I had a couple of co-workers who lamented their Reading Specialist examination. I ask, “What’s the big deal?” You are an excellent teacher, you should do well, right? Unfortunately, I had no clue that the Case Study was their big dilemma. In fact, I had no idea that a Case Study was used in their certification process. Not to mention, I knew nothing about the massive nature of the Case Study. Just hearing about it, was daunting for me. So, I did a little research.
What I found was quite interesting. According to McKinsey & Company, over 45% of all Fortune 500 and major business companies, have begun to use Case Studies as a method of “testing” the analytical and managerial skills of their applicants. As stated before, in order to become a certified Reading Specialist, individuals must pass a Case Study challenge, which includes about 8 different Case Studies. All of the Case Study scenarios require an answer in 30 minutes or less. Additionally, if teachers wish to become nationally certified or Master Teacher educators, they too must complete Case Studies questions, like those faced by Reading Specialist applicants. So what are these little boogers and how can one prepare for them?
Case Studies are real- life scenarios that help employers and others, to determine the aptitude of applicants. The Case Study lists several elements of business models and conflicts that would need to be addressed in the real world. These scenarios often include a moral, management, personal and business theory question. For example, in the Reading Specialist field, an individual could be asked, what should you do if a student comes to you unable to read, but has passed 5 grade levels and needs to take a standardized tests, in order to proceed to the next grade. Of course, the Case study will be more involved- usually listing methods that have been tried and failed, parental and administrative concerns, etc.
It is important to note that, there are no “true”, right or wrong answers. Rather, employers and others are looking to judge how well you can handle high- pressure situations. They also want to see, first hand, how you think about situations. Case Studies are great at revealing one’s priorities and abilities. Likewise, Case Studies give applicants a taste of the type of situations that they may face, on the job. Several teachers, who face the Reading Specialist exam, realize that they have seen those scenarios in their classrooms. In essence, the Case Study is a barometer of determination and will for applicants too.
“But how can I answer the Case Study?” “What should I avoid?”
First and foremost, individuals answering the Case Study should never leave an issue unaddressed. Even if the issue is vaguely addressed, address it and move on. Leaving an issue on the table, unaccounted for, is telling an employer or certification board, that you cannot pay attention to details and will miss little nuances that can become greater problems. One way to ensure that all elements of the Case Study are addressed is to implement this three step model.
Step 1: Create a listing of the problems faced, in the scenario.
This listing can be done in writing or mentally. Begin with the ‘big picture’ problem. Ask your self, “What is the desired outcome in this situation; and what is the major obstacle to reaching that end?” A note of the desired outcomes for the situation will help to reveal the major problem in your Case Study. Further, make a mental or written account of all of the players involved. You want to pay particular attention to any connections that these players may have. Ask yourself, “Are any individuals, friends?” “What is the power structure or chain of command, in this scenario?”
Step 2: Be solution oriented.
Nothing screams Red Flag more than an individual who does not solve the problems that they have identified. Thus, make sure that you address each problem. Do not make this misconception that you must address each problem, individually. Rather, it is better to perform a join approach to problem solving. Try to link your solutions so that several problems are solved, at once. Answering in this manner will indicate to employers and others, that you are a global, ‘big picture’ thinker, who works smarter and more efficient, rather than harder and less productive. The use of these kinds of solutions generally reveals your judgment too. After all, it takes a keen eye to see patterns and similarities in behaviors. Applicants can gain crucial points by showcasing their analytical talents here.
Lastly, Case Studies are designed to allow you to use a business theory or model, in the solution. Use one. Business theories/ models offer excellent, application- based solutions to some of the most problematic business issues.
Step 3: Recommendations
Answering the Case Study requires more than simply finding a solution to proposed problems. In fact, finding solutions isn’t even half of the necessary battle. The true test of any Case Study, lies in the applicant’s ability to put their solution forth, with concrete actions. Employers and certification agencies want to know, how you plan to carry out this process. For the applicant then, using concrete processes is a must. Also, the applicant should never forget follow- up actions. How will you ensure the success of your plan, is just as important as what you will do, initially.
In end, the best course of action is to trust one’s basic instincts. When you read a scenario, judge the overall content first, and then think about reaching the intended outcome. Use what you have learned. Knowledge is indefinitely, your power!
McKinsey & Company. (1996- 2010) “Case Interview.”