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GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment

GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment

Also called the GMAT Essay, the Analytical Writing Assessment(AWA) overall is a single task, which is to evaluate an argument. You will have a total of 30 minutes to consider the argument, write your essay, and finally proof your essay. It can either be the first or final sections in your variable exam order, that is you can either begin with the AWA, followed by the integrated section, then go to the quantitative and verbal reasoning sections, or you can start with the quantitative and verbal reasoning sections first, then follow it with the integrated reasoning section and finish with the AWA. 

The essay is scored independently on a 0 – 6 scale of ½ point increments. You will have two independent graders, one of which may or may not be a computer program, but they will never deviate by more than one point. That means that if one of them gives you a 4 and the other gives you a 5, then you will have a 4½.  

The AWA is always going to be the least important section of the GMAT for admissions considerations. You should consider the GMAT essay exam as a de facto truffle exam, which is an English as a foreign language requirement exam and basically, it is there to guarantee proficiency in the written English language. In theory, if someone without English language proficiency was to write an essay in their native language for example, and have someone translate it, then the admissions office cannot be aware of that. But for the GMAT essay, whoever is writing the exam has to prove their identity, and write the essay in 30 minutes without any assistance.

Your goal here is to hit a 5-point minimum. 5 or higher, which is just about the 55th percentile is a safe target score, sometimes even a 4½ could be safe, but a 4 is going to put you at about the 20th percentile because of the scoring system. So, to be safe, you really must do your best to guarantee a five-point score or higher in your essay. If you execute the tactics and processes discussed in this article, you should be able to produce a relatively well-written level 5 essay.

As a GMAT test taker, you must decide beforehand whether it suits you to treat the essay and integrated sections as warmups and therefore do them first, or you prefer to do the quantitative and verbal reasoning sections first before you handle the IR and AWA as a cooldown.

Static Essay Task

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion, be sure to analyze your line of reasoning and use the evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

Now that you have read the essay task, it may never change and you may never have to read it again. All you have to do is get familiar with this essay task as part of your GMAT exam preparation, and on test day you will know exactly what to do.

How should I address the essay task?

Think of it as a long-form critical reasoning evaluation task. Evaluate the reasoning, do not attack the reasoning or offer alternative reasoning. Basically, stay on task. 

The first thing you always have to do is identify the main claim, conclusion, recommendation, or opinion requiring evaluation. Read the paragraph or two carefully and understand what the main claim or specific conclusion is. You must be careful not to “attack” the argument so avoid pejorative hyperbole. For instance, don’t say how terrible the argument is, how completely unfounded it is, or that kind of extreme judgment. There certainly are some flaws but you need to be measured in your response. 

Investigate ways in which additional information pertaining to possible assumptions could both damage or improve the claim. That is, you don’t only want to point out the problem with the argument as it is presented, but also give possible solutions. Suggesting solutions illustrates a true understanding of the circumstances in the argument, different pieces of augmentation, and generally shows an overall understanding of what is happening in the prompt. This is basically what the examiners are looking for to attain the roughly ten percentile score of 6.

Avoid using outside information or personal biases in your evaluation. Stick to the prompt and don’t go outside of it. One of the major ways you can deviate from the task and get yourself into the danger zone of below 5 is by going off on a tangent and talking about things that you are assuming everybody knows. If you get a topic that you are particularly familiar with, make sure that you are not using information that is not available to your grader. Your grader is probably someone who is going to read the paragraph in two to five minutes, and probably has a checklist to ensure that you accomplish all the goals. If it is a computer program, it is probably going to be even more streamlined. So stay on topic, don’t deviate, and don’t include possibilities, personal biases, or outside information. Use only the information that you have been provided.

Can I finish the Analytical Writing Assessment section in 30 minutes?

Start with 3 – 5 minute brainstorming. In the brainstorming, you need to identify the main conclusion in need of evaluation. You also need to identify major issues within the argument that would affect the viability of that conclusion. For example, is the sample size too small? Identify as many different issues as you can find that need to be further evaluated as per the task to determine the viability of the conclusion.

Spend the next 22 – 25 minutes writing your essay. Assume a standard four-paragraph structure: An introduction, a first support paragraph, a second support paragraph, and a conclusion. It is not necessary to have the fifth paragraph, in fact, it is best that you don’t have a fifth paragraph here so that you have enough time to Proofread your essay.

Spend 2 – 3 minutes proofreading your essay. It is important that you catch any major error in logic. It is very possible in these 30 minutes of essay writing to entirely leave out a sentence that was in your mind and is integral to what is happening in your essay. You also have to include things like what is your actual conclusion, don’t just refer to it obliquely as “the conclusion” over and over. Your essay grader can’t just assume that you know what the conclusion was. 

Fix convoluted phrasing. If English is not your first language you can probably just streamline and cut out extra words. This exam does not give any extra points for the length of the essay, so streamline, use an active voice, and be direct, concise, and clear. 

Vary your word choice slightly.

Samples Essay Prompt

The following appeared as part of the annual report sent to stockholders by Olympic Foods, a processor of frozen foods: “Over time the costs of processing go down because as organizations learn how to do things better, they become more efficient. In color film processing, for example, the cost of a 3-by-5-inch film fell from 50 cents for five-day service in 1970 to 20 cents for a one-day service in 1984. The same principle applies to the processing of food. And since Olympic Foods will soon celebrate its 25th birthday, we can expect that our long experience will enable us to minimize costs and thus maximize profits.”

Sample Brainstorming

The first thing you have to do is identify what the main conclusion is. You can paraphrase slightly but not much, because basically, we are just shorthanding.

Main conclusion: Since OF(Olympic Foods) will soon turn 25, it can be expected that the experience will minimize costs and maximize profits!

You can put this directly into the word processor interface because you can write around it as you are brainstorming. Focus on the conclusion and try not to pick any of the evidence. Being disinterested and unbiased with the evidence will help us identify possible issues or assumptions. For example: 

  • Is the analogy to color processing apt? Is there anything similar between Olympic Foods and color film processing? Don’t make a value judgment and say “absolutely not.” You just ask the question and the task is to seek out the answer.
  • Another inherent assumption that you may have to investigate is, does minimizing cost means that we will maximize profits? If the cost drops, does that mean that revenue does not go down as well?
  • Do 25 years qualify as long experience? The color processing analogy cites the period between 1970 and 1984, a duration of 14 years. So according to this prompt is 25 years adequate to be considered long experience?
  • Is the annual report possibly a biased source? It is from a report to stockholders by Olympic Foods and has a very positive outlook of Olympic Foods, might it be biased? Should we consider another source? 
  • Because the principle applies in theory, does it necessarily work in practicality? Do we need more information to say if it can work in practicality or not?

All this you need to do in under 5 minutes. Take the notes in the word processor interface for maximum efficiency. 

Choose the top three topics or issues to evaluate in your essay. There is not enough time to go through everything so just streamline into the big three.

Here we’ll go with:

  • Is the analogy to color processing apt?
  • Do 25 years qualify as long experience?
  • Is the annual report possibly a biased source?

This is a personal decision but you have to make it proactively so that you are extremely consciously writing your essay.

Essay structure

1. Introduction (paragraph 1)

Start by identifying your main conclusion. Don’t skirt it, don’t overly paraphrase it or refer back to it as “the conclusion, the claim, or the recommendation”. Sometimes the conclusion is a bit convoluted and complex, and your essay grader is checking to see if you specifically understood what the conclusion is. It is also here that you will be previewing your top three issues you need to evaluate and transition into the primary issue you are going to evaluate, say, for instance, let’s say the main issue here is the aptness of the color processing analogy.

2. Primary Issue (paragraph 2)

Briefly summarize your primary issue and how it affects the viability. Be straightforward and do not include too many details. It should be self-explanatory since you are not using external information that needs further exposition. Recommend some additional information sources and how the results of that information might improve or decrease the viability of the claim. For instance, it is possible that we find out that there are a lot of ways that color processing is similar to food processing, which will strengthen the claim. Make sure to address the pro side as well and not only the cons. 

Finally, transition into the second most pertinent issue that you are going to evaluate. 

3. Second Issue (paragraph 3)

Briefly summarize the issue and how it affects the viability. Recommend some additional information sources and how the results of that information might improve or decrease the viability of the claim. You can consider some vague hypotheticals that could improve or decrease the viability of the claim. If, for example, you are considering age, that is, is 25 years long enough to be considered experienced? You could ask, “What if there are primary competitors with more than 100 years of experience?” And what if the competitors have significantly fewer years of experience? In this case, you are not really bringing in outside information, you are just considering hypotheticals. This is a better way to go about it than driving yourself into a rabid hole of too many specifics which you may not be able to determine within the context of the prompt. Keep it simple while trying to achieve a breadth of coverage on several different topics. Transition into the third most pertinent issue in need of evaluation.

4. Conclusion (paragraph 3)

Briefly mentioned any additional issues that may need to be evaluated. The possible bias would be a good one to drop in here. You could for example just point out that the source for this is the Olympic Foods stockholder report, is this a disinterested unbiased source? Is there somebody else that would agree with this report?

You can then close by restating the main claim of the argument as uncertain pending results of seeking additional information regarding the issues identified in the essay. That is to say, without answers to the issues raised, we don’t really know the truth of the claim. 

Do not shy away from writing in the first person. Just pick a person and stay consistent with it. You can write as “I” or “We”, you can write in the third person, it is completely okay either way so long as you remain consistent.

Analytical Writing Assessment Process

Step 1

Brainstorm. (3.5 minutes)

  • Read the paragraph to identify the main conclusion to address the static task. 
  • Identify the three top issues or assumptions affecting the conclusions viability

Step 2

Write Essay. (22 – 25 minutes)

Make it a basic four-paragraph structure: An introduction, two paragraphs of support, and a conclusion. Try to allocate new information for the conclusion. Having a more robust organization and cohesion in your essay are some of the things that will edge you closer to 5.5 or 6 in your AWA.

Step 3


Make sure to leave enough time to catch major errors and vary word choices slightly. The downside to not proofreading is much bigger than the upside of using the final two or three minutes to write another two or three sentences. 

Try applying this approach to your GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment. Pull up some prompts and do some practice in preparation for your GMAT exam. 

Additional prompts are available at: timing/analytical-writing-assessment/analysisofanargument_gmat-exam.pdf.

Remember it takes practice to excel in any exams. Therefore, as you prepare to sit for your GMAT exams, don’t forget to practice with real questions. You can take advantage of our GMAT study resources which are available at a small premium. Find out what we have to offer and boost your confidence by practicing adequately.

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