If you are planning to apply to business schools to pursue an MBA or other business degree, then you know you will have to take the GMAT to be considered for admission. One section of the GMAT that many students struggle with is the GMAT Analytical writing assessment. It can be especially difficult for non-native English-speaking students.
In this guide, we will help you understand the key aspects of GMAT prep to help you write the best essay for your exam. We will help you discover the inside secrets that the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) uses to create and grade this essay.
GMAT Analytical Writing Section: An Overview
The GMAT analytical writing assessment (AWA) essay will test your ability to provide an analysis of an argument, evaluate evidence in the argument, and write an essay choosing to be for or against the given argument.
Business schools look at the essay portion of your exam to determine if you have the skills to enter an MBA program.
Whether you argue for or against in your essay, it will not affect your score. You will need to be able to identify how the argument is flawed and what changes in the argument can be used in your essay.
You may need to consider what sort of evidence would weaken the conclusion.
You should also be able to think about what explanations or counterexamples might help you make your argument. This can be a tough essay, so we recommend studying for it extensively before you take the GMAT.
What to Expect From the GMAT AWA Essay Question
Your GMAT essay will be graded by both a human and a computer. Both of these graders will be looking for key factors within your writing to ensure that you understand the question.
A great GMAT AWA Analysis of an Argument essay will be logically sound, concise, and cover all of the important facts. But, what should you expect from the AWA question?
You will only have 30 minutes to read the directions, make an outline, and write your essay. These essay questions were not designed to have extremely long responses.
In fact, there is no word count requirement for the AWA section of the GMAT. You should be prepared when you enter the testing center to write quickly and efficiently. You should practice writing and timing yourself using practice essay questions.
You can give yourself an advantage on the GMAT by reading and understanding the directions before you go in to take the exam. You can spend less time reading the directions and more time writing.
For the AWA section, the directions will explain that you are expected to write a critique of the argument presented. Keep in mind, you are not being asked to present your thoughts on the argument. 
Some of the key factors in the instructions explain that you should plan and develop ideas fully and provide relevant supporting reasons. It also reminds you to use standard written English for your writing.
How is the GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment Scored?
The AWA score is calculated on a scale of 0 to 6 in half-point increments. The AWA template shows that they score your essay by looking at a few key factors. Your essay score will be based on the quality of ideas, organization, writing style, and grammar.
The analytical writing assessment will not affect your overall GMAT score. It shows up as a separate column on your score report.
Business schools will still look at your overall GMAT and your AWA score when considering your application. The two scores will make up your overall GMAT score report.
GMAT AWA essays are scored by a computer first. The GMAT algorithm will give you a score based on how well your essay follows the protocol.
An essay grader will also grade your essay, and the two scores will be averaged to give you your final AWA score. If there is more than a one-point discrepancy in the computer and grader score, then a third grader will come in to score your essay.
The average score on the analytical writing assessment is 4.37 out of all test takers. Almost half of all GMAT test-takers score a 5 or above. A perfect score of 6 is in the 88th percentile.
“Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.”
– Edward Everett
GMAT Analytical Writing: Tips and Guidelines
Recognize Assumptions in an Argument
One of the most critical skills that would help you better evaluate and write your essay is the ability to recognize assumptions in an argument. The GMAT analytical writing questions are all very similar, so you can understand the GMAT pattern beforehand. Every argument will have a starting premise, a conclusion, and assumptions.
An assumption is a missing link between the premise and conclusion. You need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking or line of reasoning in the argument.
You should be prepared to discuss how well reasoned you find the argument. The underlying assumptions would strengthen or refute the conclusion.
Understand the Directions
As we discussed previously, you should understand the direction before you go in to take the exam. When reading the discussion, be sure to analyze and read carefully.
We recommend reading the directions multiple times before you take the real GMAT exam. Always remember that you are not supposed to give your input about the argument when writing. We recommend trying to be as neutral as possible when writing your essay.
Understand Common Flaws
There are a few common flaws that frequently show up in AWA essay prompts. We will outline a few of them here, so you can understand how the prompts will test your ability to exhibit critical thinking skills.
One of the most common flaws of AWA prompts is vague words. If you see vague words, such as “some”, “more”, or “less”, then you can be sure there is an underlying assumption within the argument.
You should search for alternative explanations or counterexamples to make this assumption apparent. Those counterexamples might weaken the argument in your discussion.
Another issue with AWA prompts is errors in causality. Sometimes a prompt will suggest causality in a relationship. If you can spot the possible errors in causality, then you might weaken the conclusion of the statement.
Learn How to Argue in Writing
This might be the biggest example of how to score well on an AWA essay. Many people can argue vocally, but it is much harder to get your argument down on paper. You should be able to carefully identify flaws in the AWA prompt, which will allow you to better evaluate its conclusion for flaws.
Analyze the line of reasoning in a given argument for its reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, if you find this argument to contain errors in assumptions, then you should be considering what evidence would support or refute the argument. You should consider the following points:
- In the argument, what changes would make it more logically sound? Discuss what sort of argument would strengthen or weaken the conclusion.
- Think of an example you may need to help you state your case.
- What evidence would establish a critical line of thinking and what alternative examples can you use?
- What evidence would strengthen my argument but weaken theirs?
Make an Outline
You should take a few minutes during the AWA section to plan and make an outline of what you will write. It does not have to be a very in-depth outline, but you should have a clear structure in place.
This will also help you save time while writing your essay. Even if you just make a few simple notes, anything would help establish a plan for your essay.
Use Variety and Proper Grammar
The GMAT AWA essay will test your ability to use proper English grammar in your writing. If you have a lot of grammatical errors in your essay, you will lose points.
You should also try to use variety in your writing. We recommend using a mix of independent and dependent clauses that show a variety of word choices.
We recommend spending 2 or 3 minutes proofreading when you are done with your essay. You should check for misspelled words and grammatical mistakes, which can happen when you are writing quickly. You should practice proofreading essays before you take the exam to ensure you have a grasp of how to check errors.
GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment: The Takeaways
In this guide, we have given you a thorough breakdown of the GMAT analytical writing essay question. You should now be armed with all the useful tools to help you get the best score possible on this section of the test. We have provided you with insider secrets from the GMAC to help you succeed and be prepared for anything on test day.
We recommend using official AWA practice questions to write essays before your exam. You should time yourself to ensure you are able to keep up with the pacing of the GMAT.