13 Sentences to Glory! (The GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment, Part 1: The Argument Essay)

by on March 7th, 2010

no sweat shoesThe GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), which consists of two 30-minute essays (Analysis of an Argument and Analysis of an Issue), is the least important part of the GMAT and the least important part of your application to business school. Still, read on.

First off, you should know that the AWA score is completely separate from the Math/Verbal (200-800) score. Second, a high AWA score won’t offset a low 200-800 score—in other words, you’re not going to “AWA-your-way-in” to business school. Third, as long as you’ve got the 200-800 score you need, a low AWA score probably won’t hurt you. Still, you don’t want such a low score that admissions committees will take notice.

Essentially, you can look at the AWA as a pass/fail proposition: AWA scoring is from 0-6, and scores of 4 or above (not too difficult to attain) are passing. The AWA is a relatively manageable task (much easier than the Math/Verbal for virtually all testers), thus nothing to fret about. However, when you take your GMAT, the first thing you have to do is write the essays, and that hour of writing is an important warm-up for the Math and Verbal sections. Notice that I said “warm-up”—the key is that the essays must not cost you too much mental energy. Whether you’re realistically aiming for a score of 4 (good enough for the essays to be a non-factor in your application to business school) or 6 (the top score, which is good enough for the essays to be a non-factor in your application to business school), the essays need to be easy for you.

No outside knowledge is required for the AWA Essays and there’s nothing you need to study to prepare for them. (Though reading a few samples would be a good idea.) You simply need a template for both Argument and Issue Essays and a little practice. To make the Argument Essay nothing more than a matter of going through the motions on test day, follow the guidelines below.

Analysis of an Argument Essay: Pre-Writing

The Argument Essay is essentially a Critical Reasoning (Argument) question in essay form. Thus, you must accept the Argument author’s Premises and Conclusion. Before you start writing, you need to brainstorm/outline, which means first jotting down the Argument’s Conclusion and Premise(s), as well as coming up with the Author’s assumption(s). For an explanation of Conclusion/Premise/Assumption (C/P/A), click here.

Once you’ve got C/P/A, note down 3 weaknesses and/or ways the Argument could be improved. For weaknesses, you can explain why the author’s Assumptions are weak and/or discuss a key term that’s not adequately defined. For ways to improve, you can discuss specific information that, if provided, would back up one of the author’s Assumptions or provide more support for the author’s Conclusion.

Note that most AWA Arguments have 2-3 key terms that can readily be attacked for lacking adequate definition. However, you should write about at most 1 key term in your essay. You need to make sure you explain weak assumptions and suggest ways to improve because these tasks are the ones that actually involve analyzing the Argument’s logic. (An essay that only discusses key terms will not receive a good score.) Once you’ve got C/P/A down and noted 3 weaknesses  and/or ways to improve, you’re ready to write, as long as you know to use the Outline below.

Analysis of an Argument Essay: Outline

I. Introduction (2 sentences) – All you need to get across here is that you find the author’s logic unconvincing. (Say unconvincing and go on the attack because if you say the author’s logic is convincing, you’ll have less to write about.)

II. Body Paragraph 1 (3 sentences) – Weak Assumption.

III. Body Paragraph 2 (3 sentences) – Key term not adequately defined.

IV. Body Paragraph 3 (3 sentences) – Suggest way(s) to improve.

V. Conclusion (2 sentences) – Summarize key points and reiterate that the author’s logic is unconvincing. Stick to the old adage for conclusion paragraphs: “Tell ‘em what you told ‘em.”

Important Notes:

  1. Notice that 2+3+3+3+2 = 13. That’s 13 sentences total, and that’s all you’ve got to write on your Argument Essay. Of course, there’s no reason you can’t write more and there’s no reason to worry about counting your sentences as you write. However, writing more than 13 sentences is not strictly necessary, even if you want to get a 6 (the highest score). Therefore, the Argument Essay is a matter of 13 sentences to glory!
  2. The Body Paragraphs are interchangeable as far as ordering. However, stick to the 5-paragraph Intro-Body-Conclusion format because 5-paragraph essays tend to receive higher scores than 4-paragraph essays. Writing 6 or more paragraphs is also fine, of course, as long as you stick to the Intro-Body-Conclusion format.
  3. Stick to one idea per paragraph. For example, if you want to discuss more than one assumption, use a separate paragraph for each. The only exception to the one-idea-per-paragraph rule can be for suggesting ways to improve; if they’re related, you can lump them into one paragraph. If your suggested ways to improve involve clearly separate issues, write a separate paragraph for each suggestion.
  4. First person (the use of “I”) is fine—use it, it’s easy. You don’t need to be overly formal.
  5. You also don’t need to use big words or try to be fancy stylistically; good GMAT writing is all about clarity.
  6. Use explicit transitions and other phrases that highlight the logical structure of your essay. “First,” “Second,” “Third,” “In conclusion,” “For example,” “Similarly,” “However,” etc., are all good. In other types of writing, stilted transitions are not considered ideal; on the GMAT, the important thing is to show that you know that transitions are supposed to exist.

Analysis of an Argument Essay: Process Summary

Performing well on the Argument Essay is a matter of following the directions, structuring your essay properly, and demonstrating solid writing mechanics. Thus, before you do anything else, read the directions to get your bearings and be sure that you’re clear on which essay you’re writing. The Argument essay will be the first of the two, but you don’t want to confuse them, and there’s no need to rush. Next, be sure to read the Argument carefully (this is essentially another component of following the directions). Other than these basics, follow this process:

a. Pre-Writing: 5 min.
b. Write: 20 min.
c. Proofread: 2-3 min.

That leaves you 2-3 minutes to play with. Keep in mind that Pre-Writing (C/P/A and Brainstorming) is the foundation for a well-written, high-scoring essay. (By the way, you don’t really need to outline your essay because you’ll have the Intro-Body-Conclusion template memorized.) If you apply the basic process above, use the prescribed Outline, and write the essays every time you take a practice test—something you should do for endurance’s sake anyway—you’ll be more than adequately prepared for the Argument Essay. Most importantly, it’ll be simple and easy for you on test day. No sweat!

Stay tuned for The GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment, Part 2: The Issue Essay, coming next week.

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