Seeing the Other Side on the AWA

December 12, 2011
Eli Meyer

GMAT BlogAt some point, everyone has been in an argument with a stubborn person. It can be maddening when you can’t get someone to see things your way. But the worst people to argue with are the ones who don’t acknowledge anything you say. In the best case scenario they’ll mention your reasoning just long enough to dismiss it out of hand; in the worst case scenario, they’ll fail to even address your opinions, doing nothing more than repeating their own views like a broken record.

If these people drive you crazy in real life, imagine how toxic they are in a corporate setting. When they’re wrong about important business decisions, they stubbornly cling to their ideas and can drag the rest of their company down with them. And even when these inflexible individuals happen to have a good idea, their bad attitudes can convince their mistaken co-workers to reciprocate the stubbornness and ignore a potentially valuable contribution.

So how does this affect your test-taking? Well, consider the Analytical Writing Assessment. The two GMAT essays are, of course, intended to test understanding of English grammar and logical reasoning. But because the GMAT tests aspiring MBA candidates, you can’t stand out solely by being grammatically and logically correct. Essay graders also consider the persuasiveness of your essay, because a successful business school student must be able to make others see things his way. So, if your essay reads like one of those bullheaded arguments you can’t stand, the graders will lower your score accordingly.

Every essay you write should demonstrate your ability to understand the other side. Usually, the best place to put it is in the second-to-last paragraph, right before the conclusion. Clearly state what the other side might think, then explain in detail how you’re right anyway—make sure not to be too dismissive. Get it right and this paragraph will be a double-whammy: not only do you get to strengthen your argument by showing the weakness of the opposition, but you also get to show off your well-rounded productive attitude to your graders (and to your target schools, who get copies of your essay with your test scores!).

The exact structure of this penultimate paragraph will vary from prompt to prompt. On Argument Essays it can often be formulaic, simply listing the things that could make the author correct but that aren’t proven by the prompt. On the other hand, and Issue Essay counterargument’s role is more varied, ranging from complete rebuttal (COUNTERARGUMENT, but this argument is flawed and should not be considered, because…) to qualified concession (COUNTERARGUMENT can be true in many cases. Yet those cases are a minority; in the large majority of situations…).

But regardless of how you do it, the technique of considering the other side goes a long way. It can strengthen your essays, and more importantly, it can strengthen your opinions, and your reputation, in business school and beyond.

Question of the Week:

Issue Essay

People who describe local businesses as ‘quaint,’ ‘unique,’ or ‘idiosyncratic’ are merely putting a positive spin on such businesses’ lack of consistent quality when compared to national chains.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the position above?

Eli Meyer Eli Meyer has been a Kaplan teacher since 2003. He has spent the past four years focused almost exclusively on the GMAT, and also has prior experience helping students ranging from middle-schoolers taking the ISEE to professors retaking the GRE for their second PhD. During his Kaplan career, Elis has also written and revised Kaplan course materials and acted as a community liaison on several popular GMAT message boards, all the while helping his students succeed both in and out of the classroom.

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