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MBA Coursework

An MBA is a universal degree. The students who wanted to climb higher on the corporate ladder a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is often a requirement or it acts as a tool to change their career. Further, earning an MBA also has higher salaries on average than other co-workers. The MBA program offers a diverse curriculum that is taught by faculty who are experts in their fields. MBA coursework consists of a lot of different analyses. One of the most common types of analyses is the case study analyses of which the Harvard Case Studies and the Harvard Case Study Method is probably the most recognized and most copied method. However, case study analysis and most other MBA coursework relies on a series of structured examinations that generally consist of charts and graphs. This host of structured analytical devices that are common in MBA coursework are explained in detail below:

The Value Chain Analysis

Value Chain Analysis allows you and your company to separate your business’s information into a series of value-generating activities, which provides the business value of your company structure. This allows you and executive leadership to decide what activities are best completed by your company and which would prove more profitable if out-sourced.

The DuPont System of Financial Analysisews

The DuPont system analyzes the financial statements and situation of a company in order to best comprehend its overall financial condition. The DuPont system is designed to take into account many business factors including administrative expenses, the cost of goods, and accounts receivable. Its primary focus is to calculate such metrics as Return on Equity or ROE which is taken from the Net Profit Margin, Asset Turnover, and Equity Multiplier of a targeted company.

The PEST Analysis

Industry professionals utilize a PEST Analysis in evaluating the Political, Economic, Social, and Technological factors affecting the success of a business. The PEST analysis investigates the external macro-environment of a business so that you can implement strategic plans to minimize the related risk factors associated with a given line of business.

The PESTLE Analysis

The PESTLE analysis is an extension of the PEST analysis and therefore provides a more in-depth understanding of a company. PESTLE not only evaluates the Political, Economic, Social, and Technological factors affecting the success of a business, but it also examines the Legal and Environmental factors associated with your line or lines of business. It is a crucial test to understanding the market environment surrounding a business and conforming this market to the business' advantage.

The SWOT Analysis & TOWS Strategic Development

The standard SWOT Analysis process investigates the Strengths and Weaknesses within your company as well as the Opportunities and Threats affecting your enterprise externally. This analytical process of evaluating your firm first internally and then factoring the external market forces affecting your business into this analysis allows you to then formulate the optimum strategy, the TOWS Strategy (Threats, Opportunities—Weaknesses, Strengths) which matches threats with opportunities and weaknesses with strengths in manner that nullifies the negative factors.

Example #1: A Brief Section of a Literature Review (Lin and Dembo 2008)

The first example presented is from a research article (Lin and Dembo 2008:35) that sought to explain why some juveniles use illegal drugs and others do not. One of the theories being used by the authors is social control theory. The following section is part of the literature review that discusses previous research findings on the role of this theory in predicting juvenile drug use.

The BCG Matrix

First originated at the Boston Consulting Group , the BCG Matrix is a Growth-Share Matrix which allows analysts to uniquely identify a company’s units or major product lines into four categories: Relative Market Share (High and Low) and Market Growth Rate (High and Low). This helps a business to determine important areas of short and long-term profitability relative to their labels and brands.

The SPACE Matrix

The SPACE Matrix (this is a copy of the same text but it is really one of the most simple and basic explanations that I could find) is a type of analytical business research tool that focuses on strategy formulation. SPACE stands for Strategic Position & Action Evaluation. The SPACE Matrix characterizes a strategy as being aggressive, conservative, defensive or competitive in nature. Additionally, the SPACE Matrix analysis functions upon two internal strategic dimensions: financial strength and competitive advantage. The SPACE factors under financial strength that analyze a business’ internal strategic posture are: return on investment, leverage, liquidity, working capital and cash flows. In contrast, the SPACE factors that determine a business’ external strategic posture are: technology, inflation rates, demand, industry price fluctuations, barriers to entry, competitive pressures, price elasticity, and risk.

The SPACE Matrix methodology also examines strategic factors within two external dimensions: environmental stability and industry strength. The factors considered under competitive advantage are market share, quality, life cycle, customer loyalty, and supplier influence while the factors under industry strength are growth potential, profit potential, financial stability and resource utilization, among others. The SPACE Matrix methodology factors each of these dimensions and places them on a Cartesian graph with X and Y coordinates.

Import& Export Market Analyses

The global economy has opened up vastly diverse markets to even local competitors in all markets over the past several decades. While the global economy has elevated competitive dimensions for almost all businesses in all industries, it has also increased the market expansion opportunity for these same enterprises. Import/Export Market Analysis involves identifying potential new markets in foreign countries and gauging the profitability of them with respect to entering those markets. Factors such as export funding assistance from the exporter’s national government, import tariffs or barriers in the targeted market, existing local competitors, and simple market demand must all be examined with respect to exporting into foreign markets. Conversely, when importing new products or services into a market many of these same factors must be examined but with a few different topical dimensions. When importing products and services research must be undertaken to identify sourcing partners who either already produce the products or services or who can manufacture or produce the products or services. Dimensions such as product/service quality must be examined as well as product shipment windows all along the supply chain.

Furthermore, when examining the import/export market, financial factors vis-à-vis payment must be examined in detail with terms of payment, letters of credit (LOC), cost of shipping factors such as free-on-board status and similar issues must be identified upfront. Failure to adequately assess all of these factors within proper a Import/Export Market Analysis project can lead to a loss of financial investment and even catastrophic business failure.

The Competitor Profile Matrix

Creating a Profile of a company's Competition is one of the most crucial components of the competitor intelligence process within the field of business management. The process profiles one firm against that of its competitors in order to better understand its strengths and weaknesses compared to their strengths and weaknesses. In analyzing the past, present, and future objectives of your competitors, a firm will be able to develop more comprehensive and strategic business plans which take advantage of their weaknesses and promote its own strengths. The Web has very little about this but numerous databases have completed MBA coursework with competitor profile matrices already completed--just do a search to find one.

The Marketing Audit

Marketing Audits are a fundamental aspect of marketing planning and allow the researcher or analyst to not only identify markets but to develop strategies to better access those markets. The audit considers both internal and external influences. It evaluates a range of materials including creative designs, brochures, web pages, budgets, surveys, and charts. A marketing audit examines existing marketing campaigns put forth by a company and evaluates its success, the messages intended versus those understood by consumers, and evaluates how it can compare to its competition. The audit is conducted not necessarily only at the beginning of a project but is also intended to be conducted at selected points throughout the implementation of the project to ensure that a company's marketing machine is operating efficiently and cost effectively.

The Literature Review

The literature review is often the most difficult portion of a graduate level research project as well as larger research projects at the undergraduate level that employ them. The literature review also forms the largest portion of many research projects and requires the most effort in the way of written composition and research. Typically, the research and prevalent literature in a literature review should consist of sources that are relevant, current (if applicable as some research such as History and English or similar does not necessarily make this distinction), and structured in-line with the overall project.

Why Students Fail (Examinations and Coursework) Views from a script marker

Brian J. Swindells FBCS, CDipAF, CITP, MIoD, MCMI

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to document, from the author’s perspective, the main reasons why students fail examinations and coursework. It has been written with a view to assisting those students who have difficulty in achieving high grades, especially at under-graduate and masters levels. During the past twenty years the author has marked a large number of assignments and examination scripts for a variety of educational institutions and, in the six months prior to writing the paper, marked many hundreds of such documents at both under-graduate and post-graduate level. Many of the reasons students fail apply to all academic levels but, clearly, more academic rigour is expected at masters than at under-graduate level. The views expressed are those of the author and it is important that they are considered within the context of what is required by the academic institution concerned and by the person marking your work. This aspect is discussed further in the next section of this paper.

Understand Your Audience

This is more straightforward in the case of coursework marked by a tutor well-know to you than in the case of an examination marked by an external examiner. In all cases, however, try to ‘put yourself in the examiner’s shoes’ to understand what they will be expecting. What sort of language is appropriate? If you are sending an SMS text “2 ur m8”, shorthand is acceptable and may well be expected; if the coursework requires you to write a formal business report then the use of formal language is advisable. If the format is a formal report then choose an appropriate structure. Indeed, a required structure may be specified in the question (see next section).

Answer the Question

In my experience, one of the main reasons for failure is for the student to answer the question (s)he thinks has been asked not the one the examiner has asked. I recommend analysing the question and underling key words. These key words can be used in your answer to reinforce the fact that you are answering the correct question. This is particularly the case if there is a requirement for an introduction and conclusion, both good places to reinforce the key words. Coursework, in particular, may comprise several requirements and it is important that you address all of these. As a simple example, I often come across questions with, say, three parts but the student has answered only the first two. In examinations it can be tempting to answer the question you prepared as part of your revision and which may cover the same topics as the question asked but differs, often in a significant way.

Use Course Concepts

In all courses there will be a number of concepts that are key to understanding the topic. In strategy for example, Michael Porter[1] is known for his generic strategies, 5 Forces[2], and diamond[3], amongst others. Whatever the concepts make sure you use them explicitly and reference them appropriately (see next section). It is important to demonstrate that you understand the concepts and one way of doing this is to use an academic reference to justify why you are using it and them to apply that concept to the question under consideration.

Referencing

In-text referencing supported by a bibliography is an important means of avoiding any suspicion of plagiarism. If a student simply copies extracts from another publication it is almost certain to be detected. Most academic institutions use sophisticated software to detect plagiarism and even the use of a search engine can confirm the source of a piece of text with a totally different style to that of the rest of the paper. Whilst the Harvard Referencing system is used extensively there are other approaches and, as discussed above, it is wise to check the coursework and/ or institution requirements in case a particular approach is required. Whilst referencing requirements in examinations are unlikely to be as strict as with coursework you do need to provide some academic rigour to demonstrate a sound understanding of the course material.

Plan

This covers some of the basics such as making sure you submit the work on time, that you turn up for the exam at the right place and at the right time with pens, pencils, ID cards etc. For light relief when facilitating exam revision sessions I ask the students to brainstorm “How to Fail The Exam”. Suggestions often include:

  • Don’t get a good night’s sleep before the exam
  • Don’t turn up
  • Don’t revise
  • Don’t use course concepts
  • Get caught cheating
  • Don’t answer the questions
  • Answer all the questions even if you don’t have to
  • There are many more and you may wish to try this yourself. Don’t forget to reverse the answers in order to get a list of actions needed to pass the exam / coursework assignment (e.g. get a good night’s sleep before the exam).

    Review

    In an examination it is advisable to leave time at the end to review your answers. Insofar as coursework is concerned there is a much greater range of options. The use of guidance notes[4] either directly from your institution or from the many available on line can provide a useful checklist, as I hope this document does. If using on-line sources, however, do check that they are reputable. Word processing software provides many features these days so it is surprising that I often receive coursework that has clearly not been checked for grammar and spelling. It advisable to use the correct country / language for the academic institution concerned (e.g. UK English if the institution is located in England). As a check for ‘silly mistakes’ why not ask someone to read through the document. We all know what we mean to say when we write something down but that is not always the way others see it. A ‘fresh pair of eyes’ can help identify those mistakes which will ‘jump out’ when the script marker sees them.

    Conclusions

    There are a number of reasons why students fail a piece of coursework or an examination question but some are relatively straightforward to address. The key ones are (a) to answer the question asked not the one you think has been asked or the one “you prepared earlier” and (b) to use the course concepts.

    Recommendation

    It is recommended that students review this document as part of their revision strategy. It is the author’s belief that doing so will improve the chances of obtaining a higher grade.

    Bibliography

  • Porter, M.E. (1979) "How competitive forces shape strategy", Harvard business Review, March/April 1979.
  • Porter, M.E. (1980) Competitive Strategy, Free Press, New York, 1980.
  • Porter, M.E. (1985) Competitive Advantage, Free Press, New York, 1985.
  • Porter, M.E. (ed.) (1986) Competition in Global Industries, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1986.
  • Porter, M.E. (1987) "From Competitive Advantage to Corporate Strategy", Harvard Business Review, May/June 1987, pp 43-59.
  • Porter, M.E. (1996) "What is Strategy", Harvard Business Review, Nov/Dec 1996.
  • Porter, M.E. (1998) On Competition, Boston: Harvard Business School, 1998.
  • Porter, M.E. (1990, 1998) "The Competitive Advantage of Nations", Free Press, New York, 1990.
  • Porter, M.E. (1991) "Towards a Dynamic Theory of Strategy", Strategic Management Journal, 12 (Winter Special Issue), pp. 95-117.
  • McGahan, A.M. & Porter, M.E. Porter. (1997) "How Much Does Industry Matter, Really?" Strategic Management Journal, 18 (Summer Special Issue), pp. 15-30.
  • Porter, M.E. (2001) "Strategy and the Internet", Harvard Business Review, March 2001, pp. 62-78.
  • Porter, M.E. & Kramer, M.R. (2006) "Strategy and Society: The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility", Harvard Business Review, December 2006, pp. 78-92.
  • University of Exeter website http://education.exeter.ac.uk/dll/studyskills/harvard_referencing.htm (accessed on 28 June 2010)
  • [1] Porter, M.E. (1985) Competitive Advantage, Free Press, New York, 1985. Competitive Strategy, Free Press, New York, 1980
  • [2] Porter, M.E. (1979) "How competitive forces shape strategy", Harvard business Review, March/April 1979
  • [3] Porter, M.E Porter, M.E. (1990, 1998) "The Competitive Advantage of Nations", Free Press, New York, 1990.
  • [4] http://education.exeter.ac.uk/dll/studyskills/harvard_referencing.htm (accessed on 28 June 2010)