How To Improve Essay Writing In Gmat

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.

Introductory paragraph:

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. 

Concluding paragraph:

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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Ace the Essays? No, Thanks!

By: Stacey Koprince

We all know that the essays on the GMAT are scored separately and that the schools don’t care as much about the essay scores. We also know we have to write the essays first, before we get to the more important quant and verbal sections, so we don’t want to use up too much brain-power on the essays. Still, we can’t just bomb the essay section; the schools do care about the essays somewhat. So how do we do a good enough job on the essays without expending so much energy that we’re negatively affected during the multiple-choice portion of the test?

We need to develop a template, an organizational framework on which to “hang” our writing. The template will not, of course, tell us exactly what to write. For that, we need the actual essay prompt, which we won’t see until we take the test. We can, however, determine how to organize the information ahead of time, as well as the general kinds of messages we need to convey at various points throughout.

The template should tell us:

  • how many paragraphs to use
  • the primary purpose of each of those paragraphs
  • the kinds of information that need to be conveyed in each paragraph

The template will vary a little bit from person to person; the important thing is to have a consistent template for yourself that you’ve worked out in advance of the official test. In addition, we will need slightly different templates for the two different kinds of essays, so take note of the differences below.

As a general rule, essays should have either four or five paragraphs total. The first paragraph is always the introduction, the last paragraph is always the conclusion, and the body (middle) paragraphs are for the examples we choose to use.

Each paragraph should contain certain things; these are listed in the below sections. The information does not need to be presented in the given order below, though; just make sure that each paragraph does contain the necessary information in some sort of clear and logical order. In addition, the information listed below is the minimum necessary info; you can certainly add more where appropriate.

First Paragraph

  • summarize the issue
  • state a thesis
  • acknowledge that the other side does have some merit
  • introduce your examples

The first paragraph should contain a brief summary of the issue at hand in your own words (don't just repeat what the essay prompt said). For an Argument essay, briefly summarize the conclusion of the given argument. For the Issue essay, briefly summarize the issue upon which the prompt has asked you to convey your opinion. For either, you don’t need more than a one to two sentence summary.

The first paragraph should also contain a thesis statement. The thesis is typically one sentence and conveys to the reader your overall message or point for the essay that you wrote. For the Argument essay, you can write most of your thesis sentence before you get to the test! You already know that the Argument will contain flaws, and that you will be discussing how those flaws hurt the author’s conclusion. Guess what? That’s your thesis!

“While the argument does have some merit, there are several serious flaws which serve to undermine the validity of the author’s conclusion that XYZ.”

DON’T USE THAT EXACT SENTENCE. They’re going to get suspicious if hundreds of people use the same sentence. (Besides, that’s my sentence. Come up with your own!)

Note the opening clause: “While the argument does have some merit.” This is what’s called “acknowledging the other side.” We don’t say, “Hey, your argument is completely terrible! There’s nothing good about it at all!” We acknowledge that some parts may be okay, or some people may feel differently, but our position is that the flaws are the most important issue (that is, our thesis is the most important thing).

On the Issue essay, you won’t be able to write your thesis statement ahead of time, but you do know you’ll have to do two things: (1) establish one clear position for yourself and (2) acknowledge the other side. (“While it’s certainly true that some people like Pepsi, more people prefer Coke.”)

Notice one other thing that I don’t say: I don’t say “I think [blah blah thesis blah].” I state my thesis as though it is fact and reasonable people surely agree with me. That’s a hallmark of a persuasive essay.

Finally, the first paragraph needs to introduce whatever examples we’re going to use in the body paragraphs below. Don’t launch into the examples fully; that will come later.

Body Paragraphs

You can choose to use either 2 or 3 body paragraphs. (I use 2 body paragraphs, personally. Remember, we just need to be “good enough!”)

Argument essay:

  • introduce one flaw
  • explain why it is a flaw
  • suggest ways to fix the flaw

Issue essay

  • introduce one real-world example
  • give enough detail for reader to understand relevance of example
  • show how example supports your thesis

The body of an essay is where we support our thesis statement. For the argument essay, your support will come from the prompt itself: brainstorm several flaws from the argument (try to find the biggest, most glaring flaws). Each flaw gets its own paragraph, so you’ll need either two or three, depending upon how many body paragraphs you want to write. Explicitly explain why this flaw makes the conclusion less valid in some way, and then discuss how the author might fix that flaw.

For example, let’s say that an argument claims that firing half of a company’s employees will help the company to reduce costs and therefore become more profitable. While it’s certainly true that chopping half of your payroll will reduce costs, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the company will become more profitable! That loss of personnel may reduce productivity, hurt morale of the remaining employees, and so on. The author of such an argument could bolster the claim by, for example, showing evidence that half of the employees are fully redundant and firing them wouldn’t affect the company adversely (if such evidence actually exists, of course!).

For the issue essay, your support will come from your brain: you’ll have to brainstorm some real-life example (something that actually happened in the past) in order to support your thesis. That example could be something from your own life (work history, school, friend of a friend) or from the broader world (business, history, and so on). Stating that Coke’s market share is higher than Pepsi’s, for example, would bolster your claim that more people prefer Coke.

There is no inherent advantage to a personal example versus a broader world example, but if you use a personal example, be sure to provide enough detail that the reader can understand the relevance. When you use real-world examples that the readers are likely to know, you don’t have to worry about, for example, explaining what Coke and Pepsi are.

Finally, make sure to tie your example specifically back to your original thesis. Don’t make the reader connect the dots: tell him or her exactly how this example supports your thesis.

Conclusion Paragraph

  • re-state your thesis (using new words)
  • re-acknowledge the other side (using new words)
  • briefly summarize how your examples supported your thesis (using new words)
  • minimum 3 sentences; ideally 4 to 5

Are you noticing a theme within the above bullet points? Basically, the conclusion paragraph isn’t going to contain much new information. It’s a conclusion; the major points should already have been made earlier in the essay. What you’re doing now is tying everything together in one neat package: yes, the “other side” has some merit, but here’s my point-of-view and, by the way, I proved my case using these examples.

Before you go into the real test, you should have a fully developed template, so that all you have to do is come up with your two examples and your thesis statement, and then “hang” your words on your framework. Practice with the above as a starting point until you develop something with which you’re comfortable. Don’t forget to leave some time to proof your essay; it’s okay to have a few typos, but systematic errors will lower your score.

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