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GDs: 'Flowery language won't help you score'
Mohit Menon
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January 17, 2007

Group Discussions are an integral part of the selection process of most top B-Schools. While the weightage given to this component varies from one B-School to another, it is normally in the range of 10-15 per cent at the IIMs and other top B-Schools. So, when it comes to GD preparation, leave no stone unturned.

A GD is a forum to discuss and put forth your opinion on a topic in a logical, coherent, and mature manner. The person who conducts the GD and assesses your performance is called a moderator.

The number of students participating in a Group Discussion varies from 8 to 10, at the IIMs, to about 15 to 20 at other top B-Schools. Similarly, the time given to a group to discuss a given topic/situation/case varies from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. Irrespective of the number of participants and the time given, you should make sure that you perform to your full potential and to the expectations of the moderator.

In order to prepare thoroughly for Group Discussions, it is important for you to understand what a GD is all about and the various parameters on which you are likely to be judged.

While elocution is a one-to-many situation, and a debate, a one-to-one situation, a GD is a many-to-many interaction where a participant, at any time, may interrupt another to put forth his/her point of view on the topic.

Another misconception that most students harbour is that only those who use flowery language tend to do well in a GD. Nothing could be further from the truth. Students who use simple, easily comprehensible language to convey their ideas, will have an advantage over others.

Kinds of GDs

The three important types of Group Discussion are (a) topic-based, (b) article-based, and (c) case-based.

In topic-based GDs, you will be asked to discuss a knowledge-based topic that may pertain to society/social trends, education, politics, economics, legal/judicial system, information technology, sport or current events. Alternatively, you could be asked to discuss on general topics or even abstract topics.

Sometimes, the GD is based on an article from a newspaper clipping. IIM-K did a mix of topic-based GDs and discussions on newspaper clippings last year.

The GDs at some top institutes such as IIM-Ahmedabad, IIM-Bangalore, and IIM-Indore have case studies instead of regular topics. Institutes such as SCMHRD and IRMA have, as a part of their selection process, been asking students to enact role-plays and analyse situations.

What the moderator/panel is observing

The moderator in a GD sets the ball rolling by giving the group a topic to discuss. Sometimes, the moderators may ask the group members to discuss among themselves and come up with a GD topic, or the moderator may also provide the group with a choice of two to three topics and ask the group to choose any one topic for discussion. Often, students are awarded marks on the way they go about selecting the topic and the reasons they give for selecting the topic.

In a Group Discussion, students within the group are judged on:

~ Content

This refers to the quality of 'what you say'. In a GD, unless you know something about the topic, you will not be able to make a positive contribution to the topic or give direction to the efforts of the group. The content that you use is the single most important factor that determines your success in a GD. So read, read, read.

~ Communication

Here, you are judged on 'how you say what you want to say'. Communication does not refer to use of flowery language. It means conveying your ideas in such a manner so as to ensure that the persons you are addressing clearly understand what you are telling them.

a. Listening: You are also expected to be a good listener. Unless you are a good listener, you will find it very difficult to add to the points made by other participants. Moreover, you may be asked to summarise the discussion and unless you are a good listener, you will not be able to do that effectively.

b. Language: While we have said that use of flowery language is not required, it is important to note that marks are awarded for the confidence and ease with which you use the language. At the same time, unless what you say with regard to the topic makes sense, no amount of good English will help you.

C. Body Language: It plays an important part in non-verbal communication. While you need to keep this at the back of your mind, this need not impede your natural body movements. Relax and be your natural self. 

Group behaviour: The moderator expects you to make points logically and rationally, as a mature adult. Do not get carried away by passion and do not be stubborn while trying to make a point in the discussion.

Leadership skills: You are not expected to physically lead a group by actions such as thumping the desk, shouting, etc. Such actions should be avoided. Leadership, in the context of a GD, means showing direction to the group when it is running out of points to speak on or when it is straying from the given topic.

Ways to generate ideas in the GD

Some of the approaches that will help you generate points in a GD are:

~ Key Word Approach

In any GD topic, there will be keywords that are loaded with meaning and open to interpretation. You should use these words to derive points to discuss.

~ Viewpoints of Affected Aarties

The group should look at the pros and cons of the topic, and try to bring forth their views on the parties which would probably be affected by any decision (adverse or otherwise) taken.

~ Socio-cultural, Political, Economic, Legal, and Technological angles to the given topic

Students should analyse a given topic using multiple angles.

Students should bear in mind that it may not be possible to use each of the above mentioned approaches in isolation for every topic. They should try using a combination of approaches in order to generate the maximum number of points that they can use effectively in a Group Discussion.

How to prepare

'Taking it as it comes' is certainly not the right approach towards something as critical as a GD. If you wait till you get a call, you will not be left with any time to prepare at all. You need to understand that most students would have started their GD preparation already. By clearing the written test, you have cleared just one hurdle. From now on, the competition becomes stiffer, as each student who receives a call is as motivated as you to get into a top B-School.

If you are not doing this already, get cracking immediately!

-- The author is General Manager - Marketing, at T.I.M.E. Pvt Ltd. T.I.M.E is an organisation that prepares candidates for courses like MBA and MCA and competitive examinations like CAT, GRE and GMAT.

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