Ninad Kulkarni just wrapped up the fall semester at HBS and wanted to share what he learned about the case method after his first few months in the classroom. 

About Ninad
I grew up in a suburb outside of Mumbai. After earning my engineering degree in India, I spent five years in management consulting. Through my job, I was able to travel, live, and work in emerging markets in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. I developed a passion for digital inclusion and expanding access to renewable energy which ended up being the focus of my work over the last three years. At HBS and following graduation, I hope to continue pursuing my passion while focusing on the building and scaling of innovative products in the renewable energy space.
About the Case Method
The case method is at the core of the HBS academic experience. In its simplest form, each case is a simulation of a real-world business problem. The case protagonist is the person tasked with solving that problem. As students, we are expected to step into the shoes of the protagonist and discuss the nuances of each decision and the reasons behind them with the rest of our section.
There are two main elements which make the case method different from lecture style learning.  First, case study learning can be far more engaging because you have rich discussions with 90 people who have different perspectives and are willing to challenge your perspective as opposed to having the professor just talk at you. Second, while there is an underlying theoretical concept to every case (whether that’s in finance, accounting, operations management or leadership), the focus of the class discussion is on the application of the concept in practical situations. Many of us find this is an ideal way to learn because it really brings the theory to life and makes it relevant.
Throughout my time so far at HBS, I have fine-tuned my approach to make the most out of case study learning. Here are eight tips that I hope will be as helpful to you as they have been to me.
1. Develop Your Viewpoint
Effective and efficient case prep is, at least for me, the most challenging part of the whole experience. You can easily spend 2-3 hours on a case if you focus on every detail and supplementary piece of reading. However, the sheer volume of classes, extra-curriculars and social events at HBS at any given time mean you often can’t go into that much depth.
For me, the biggest takeaway has been that you don’t need to know the answer to every question once you are ‘finished’ with your individual case prep. The objective is to understand the context of the case and the theoretical concept being discussed and to develop a view point that you can explain. You can fill in the blanks with your discussion group and then the actual class. The classroom experience gets better over time as you develop a genuine camaraderie with your section. People are far more relaxed and comfortable with each other. This makes classroom discussions authentic, open and fun.
2. Participate in Discussion Groups to Practice Vocalizing Your Perspective
Discussion groups include about 5-6 of your fellow “RCs” (first year students in the Required Curriculum) each from a different section who meet before class to go over the contents of the case for a day. It is essentially a low-risk environment to refine your talking points and, at the bare minimum, make sure that you survive the dreaded HBS cold call. I have lost count of the number of times that the manufacturing guru or the ex-banker in my group has helped me make sense of a case I was struggling with.
3. Always Expect the Cold Call
The cold call is when the professor asks a student to start the discussion off. This would involve recapping the objectives of the case, setting up the key points for discussion and putting a stake in the ground regarding the answer. Based on your responses, the professor could ask follow-up questions to bring out the nuances in your answer.
While being cold called isn’t exactly the most pleasant experience in the world, it is a great opportunity to lay out the framework for the case and practice thinking and talking on your feet.
4. Work With Your Section Mates to Create a Safe Discussion Environment
As you can imagine, a debate with 90 smart and opinionated people can easily become chaotic if you don’t have norms and processes in place. The professor typically controls the flow of the class by calling on people and guiding the discussion, but as a section you can agree on norms to make sure you create a safe and fun learning environment. For example, we agreed quite early into the year not to interrupt a fellow classmate and to only speak when called on.
5. Engage in Active Listening
In a word, the class experience is electric. I am constantly amazed by the experience, intellect and clarity of thought that I see from my classmates. There is genuine respect for opposing viewpoints and section debates often continue long after a class is done. 80 minutes just seem to fly by.
6. Find Out Where to Get Late Night Coffees
Students will have 2-3 cases a day. Three case days can be gruelling but if you have multiple three case days back to back, then just know that the Chao Center serves coffee until 11:00 PM.
7. Always Carry Your Cases With You
You will be surprised at how much work you can get done between classes or when you are waiting at the bank.
8. Enjoy the Process
Don't be too hard on yourself. You don’t need to knock the ball out of the park every case. Relax and enjoy the incredible learning opportunity you have instead of obsessing over grades and class participation.