What are the best ways to study for strategy exams in an MBA program?
We had a more case based education, and our strategy exam was a 24-hour take-home exam analyzing a case. More than the study it is more about analyzing a bunch of cases during the module. Here are some tips:
The first thing to note is that the strategy frameworks are not like Physics laws and don’t apply all the time. But, you are still required to have a brief understanding of each of the major things.
1. Start going through you casepack if you have, or ask your professors to suggest a couple of cases from HBR that can provide context to your frameworks.
2. Porter’s Porter five forces analysis is best used when you want to analyze an industry’s profit on the whole. One of the classic examples used in business schools is analysis of “cola wars” — why and how does Coke & Pepsi make so much of profits, while others in the chain don’t make much.
3. In connection with Porter’s 5 forces, you can analyze the profit pools of an industry landscape to understand where the profits actually lie. It is quite useful to understand why OS & Chip makers such as Microsoft & Intel have such high margins while PC makers such as Lenovo, Dell and HP have low margins. HBR: How to Map Your Industry’s Profit Pool
4. Next, you drill down one more level. Porter’s generic strategies help you understand how a company competes with its competitors. This framework is best used when you are trying to analyze what moves a company fundamentally. For Walmart, it is Cost leadership. For Apple, it is differentiation. For Soutwest, it is Cost focus.
5. Next up is Experience curve and economies of scale. This analyzes how a company maintains its cost advantage. As the company gets better at the learning curve, its cost decreases until it starts reaching a plateau. At that point, other competitors catch up, unless the company radically innovates. Experience curve effects
6. Analyzing Two-Sided markets help you evaluate the platform businesses and see where you can make money from your customers. The best way to think about is how Google makes money while still giving you free goodies. In platform businesses, you make money on one side (advertisers in Facebook/Google/newspapers, HR departments for LinkedIn, small businesses for Groupon) while giving stuff for free to the other side (usually consumers).
TL;DR: Start going through real-life examples through the cases and keep relating your learning. That is the only way to study strategy.