GMAT Scores: The Essay is Still Important

June 30, 2012
Bret Ruber

GMAT BlogOften times, the portion of the GMAT most neglected by students is the writing sample.  While this section of the test is certainly less important than your overall 200 to 800 score, you still want to make sure that you know how to handle it.

The essay is graded on a scale from 1 to 6 and most business schools are expecting you to achieve a score of 4 or higher.  While the difference between a 4, 5, or 6 is not all that influential on your admissions prospects, receiving a score lower than a 4 can have a negative impact on your application.

While the integrated reasoning section, which was recently added to the GMAT, replaced the issue essay, the argument essay remains a part of the test.  In fact, it will be the very first section you see on test day.

The key to the essay is answering the question that GMAT test maker is asking.  This can be trickier than you would think.  The writing sample is all about analyzing the argument made by the author, not providing your own viewpoint on the topic.  Therefore, it is essential that you do not agree or disagree with the author’s opinion.  Rather, you need to analyze the argument the author makes to reach his/her conclusion.

To do so, you will need to look for flaws in the author’s reasoning.  Specifically, you will want to identify any faulty assumptions that the author makes.  Additionally, you will want to offer potential strengtheners – facts that, if they were true, would make the argument more sound.

You may notice that these skills are similar to those employed in the critical reasoning portion of the verbal section.  This is not a coincidence.  Both parts of the test are all about breaking down the argument and not about the accuracy of the opinion presented.

In order to get an idea of the types of arguments that appear on the GMAT, you can visit the test makers website,, and view a complete list of possible essay topics.   It is a good idea to practice taking a few of these arguments apart and writing essays before test day.

If you want feedback on how to identify the flaws in an argument, post the argument and a bulleted list of the flaws you notice in the comments below.  We’ll help you fill in the gaps.

Bret Ruber Bret has been teaching for Kaplan since 2005, and has helped over 1000 students with their GMAT preparation. He spent three years teaching in Manhattan, where he served as an Elite Teacher and a full-time instructor, before moving to London, where he is now the GMAT Master Teacher for Kaplan’s London Center. As the GMAT Master Teacher, Bret trains, observes and mentors teachers, in addition to continuing his own teaching and tutoring, and has taught courses across Europe, including Italy, Ireland, and Germany. Bret contributes to Kaplan’s GMAT curriculum on an on-going basis, and was also a contributor to Kaplan's 2010 GMAT course.

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