Monday, November 29, 2010

Exam Season at London Business School

It’s exam period, with final exams scattered across the last four weeks of the autumn term here at London Business School. I want to write about exams because they illustrate three really fundamental characteristics of business school (or at least London Business School):

1)The only thing that matters is what you’ll remember after business school. Business school exams are similar to those language exams: people don’t care how well you did on a test. They only care how well you speak the language, and if you can apply what you learned in the real world.

The focus of teaching is on retention and application, and our exams therefore test us on what our professors think we should remember in 10 years. For instance, our mid-term exam in Strategy class asked “what should eHarmony do, given the entrance of’s Chemistry?” A question in our Corporate Finance exam asked us to calculate and use the Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) to assess investment decisions. Because only relevant things are taught and tested, my classmates and I study for exams to make sure that we understood the main lessons – not because we care about our grades.

2)Teamwork matters more than coursework.
About half our grades in most classes are based on work done in collaboration with our assigned study group of 6 people – one group, one grade. So a large part of our transcript is out of our direct control. If you have been assigned a group that happens to work well together, those weekly Financial Accounting problem sets will be easy; if your group is rife with conflict, the homework will be tough, no matter how many CPAs on your team.

The purpose of having forced study groups is to get good at working with other people, since organizations are, by definition, collections of people working together to achieve a shared goal. Indeed, mastering the art of working on a team is a far more useful skill than mastering any single class lesson. While it may seem strange that so much of our grades are based on the performance of people we didn’t chose to work with, isn’t that how true in any job as well?

3)Grades don’t appear anywhere – really, they don’t.London Business School has a non-disclosure policy for grades, and grades on a forgiving curve: basically half the class gets an A, the other half a B, with the top and bottom 10% getting A+ or C/F. These are two wonderful policies -- especially when you get together a group of highly driven and academically accomplished students. There are so many ways to learn in business school; classes are just one of them. By deemphasizing grades, the school makes sure we don’t chain ourselves to our books instead of interacting with visiting business leaders, exploring London, getting to know each other, or contributing to campus club activities. London Business School seems to have the view that it will offer a tremendous wealth of resources, and then leave it up to us how to make the most out of them.

I’d love to write more, but I should probably study for my exams… If you have any questions about London Business School, drop me an email at

Liz Aab, Forte Fellow
London Business School, MBA 2012

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