GMAT AWA Writing Tips – How to get 6.0 on AWA

by Maximilian Claessens
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GMAT AWA Writing Tips – How to get 6.0 on AWA

Anybody gearing up for the GMAT could use some GMAT AWA writing tips. It’s the only freeform section of the test, and so the only one that involves any amount of creative thinking. This can cause a lot of people to procrastinate and agonize over their word choice, sentence structure and general arguments – which can lead to an unfinished AWA section. This, naturally, is very bad. In this article, we want to share some of the best GMAT AWA writing tips so you can nail the analytical writing assessment on the GMAT.

What is the AWA?

The AWA is the Analytical Writing Assessment portion of the GMAT. The candidate is presented with a flawed argument that they will be required to critique. Their critique will take the response of an analytical essay, which they will have 30 minutes to write.

Is the AWA Included in the Main GMAT Test Score?

The AWA score is not part of the main GMAT score of 800. Instead, it is scored from 0-6 with half-point increments (so a 4.5 is possible, but a 4.7 is not).

Is the AWA Score Important?

Yes, and it’s important that the AWA is still taken seriously. Although much more emphasis is traditionally placed on the main GMAT score when your application to business school or grad courses is being considered, many such schools and courses still have a baseline AWA score. This will often be a minimum of 4.5.

GMAT AWA Writing Tips: How to Succeed on the AWA

AWA Marking Criteria

In order to succeed on the AWA, it’s first necessary to ensure that you are aware of the marking criteria. The GMAC scores the Analytical Writing Assessment as follows:

Logical Analysis

In order to assess the quality of your logical analysis, your marker will examine the ideas that you put forth and how you present them, as well as the strength of the points you make. The pertinence of your points and ideas are also taken into account – are they relevant to the argument to which you’re responding?

Linguistic Skills 

‘Linguistic skills’ is a rather large umbrella term for many aspects of your grasp of English. Your command of technical writing in English is taken into account, even if you are a non-native speaker. Although assessors will take into account non-native candidates and do not expect everyone to have flawless written English, it’s nevertheless important to be able to present your arguments and points in a clear, succinct, linguistically attractive way.

Presentation and Organization

It’s important to arrange your thoughts in a clear and logical way. Markers will be looking for a clear introduction, body text and conclusion, including correct formatting and paragraphs. Discourse markers are also important (words and phrases such as “furthermore”, “on the other hand” etc.).

What are the Different Scoring Bands for the AWA?

Before going into GMAT AWA writing tips, let’s pause a minute to understand the scoring range. As mentioned previously, the Analytical Writing Assessment is scored from 0-6. When grading your AWA, your assessor will use the following rubric:

0: Not scorable

Papers at this level are completely illegible or have nothing to do with the task.

1: Fundamentally Deficient 

This essay demonstrates profound deficiencies and an inability on the part of the author to engage in critical analysis. There is no attempt at an organized response to the argument, and spelling/grammar/syntax may be severely lacking.

2: Seriously Flawed

This essay betrays serious weaknesses in the author’s ability to critically analyze arguments. The essay may be disorganized, and there may be serious grammatical/syntactical mistakes that impede the ability to understand the text.

3: Limited 

A somewhat competent essay that is nevertheless hampered by consistent flaws and mistakes. There is some command over the basic elements of good writing. Analysis is present but limited in scope. Language is occasionally misused in such a way as to impede comprehension; minor grammar/syntax errors are frequent, and there may be one or two major errors.

4: Adequate

The critique made of the argument is competent, with effective use of the written word to convey the author’s analysis. Organization and structure is satisfactory, but discrete elements may not always be well connected. Control of language is competent, but may be repetitive and lack variety. Minor grammar errors may persist.

5: Strong

A robustly developed critique of the argument, supported with strong writing ability. Author is able to identify key components of the target argument and analyze/critique them with insight and thoughtfulness. Language is smooth and varied, though minor errors may be found.

6: Outstanding

A coherent and strongly argued critique of the argument that is conveyed with a masterful use of the English language. Ideas are developed cogently, organized logically and linked together smoothly with strong use of discourse markers. The critiques made are well supported. Though there may be one or two errors, they are minor and do not impede comprehension or the overall tone/flow of the text.

What to Take Away from the Scoring Rubric for the AWA

As we can see from the higher bands of the AWA scoring rubric, there is a strong emphasis on the author’s ability to critique the argument given. Merely critiquing it is not enough for an outstanding score, however; the candidate must also demonstrate an ability to give their essay a solid structure, and a good command of the English language is necessary to impress the assessor. Discourse markers must be used to demonstrate an ability to transition from one paragraph to another, and the language used throughout must be clear and comprehensible.

With that in mind, let’s now go into some GMAT AWA writing tips.

AWA Tips: Common Fallacies

Because you are being asked to address the weaknesses in a given argument, you’re likely to see one or more of the following logical fallacies within those arguments. By familiarizing yourself with them, you’ll be well positioned to refute them.

Weasel Words (Unclear or Ambiguous Language)

A great deal of words can be used to make an argument sound substantive without actually giving any meaningful information. The first sentence of this paragraph, in fact, did just that!

Words like “some”, “many”, “few”, “more” or “less” are meaningless without further qualification; consider the sentence “many people dislike chocolate” in a vacuum. Is there a more concrete percentage or number of people who dislike chocolate? What is the source for this assertion? Is there any evidence to back it up?

Arguments that use weasel words are inherently weak because they are unable to support their own assertions. This makes them ripe for rebuttal in your essay.

Confusion between Correlation and Causation

It’s very likely you’ve heard the phrase ‘correlation does not equal causation’ before, as it’s a very common phrase. But what does it actually mean?

‘Correlation’ is a measure of how interrelated two independent things are. If A increases in number or quantity, for example, then B goes up similarly. If A decreases, then B will likewise decrease.

However, because A and B go up or down in tandem, it does not mean that A causes B (or B causes A). A great example of this is ice-cream sales and shark attacks: when ice-cream sales are at their peak, so are shark attacks. But nobody in their right mind would claim that buying ice-cream makes you more likely to be attacked by sharks!

The reason behind the correlation of ice-cream sales and shark attacks is simple and obvious: both of these things tend to happen in summer. But it is self-evident that one does not cause the other; they just happen at the same time of year.

The correlation vs. causation fallacy is one that commonly pops up in the AWA section of the GMAT, so be prepared to address and refute it.

Flawed Comparisons

Making flawed comparisons involves comparing two things that are not necessarily similar and drawing the conclusion that because one approach worked for one thing, it will work for the other. An example might be that cats like eating fish, and are animals, and therefore rabbits will like eating fish because they are also animals.

Flawed comparisons can often be easily rebutted in your AWA assessment.

Sampling Problems

This fallacy arises when a small sample size is used to draw conclusions about an issue without taking into account the broader picture.

For example, a customer’s reviews on Google might be 75% negative. It would be inaccurate to conclude that most customers were dissatisfied with the company; such reviews are not necessarily representative of all customers, and dissatisfied customers are more likely to leave reviews than satisfied ones. It is therefore erroneous to use such reviews as a basis for assessing overall customer satisfaction.

Use Your 30-minute AWA Time Wisely

Although this sounds obvious, it is one of the most important tips for the GMAT AWA we can share. It is very important to have a strategy in mind when going into the AWA, lest you find yourself rushing to finish or – even worse – not finishing at all. That said, it’s a good idea to budget your time in your practice AWAs and make sure that you stick to your plan.

Carefully Read the Task [2-3 Minutes] 

Look over the task carefully and ensure that you have a full understanding of what is required of you. Doing so will prep your brain for what is to come and help you focus.

Be sure to read the task twice and start to formulate your response in your mind. What is the main argument of the task and how is it flawed? How is the argument supported, and are these assertions also flawed? How can you respond to it?

Brainstorm Possible Responses [5 Minutes]

Take 5 minutes to sketch out your response – what is going to be your main point? What supporting arguments are you going to use?

Use the provided notepad to organize your thoughts and ideas. You should have a brief introduction and 2-3 paragraphs that deconstruct and refute the assertion made.

Type Up Your Response [20 Minutes]

You’ve built the skeleton of your argument in the past 5 minutes; now it’s time to put some meat on those bones and type your essay up. Refer to your notepad to keep your essay structured, and write up each section accordingly.

Don’t let yourself get stuck on one particular paragraph. If you’re having trouble formulating your thoughts and ideas, leave that paragraph and go onto the next one, returning to it later. It doesn’t matter if your essay looks unfinished or unpolished at this stage; all that matters is the end product. You have the structure of your essay, and as long as you stick to that, you can move between paragraphs as you like.

Review [3-5 Minutes] 

It’s time to look over what you’ve written and correct any typos or grammatical errors. At this stage, it’s not a good idea to try to add anything new or engage in any major restructuring or reformulation of sentences; you simply don’t have the time.

It’s fine to use more advanced vocabulary here or there, but avoid flowery language. Examiners are looking for the strength of your arguments and sound logic; they are not looking for the next Shakespeare.

How Should You Structure Your AWA Essay?

One of the most common questions GMAT students ask is how the AWA should be structured. Anyone who comes from a test-taking background that frequently features essays should be familiar with the general structure of a long-form essay, but it’s possible that some candidates will not have done much in the way of critical or analytical writing. Below is a GMAT AWA template that has proven to work very well.

Your essay should have this general structure:

Introduction

In your introductory paragraph, you should restate the argument and draw attention to its weaknesses. You should also state your intentions for the essay – what are you going to discuss?

First Paragraph

In the first paragraph, you’ll lay out a criticism of the task argument, generally by pointing out a fallacy inherent thereto. After making your assertion, you must support your argument.

Second Paragraph

State a further critique of the argument, again making a supporting statement for your claim.

Third Paragraph

Raise some questions regarding the argument. What answers does the argument not convincingly provide? Why does lacking the answers to these questions undermine the argument?

Fourth Paragraph

If you have time, you may add a fourth paragraph. In this paragraph, you should state what you feel may have strengthened the argument and why.

Conclusion

Recapitulate the arguments you have made briefly, and use them to point out why the argument is flawed. If you did not include a fourth paragraph, you can briefly state what data or information might have strengthened the argument. If you did, you can touch upon it again before concluding.

This structure is widely considered to be the best approach to the AWA.

General Tips for Preparing for the AWA

There are several best practices when prepping for the AWA. Here are our top GMAT AWA writing tips:

General Tips for Preparing for the GMAT AWA

Regularly Practice Writing Essays

Using official prep materials or those available from organizations like Manhattan Review, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of regularly typing AWA mock essays. Not only will these train your mind for the kinds of tasks likely to crop up, but they’ll also help with your typing speed and your ability to assess how many words your essays are. By the time you do the real thing, you should be able to eyeball your word count and so have a general feel for when you’re finished.

Include the AWA in Your Last Few Mock Tests

Though you don’t need to do a mock AWA every time you do a practice GMAT test, you should certainly do so in the run-up to your actual GMAT. Make sure that you include one in the last 2-3 tests prior to the real thing, so you are adequately prepared for the whole experience.

See here for our full guide on how to structure your GMAT preparation, and how to effectively prepare in 6 months, 3 months, 2 months or even 30 days.

Work on Your Typing Speed

Your essay should be around 500-600 words, and you should be typing for around 20 minutes. This means that you should be able to type around 30 words per minute – an eminently achievable figure. If you are unfamiliar with typing, however, it may be necessary to work towards this goal. It’s therefore important to type regularly as part of your preparation for the Analytical Writing Assessment.

Read Sample 6.0-Score Answers

There are plenty of sample answers available online, and they’re a great resource for those looking for Analytical Writing Assessment tips. These sample answers can brief you on the kind of vocabulary you should be using, the structure of your essays, and the sort of discourse markers you should be using.

Read Professional Publications to Improve Your Written English

Our last tip for the GMAT AWA is to read. Fluent and readable writing does not come naturally to everybody, and it can be particularly hard if you’re not a native English speaker. You can give yourself a boost by regularly reading professional publications, giving yourself a feel for more advanced grammar and how to keep your writing feeling fresh and flowing.

Conclusion

Although the AWA can be quite the daunting proposition, we have seen that there are a multitude of ways to properly prepare for it – even if your command of written English is currently less than stellar.

By familiarizing yourself with all aspects of the test – the scoring rubric, the advice given by successful candidates, the structure of the test, and pre-test preparation strategies – you can give yourself an excellent chance at obtaining a good score, no matter your innate talent for writing. Follow our GMAT AWA writing tips to nail this section of the test.

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