The GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) provides clear instructions on how you should plan and write your essay. Kaplan students learn these instructions long before Test Day and do not waste precious testing time reading them while the clock ticks.
Kaplan GMAT students learn the Kaplan Method for AWA and the Kaplan template for structuring the essay into paragraphs. These tips accompany those lessons and help make the AWA task make sense.
The AWA instructions are divided into segments, and the segment many test-takers overlook is that of the “directions”—which on the official GMAT read as follows: “In this section, you will be asked to write a critique of the argument presented. You are NOT being asked to present your own views on the subject.”
A critique is an objective criticism of the argument in the prompt. Including your opinion would be providing a subjective analysis, which is not the point of analytical writing.
So how should your objective critique be constructed? Because one of the hallmarks of a standardized test is the repetition of patterns across test administrations, you can rest assured that your Test Day AWA prompt will follow the pattern described here. The instructions will be the same, the argument presented in the prompt will contain familiar flaws, and as a result, you will be able to plan how you will fit the necessary pieces together in your essay.
Every GMAT AWA argument comprises a conclusion and pieces of evidence, just like GMAT Critical Reasoning (CR) questions. For both AWA and CR, the gaps between those pieces of evidence and the conclusion must be bridged by an assumption; in CR you look for the central assumption upon which the argument relies, and in AWA you will identify multiple assumptions.
Your critique of the argument will discuss the flaws you identify in its reasoning. A common mistake is to equate assumptions with flaws. However, it is fine for an argument to rest on an assumption, provided that assumption is logical and/or supported by evidence. For GMAT AWA arguments, the flaw is always the same: the conclusion rests on assumptions that the provided evidence does not support.
That consistent pattern provides you with your thesis statement; “The author’s argument is flawed because it is based on assumptions for which she does not provide sufficient supporting evidence.” Boom—done.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. This thesis statement also serves as an appropriate conclusion. By definition, a thesis statement provides a summary of the main point of the essay. Remember that the conclusion of any passage, argument, claim, or essay can be found by asking, “What’s the point?” So once you’ve crafted that thesis statement, shuffle the language a bit and you have a conclusion.
Here’s an example intro paragraph from a sample analytical writing essay: “The author concludes that the current problem of poorly trained teachers will soon be remedied. As evidence he describes a state proposal that will require teachers to take courses in education and psychology prior to being certified. However, this argument is flawed because its conclusion relies on assumptions for which the author does not supply supporting evidence.”
Notice that thesis statement at the end of the first paragraph. Now, take a look at the concluding statement of the same sample essay: “In its current state, the argument relies too heavily on unsupported assumptions to be convincing.”
If you prefer to have a two-sentence conclusion, you can add, “Without additional supporting evidence, the conclusion cannot be accepted.” And there you have one solid point—your thesis—that serves two purposes.
So remember your analytical writing directions: objective critique, no opinion. The “point” of your essay must be objective, critical, and correct, and once you’ve identified this thesis statement, you also have a conclusion ready to go.
Your AWA essay should have a formal, confident tone. You have dissected the argument and are now presenting your objective findings. So, say what you mean using strong language. Consider the following sentences:
I believe this argument is flawed because it is overly dependent on spurious assumptions that lack evidence.
This argument is overly dependent on unsupported assumptions and is therefore flawed.
Third-person pronouns (he, she, one) are appropriate in a GMAT essay. First- (I, we, us) and second-person (you) are inappropriate; in fact, unnecessary self-reference (I believe) is part of what makes the first example above less effective than the second. This is a form of qualification that diminishes the strength of your point.
Qualifying language includes descriptors (adjectives and adverbs) and verbs that “soften” the edge of a statement. The phrases “somewhat vague” and “rather wordy” have a softer impact than simply saying “vague” or “wordy.” Avoid these qualifiers in your GMAT essay:
- pretty (as in pretty much)
- might be (as opposed to is/are)
- may be (as opposed to is/are)
This is not an absolute list, and these words are not totally off-limits. But be sure to use purposeful words and avoid unnecessary qualification.
Using active verbs and avoiding qualifiers automatically makes your writing concise. Say what you mean in as few words as possible. Consider the following sentences:
The manager seems to be assuming that the fact that there is a hamburger restaurant next to his particular video store is somehow causing that store to have higher sales volume and revenue than other outlets in the video store chain.
The manager assumes the proximity of a hamburger restaurant to his video store positively impacts that store’s sales.
Remember that graders read hundreds and hundreds of essays, and they spend just a minute or so reading each one. You want the grader to see your points right away, so don’t crowd your essay with unnecessary descriptors. Remember how the correct Sentence Correction answer is usually the shortest one (and the one that avoids -ing verbs)? Concision is underrated in daily life, but it is prized in writing a GMAT essay.
Graders can tell whether you had a plan before you started typing, so spend time planning before you write. If you break down the argument, decide on your points, and arrange your ideas into paragraphs when the clock starts, then you will have written a polished AWA essay before 30 minutes elapse.
Remember that formal writing is much more structured than texts and speech. We use sentence fragments for emphasis when speaking, but they are not OK on the GMAT (ikr?)—so, be sure to use complete sentences with proper punctuation and no abbreviations. Consider the following sentence:
The auther assumes that teachers math skills are not up to par when the the problem might be with their teaching style. Or their training.
Save at least 2 minutes to proofread your essay. Had I actually typed the above sentence in an essay, I’d have spotted and corrected the errors upon proofreading: The author assumes that teachers’ math skills are not up to par; she does not consider whether the [deleted extra the] problem is with their teaching style or training.
The essay should read like a solid first draft; it does not need to be absolutely perfect. Remember that an imperfect essay can earn a perfect score. Perfection is not required here.
Now that I’ve given you a checklist of style tips to use on the Analytical Writing Assessment, my final point is that you must remember to be yourself. Use language you are comfortable with and trust your own voice. Do not try to write as if you were someone else. You know what you’re doing, so just do it—say what you mean with strong, correct, concise language and move on to the more important parts of the GMAT.
Jennifer Mathews Land has taught for Kaplan since 2009. She prepares students to take the GMAT, GRE, ACT, and SAT and was named Kaplan’s Alabama-Mississippi Teacher of the Year in 2010. Prior to joining Kaplan, she worked as a grad assistant in a university archives, a copy editor for medical web sites, and a dancing dinosaur at children’s parties. Jennifer holds a PhD and a master’s in library and information studies (MLIS) from the University of Alabama, and an AB in English from Wellesley College. When she isn’t teaching, she enjoys watching Alabama football and herding cats.