Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)
The AWA's Two Components
The GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) consists of 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.
How the Essays are Graded
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 supporting them
- 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.
Managing Your Time
You will have 30 minutes for each section. We 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 your essay!
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 there are 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 initial brainstorming 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 paragraph that 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.
Other General Tips for the GMAT's AWA
Your grader will spend an average of 2 minutes reading and grading your essay. Clever metaphors 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 in mind:
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.
One of the key criteria graders look for is your ability to present 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 writer.
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 the argument.
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 individual.
Be careful with your choice of language and tone on this essay. 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.