The GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)
two, 30 minute components. One asks you to analyze an
argument, and the other asks you to analyze an issue. These 2 essays can appear
in either order when you take the GMAT.
A Warning About
the Downloadable GMAT Essay Questions
The test writers at the GMAC have published
two complete lists of current Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) questions. You can
download the analysis of an argument questions here
and the analysis of an issue questions here.
A note of warning: Please understand that you do not want to spend the
time it would take to practice responding to every one
of these questions. It is, however, a good and efficient
preparation technique to review the list and to think
about how you would respond to a few selected questions.
How the Essays
Your essays will most likely be graded by a
teaching assistant or graduate student from a university English department. This evaluator
will assign your essay a grade from 0 to 6. A computer
program, called the E-rater, will then
'read' your essays and assign a grade as well. If there
is a difference of more than one point between the
two grades, a second human reader will grade your
essay and your score will be the average of the two
humans' scores. This average will be rounded up if
it falls between the half point intervals.
The graders (both
human and computer) look for overall evidence of the following 4 qualities
in your essays:
- Critique of the argument or analysis of the issue
- Ideas developed in a rational, persuasive manner,
with relevant examples
Proper grammar and syntax
Due to the economics involved in grading this test, graders are
not given much time to spend on each essay. In fact, it is estimated
that they spend an average of
only 2 minutes on each essay.
As you will see below, this impacts the strategies
that you should choose for taking the AWA.
The Overall Importance
of the Writing Assessment
Admissions committees simply do not give
AWA scores the same importance that they do to GMAT
verbal and quantitative scores. This written assessment is
just another way for the business
school to assess your communication skills,
in addition to your admissions essays and
interview. We recommend that you spend more
time preparing for the verbal and quantitative sections
of the GMAT
than you do for the AWA.
You will have 30 minutes for each
suggest that, before you begin writing, you spend 3 to 5
minutes preparing a rough outline on your scrap paper
of how you intend to attack your essay. Consider this
your "brainstorming" time.
Just throw down as many ideas on the paper as you can. At the
end of this 3 to 5 minutes, look at what you have written.
Scratch out anything you know you do not want to
include. Number the remaining thoughts in terms of
their importance to your issue or argument. Congratulations
you now have a logical outline around which to structure
You should spend the next 20 to 22 minutes actually
writing the essay,
leaving yourself 5 minutes for proof-reading.
Try to finish writing the essay when
5 minutes remaining on the GMAT CAT's clock. Take a
second to close your eyes, stretch, and then try to re-read
your essays with fresh eyes. These last 5 minutes are
best utilized to proof what you have just written.
Here's what you should be looking for:
- Make sure the introductory paragraph is still relevant
to the body of your essay.
- Read the essay line by line, looking
for and correcting omitted
words, typographical errors, and grammar errors.
- Make sure your thoughts come across clearly.
- Check for use of appropriate transition words.
Do not, however, attempt to begin
a drastic overhaul of your essay.
Giving Your Essays
the Proper Structure
You will only use approximately 20 of the allotted
30 minutes to actually write each essay. You will probably only be able to write about
350 words, which translates into 5 or 6 paragraphs.
Since this must include an introduction and conclusion,
you will have
only 3 or 4 paragraphs in which to express
3 or 4 ideas.
This is the formula for a winning
essay: express a few ideas (the top ones you
identified during your
session) in a few interesting sentences. Keep the essay
structure simple. Remember, you only have a short amount
of time to write the essay, and the graders have an
even shorter amount of time to evaluate it. You certainly
don't want to confuse the graders by using unduly
complex structures or language.
You are best served by using an introductory
clearly explains what you are going to say in
the essay. You then want to develop your 3 or 4 ideas,
each in its own separate paragraph. Make sure your opinions
are clearly stated. (Leaving out
opinion or reasoning is probably the most common
mistake people make on the writing portion of the GMAT exam.
Do not worry about offending a grader with your opinions
or analysis. AWA topics are not that controversial.) Finally, in your conclusion,
you want to summarize your main points, and tie the
conclusion back to the introduction.
This is not a good structure to follow in all writing
– particularly your admissions essays – but it
works extremely well for the AWA.
Tips for the GMAT's AWA
Your grader will spend an average of 2 minutes reading
and grading your essay.
and the like will be neither noticed nor appreciated. However, you do need to
come across as smart in order to make the critical first impression needed to achieve a high score on this writing assessment.
The following tips were conceived with just this objective
Use transition words generously. Phrases like "for
example", "consequently", or "first,
second, ... lastly" will help the reader follow
your essay's structure more easily. Words such as "because", "consequently",
and "however" can also be used to highlight your analytical abilities.
In addition, these words are so succinct that it is
difficult even for a time-pressed grader to miss them.
Be specific. One of
the key criteria graders look for is your ability
ideas and arguments clearly and persuasively. Many writers grow vague when pressed for time. Do not let
this happen to you. However, do not
let yourself slip into dogmatism, either. It is
appropriate, even helpful, to acknowledge the limitations of your arguments
and to concede the validity of opposing points of view.
Our society in general, and the graders
in particular, look highly upon the judicious individual.
Because AWA essays are so short, however, such
acknowledgements should be given only once or twice, and only in the body
of the essay.
Do not use big words just for the sake of using
them. Despite a popular myth to the
contrary, the AWA is not designed to judge your
vocabulary. Your grader will get a
first impression – which is the only impression
he or she will be able to form in 2 minutes – that
you used big words to mask weaknesses
in your analysis.
Grammar is important. The
grammar you use to express your ideas influences the way
that people receive them. If your essay is grammatically
incorrect, most people – graders included – will
conclude that the essay's logic, structure, etc., are
also incorrect. Do not allow this natural bias to harm your essay grade.
Vary the length of your sentences. This
will make your essay easier for the grader to read.
It also signals that you are a smart and effective
The Analysis of
an Argument Essay
You will be given a one-paragraph argument to critique.
You are not asked to
present or discuss your own
opinion on the subject. Instead, you are supposed to
find fault with the argument's reasoning.
Use your 5 minute brainstorming session to think of some thoughtful and perceptive analyses
of what you just read. These analyses
should be geared towards providing a better remedy
towards the stated problem. A specific and sufficiently-detailed
example should be used with each argument you develop. As stated above, you should have 3 to 4 paragraphs
in the body of the essay. Each of these paragraphs
should contain one point that you wish to make about
Graders like to see you use specifics in your essay.
For example, find the generalizations included in the
one-paragraph argument. (We guarantee this will not
be difficult to do.)
The Analysis of
an Issues Essay
You will be given a one-paragraph text
discussing the pros and cons of some issue. You will be
asked to select the position with which you agree.
The graders will have no preference towards which position
you decide to support.
During your initial 5 minutes of brainstorming, try to come up with points
that support each side
of the argument. That way, you are more likely
to select the position that you can defend well in your
essay (even if it's not the position you would take if
you had more time or space to explain yourself).
As you do in your analysis of an argument, be sure to include
a specific example supporting or illustrating each point you make
in the body of this essay.
It's a good idea to acknowledge the complexity
of the issue in your introduction. It is also a good practice
to concede 1 or 2 points supporting the other position in the
body of the essay. Do not worry that this might make you appear indecisive
to the graders. Recall what we stated above, about
graders looking fondly on evidence of a judicious
Be careful with your choice of language
and tone on
You are being asked to write an issues analysis, not a
campaign ad. Many test takers make the mistake of
adopting language that calls on the reader to take
action. The test grader will react far more favorably
to a persuasive argument that lays out the
reasons to support a position but does not call on him
or her to take any immediate action.
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