Monday, January 4th, 2021
As the exam season comes to an end and the Group Discussion stage usher in, we can begin our preparations for the round two by looking at some basics of the Group Discussion (GD) process. In this article we shall explore the process of the GD, different formats of the GD, the evaluation criteria, and the background preparation required to give us a firm foundation in whichever GD we participate in.
Having been an integral part of the selection process until the last few years, the GD has been replaced by WAT (Writing Ability Test) at most IIMs. However, IIM-K still conducts the GD along with the WAT on the same topic. In many other reputed B-schools outside of the IIMs, GD yet remains a part of the evaluation process. It must be noted that many skills and qualities that are tested in the WAT are also commonly tested in the GD, and therefore a sound preparation for the GD will ultimately assist the candidate in improving his / her responses to the WAT topics.
An average GD usually features 10 to 15 participants. The GD process begins by the announcement of the topic to the group, which is (usually) followed by a preparation time of 3 to 5 minutes. More than 5 minutes’ prep time may be given only if the GD is a case-study discussion, and has a long case statement.
At the end of the prep time, the panel signals the group to commence the discussion, and from then on plays the role of a non-participating observer. This means that the discussion is not moderated or ‘anchored’ by a panellist. The group members must discuss the topic as they deem appropriate without any kind of suggestion from the panel. The panel expects no particular order of speakers to be followed nor a minimum or maximum duration of speaking to be followed by individual participants.
The average duration of most GDs is 15 minutes (not including the prep time). In some exceptional cases (such as IIFT), the GD may continue for up to 45 minutes. One must remember that the longer the GD goes on, the more seriously the panel looks at the quality of the content (facts, analysis, explanation and argument) of the participant.
The panel usually consists 3 or 4 panellists, who look at various aspects of the participants’ content and delivery. Please remember that the panellists may end the GD whenever they want to, and also extend the GD for as much as they want to. Nobody among the participants is supposed to keep time for the group or act on the assumption that the GD will end after the 15th minute.
The GD ends in either of the two ways: first, the panel may abruptly stop the GD and announce the end of the process; second, they may ask a participant (or more than one participant) to summarise the GD. If you are asked to summarise, do remember what summary means – your summary cannot have anything in it that was not discussed during the GD. I especially stress this point as the participants who have been mostly quiet during the GD are usually asked to summarise it, and they tend to take this opportunity to air their views which are not presented during the discussion. The summary must be an objective recapitulation of the important points brought up during the discussion, and the conclusion of the discussion.
Most Group Discussions can be divided into 3 kinds:
A) Topical Group Discussions, which are based on current affairs or ‘static’ matters – for example, a GD on the topic of the recent demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes would be the former, whereas a GD on whether India should adopt a presidential model of democracy would be the latter, as it has no limitation of a time frame.
B) Case-studies, which present the group with a complex business situation that requires a decision to be made. Such cases usually have multiple problems embedded in the given situation, and both the individual participants and the group are required to analyse the situation, identify the problems, and suggest a way out.
C) Abstract Group Discussions, which are called so because they offer us no definite framework of the topic, and hence no definite direction to take in the discussion. Instead, the participants are required to interpret the topic in their own ways and demonstrate innovative thinking in doing so. Such topics could be single-worded, such as ‘Blue’, or a short cryptic sentence, or even an image.
Contrary to popular perception, no one kind of GD is necessarily easier or more difficult than any other, as the quality of response in any case depends largely on the preparation of the individual and the way they generally think.
The evaluation of participants happens in two broad perspective: Individual qualities and group skills.
Individual qualities refer to the competencies that you may demonstrate in or outside the context of a group. They include the following:
A) Content: What you say during the discussion is looked into from two perspectives – relevance and comprehensiveness. It is possible that a participant has talked a great deal in a GD, but he or she may have deviated from the topic significantly, in which case the content is deemed largely irrelevant without the possibility of further evaluation. If the content has been relevant to the topic, the panel examines whether your treatment of the topic is superficial or in-depth, distinction we shall discuss in detail in the next few posts.
B) Analytical skills: The panel is of course interested in your facts, but they also like to see whether or not you can explore the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of the subject matter. This is put to the sternest test in a case-study topic.
C) Reasoning skills: The panel looks at how you support your standpoints, and how you respond to those of the others, how effectively you can ‘strengthen or weaken’ an argument, how logical you are in your overall approach to the topic.
D) Organisation skills: You may have the facts, the supports, the explanations, but are you able to present them in the right order so as to maximise the impact of your good content? The panel wants to examine this.
E) Communication skills: You may have exhibited all the skills stated above, but can you get your point across to someone in a simple (not simplistic) language they understand, with relevant illustrations they can identify with?
F) Creativity: Are you able to bring to the table a novel perspective on the topic? Can you look at a problem differently from ten other participants and suggest a path-breaking solution? Can you interpret an abstract topic in ways the others cannot? If yes, the panel looks at you as someone with one of the rarest of human qualities.
You may have observed that the above skills and qualities can also be directly applied in the evaluation of the WAT response.
On the other hand, the group skills refer to those skills which can only be evaluated in the context of a group. They include the following:
A) Listening skill: The panel constantly observes whether or not every participant is listening to the discussion. In my experience, most participants are concerned only with speaking, and feel that they are done with the job as soon as they have spoken, which is contrary to the spirit of a discussion. There are many ways a panel may infer that a participant is a poor listener, such as a lack of eye contact with the group, or a poor summary at the end. It is one of the rarest skills, and a must for a would-be manager.
B) Leadership quality: In highly-charged discussions, one or two participants usually play the role of the anchor, in that they define the topic appropriately, offer the initial analysis of the keywords of the topic, and also try to hold the group together in pursuit of a common goal. Such individuals could demonstrate effective leadership, and score some extra points. However, one cannot score anything extra simply because one spoke first in the group, or was the loudest.
C) Body language: While assessing the body language, the panel primarily looks at eye contact and hand movements. The speaker must maintain a consistent eye contact with the entire group as he or she speaks, and the listeners must reciprocate. If the either doesn’t happen, you allow the panel to infer whatever they wish to – from a lack of confidence to a lack of interest in the GD to the lack of concern for others. All very detrimental to the final score. Hand movements are to your speech what punctuation is to your writing. If used wisely they beautifully enhance the effect of your words; if used unwisely they attract unnecessary attention and distract the listener from your words. I recommend that you simply ‘free’ your hands. Do not engage them with something pointless such as playing with the pen, or tapping on the desk, or running through your hair (common among female participants). The body has an intelligence of its own. Just leave your hands alone and focus on the topic. The hands will start moving naturally. Please remember that body language cannot be faked. A skilled observer will quickly see through such deception. Just focus on the task at hand and the body will obediently follow. The panel may also pay attention to your voice modulation. A monotonous pitch may reduce the impact of even the most powerful words unless you are a Tommy Lee Jones! Vary the pitch of your voice in order to create emphasis wherever needed.
D) Group behaviour: This is usually assessed in a broad distinction – assertive or aggressive. Avoid the latter no matter what. Assertiveness is a rational display of conviction of one’s thoughts, while aggressiveness is a display of domination through subtle intimidation. Assertiveness allows room for flexibility – which is a desired trait – while aggressiveness leads to irrational rigidity of viewpoint. Please remember that B-schools are looking for sensitive individuals, not skinhead bouncers.
Now that you know how you will be evaluated, focus on specific areas of improvement during your practice GDs. Identify with the help of your trainer the strengths and weaknesses. Set clear goals for yourselves, and do not lose the sight of them during your practice.
The most vital component of one’s performance in the GD is the content. As current affairs tend to dominate the GDs, a conscious effort to build the fact-bank of current affairs is necessary. Review the timelines of important national and international affairs and the subsequent developments therein. Follow at least 2 local, 2 national, and 2 international newspapers and news channels every day. Concentrate on information. In newspapers, it is found mostly in the first 4 pages, the finance page, and the sports pages. You may or may not the read the editorials (which offer opinion, comment and perspective), but you must read the news. Because you need facts to support your standpoints. For if you have no facts, you only have opinions, which you may end up merely repeating throughout your contribution in a GD.
Please remember that the GD is not an elimination process, but only one of the several selection processes with certain weightage that contributes to the final score.
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