Structuring Your Analysis of An Argument Essay

by on September 10th, 2009

Your GMAT essays are unlikely to be the linchpin of your application.  Although I don’t like to say “never,” I personally have not heard of a student getting in to B-School because of his or her GMAT essays.  It certainly seems possible, though, that your essays could keep you out, if your entire application package is borderline and you write one or two truly awful essays.  For that reason, it’s important that you keep the AWA in perspective: it shouldn’t take up much of your prep time, but it’s certainly to your advantage to spend some time familiarizing yourself with what makes for a good essay, and getting some feedback from a qualified source, whether that is a professional mentor, a professor, or a test-prep specialist.

Of the two essays you’ll be expected to write, the Analysis of an Argument is likely to be the more challenging, if only because the task is not a familiar one to most business school candidates.  The easiest format to use in writing this essay is the classic 5-paragraph style, and a simple, effective format will look something like this:

  • Paragraph 1: Brief recap of argument and statement that the argument has merit but also contains multiple flaws.  Also include a “roadmap” of the points that you will make, in the order that you will make them.
  • Paragraph 2: Explanation of first flaw– this paragraph should have a strong topic sentence and then several sentences explaining the flaw in detail.
  • Paragraph 3: The second flaw gets the same treatment here as the first one did in the previous paragraph.
  • Paragraph 4: The third flaw is explained here in the manner established in the previous two paragraphs.
  • Paragraph 5: Briefly recap the flaws you’ve presented and diplomatically explain how those flaws could be remedied to present a stronger argument.

A good rule of thumb is that your reader should be able to get the gist of your entire argument just by skimming the first sentence of each paragraph.  Remember, your reader is probably going to devote no more than three to five minutes to your essay.  Take a few minutes at the beginning of your AWA to outline the five sentences that will begin your paragraphs; this strategy can make your reader’s job far easier, and a happy reader is probably more apt to make those tricky 4/5 line calls in your favor.  Similarly, the e-reader is programmed to assess organization, and well-written topic sentences that use transition words and clearly state the point of each paragraph are a big help in creating the kind of organizational structure that earns you points on test day.

To start your essay on the right note, make sure that your first paragraph does what it needs to do (recap the argument, state your position, and map out your three points) without any attempts at rhetorical bells and whistles.  At some point in high school or college, a composition instructor may have told you to use an “attention-getting” opening to really draw your audience in, but your GMAT AWA reader doesn’t need to be “drawn in;” she is getting paid to read your essay, and wants to do her job as efficiently as possible.  She’s likely to regard literary flourishes as a waste of your energy and her time.  Now, let’s look at a sample prompt and opening paragraph:


WPTK, the most popular television station in Metropolis, does not currently provide traffic updates to viewers.  Since Metropolis is located in a Midwestern state with serious winter weather road delays 4 months out of the year, WPTK would significantly reduce the incidence of auto accidents on Metropolis-area roads by providing traffic updates.

Response Paragraph 1:

The argument, which states that WPTK’s broadcast of traffic updates would reduce the incidence of auto accidents on Metropolis-area roads, has merit.  However, the argument also exhibits several serious flaws which could limit its persuasiveness.  The author weakens his claim by assuming that televised traffic updates would be timely enough to impact drivers’ actions, by failing to explicitly state how the updates would affect auto accidents, and by predicting a “significant” reduction in Metropolis auto accidents without specifying what kind of a reduction would be deemed “significant.”

As you can see, the opening paragraph responds to the prompt by taking a clear position, referring back to the issue briefly, and outlining the points that the essay will be addressing.  Let your concise, informative opening paragraph set the tone for your essay, and look for an upcoming article on common flaws in Analysis of an Argument prompts!


  • As someone who received two 6.0 rated essays that began with "flowery beginnings" that "drew the reader in", I disagree with that point. I wrote a template ( that gives an example of what I'm talking about -- like the SAT, I think that beginning with something (ideally, something well-written) other than "I agree" or "I disagree" distinguishes your essay right from the start. You want the reader to think immediately, "This is not like the 55 million other essays I've read today." If you write a generic essay, it seems to me you'll get a generic score rather than a great score. While I recognize most people care little about the AWA, I think it is actually fairly easy to get a 6, and while some 6.0 essays are generic and formulaic, still others use eye-catching beginnings to engage their readers.

  • Myohmy, I took a look at your template, and I agree that your essay opener is well-written, and with your points above regarding one kind of essay writing that gets top scores. I think the discrepancy here is with what each of us considers to be "flowery" or a "rhetorical flourish." I wouldn't classify your essay opener as either of those things. Moonlighting as a standardized test essay grader, I've seen a lot of essays that strain for attention-getting openings and come up with something like, for example, an introduction to an essay about climate change that looks like this:

    "Sweat runs down my back and soaks my hair as my feet pound the pavement; the overwhelming heat is too much for me, and I must cut my run short today. In this moment, as in many others, I reflect on the negative impact that global warming has had on my life..."

    That's what I mean when I discuss florid writing. These essays are supposed to show how skilled you will be at professional writing, and taking them in a literary, informal direction is often a misstep. To be fair, I DO often tell students to err on the side of simplicity rather than reaching for more detailed introductions, because although some people find it easy to get a 6 (and congrats on yours!), many others struggle to write the kind of structured, well-developed essay that scores a 4 or higher, and for those students, putting too much time and effort into the opening forces them to compromise the body paragraphs or the conclusion.
    Anyway, I hope this clarifies my points above; thanks for your thoughts on this!

    • Certainly those composition instructors who suggested using an "attention-grabbing beginning" would join you in your rally against "florid prose." Commenter myohmy is correct in suggesting these two approaches should not be conflated. Doing so gives good writing a bad name.

  • Paragraph openers:

  • Paragraph openers i need paragraph openers

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the US government has announced only
    last September, the global average for the period January to August 2010 is
    580F (14. The effects of higher daytime lows are mostly good.
    t walk into the grocery store without being asked if I.

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