Brave Supplicant, this post is an invitation to step back and look at yourself. Actually, the entire MBA admissions process is all that, but here we’re going to focus on one specific behavior that you may not even be aware of.
There’s a long and somewhat boring academic-y piece we read recently that contained this important story (the article was written by a psych prof):
In a recent pre-test study session with a few students in my office, one student asked if any of the other students could give her a definition of a particular concept. Another student eagerly started
explaining a particular theory of why the phenomenon in question occurs. I stopped the responding student with a simple, “Wait, you’re not answering the question [she] asked.” So the eager student rushed to start again, this time explaining an experiment that disconfirmed one theory of the phenomenon and supported another.
Again, I stopped her, “Wait — you’re still not answering her question. What was her question?” The student paused and then admitted she was not sure. The questioning student posed again, “What is [the concept] – like, how do you define it?” After two more false starts, the responding
student — who indeed knew the definition, the theories, and the relevant experiments — finally was able to give a direct and accurate definition, with no extraneous information. Her problem was not about understanding the material; it was about attending to the question and the answer with precision.
One of the most common failures that we see in reading Brave Supplicants’ essays is the fact that they DO NOT ANSWER THE QUESTION THAT’S BEING ASKED.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? In fact, it probably sounds so juvenile and basic that you may not even realize you’re guilty of this same behavior.
We’re not sure what the root cause of this behavior is, but we suspect it might be at least in part due to the phenomenon of “being smart.” As in, the smart kid who’s been told her whole life that she’s smart. She knows she’s smart. (You know the one, who starts giving the answer before the question is even fully formed — like it sounds like this gal did in the prof’s study session.)
If that’s you — if you’ve always been the quick kid, the one who knows the answers, who always sounds so smart — then you quite likely could fall into this trap of writing smart-sounding essays… that do not answer the question the adcom has asked.