If you’re preparing for the GMAT, you’ve probably spent countless hours reviewing math concepts and mastering grammar skills. You’ve likely also spent time studying for the newer integrated reasoning section, too. But have you thought about the analytical writing assessment part of the GMAT?
If your answer is no, don’t worry! You’re not alone. Many test-takers go into test day without spending a lot of time preparing for the essay section of the GMAT, especially since it’s unclear how much (or even if) the GMAT essay even matters for getting into business school.
In this article, I’ll shed some light on the oft-forgotten GMAT AWA section. First, I’ll give you an overview of what’s actually on the AWA section. Next, I’ll discuss whether or not that score really matters for your admission to business school. Finally, I’ll tell share the top GMAT essay tips that are guaranteed to boost your GMAT essay score.
GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment Overview
The GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment is designed to measure your ability to think critically about a topic and then communicate your ideas about that topic. During the AWA section, you’ll be asked to analyze and critique an argument and judged on your ability to do so clearly, thoroughly, and thoughtfully.
The GMAT AWA section consists of one writing task: a 30-minute essay. You’ll complete the AWA portion of the GMAT first, before every other test section.
For your GMAT essay, you’ll be asked to think critically about an argument that’s presented to you. You’re not supposed to give your opinion on the subject itself.
GMAT AWA scores range from 0 to 6, in half-point intervals. Every GMAT AWA response receives two independent scores. According to MBA.com, one of your scores may be performed by an essay-scoring engine. At least one of your GMAT AWA scores will be determined by a GMAT essay reader.
Your AWA score doesn’t affect your GMAT total score and is generally considered the least important of your GMAT scores.
The 6 Best GMAT Essay Tips
If you’re looking to achieve a GMAT essay score that’ll help you get into business school, these six GMAT Analytical Writing tips will help you achieve success.
#1: Follow the Directions
One of the most important GMAT essay tips is to understand the directions of the AWA section.
The AWA section specifically asks you to critique an argument on its strengths and weaknesses. AWA graders aren’t looking for a well-written, thoughtful opinion piece about the topic discussed in the prompt. They’re looking for you to analyze whether or not the argument itself was sound, and to back up that analysis with evidence from the text, and they’ll judge you on how well you accomplished that specific task. If you don’t follow the directions, you won’t achieve a high score.
#2: Develop a Clear Structure
Another one of the important GMAT writing tips is to take the time to set up your essay in a clear way.
You don’t need to write the most interesting or lengthy essay in the world to score well on the AWA section, but you do need to give your essay an easy-to-follow structure. Usually, that consists of an introduction, three to four well-developed body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
Your introduction should restate the main argument of the prompt, then highlight the flaws in the argument that you’ll discuss in the body of the essay.
Each of the body paragraphs should focus on a specific flaw in the argument. First, you should highlight the flaw itself. Next, you’ll need to explain why that particular flaw is a flaw. Finally, you should highlight how the argument could’ve been made more clearly or more successfully.
In the conclusion, you’ll want to restate each of the reasons why the argument was flawed and summarize how those flaws affected the validity of the argument.
Following this clear, simple structure for your GMAT essay will help you achieve your goal score.
#3: Know the Common AWA Flaws
Your task for the GMAT AWA is to critique an argument given to you in a prompt. That means that you can assume the argument given is a weak one, since your job is basically to analyze its weaknesses.
GMAT AWA prompts typically have arguments that are weak in predictable ways. Be on the lookout for these common “flaws” that you’ll encounter in AWA prompts:
Causality: GMAT AWA prompts often contain errors in causality, which means that they attribute the wrong effect to the wrong cause. If you see an argument that uses causality, make sure you check to make sure that causality is correctly attributed and that there’s a provable causal relationship.
Vagueness: GMAT AWA prompts often contain vague terms or statistics that are used incorrectly to draw conclusions. For instance, a prompt might suggest that, out of a sample of 500 consumers, more are buying name-brand paper towels than generic paper towels. The use of the word “more,” in this case, isn’t specific enough because it doesn’t tell you exactly how many more people are buying name-brand paper towels. You can’t draw a definitive conclusion off of vague data.
Overconfidence: GMAT AWA prompts often contain overconfident language. You should be looking for the language in arguments to be thoughtful and well-balanced. Keep an eye out for words like “undoubtedly,” “definitely,” and “of course,” which indicate overconfidence.
One of the best GMAT essay tips is to practice, practice, practice before you actually complete the GMAT AWA section on test day. You can find real, retired GMAT AWA prompts on the GMAT website for free. You can also purchase the GMAT Write tool to receive scores on practice AWA prompts if you’re really concerned about your score.
Practicing will help you in a number of ways. First, practicing will help you master your timing. You’ll only have 30 minutes to craft a logical and well-reasoned essay on test day. The more you practice, the faster you’ll get at outlining and completing your essay.
As I mentioned in the previous GMAT writing tips, you’ll need to fully answer the correct prompt to achieve a good score on your GMAT essay. Practicing will help you get used to the structure of GMAT AWA prompts and help you get used to the types of questions you’ll see on test day.
Finally, practicing will help you get used the structure you need to employ to succeed on your GMAT essay. The more you practice, the more naturally you’ll be able to craft a complete introduction, body, and conclusion for each of your GMAT essays.
#5: Take Time to Outline
While outlining may seem like one of the more basic GMAT essay tips, taking five minutes at the beginning of the AWA section to sketch out a basic outline of your essay will really help you as you start to write.
Everyone outlines differently, but in general, I’d suggest having one to two bullet points for each paragraph that highlight the main ideas the paragraph will cover. Outlining will help you make sure you’ve covered all the main points you need to fully answer the question.
#6: Don’t Sweat the AWA Too Much
The final of my GMAT analytical writing tips is to not worry about the AWA section too much. As I mentioned in a previous section, the AWA section isn’t that important in the overall scheme of your GMAT score. It’d be a mistake to spend a lot of time and energy stressing over and preparing for the AWA section before you take the GMAT.
Spend between three to six hours preparing for the AWA, depending on how comfortable you are writing to the AWA’s structure. More often than not, that’s all the time test-takers need to achieve a solid AWA score.
Your GMAT AWA score won’t make or break your chance of admission to the business school of your dreams. An AWA score between 4-6 will sufficiently demonstrate your writing abilities to most admissions committees, and there’s not a huge advantage to scoring a perfect 6 on the AWA section.
An AWA score of below 4, however, will raise red flags for admissions committees who may question your communication abilities. So, it’s important to study for the AWA section to make sure your score is sufficient.
Feeling set on GMAT analytical writing tips, but looking for more advice on other sections of the GMAT? We’ve got tons of in-depth, high-quality guides to help you master the content you’ll see on GMAT test day. Check out our guide to the GMAT verbal section to learn how to master the three GMAT question types or read our guide to the GMAT quant section to understand exactly what math you need to know to achieve your goal GMAT score.
Looking to make an in-depth, comprehensive GMAT study plan? Our guide to GMAT study plans provides four sample study plans that you can adapt to your needs. Pick and choose between one-month, three-month, and six-month study plans that are each designed to boost your GMAT score.
Setting a realistic goal score is a hugely important part of your GMAT prep. By setting a realistic goal score, you give yourself a target to work towards and a benchmark by which to measure your progress as you prep for the GMAT. In our guide to GMAT score requirements, you’ll learn about how to set a goal that makes sense for your abilities and needs as a test-taker.
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What is the GMAT Essay, and Why Does it Matter?
The GMAT Essay is– true to its name– an essay you write for the GMAT. In the GMAT’s writing task, you must give a written analysis of an argument. This task, also known as the Analytical Writing Question, or AWA, has no specific length requirements. But typically, a successful GMAT AWA essay is between 4 and 6 paragraphs long.
The Analytical Writing Assessment measures skills that are important for your studies and career. The arguments you analyze pertain to business operations, governmental policies, and scholarly research. The ability to critically examine such arguments is very important in management classes and in actual managerial work.
So that’s why the skills in GMAT AWA is important. But how important is the task itself? How is your AWA score related to your whole-test score? And how much do schools care about your marks on the GMAT essay? Read on to find out.
Facts about the Analytical Writing question (AWA) and the GMAT Writing Score
Fact: The current GMAT involves just one writing task, the Analysis of an Argument task, a 30-minute essay you’ll see at the beginning of the test that will give you your GMAT analytical writing score. The old (pre-2012) GMAT had two essays, but one was cut when Integrated Reasoning was added.
Fact: Like the Integrated Reasoning score, the GMAT Analytic Writing score does not count in your composite GMAT score. It is a separate score, reported alongside the rest of your GMAT scores. (Currently, the full GMAT score report includes a Quantitative subscore, a Verbal subscore, and the overall composite GMAT score representing a combination of those two, a separate IR score, and a separate GMAT writing score. The overall GMAT score is clearly the most important number in the lot.)
Fact: In addition to seeing your overall GMAT score and Q & V subscores, the admissions committee will see your GMAT essay score.
These facts present a question: how much does this GMAT Analytic Writing score matter? Yes, adcom will see it, but how much does it really matter?
The AWA Task
Before we delve into whether the writing score matters, let’s make sure everyone is on the same page about the task we are discussing. When you sit down at the computer ready to take your official GMAT, after the few introductory screens, your first real task will be the Analytical Writing Analysis of an Argument task. The computer will present you with directions and an argument—typically, a massively flawed argument. You can find the complete list of possible prompt arguments in section 11.6 of the GMAT Official Guide. This essay can be thought of as a freestyle “Critical Reasoning Weaken the Argument” question: in other words, you will have to produce an essay explaining why this prompt contains a poor argument. Here are some AWA strategies, an example brainstorming session, and an example GMAT essay.
That’s at least an overview of what you need to know about the GMAT writing question: those links will provide more information. Now, what about the GMAT Writing score?
The GMAT Essay Score: Not so Important?
We certainly could argue that the GMAT Analytical Writing score is not so important. It’s undeniable that the Quantitative sections and Verbal sections, which contribute to the overall GMAT score, are considerably more important than the separate GMAT writing score. Arguably, the fact that the AWA section was “cut in half” when IR was added in 2012 is a further indication of relative importance of the GMAT essay and its score. It’s true that Business school adcom rely on the Quant, Verbal and Composite scores significantly more than the GMAT writing score. In fact, recent evidence suggest that adcoms also rely on the IR score significantly more than the GMAT essay score.
The GMAT Analytical Writing Score is Less Important, but Not Unimportant
While it’s true that, in your GMAT preparation, Quant and Verbal and even IR deserve more attention than the AWA, it’s also true you can’t completely neglect AWA. The difference between a 5 or 6 as your GMAT Analytic Writing score will not make or break a business school admission decision, but having an essay score below a 4 could hurt you.
The purpose of the AWA is to see how well you write, how effectively you express yourself in written form. This is vitally important in the modern business world, where you may conduct extensive deals with folks you only know via email and online chatting. Some of your important contacts in your business career will know you primarily through your writing, and for some, your writing might be their first experience of you. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and when this first impression is in written form, the professional importance of producing high-quality writing is clear. While you don’t need to write like Melville, you need to be competent. A GMAT Analytic Writing score below 4 may cause business schools to question your competence. That’s why it’s important to have at least a decent showing in AWA.
In particular, if English is not your native language, I realize that this makes the AWA essay all the more challenging, but of course a solid performance on the AWA by a non-native speaker would be a powerful testament to how well that student has learned English. Toward this end, it would be important for any non-native speaker to practice writing the AWA essay and to get high-quality feedback on her essays.
It would be a mistake to devote 30% of your available study time to AWA. It would also be a mistake to devote 0% to AWA. Between those, erring on the low side would be appropriate. If, in a three-month span, you write half a dozen practice essays, and get generally positive feedback on them with respect to the GMAT standards, that should be plenty of preparation.
For concrete advice on improving your GMAT essay score, sign up for Magoosh GMAT. We have over 200 lesson videos, teaching you all the content and strategy you will need for the GMAT, including a video series specifically addressing the AWA question. Magoosh is the best way to help not only your GMAT Analytic Writing score, but also every aspect of your GMAT performance.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2012 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.