How to ace the GMAT - Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)

The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) is a component of the GMAT that tests your logical and analytical writing abilities. The GMAT consists of 4 sections: The Verbal, Quants, AWA and IR (Integrated Reasoning). Being a time-based exam, the GMAT infuses the system of quick thinking into students and expects the test-taker to be sharp with the different nuances of the examination. The AWA if an often neglected portion of the syllabus, and students do not pay adequate attention to this section. However, most universities have cut-offs that must be attained in order to gain an admit. Postponing your AWA preparations to the last minute might not be the best idea. Through this article, we will break down the essentials of a good AWA; let us guide you towards acing the AWA.

An AWA is like a weaken question (Critical Reasoning), the stronger your critical reasoning, the easier the AWA.

To help you score well, we have designed a process that might make implementation much simpler:

  1. Time Management
  2. Tackling the argument: Find the Flaws
  3. Tackling the argument: Outline
  4. Points to note
  5. Revise and Refine
  1. Time Management

    We all know that the GMAT is a test of how calmly you can solve a given problem; the same concept extends into the AWA section. The GMAT AWA is a reflection of how well you can debate a given argument and figure out the erroneous premises and results drawn from the same. The challenge is whether you can do this in a span of 30 minutes, right? Well, the answer is simple- with adequate practice, this becomes an easy task. We advocate a timeline that roughly looks like this:

    • STEP 1: Read the argument thoroughly : 2 minutes
    • STEP 2: Find three flaws that are distinct, and do not waste time and search for more: 5 minutes.
    • STEP 3: Brainstorming and creating a rough outline: 3 minutes
    • STEP 4: Writing the essay: 15 minutes
    • STEP 5: Revise and refine.

    Practise these steps constantly to get better; once you are comfortable with writing an essay within the given time limit- AWA becomes a very easy part of the GMAT. Constant practice makes it very easy to complete the essay within the given time.

  2. TACKLING THE ARGUMENT: What is wrong with the passage?

    The key task in an AWA is spotting flaws, which cannot be done at your own pace. Remember you have 30 minutes to read, analyse and write. Often, there are a few keywords or common scenarios that help you construct your essay. If your critical reasoning skills are top-notch, spotting these keywords is an easy task, and you will see a drastic difference from those who have not practised their reasoning.

    Let us take a look at a few of the common flaws:

    1. REPORTED/ FILED / COMPLAINT/ DID NOT COMPLAIN

      When an argument uses such words, the cognitive process should immediately tend towards- well, how many reported? Is the sample size representative? Was the survey complete? A lot of people might not have filed/ reported certain issues, which voids the argument. Eg:

      Argument: Our research indicates that the number of thefts reported have decreased and therefore, the city is safer.

      Counter-argument: What about the number of cases that are not reported?

    2. WRONG COMPARISON

      By the wrong comparison, we mean that we can compare only things that are similar. Well, you might say that the statement is obvious, right? But, not really...The GMAT induces you into believing that the wrong comparisons are the right ones. Remember the LIKE-UNLIKE rule in Sentence Correction?

      Argument: The price of a 3-minute slick flash photograph service fell from 50 cents for a 5-day service in 1970 to 20 cents for a 1-day service in 1984.

      Counter-argument: Did the price really fall? Infact, it increased! We’ll leave you to ponder over how.

    3. IMPROPER CONCLUSION

      Every premise has to have a conclusion that is derived from the facts or reasons stated. Sometimes wrong conclusions are drawn from given premises.

      Argument: People who use artificial sweetener aspartame are better off consuming sugar, since aspartame can actually contribute to weight gain rather than weight loss.

      Counter-argument: Some people may use artificial sweeteners for reasons other than weight loss. For example, people who suffer from diabetes.

    4. RESPONDED TO SURVEY/ REPLIED TO QUESTIONNAIRE/ PARTICIPATED IN A POLL

      The most important thing about a survey is the homogeneity of the participants, and therefore, the sample size that is being surveyed. Survey results can be skewed, if the sample size is not the right one.

      Argument: Better lighting was ranked as the issue of highest importance by employees who responded to a survey.

      Counter-argument: You need to calculate the percentage of people who responded to the survey. Let’s assume that only 10% of the people responded to the questionnaire; is that really a representative sample?

    5. PEOPLE’s CHOICES/ PREFERENCE/ COMPETENCE CANNOT BE TREATED AS FIXED

      Ofcourse, we all know this right? People’s preferences might be ephemeral, which implies that treating it as permanent is a fallacy.

      Argument: On average, middle-aged consumers devote 39% of their retail expenditure to department store products. Since the middle-aged people will increase dramatically within the next decade; sales will increase significantly.

      Counter-argument: How exactly can we be sure that people will like the same thing; trends change.

    6. STUDIES REVEAL/ RESEARCH SHOWS

      Not all the studies and researches conducted are authentic. There has to be a source, right? Information has to be authentic.

      Argument: Studies suggest that people over 50 reduce their coffee intake drastically.

      Counter-argument: What is the source?

    7. CONCLUSIONS WITHOUT DATA

      Reasons that are given for a particular conclusion need to be backed up with data from valid sources. Without data, conclusions can be proven faulty. Always look for how the link between the given facts and the conclusions are drawn. Solving a critical reasoning question requires a similar skill set. Therefore, identifying this issue will not be a problem.

      Argument: India is the best cricket team in the world right now, as they have the best bowlers and batsmen in their side.

      Counter argument: I have used a lot of ‘bests’, but how many matches have they really won? This is where statistics plays a key role.

    8. MOST/ MANY/ FEW/ A LOT

      Words such as many, most, few, lot etc have a subjective connotation attached to it, which means that what one person thinks is many might not be what another one does.

      Again, in your critical reasoning, these words play a very important role- Most, means more than 50%, while a few can be a number that is not decisive.

      Argument: In response to a petition regarding road safety, many residents of the area responded saying that they would like the roads to not be tampered with, indicating that the roads of the area are actually safe.

      Counter-argument: In this context, ‘many’ does not indicate a specific quantity, and therefore, cannot be a clear indicator of the needs/ wants of the residents, right? Many can be 20 for you, but 40 for me!

    9. PROVEN METHOD/ SUREST WAY/ ENSURE (without supporting data)

      When you say that something is the surest way to achieve a result, there should be enough data to back up that claim, which otherwise becomes very random.

      Argument: The surest way for architects to prove that they have met the minimum requirements established by codes is to construct buildings by using the same materials and methods that are currently allowed.

      Counter argument: There is no data to support this argument.

    10. PERCENT

      Percentages can only be decisive if there is an absolute number. Without an absolute number, there is no meaning attached to a percentage. Remember that, even in critical reasoning, the same logical system applies. Make sure that you understand how percentages and absolute numbers work, along with sample sizes.

      Argument: 10% of the people in Bangalore are affected by a Viral attack, while 40% of the people in Hyderabad are affected by the same attack. Therefore, Bangalore is a safer place than Hyderabad.

      Counter-argument: We do not know the total number of people in the two cities. Therefore, the percentages do not make sense.

  3. TACKLING THE ARGUMENT: Outline

    AWAs are best written when there is a sync between the passages, which retains the enthusiasm of the reader. The structure of the passage is extremely important. The sequence that you use to write the essay will speed up your entire process. We recommend that you write the passage that contains paragraphs that are cohesive, and relates to the whole essay. Let us break down the passage outlining process:

    1. FIRST PARAGRAPH: INTRODUCTION

      Restate and summarize the argument in a maximum of 3 sentences, and your paragraph should end with the fact that you DO NOT agree with the reasoning given in the argument. An introduction is important because it sets the tone for the rest of the passage. Example:

      • However, there are major gaps in this line of reasoning
      • The argument is rather unconvincing, given the obvious flaws in logic
    2. SECOND PARAGRAPH: FIRST FLAW

      Start the paragraph with First, Firstly. State the flaw with an easy to understand example. When relatable examples are given, it makes the passage a lot stronger and readable. Without strong examples, the passage would still read well, but this can be the difference between a 5 and a perfect score.

    3. THIRD PARAGRAPH: SECOND FLAW

      Start the paragraph with Second, Secondly or words such as Moreover, Additionally, Also etc. State the flaw again, with easy to understand examples.

    4. FOURTH PARAGRAPH: THIRD FLAW

      Start the paragraph with Third, Thirdly, Moreover. Last but not the least etc. Again, do not forget to give that example.

    5. LAST PARAGRAPH: CONCLUSION

      Start the sentence that indicates that the flaw in the argument has been demonstrated in the previous examples. Example- In summary the argument falls short in many respects.

    However, do not end your passage on that negative note. Always include a note that states how one certain information or data, if included, would make the argument more sound. Example-

    The passage lacked the necessary data to strengthen the premise. If the total number of participants was mentioned along with the percentage, the argument would have been fool-proof. This shows the GMAT that you can identify and issue and find a solution to fix the problem as well. Remember, an MBA graduate is someone who needs to have skills to tackle real-life problems.

  4. POINTS TO NOTE

    A few other pointers to make sure that your essay is top-notch:

    1. Avoid spelling mistakes- The GMAT does not pardon spelling errors. Be cautious with your writing because too many spelling mistakes will reduce your score by a great deal.

    2. Grammar is key- Sentence correction is not the only place in which the GMAT cares about grammar, the AWA you write must be framed perfectly. The placement of modifiers, punctuation, and the overall grammatical structure is extremely important to your grade.

    3. Follow American English style- GMAC evaluates students based on the American style of writing. We recommend that students stick to American spellings. Example - center rather than centre.
  5. TACKLING THE ARGUMENT: Revise and Refine

    We all know that Revision is a very important component of an exam right? It is no different on the GMAT as well. Typos, spelling errors and missed words are the most important components.

    Refine your essay, after your first round of revision. Remember that spelling mistakes and grammatical errors are heavily penalized. So revision is much more important than refinement. Refine only if you have time.

  6. GMAT AWA GRADING GUIDELINES

    The AWA score that you get has certain connotations, let us examine those:

    1. A score of 6- A well-constructed passage, with no spelling errors and clear and coherently developed ideas. The main points of the critique must be developed and ideas organized with clear transitions.

    2. A score of 5- Strong score; well-developed critique, with a few errors, probably with a spelling or two.

    3. A score of 4 - Adequate- An adequate score is one that has a decently well-constructed argument, but not one that has considered every aspect of the argument. The flaws in the critique, such as spelling errors, and grammatical mistakes would be greater in number than in the previous score.

A detailed rubric of the GMAT AWA scoring can be found on the website of the GMAC. To conclude, we would advise students to exercise their minds in writing a good AWA, and get it evaluated. If your writing skills are not up to the mark, start early to score higher. The AWA is an important component of the GMAT and must not be ignored.

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