Ace the GRE AWA (Analytical Writing Assessment)

The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) is a component of the GRE that tests your logical and analytical writing abilities. The AWA is often neglected by students who undertake the exam, but, if ignored, students might not reach the required cut-off. Through this article, I would like to stress upon the importance of the AWA and speak about the few ways using which you can effectively tackle this component of your exam. This section demands that you write simple, systematic and comprehensive arguments.

We have divided this article into 3 sections, again logically:

  • PART 1: Breaking down the AWA talks about ‘how to strategically break down the AWA’
  • PART 2: How do I debate? Here we help you understand how to ‘identify FLAWS’.
  • PART 3: Paragraph making and ‘organising’

    The AWA is time-bound, just as the other sections on the examination are. Therefore, planning and being thorough with a strategy can help you exercise brevity and create a rich and seamless passage. Let us take a look at the steps that can be followed in the 30 minutes exercise:

    1. Read the argument

      Reading the argument thoroughly is a key requirement for the AWA. Only when you critically examine the passage that is given will you be able to find the different words that can be used to construct your point, and elaborate. Do not ‘skim’; skimming will lead to you missing keywords.

    2. Find 3 Flaws

      Why do we say 3? That is a natural question, right? Why not 2, or 4 or even 5? An instinctive response that a student has is one in which he or she asks about why we do not opt for a greater number of flaws; would that not strengthen the argument? Well, we prefer quality to quantity. Finding 3 flaws, and writing clear and concise explanations with examples make your argument holistic. A complete argument is always preferred to one that is open ended and just ‘stating’ a few points without any reasoning. As we will describe in the final section- examples along with the flaws will make it clearer.

    3. Rough outline

      Over the past years, we have observed how easily students write a final essay once there is a rough outline. A summary always makes things easy, doesn’t it? Jot down your thoughts, and string them together later-this is a central theme that will make your life easier. In short, outlining is a quick brainstorming session. Do not extend your brainstorming session; a lot of students tend to overthink and this will reduce the amount of time that you have to write the essay. Give yourself a maximum of 4-5 minutes for this task. Finalize your flaws, and be sure.

    4. Write

      This will take away the major chunk of your 30 minutes; we recommend that you spend a good 15 minutes writing. Write carefully, with precision. Be careful when you write, so that the last step takes a less amount of time. Writing is the obvious key step in this process and therefore 50% of the time is dedicated to this part of the essay. When you write, the outline will help you create the final piece.

    5. Revise

      After writing your essay, you need to revise. Check for any grammatical errors, and other spelling errors. These mistakes can cost you dearly. Do not be overconfident; however good you are at writing, mistakes happen. Give yourself at least 5 minutes.

    6. Refine

      Refining your essay is the last and final step and is to be done only after you revise. Revising the essay will help you correct the major flaws, while refining the essay will help you polish it. Yes, there is a key difference here- do not start refining your passage even before you revise. Revision will help you iron out the major flaws.

    Simple, right? I think you can easily get yourself comfortable with the steps involved, and before moving onto the technical details. After you are comfortable with the strategy of how to go about logically writing the AWA, the next question is:

  2. How do I debate? How do I effectively construct an argument

    In order to analyse a passage, you need to understand what keywords/phrases you are looking for. Once you identify ‘flaws’, your life becomes much simpler; you feel comfortable and absolutely confident about what you write. If you have solved Critical Reasoning questions, the AWA becomes an easier task. You require a keen eye, and a logical mind to connect those dots. Let us help you get to that stage FASTER!- we will begin with the different common keywords types:

    1. Reported/Filed/Complaint

      Does ‘reported’ mean complete evidence? Not really, right? When a passage uses words such as reported, or filed, the first reaction should be: Was the complete sample reported? How thorough was the report? When a passage says reported, you are looking at half-baked information as the flaw. Let’s take a look at a small snippet which might make this clear:

      Statement: No incidents of theft have been reported in the Greenfield District in the last 2 years.
      Argument: This does not mean that the number of thefts has reduced. Imagine the number that might have gone unreported? If you thought that too, KUDOS! You are well on your way to logical thinking.

    2. Wrong Comparison

      Remember the golden rule: ONLY similar things can be compared. This is logical too, right? I cannot compare the colour of a car to another car! You have to be very quick at spotting this error type, and this can be easily elaborated too. Once you have a wrong comparison, you can be rest assured that the passage will have flaws that you can easily write about. Again, let us take a snippet to illustrate this point.

      Statement: The cost of home-nursing services reduced from 50 cents for a 5 day service in 2015 to 20 cents for one day service in 2019.
      Argument: This does not mean that the cost has reduced. Effectively, the cost actually increased. You cannot compare a 5 day service to a 1 day service, can you? That is absolutely illogical. You have got to compare the cost per day for different time periods.

    3. Improper Conclusion

      How often have you seen arguments in which the thread does not lead to something that is a logical finish. You need to ensure that there is a seamless integration among the different sentences. Look for a logical finish, one that follows from the given reasons.

      Statement: People using aspartame are better off consuming sugar, because aspartame can contribute to weight gain rather than weight loss.
      Argument: This means that everyone who consumes aspartame has only one objective- Weight loss. Now, this is not a conclusion that can be drawn from the given statement. There might be other reasons for the consumption of aspartame.

    4. Responded to a survey/ replied to a questionnaire/ participated in a poll

      When the word ‘responded’ comes up in a passage, the first response is- HOW MANY, and out OF HOW MANY? A representative sample from a given population must have responded to give meaning to any inference that is drawn. A big gap in the argument is one that has no data about the number of responses from a total.

      Statement: Employees who responded to an internal survey rate customer satisfaction as the most important factor in sales.
      Argument: The first logical retort is- Out of how many? Who are these employees? Which division to they belong to? The holistic nature of the argument is broken when you just say employees who responded. That is the very flaw that can take the argument down.

    5. People's choices/preferences are not permanent

      Let us illustrate this with an example:

      Statement(s): On average, middle-aged consumers devote 39 percent of their retail expenditure to department store products and services, while for younger consumers the average is only 25 percent. Since the number of middle-aged people will increase dramatically within the next decade, department stores can expect retail sales to increase significantly during that period. Furthermore, to take advantage of the trend, these stores should begin to replace some of those products intended to attract the younger consumer with products intended to attract the middle-aged consumer.
      Argument: Over a 10-year period, anything can happen. No one can be sure that people’s preferences would be consistent.

    6. Conclusions drawn without data

      Conclusions need data or facts to support them; without proper data, conclusions become meaningless and arbitrary.

      Statement: To improve customer service in banks, it is enough to make everything online.
      Argument: Really? That statement is something which conveys that nothing else is required to improve the service in banks. There is no data to support this fact either.

    7. Many/Most/Some/A few

      Many, most, some, a few etc are all words that mis-represent ideas. These words have a subjective undertone and cannot be used as conclusive proofs. Let us take an example:

      Statement: Many people in my class do not like ice cream.
      Argument: Many? How many? By using the word many, you have thrown in a loose ended statement. I do not know whether you consider 8 on 40 many, or 15 on 40 many? This goes across the other words as well. So when you use many/most, be careful.

    8. Strong statements whith no data support

      When you use words such as ‘best’, ‘strongest’, ‘the only’ etc are all strong statements that need data to back up the claim. A simple example is when you speak about a college being the best- say Harvard? Why is it the best? Show people data, and they will then be convinced.

  3. Passage organisation

    Organising your thoughts is a crucial part of your AWA. A lot of students have phenomenal ideas that are just not structured the right way. A passage with chaos is a set of incongruous ideas that do not transition well across the essay. For a passage to ‘read’ well you must make sure that your ideas are presented precisely. Although there is no strict word limit given for the AWA- a passage of approximately 400 Words is what we suggest. You may write anywhere between 300 and 500 words. Let us look at a few important pointers about passage construction:

    • First Paragraph

      The first paragraph of the AWA should be designed to reiterate that the argument has flaws and is poorly conceived. A brief summary of the passage is what is expected-limit your words here. The first paragraph is your window to a well constructed and holistic passage. Also use sentences that assert that you do not agree with the illogical argument given. A sample of how such statements are written:

      • However, there are major gaps within the argument
      • The argument is rather unconvincing
    • Second Paragraph

      The second paragraph is essentially the ‘first flaw’ that you will be writing about. When you write about a particular flaw, make sure that you give sufficient information about it. Do not just write a flaw as a small statement and move to the next. The reader needs to connect with why exactly what you think is a flaw is one. We use daily life examples to describe why the argument is illogical and the flaw stands. Remember, you are debating. Therefore, assert and convince the reader. A sample of a few keywords that can be used:

      • First, Firstly… (the argument that..)
      • Daily life examples are presented after the flaw to enhance or solidify your stance about the flaw
    • Third Paragraph

      The third paragraph is about the ‘second flaw’. You have to follow the same principles that you used in the second paragraph, except that instead of using ‘firstly’, you can use the following:

      • Second, Secondly, Furthermore, To add to that point, Moreover……
    • Fourth Paragraph

      The fourth paragraph has the same structure as the second and the third paragraph and will be about the argument’s final flaw. The words that are used to introduce this paragraph are:

      • Third, Thirdly, and you can also repeat these words-Moreover. furthermore, etc.
    • Final Paragraph

      The final paragraph is your closing, and this needs to be a grand statement, one that represents and makes the reader believe! A summary of all the flaws, and how you think that they can be rectified. A natural question is why you should write about rectifying the flaws. Well, no one likes it when you only point out the mistakes right?

      Yes, even with a passage, it is essential to write and give the reader a thorough understanding of how he or she can improve his or her argument. It will enhance your essay and make it absolutely rounded and holistic. A sample introduction to the final paragraph:

      • In summary, the argument falls short on many levels………
      • But if xyz is done, then the argument will complete itself and be representative of what exactly the problem is.

AWA is an important section of the GRE; a lot of universities have cutoffs that you need to cross. Do not neglect this section, because you might just end up getting surprised. The AWA is not expected to be an AWARD winning piece of work- write a precise, clean and concise passage with well-constructed and thought out logic and you are on your way to score above 80% in your AWA.


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