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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Comfort in Knowing the Lay of the Land

In order to get into the MBA program at USF I had to take the GMAT exam.  I dutifully took the exam.  The result was not good.  I made 494 (only 60% of examinees made lower than me).  The school requested that I retake the exam.  This time I purchased a GMAT study guide.  The key advantage this guide provided was not answers to exam questions—of course none of the preparatory questions appeared on the actual exam.  But what it did do was to get me thoroughly familiar with the sorts of questions and their format that would appear on the exam and the typical instructions that preceded exam sections.  So when I retook the exam, I was not in strange territory.  I had become thoroughly familiar with instructions and questions similar to those on the exam.  On retake my score was 621 (or 93%). 

In other words, the only real difference between the first exam and the second was that I knew in advance the lay of the land—I knew what to expect so could use all my time actually addressing the questions and not instead trying to figure out instructions or getting comfortable with a strange question format.  Getting to know the lay of the land is more comprehensive than just gaining experience.  One can amass tons of experience without positive results.  Experience is only important if lessons are learned.  Recognizing familiar territory requires that one has been there before, that one has learned from the experience, and that pattern recognition is elicited leading one to feel comfortable and familiar with the fresh situation—a sense of imminent mastery.

On my first encounter with the GMAT exam, I was much like a capable but disadvantaged youth.  The native ability was there, but a facilitating sense of familiarity with the environment was not.  To be free to perform, one cannot feel like an alien befuddled by a strange land.  For successful performance the tremendous importance of an underlying sense of comfort brought on by recognition of the familiar should not be underestimated.  

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