How to ace Group Discussions

The Group Discussion/Written Assessment/Personal Interview (GWPI) stages have today become a regular feature of the selection process of most business schools (as well as for many other professional courses and jobs). Students who are aspiring for a managerial career and aim to secure admission in a good business school must not only prepare for the written test, but also for the GWPI.

Why do b-schools test candidates through GWPI?

People management and communication skills are seen as extremely important assets for a future manager/business leader (not to mention in practically every professional field). While the written tests like the CAT, XAT, and SNAPTest, evaluate the candidate’s quantitative, reasoning, verbal ability skills and general awareness (what we can term as ‘hard’ skills), the GWPI evaluate the candidate’s ability to handle himself in a group and to communicate properly (what we can term as ‘soft’ skills). Both these ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills are, therefore, evaluated because they are much needed by the candidate, first to successfully complete the MBA course in any good b-school, and later in her/his professional career.

The term ‘soft’ should not be interpreted as easy; it is not easy to develop these skills, although some students have a natural flair for them. Soft here just means they are intangible and subjective. The GWPI needs as much systematic preparation as the written test.

To repeat, the GWPI is a common selection process for b-school admissions, campus recruitments, and admissions to other professional courses as well.

Relevance in B-Schools

In most top-rated b-schools, the pedagogy heavily involves group activities. It also involves submitting detailed analytical reports on case studies (simulated business problems) and other management related topics. The GWPI tests the suitability of the candidate to be able to withstand the rigours of the curriculum at a top b-school.

Relevance in careereer

In modern progressive organizations, most managers/leaders work with a team of people from diverse backgrounds. Strong people management and communication skills are today considered to be the foundations of a successful growth-oriented organization. The manager/leader should have the ability to analyse the given data and come up with a detailed analysis expressed with clarity. In short, the GWPI tests the suitability of the candidate to be able to cope with the rigours of a future managerial/leadership role.

When should I start preparing for GWPI?

A lot depends on the candidate’s background. Each candidate will be at a different level of initial preparedness and, therefore, will require a different period of time to develop the requisite skills and knowledge. Generally, it is recommended that the GWPI preparation is started along with the written test preparation (that, for most serious candidates, begins around six months–1.5 years before the written exam).

In the first part of the two-part article, I will focus on Group Discussion.

Group Discussion (GD)

In a GD round, a group of candidates, generally between eight and 15, are grouped together. They are given a topic for discussion amongst themselves. The moderator evaluates the verbal and non-verbal communication of each candidate. Most b-schools give each candidate certain marks in the GD based on her/his performance. These marks are then used in the calculation of the weighted-average composite score of each candidate.

Normally, a GD lasts between 10-30 minutes; till the time the moderator asks the candidates to stop the discussion. In this period, each candidate must try to make as many relevant and distinct points relating to her/his analysis of the topic as possible. In addition, he/she must also listen attentively to the ideas of the other candidates, and try to bring the group together towards a coherent discussion.

In this sense, the participant has different roles to perform – initiator (who provides fresh points and fresh perspectives), coordinator (who tries to control the flow of the discussion in a smooth, non-chaotic manner), analyser (who tries to draw certain conclusions from the points), interrogator (who questions the strength of the ideas of the candidates), fact-provider (who gives concrete facts/figures about the topic), leader (who does a bit of everything, including motivating the group to have a productive discussion which doesn’t descend into chaos).

Types of GDs

(a) Topic-based

(a)    A topic related to general knowledge (economics/social/politics/culture/technology). Example: Higher education should be completely privatised.

(b)    A topic related to abstract issues can be given. Example:  White cannot exist if there’s no black..

(b) Case study-based

A case sheet with a small story/problem situation may be given. Example: Dilemma of a loyal clerk who discovers that his boss, to whom he owes a lot, is involved in corruption.

(c)  Article-based

A newspaper/magazine extract may be given. Example: An editorial on the vegetarianism versus non-vegetarianism debate.

Sometimes, the moderator may ask each candidate to introduce herself/himself to the group. The moderator may also ask one or more candidates, at the end of the discussion, to conclude or summarise the discussion. It has also become common for the moderator to ask each candidate to additionally prepare a short essay on the given topic.

Evaluation Parameters (in order of importance)

(a) Content

The first and foremost thing tested is the content that the candidate speaks. You should try to give facts, figures (though not excessively) and relevant examples.

(b) Analytical skills

The GD round does not just require the candidates to recite facts, but also analyse the topic through different viewpoints and try to lead the discussion to a logical conclusion. The participant needs to show her/his ability to analyse the topic from different perspectives, logically extending the points of other people, and posing logical questions in the group. These skills are particularly important in a case-study based GD.

(c)  Communication (Verbal)

There is no point in having a lot of content if one is unable to properly convey it. Thus the candidate’s ability to convey her/his message in a clear and succinct manner, the fluency of her/his communication and her/his choice of words and expressions are tested.

(d) Communication (Non Verbal)

It is true that fellow candidates in the GD will also pick up non-verbal cues from your communication. You should show enthusiasm and positive body language during the discussion.

Preparation Tips

(a)  Build up knowledge base by extensive reading.

  1. Read at least one good English newspaper on a regular basis. The front page, international news and business section will help in building knowledge about current affairs while the editorials will help you in developing analytical and communication skills.
  2. Read good weekly/monthly magazines on current affairs.

iii.  Yearbooks are a good method of recapping the important news of the previous year.

  1. MBA Education & Careers, i.e., the magazine in your hands, should be read religiously.
  2. Some books on modern Indian/international history or general studies books for civil services examinations will be useful in building perspectives.
  3. Watch good news debates on television/internet.

vii. Take one topic from the daily newspaper every day. Try to analyse the topic and jot down at least 10-15 points related to the topic.

viii. Maintain a notebook/word file in which you note important social/economic/ political/science/culture related ideas and statistics from what you observe in the newspapers. Update these notes and revise them regularly.

It is important to note that even for abstract topics, familiarity with a wide range of GK and current affairs will help generate suitable examples and logical analyses.

(b)  Develop communication skills

  1. Read aloud one article (from the newspaper) daily. Practice in front of a mirror or a friend.
  2. Take every opportunity to speak in English, even if it’s just casual conversation.

iii.  Do not worry if your fluency in English or vocabulary is not excellent. The GD does not require you to be either verbose or use exotic words. Simple clear language is all that’s needed.

  1. Practice mock GDs with those friends who might also be preparing for MBA as much as possible.
  2. Most importantly, stay confident. Do not become diffident just because others can speak louder/interrupt you in the discussion or because you are an introvert or because your points are already spoken by someone else. In a 15- minute discussion, there will be many opportunities where you can showcase your abilities. But you must not give up on yourself!

(c)  Develop logical ability

Generate as many logical points as possible about the topic. Some tools that can be used for these are:

(a) KWA – Key Word Approach. Try to generate points about each of the key words of the topic.

(b) VAP – Viewpoint of Affected Parties. Try to look at the topic from different perspectives of people/groups affected by the issue.

Example: The odd-even vehicular policy in Delhi should be made pan-India. You could discuss the views of car manufacturers, commuters of public transport and cabs, non-commuters, special groups, police, government, and environmentalists.

(c) SPELT – Social, Political, Economic, Legal, Technological angles to the given topic. Each of these aspects of the topic can be analysed wherever relevant.

A variation of the GD is the Group Exercise (GE). GE is generally  preferred by b-schools like SCMHRD and MICA. Instead of being given a topic to discuss, the group is given a task to perform together. The moderator observes and evaluates the role played by each candidate in the completion of the task. For Group Exercises, preparation tips (b) and (c) mentioned above will be useful.