While there is no way to predict which topic you’ll see on test day, by following the same process and using the same template for each practice essay you write, you’ll be well-prepared. You can download a list of topics here. The topics may change, but your approach never will. Let’s look at one of the official GMAT topics:
Step 1: Understand the Issue
The first step towards strong essay examples is to understand the two sides of the issue. You must either strongly agree or strongly disagree with the presented issue. Unlike real life where most of your opinions are probably a mix of gray, the GMAT Issue essay requires you to take a strong stand on one side of the issue. You won’t be able to adequately argue a middle-of-the-road approach in 30 minutes, and you risk appearing indecisive and muddling your essay.
First state the two sides of the issue in your own words:
TRUE: More violence should be incorporated into entertainment.
FALSE: More violence should NOT be incorporated into entertainment.
Step 2: Examples
Now you can begin to brainstorm examples for both sides. Look at the language of the prompt. It mentions “television programs, movies, songs and other forms….” Those are big clues to some of the areas from which you can draw examples!
Examples of successful popular culture entertainment that incorporate violence:
- TV: WWF programs, MXC on SpikeTV, Gordon Ramsey on Hell’s Kitchen (he throws plates!)
- Movies: Kill Bill series, adaptations of graphic novels like Sin City, the Saw franchise
- Songs: rappers like Eminem, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, etc.
- Other forms: videogames like Grand Theft Auto, Resident Evil, etc.
Remember that you won’t use every single one of these examples, but making a list and expanding upon the topic will help you brainstorm what points you’d ultimately like to make. Now it’s time to decide how you’d like to use these examples. Do you want to say that Saw and Grand Theft Auto are detrimental to society or do you prefer to argue that they represent harmless escapism? Don’t simply choose the side with which you agree. Let the examples and your own knowledge and background dictate which side you support.
For example, someone with a lot of knowledge about psychology may argue persuasively that exposure to violence leads to increased violent behavior in children, whereas a history buff may put forth that violence as entertainment has historically always been a normal part of human expression. You will not be scored on your opinion, but on how clearly and forcefully you make and defend your argument. Choose one or two main points based on your own knowledge, and then choose specific examples from your brainstorm list to support your conclusions.
To score well on the GMAT, you’ll have to impress the readers with your essay’s content, structure, style. We’ve heard quite a bit about content and structure: have a clear argument, provide concrete examples, build your essay like a hamburger, etc. What about style, a.k.a. writing well? What does that even mean? To start with the obvious, writing “well” means the difference between saying “writing good” and “writing well”–in other words, grammar. To be honest, though, you could write a perfectly grammatical essay with concrete examples and clear focus, and it still might not cut it. Check out this example below:
“The Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century had both negative and positive consequences. The Industrial Revolution caused child labor and poor working conditions. The Industrial Revolution then led to reforms that amended these injustices.”
Clearly, this short paragraph is not written well. But, how can that be? The sentences are grammatical, the information is factual, the writing is clear, and the vocabulary is apt. The problem is sentence variation.
Varying sentence structure often comes naturally to many writers; after all, we certainly do not talk in the manner of the Industrial Revolution paragraph. In my example, each sentence begins with the same subject, “The Industrial Revolution,” and each sentence has the exact same subject-verb construction, which makes reading laborious and tiresome. If you notice that you tend to repeat sentence structures when you write, try getting used to inverting or rewording the sentence.
For example, look at these two sentences which have the same structure:
“People rarely observe grammar rules when speaking because not all grammar rules are conducive to clear communication. People just say what they mean instead of carefully crafting sentences.”
Notice that, like our earlier example, the writing is unnecessarily repetitive. What options do we have for inverting the sentences?
Sentence 1: People rarely observe grammar rules when speaking because not all grammar rules are conducive to clear communication.
Inversion: Because not all grammar rules are conducive to clear communication, people rarely observe grammar rules when speaking.
Sentence 2: People just say what they mean instead of carefully crafting sentences.
Inversion: Instead of carefully crafting sentences, people just say what they mean.
To improve sentence variation, just change one of the sentences to its inversion.
Option 1: People rarely observe grammar rules when speaking because not all grammar rules are conducive to clear communication. Instead of carefully crafting sentences, people just say what they mean.
Option 2: Because not all grammar rules are conducive to clear communication, people rarely observe grammar rules when speaking. People just say what they mean instead of carefully crafting sentences.
Notice that both options sound significantly better than the original, though the exact same clauses are used. Sentence inversion is one very simple way to improve sentence variation. When you write or even when you read, try inverting the sentences to see what combinations you can come up with. Remember, trust your ear! If a certain phrasing sounds like an improvement, it probably is.