See an ideal GMAT AWA essay example.
In the previous post, I demonstrated some brainstorming and identified six objections to this argument. I then selected three of them as the basis of the essay that follows. This is one way to go about writing the essay.
In a memo to the president of Omega University, the music department chair argued that the university should expand the music-therapy program. This argument is substantially flawed. The argument presents inconclusive information, offering dubious support, and from this draws unreasonably far-reaching conclusions.
First main paragraph:
The evidence cited involves ambiguous language. For example, the argument asserts that the symptoms of mental illness are “less pronounced” after a group music-therapy sessions. Of course, calm music will have a soothing effect on almost anyone, but can this be considered a legitimate treatment for the mentally ill? Presumably, the benefits of music therapy are neither as powerful nor as long-lasting as those of appropriate medications. Simply by making the claim that symptoms are “less pronounced”, the author has failed to indicate whether the improvement is significant enough to merit any serious investment in this new field. The music chair also cites an “increase” in job openings in the field of music-therapy. This is another unfortunately indefinite word. The word “increase” might mean that music-therapy is a wildly burgeoning new field, although nothing suggests that this is the case. Alternately, the word “increase” might denote, for example, a rise from 60 jobs nationwide last year to 70 this year — admittedly, this is an increase, although a change across such small numbers hardly would be large enough to warrant any major modifications in a university’s programs.
Second main paragraph:
Having presented such questionable evidence, the music chair then draws a grand sweeping conclusion: the graduates of the university’s program will have “no trouble” finding jobs in this field. Quite rare is the combination of a vibrant professional field and a thriving economy, such that applicants entering this field have “no trouble” finding a job. Even if there is a plethora of jobs in this mental health niche, how do we know that these jobs would go to recent graduates of Omega University? Surely practitioners with years of experience, or recent graduates of more prestigious universities, would be preferred for such positions. Even interpreting the questionable evidence in its most optimistic light, we hardly can expect that this one field will explode with employment possibilities for Omega graduates. This conclusion is far too strong, and therefore the request for funding is not well justified.
Third main paragraph:
This music-therapy program is already in existence, so presumably it has already had graduates leave Omega University in pursuit of employment. Evidence that all these recent music-therapy graduates found robust job possibilities waiting for them would enormously strengthen the argument. Curiously, the music-director is silent on this issue. If we knew the employment statistics of these recent graduates, these numbers would help us to evaluate this argument better.
Fourth main paragraph:
The music chair draws another untenably strong conclusion when he asserts that expanding this program will “help improve the financial status of Omega University.” When alumni of a university make millions or even billions, and choose to give back in substantial amounts to their alma mater, that undoubtedly strengthens the financial standing of a university. We don’t know the specifics of jobs in music-therapy, but their salaries most certainly do not rival those of hedge fund managers; mental health services are clearly not a field in which practitioners routinely amass remarkable wealth. Even if the graduates of music-therapy had relatively good job prospects, which is doubtful, having a few more alumni with middle-class to upper-middle class incomes, who, if they choose, may make some modest contributions to, say, the university’s annual fund — this is not an impactful issue in the overall balance sheet of university’s total budget. The claim that these alumni will substantially improve the “financial status” of the university is hyperbolically overstated.
This argument is neither sound nor persuasive. The music director has failed to convey any compelling reasons for Omega University to expand the music-therapy program in his department.
This is a particular long and thorough sample essay, but it gives you an idea of what it takes to get a 6. In line with the AWA directions, notice that I organized, developed, and expressed my ideas about the argument presented. I provided relevant supporting reasons and examples — i.e. I didn’t just say, “This is bad,” but I provided a cogent and reasoned critique. Finally, I “controlled” the elements of standard written English: that is to say, (a) I made no spelling or grammar mistakes, (b) I used a wide vocabulary (not repeating any single word too much), and (c) I varied the sentence structure (employing subordinate clauses, parallelism, infinitive phrases, participial phrases, substantive clauses, etc.) As you write practice essays, check yourself afterwards: is every grammatical form commonly tests on GMAT Sentence Correction present in your practice essay? That is an excellent standard to use.
How important is it to get a 6 for the AWA? How important is the AWA section on the GMAT? As I discuss in that post, the AWA is clearly the least important part of the GMAT, less important than either IR or Quantitative or Verbal, but you can’t neglect it entirely. This sample essay should give you an idea of the standard for which to strive on the Analytical Writing Analysis.
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GMAT Essay (a.k.a GMAT AWA) Tips: How to Start Strong!
The GMAT Essay, also called the GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment, or AWA, appears at the very beginning of the GMAT. The essay requires you to read a short argument and make a written analysis of the argument. This opening GMAT task has a 30 minute time limit.
Doing well on the essay helps you to “start strong” on the GMAT. If you can complete this first task with minimal stress, you can then go on to the rest of the test confidently. And the best way to start strong on the whole GMAT is to start your essay well. Write a good introduction, and the rest of the essay will flow very naturally.
As I mentioned, for the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) on the GMAT, students are presented with an argument and are asked to evaluate it. Students need to break down the argument, point out weaknesses and gaps in the reasoning and examples, and suggest ways to improve the argument. All this needs to be accomplished in thirty minutes.
In order to write an effective essay in thirty minutes, I recommend walking into the test with a meaty skeleton of an introduction so that you can get to what really matters—the body paragraphs. Let me show you what I mean.
Keep it Pithy
Your introduction should not be long. Encyclopedic texts require long introductions; thirty-minute essays require a short introduction. An effective introduction need only be a few sentences. My introduction for this article was only three sentences and I recommend that you aim for around that length in your AWA essay.
Identify Where the Passage is From
This is a simple step that many students skip. The very first sentence, before the argument, tells us where the argument is from. This is important information because it provides context for the argument, and it gives us language to use in our essay. You don’t want to talk about the argument generally. You want to know who wrote the argument, who the audience of the argument is, and where it appeared.
Only Two Things to Do
In the introduction, you really have only two tasks—summarize the argument and state that the argument is weak. You always want to paraphrase and summarize the argument—never copy it word for word. This will help you to synthesize the argument and understand it. And you can even limit this summary to the conclusion. You’ll end up discussing the premises in your body paragraphs when you talk about weaknesses so no need to worry about them in the introduction.
Every argument you see on the test will be flawed and have weakness. So this is the perfect sentence to re-use during your practice and on test day. No reason to have something new each time. Find a sentence you like and memorize it.
Don’t repeat the same idea, but you should repeat phrases and even entire sentences every time you write a new essay. There is no reason to reinvent something that works. The graders won’t know how many times you recycled a phrase or sentence so make it a point to repeat yourself from essay to essay.
Here are some possible sentences to end your introduction:
- “This plan is likely to fail due to flaws in the reasoning and logic of the editorial.”
- “This remedy is unlikely to be successful due to flaws in reasoning.”
- “This argument contains some egregious flaws in reasoning making the conclusion doubtful.”
- “The success of this recommendation is doubtful considering the logical flaws and faulty assumptions on which it is based.”
Find your own sentence and use it every time you write an essay.
Let’s try to make these suggestions more tangible. I have pulled an argument from the list of arguments that could appear on the test. All argument prompts for the AWA are made available so this is the perfect place to practice.
The following appeared as part of an editorial in the Waymarsh city newspaper:
“Last year the parents of first graders in our school district expressed satisfaction with the reading skills their children developed but complained strongly about their children’s math skills. To remedy this serious problem and improve our district’s elementary education, everyone in the teacher-training program at Waymarsh University should be required to take more courses in mathematics.”
The editorial that appeared in the Waymarsh city Newspaper claims that the best way to improve math education in first grade in the school district is to require students in the teacher-training program at Waymarsh University to take more courses in mathematics. This plan is likely to fail due to flaws in the reasoning and logic of the editorial.
In this introduction, every thing that needs to be said has been said. The grader can read this introduction quickly, knows that I have read the editorial and that I understand the fundamental claim of the argument, and knows what I will talk about in my body paragraphs. There is really nothing else that needs to be there.
The editorial that appeared in the Waymarsh city Newspaper pointed out that parents were upset about their children’s math skills. To correct this issue, the editorial recommends that students in the teacher-training program at Waymarsh University take more courses in mathematics. This remedy is unlikely to be successful due to flaws in reasoning.
This introduction is similar to the previous one, but summarizes the whole editorial and not just the conclusion. But it still maintains the same logic and organization—summarize and then state that it’s flawed.
An essay with a score of four or higher is not that way because of the introduction. A strong essay is strong because it identifies the most damaging flaws and analyzes the gaps in logic. It recommends ways to improve the argument and uses relevant examples to illustrate why something is flawed. All of this happens in the body paragraphs—not in the introduction or conclusion. So don’t fuss about the introduction. Keep it concise and move past it quickly so that you can spend more time in the heart of your essay—the paragraphs that analyze the argument in your body.
For more GMAT AWA strategies, check out my posts on organizing a body paragraph and writing a conclusion!
And in case you’re wondering just how important the AWA is in business school admissions, we have thoughts on that too.
Happy studying! 🙂