Isaac Bettan, Master Verbal Instructor at Master GMAT
One of the most common mistakes in the AWA Issue Essay pertains to examples, which seem uncomfortably murky.
Students always ask: What kind of examples should I use?
Thankfully the answer is not complex; good examples are not difficult to come by. Let’s start by saying that one example per body (content) paragraph is best. One detailed real example (2 to 3 sentences) is better than a string of superficial examples.
The idea that the GMAT really tests the academic level of a person’s writing is nonsensical; submitting one of the GMAT essays in a university course would be grounds for well, let’s just say serious rewriting. However, the GMAT does expect a minimum level of knowledge and writing.
As this pertains to examples, it is expected that the example utilized will (sort of) be able to prove the point made at the beginning of the paragraph at a (sort of) academic level.
In terms of types, the most impressive examples are real ones: history, literature, social sciences, sciences, current events and culture, and so forth. Examples can certainly also stem from your own knowledge and research, albeit sources should be as unbiased as possible. For instance, the National Inquirer which is devoted to tabloid news would a less welcome source than The Economist.
Therefore, learned real examples will obviously stand out more than those taken from sources that are less than academic. That is not to say that a phenomenon such as Facebook cannot be used as an example. The issue has more to do with how Facebook is represented as an example and to what end.
My examples can apply to just about anything
One of the GMAT dislikes is the hypothetical example that says little and can apply to any and every situation. Let’s take the following topic:
Education has become the main provider of individual opportunity in our society. Just as property and money once were the keys to success, education has now become the element that most ensures success in life.
We can easily come up with a hypothetical/generalized example:
For instance, there are many students who gain higher entry positions and higher paying jobs because they graduated with at least a Master’s Degree.
Or we can take such an example, and turn it on its head:
For instance, various economic studies have shown that over the past ten years, for top 500 Companies such as Google and Microsoft, mid range positions or higher are overwhelmingly given (85%) to people who not only have work experience but also have a minimum of a Master’s Degree.
Of course there are many holes in this last example, and it is certainly not an in depth look at the issue. But if you were the teacher, which would you find the more impressive?
My life is a light unto others
Finally, a word about personal examples. These can be used, but in an essay asking about whether suffering helps a person grow more than an easy life does, the test grader may not be so impressed with your personal story about how difficult it was to break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend. On the other hand, an example demonstrating how your work for NGO X (replace X with a good NGO!), which involved vaccinating undernourished children and building new homes for less fortunate people, has helped you to become a more determined, humane person – well this is an example with a bit more teeth to it.
In all, the use of examples is one important thing to remember for the Issue Essay and can go a long way towards impressing the reader. Remember: you are trying to prove a point, so try to do so with a real, educated, and detailed example, rather than something vague and superficial.