening run in Santa Monica!  I can certainly see a feeling of detachment from classmates, and I like the idea of having a forum for classmates around the world to interact outside of class.  One thing that we’d need to be careful about is privacy – I always blind-copy my class lists when emailing out handouts or reminders just because I don’t want anyone to feel that their email address is ‘for sale’, and we’re also a little careful with our place in people’s lives as many students don’t necessarily want the fact that they’re applying to graduate school to be public knowledge for their  boss or coworkers to stumble upon.  So I do like the idea but we’d want to be careful with implementation not to turn a positive into a negative for anyone.

Actually, I do feel that one educational benefit of the online class is the relative anonymity of the students – on average people are much more likely to participate and ask or answer questions when they’re not worried about interrupting (or feeling foolish in front of) classmates, so there’s a definite upside to that.

We’re always looking for ways to accentuate the student experience, and we still do have more than twice as many in-person students as online students, so I’ll definitely bring your suggestion to our Student Services team. Mike and Hallie are terrific…I think they’ll love the idea.

I remember coming across a review for a Veritas Classroom Course, which stated that though the Veritas course material was brilliant, the tutor was not all that great. I haven't had this experience, but for the benefit of those reading, could you outline how Veritas goes about hiring tutors?

That’s frustrating to hear, and fortunately we don’t hear it often.  My responsibility includes the quality of all of our lesson materials and instructors, and admittedly there’s a little bit of a conflict of interest in those two categories.  When we do receive less-than-ideal feedback on our instructors (and I’ll define that in a second), the predominant reason is to the extent of “he/she mainly just read out of the book and I thought they would add more value.”   Now, what’s difficult about that is that our books are, as I think you and most of your readers would agree, really good!  So when we advertise excellent instructors in addition to excellent materials, we put a lot of pressure on our instructors  by building up expectations, and every so often instructors won’t meet that expectation.  It’s tough, because we obviously don’t want to lessen the quality of the books so that it’s easy for instructors to shine above them, so we work with instructors to ensure that they’re confident in their abilities to add extra value.  One of my favorite projects is going to visit the classrooms of our top-rated instructors – this year I’ve gotten to watch worldwide Instructor of the Year winners Amit Kakkad in London, Chris Kane in New York, and Frankie Beecroft in Chicago, as well as David Newland online – so that I can bring back strategies to the rest of the faculty.  We do regular instructor development sessions online in which we share teaching/tutoring strategies and I bring back tales and tips from the field for everyone, so this is something we’re thinking about all the time.

Probably my biggest goal – at least the one that carries the biggest weight in my annual employee reviews here, I don’t mind admitting – is for our worldwide faculty to average 4.5 out of a scale of 5.0 on students’ responses to the question “I would recommend my instructor to others”.  Now, I teach some weighted average lessons as part of our course, so I know what a challenge that is!  For every score of 1 – strongly disagree – I need 7 scores of 5 (strongly agree) to balance that out and stay at 4.5.  But I’m pretty confident that we’ll hit that mark for the calendar year 2010, and that’s due in large part to the fact that we have such amazing instructors and quite a few opportunities to share resources.

Here’s our hiring and training process:

1)      I review resumes and interview those that we select over the phone.  In that session I’m primarily looking for a clear passion for teaching, a genuine interest in the GMAT subject matter (I love the phrase “it may sound crazy, but I really liked studying for the GMAT”), and the ability to explain things clearly in an engaging manner.  My other big interest is longevity – if someone is looking to kill some time over the course of a year or so, they’re probably not a good fit for us; I want the people who are going to keep GMAT instruction as an interest over multiple years.  One of the great assets that we have is a faculty of dozens who have been teaching for over three years, and at least a handful of us who have been teaching for 5-8.  The more of that wisdom and experience we’re able to impart to our students and our younger instructors, the better we are, and that’s something we look for.

2)      Instructors who impress us in the first interview come back for a second, online interview in which they teach a few GMAT questions to us.  My goals there are clarity of instruction, genuine enthusiasm for and mastery of GMAT topics, and the ability to make big-picture points and takeaways and to anticipate student mistakes.  Our instructors don’t just need to be able to teach “the GMAT”, they need to be able to teach “students”, and there’s a definite distinction in my mind.  Great instructors can  take a problem and use it as a platform to teach a strategy or concept – students have a tendency to want to learn “the answer” to that problem, but instructors need to be able to go beyond that and teach how to get the answers to many problems like it.  Great instructors are also always looking for reasons that students make mistakes so that we can help people become more conscious of them.  If instructors demonstrate those abilities, we’ll invite them for the third round, which is:

3)      An in-person meeting with one of our Mentor Instructors in their region.  We have about a dozen instructors on that team, all with over three years of teaching experience  for us, and they conduct an in-person assessment/training session and then serve as a local mentor for the new instructor, providing resources and suggestions and helping to teach them the ways of working with our students and with the company.

4)      New instructors serve as Teaching Assistants on our online courses, getting a feel for how a veteran instructor paces and manages each lesson and also getting experience answering student questions and learning how students react to our lessons and strategies.  We’re big fans of active training – the more that instructors are in a position to help the more natural the lesson prep becomes, and in that forum you just get a much better perspective not on “the material” but on “teaching the material to student”, which like I said is a fairly big distinction.

From there, we hold regular development sessions and we consistently monitor student feedback.  So, to your original question about having seen a bad review, I know that there may be a few out there,  but I know that they’re pretty rare.  And we certainly want to ensure that each Veritas Prep student gets the experience that they expect and deserve, so if a student ever feels that they could benefit from another instructor’s perspective, our Student Services team is happy to help them find that experience in another schedule.

There are a plethora of GMAT courses to choose from. What factors should one take into account when selecting a course? Should the cost be an important factor?

Tray, you’re asking the wrong guy about whether cost should be an important factor – I think cost should always be a factor!  I’m notoriously frugal…my father’s son, I guess, so I definitely think that people should view cost as a factor.  I guess I’ll define it slightly differently, though – really value should be the primary concern.  Coming up with a cheaper option is easy – just shrink the number of hours and resources, pay less for lower quality, and you can come in a dollar below the other provider without much trouble.  We saw that when we were initially brainstorming ideas for the Essentials Course – if our goal was to appeal to a more value-conscious student, we could easily say “just talk faster” and pay for 2/3 of the time of our normal offerings, but ultimately that’s just not responsible.  So I think there’s a difference between cost and value, and I’d highly recommend to anyone to be a value-conscious consumer regardless of what you’re buying.

So with value as a driving factor, I’d say that the following are major elements of a good GMAT course decision:

Curriculum quality – what are they teaching you?  I think it’s almost insulting to the consumer to say that you have “tricks” to “beat” the test.  The GMAT is a hard test and it has to be a hard test – there’s a reason that top business schools around the world all value the results so highly.  To claim that there are tricks to beat the test just isn’t responsible; if it were that easy, then everyone would go to Harvard or Stanford (or, if they’re lucky, Michigan!).  So look for curriculum that’s well-constructed and well-explained.  There are plenty of resources out there – books are available in stores; company representatives post on blogs and forums to give you some insight; and companies offer free seminars, often online, to get a preview of the lessons and content.  Take advantage and pick an offering that is well-grounded in solid curriculum.

Instructor quality – I’m obviously biased because I’m part of an instructor hiring/training program that I think works well, but I do think it’s important to have instructors who are committed to teaching, talented at teaching, qualified to teach this particular test, and well-trained for that task.  There are a few companies that I know share our philosophy on that, and I do think that there is a marked difference.

Program flexibility – this one may be unsung, but life happens to people in our target age range.  Work becomes busier, social commitments pop up, roommates move in or out and disturb your living situation, etc.   I’d look for a program that is flexible and provides you with opportunities to join alternate schedules and retake the class if necessary, that offers plenty of study resources over a long period of time, etc.  I have a student in my class right now (November 2010) who had all kinds of unexpected events pop up in his life when we first met in a January 2010 class; he wasn’t doing homework, he was missing class, and it wasn’t his fault – family, work, they all had to take priority.  Now the guy is a dynamo, asking questions, completing homework…he’s finally in a position to succeed in the class and on the test and the difference shows, so I’m really happy that he was able to retake it for  free.

Convenience – akin to the above, if you’re not in a position to get the most out of class because the meeting times are hard to make or the location is hard to get to, you may not get the most out of the program.  Find something that fits with your learning style and ability to take advantage of the resources.  There are quite a few online options out there nowadays that make accessing classes more convenient, and obviously most of the larger American/Canadian markets are well-covered in-person by the top companies here.

GRE. Should all applicants stay well away (at least for the next couple of years)?

Ah, good question – here’s the thing about the GRE: it’s not as well-written a test as the GMAT, and almost everyone knows it.  The temptation for MBA applicants with the GRE is that it’s “easier”, but ultimately is that what you really want?  One big distinction that I think most people need to get is this – no one “deserves” to go to Harvard Business School or the Stanford GSB.  There’s no threshold that you hit that makes you “qualified”, and that’s it.  Those schools select the best applicants that help to further the school’s goals – attracting top recruiters to get students better jobs; attracting top students to attract top recruiters; attracting alumni donations to facilitate more ambitious facilities and programs; etc.  So a high GMAT or GRE score isn’t about showing that you deserve to be admitted; it’s about showing the schools that you’re an excellent candidate who will help them to further their missions by being a contributor in the classroom and to your classmates’ experiences; by being a stellar applicant in the job market and a fantastic alumni representative of the school in the future.

If you take the GRE because it’s the “easy way out”, that doesn’t fit with that excellence; schools accept the GRE because they don’t want to miss out on the phenomenal applicant who was originally thinking of a Master’s in Public Policy or Public Health but decided that an MBA might also be valuable.  But if your entire profile screams MBA and you’ve taken the GRE, that may well be a signal that you’re looking for an easy out.  Furthermore, the GRE is significantly easier…which doesn’t give you a great opportunity to differentiate yourself.  If you make just one mistake on the quant section of the GRE, you drop significantly because a healthy 5-6% of all test-takers have a perfect quant score.  So by taking the “easier” test, you may actually be stacking the deck against yourself.

Anything that you would like to touch upon?

Well, first, thanks for the interview – this was fun!  And if you have other questions at any point I’d love to do it again. I think for my closing comments the biggest recommendation that I can make to prospective MBA students studying for the GMAT is this – learn to enjoy the process of taking the GMAT.  It’s a test of how you think, and much like the kinds of puzzles we all play on our smartphones (or in newspapers if we still get them) there’s a huge element of gamesmanship to them that can be a lot of fun if you buy in.  So study for the GMAT as a logic game and not as a set of rules.  Ask “why” a lot – “why did they ask it this way?”;  “why does that number property hold”; etc.  When I took the GMAT, I remember smiling a lot, and the proctor even commented on that after the test.  But I was playing a game with the authors while I was taking it – I was looking at the wording of the questions and chuckling at the trap answers; I was hitting the wall on a hard problem and enjoying the process of looking for the method that would make it easier.  On test day that’s hard – there’s pressure and that’s just how it is.  But while you study I really think you can enjoy the process, and I’ve always noticed that when students smile when we get to a hard problem in class, they almost always succeed in the long run.  That’s one of the things I love most about this new Essentials Course – we’re focusing on challenging problems and the thought processes that make them possible; we’re thinking like those who made the test and learning to use that to our advantage.  And if a lot of students are like you and enjoy that process, enjoy that class, I think it will be a rousing success. I’m already looking forward to the next one!

Brian, Thank you for your time & for your candid responses. There's some great info & advice packed into this Q&A, and i'm sure that my readers will find the information and advice that you have meted out extremely useful. Thank you once again.

Signing off, Tray Sha.


  1. GMAT is Graduate Management skill Test. This is taken by Graduate Management Admission Council governing body. GMAT tests can be taken
    any time while the year. Candidate urgent to check the dates with the GMAC approved centers before the test and need the seat registered.
    A GMAT score is valid for 3 years. GMAT scores can be
    better dramatically simply by giving important time to become understand the GMAT. Normally this is very important and turning point in the
    preparation, a good thorough knowledge of the series can lead to great time management, leading to great score.

    Keep in mind that the GMAT is a game. Just as in cricket, handball or other sports, that person know how the game is played have a big
    advantage over those who are ignore of the games they can't pass this test.

    GMAT Guidance

  2. Nice blog! I like your writing way. I'm doing practice GRE here: . I hope it's useful for GRE test takers.