GMAT AWA (Analytical Writing Assessment) Guide

March 4, 2016

What is the GMAT AWA (Analytical Writing Assessment)?

The GMAT AWA (Analytical Writing Assessment) is the first exam in the three-and-a-half hour GMAT exam. Contrary to popular belief, the 30-minute exam does not focus on your English writing skills alone, but even more importantly, on your critical reasoning skills. Although the GMAT AWA score does not affect your overall GMAT score, schools still care about them. They also have access to read the actual GMAT AWA essay you wrote in addition to your score. Some top programs such as MIT Sloan will read the actual essay, as they believe that the GMAT AWA has a higher correlation to your future academic performance and professional/career success than the other parts of the GMAT exam.

If you are interested in learning more about the other GMAT sections, I have previously written a guide on the GMAT Verbal section that provides high-level tips and strategies that you can read .

GMAT AWA Score Range

The score ranges from 0 to 6 and goes up by intervals of 0.5. Below is a table that breaks down the full range of the score:

Score Percentile Analysis
0 0% This is impossible to get unless you leave it empty
0.5 3% It is unlikely that you would score this poorly unless you don’t write much and have little knowledge of written English.
2.5 5% This range is better, but not adequate for the requirements of business schools.
3 6%
3.5 13%
4 21% This is generally the minimum score that business schools require
4.5 44% A safe average score
5 60% A strong score
5.5 81% A great score
6 92% Excellent score

As a general guideline, we recommend our students to score at least a 4.5 on their GMAT AWA.

GMAT AWA Essay Evaluation Factors

As mentioned, GMAC evaluates your AWA score based on two components in general: critical reasoning skills and writing skills. The AWA section includes a quoted stimulus of the argument given and a question below the stimulus. The following are the directions given before the stimulus argument.

GMAT AWA Instructions

In the ‘Evaluation of Your Response’ section, the first two bullet points refer to your critical reasoning skills, whereas the last bullet point refer to your English writing skills. Of the two skills, the critical reasoning skills are more likely to impact your score. You should therefore focus more on how well you present your argument (macro) than on the linguistic parts (micro) like grammar, spelling.

Standard Written English (Micro)

There are a couple of things to pay attention to here. First rule of thumb is to avoid using contractions (don’t, I’m, can’t, I’ll, etc.). The second rule of thumb is to use as many complex sentences as possible; if you use simple sentences consistently you are probably not going to score high on the English language or micro aspect. The third rule of thumb is variation. You should vary your vocabulary and phrases. Make sure to avoid using the same words and phrases over and over again. Last but not least, always communicate clearly. A few minor grammatical mistakes can be looked over as long as people reading your essay understand clearly what you are trying to communicate.

Strategy for Presenting Your Argument (Macro)

The main task of the GMAT AWA is to evaluate a stimulus argument taken from random sources (newspapers, magazines, reports, newsletters, etc). Below is an example of a stimulus argument.

GMAT AWA Stimulus Argument

A good strategy to tackle the GMAT AWA is to analyze the stimulus argument just like how you would for Critical Reasoning questions from the GMAT Verbal. Instead of picking an answer from a multiple-choice question however, you are writing an essay about it. If you are interested in learning more about the Critical Reasoning part of the GMAT Verbal, you can read this other article I wrote .

The following are the steps to break down the stimulus argument:

  1. Identify what they are using as evidence and what claim they are making.
  1. Identify the flaws of their reasoning – there is always a flaw to the reasoning. You need to think of ways in which the claim is unsupported by the evidence given or what sort of evidence would prove the claim wrong. Ideally, you should try to brainstorm three different arguments that point out the flaws of the stimulus. However, if you are having difficulty coming up with three arguments, at least come up with two.
  1. Create an outline of your arguments. In general you should have three sections:
  • Introduction
    Prepare a general introduction – explain what the claim is and write what big flaw you find, especially in the use of the evidence.
  • Body
    You can include your arguments in this section. An easy way, but not the only way, to do this is to put each argument that you came up with during your brainstorming session into one paragraph. The rule of thumb is that one paragraph should only convey one idea or point with its supporting arguments.
  • Conclusion/concluding remark
    Prepare a general concluding remark. It can be as short as 1-2 sentences to wrap up about how the claim is flawed and what would have made it better.

GMAT AWA Essay Template

The following outline is a possible GMAT AWA template that you can follow to at least earn an average score. Following this template will also save you a lot of time.

  • Introduction
    In the argument, the … argued that … . This argument is flawed because/as…
  • Body
    • Paragraph 2 – your first argument
      First, the argument/claim does not/is not…
    • Paragraph 3 – your second argument
      Second, the evidence/argument
    • Paragraph 4 – your third argument
      Finally, the argument fails to/omits…
  • Conclusion
    The argument is not sound/persuasive/convincing since/as it does not/fails to… . It could have been more persuasive/ convincing if….

Time management

Managing time is critical since you only have 30 minutes. Here’s a suggestion how you might allocate those 30 minutes:

  1. Reading and brainstorming: ~5 minutes
  2. Creating an outline: ~3 minutes
  3. Writing: 15-20 minutes
  4. Review: ~3 minutes

Good luck and please share to others that might find this GMAT AWA guide helpful.

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