GMAT Essay Tips: Preparing for the Analytical Writing Assessment


GMAT Essay Tips

Preparing for the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) portion of the GMAT seems to many of my students a waste of precious practice time, when what really “matters” is your 800-scaled score.

Fair enough.

But if you’re not regularly testing at the score you want, why not add an essay score of 6 to that admissions portfolio?

A perfect score cannot easily be ignored by business school admissions officers.

Here are some GMAT essay tips to help you get there:

  • GMAT Essay Tips #1: Follow the directions: The standard AWA directions ask you to discuss several key components under the general rubric of analyzing an argument’s reasoning. DISCUSS THEM ALL:
    1. Flaws in the author’s logic.
    2. Assumptions the author is making.
    3. Supporting evidence upon which the author relies.
    4. Important: What additional evidence/studies could the author conduct to better analyze his or her conclusion? Always propose a controlled study.
  • GMAT Essay Tips #2: Timing: Use all 30 minutes. Consider the following breakdown:
    1. 5 minutes: Read the passage and note logical flaws. Doing so follows virtually the same approach as a critical reasoning question in the verbal section. The only difference is, on the AWA, you create the “answer choices.”
    2. 5 minutes: Outline your response, using a new bullet to discuss each major idea/flaw. Look for nuance. Three flaws is a great number for which to strive. And propose a study that can help educate the author in understanding the identified flaws.
    3. 15 minutes: Write your essay, using a new paragraph for each bullet in your outline. Introductions and conclusions can be a single line each, appended to the first and last paragraphs, respectively.
    4. 5 minutes: Review that you have hit everything in your outline, and edit for grammar.
  • GMAT Essay Tips #3: Further evidence / proposed study: A controlled study compares the effect of an experimental manipulation on one sample of people with a “control” group upon whom the manipulation is not performed. For example, in a clinical drug trial, the experimental group gets the drug and the control group gets a placebo. Every other variable is held constant across both groups, so you can effectively isolate the effect of the manipulated variable. If you can devise an experiment that compares an experimental versus control group on a key variable the author is studying, you are advancing to a whole new level of logic – and one specifically called for by the directions!

Example: I created this example: it is not taken from an actual GMAT exam. “A New York City traffic engineer finds that as the number of traffic lights in the midtown section of the city increases, the number of car accidents city-wide also increases. She recommends to the Department of Transportation that, perhaps counterintuitively, it should decrease the number of traffic lights midtown in order to promote traffic safety across the city.”

Outline: For brevity, I simply outline how my essay might be structured. See if you found every flaw I did—or ones I didn’t. And suggest away different possible studies in the comments section!

  • INTRO: Fundamentally, the author is making a city-wide, causal conclusion based on data from only one segment of the city that is purely correlational in nature.
  • FLAW 1: Correlation does not imply causation (a favorite of the GMAT test writers!). Just because the number of traffic lights is correlated with the number of car accidents doesn’t mean that traffic lights are causing Suggesting a third variable that might be causing both would be ingenious!
  • FLAW 2: The author is making a conclusion about policy for the entirety of New York City based on data taken only from midtown. Something may be fundamentally different about midtown. This is a dangerous extrapolation.
  • FLAW 3: Nothing is indicated about the type of accidents that are occurring. Maybe increased traffic lights are actually helping to prevent serious or fatal accidents, while amplifying the number of minor fender-benders.
  • HOW CAN WE KNOW? Well, for one thing, there are surely other Departments of Transportation in other cities who can provide parallel data. But what if we chose two virtually identical areas of the city (in size, population density, traffic patterns, etc.) and, holding all else constant, simply double the number of traffic lights in the first area vis-à-vis the second? Then we can compare, over some designated time period, the number of additional accidents caused by doubling the number of traffic lights (FLAW 1). If we chose different sections of the city, or even different cities, so long as the experiment is well controlled, we would also be addressing FLAW 2. And if we carefully recorded and perhaps created a rating system for severity of accident, we could compare not just number but severity across the two groups (FLAW 3). Finally, if you have a few more moments, acknowledge why your experiment is imperfect and suggest further tweaks that could be done.

I hope these GMAT essay tips have helped you think about the AWA.

Want to get to that GMAT score you do want? The author, Brian Lizotte, offers test preparation services for students of all ages. He has scored perfectly on the PSAT, SAT and ACT, as well as the ISEE and SSAT, and in the 99th percentile on the GMAT, GRE and LSAT. Brian graduated summa cum laude from Yale (3.95 GPA), earning simultaneous B.A./M.S. degrees in Psychology, and at graduation Yale’s faculty awarded him its top academic prize. He also holds an Ed.M. from Boston University (4.00 GPA) and a J.D. from Yale Law School. He has taught mathematics at the Groton School, served as Associate Provost for the Humanities at Yale, and was Assistant Head of the Brearley School in Manhattan. Brian’s method teaches students how to think, not memorize, and his broad knowledge of learning styles allows him to adapt to your own learning needs.

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