The AWA is the portion of the GMAT in which you will be asked to respond to a written prompt in the form of an argument that you must analyze and critique. You have half an hour in which to respond to a brief paragraph or two detailing an argument that typically consists of a plan, proposal, or conclusion and supporting evidence. Although the score you receive for the AWA does not factor into your overall scaled score of 200-800, it is nonetheless a factor in the application process, since the AWA allows business schools to evaluate your proficiency as a writer. After your essay has been processed and assessed by both a human grader and a computer (or as put by mba.com, “automated essay-scoring engine”), you will receive the average of the two scores (provided they occur within one point of one another; if not, your essay will be re-evaluated), with a maximum score of 6 possible. Herewith, a few tips to help you get through the AWA with ease.
First, keep in mind you are not writing for a university course; you are writing specifically to garner yourself an admirable score on the GMAT. What this means in practical terms is that you want to keep your arguments very clear and precise, cogent and straight-forward. The AWA is not the occasion to experiment with style or metaphor, nor is it the place to practice automatic or stream-of-consciousness writing. You must take a position – and this position will invariably be that the argument is flawed – outline the best defense for this position, and then articulate that defense as concisely and persuasively as possible in the time given. While it is not the case that errors in grammar or spelling are guaranteed to sabotage your score, at the point at which these errors interfere with the communication of your message, your score will certainly reflect that. (Incidentally, preparing for the Sentence Correction portion of the test affords an excellent opportunity to brush up on some fundamentals of grammar.) Bottom line: only a student banking on not doing as well as possible on the AWA will fail to practice the essay well in advance of the exam, carefully allowing several minutes at the end of each attempt for proof-reading and revising wherever necessary. It’s amazing what a difference even a few minutes make!
Next, it is worth remembering that, although the length of your essay most definitely does affect your overall score (more support for your argument always translates to a better score), repetition or redundancy will have a deleterious effect. Thus, it is absolutely essential that you brainstorm and map out the points you plan to make in the body of your essay in advance, so you can ensure that you establish the logic of your response as clearly as you can. It is simply impossible to over-emphasize the importance of clarity in determining your score.
In formulating your critique of the argument in the prompt, you should bear in mind that there is no shortage of flaws within the argument. Listing all the flaws you can during your brainstorming phase will enable you to locate those most central and salient. You can keep an eye out for certain failures in logic that recur again and again on the AWA. (Know that many of these errors in reasoning are rife on the Critical Reasoning section as well.) For example, the assumptions implicit within any argument will determine its viability, and your ability to pull out and challenge these assumptions will illustrate your understanding. Confusing correlation for causation is a common trope, as is confusing percent with actual value. Learning these and other basics and practicing as many times as possible in advance of the test can only help you get the most out of the AWA.