Five Steps to Getting a 6 on Your GMAT Essays (sponsored by

by Vault Education Editors | June 25, 2009

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While many argue that your essays on the GMAT are meaningless, don’t forget that the essays can be a determining factor in the increasingly competitive admissions process. An extremely low score could set off flags, and raise doubts about your ability to complete graduate work. Additionally, admissions officers will use your GMAT essay as a check on your personal statements, to make sure they were authored by the same person.

1. Have an opinion. In both Analysis of an Issue and Analysis of an Argument essays, it is important to pick a side in the intro/thesis and argue it persuasively throughout.

2. Organize. And then don’t deviate. Shoot for the time-honored five paragraph model of Intro-Body-Body-Body-Conclusion. This template should help you organize your thoughts. Again, this is not the only way to do it, but it is perhaps the method that essay readers find most appealing.

3. Pick relevant and eclectic examples to back up your thesis. Each body paragraph should be about one (and only one) of the talking points.

4. Don’t relax come conclusion time. Many students will bail out of their essays at the end—and dash off only a sentence or two as the last paragraph. Hang in there and write a substantial conclusion. Restate the thesis in the conclusion, but introduce the thoughts in a new way—and make it at least three sentences. Remember, your conclusion is the last thing the reader will see before giving you a score.

5. Proofread. Scorers (both human and computer) will focus a trained eye on your grammar and syntax.

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Here is an example of a student essay that earned the score of 6. Take a few moments to read it over. Below we will break down exactly how and why the piece was able to receive this score.

Prompt: When someone achieves greatness in any field—such as the arts, science, politics, or business—that person’s achievements are more important than any of his or her personal faults.

When individuals attain greatness, their achievements are more important than their personal faults. While historians should not whitewash the personal foibles of great individuals, the impact that these mortals have had in their fields should tower over any personality defects. To focus on the personal weaknesses of great individuals is to miss the importance of their achievements.

The course of human history is decorated with individuals able to rise above their peers and reach the zenith in their fields. These individuals are often the subject of intense scrutiny from contemporaneous skeptics and later historians. But no one can lead an exemplary private life all the time; no human being is able to withstand such surveillance and historical scrutiny without personal faults coming to light. Great individuals are no exception. However, it is misguided to focus on their personal faults rather than their achievements. To do so is to miss the importance of their work, without which our culture would be worse off.

For example, Abraham Lincoln was arguably one of the greatest Presidents the United States has ever had. He managed to bring the country through a substantial revolution and to end slavery despite powerful economic and social forces working against him day and night. However, Lincoln was not a saint. He was moody and prone to depressive funks that disrupted his family life and slowly eroded his marriage. These personal faults did not reduce his success as a President. While we do not have to ignore questions about whether he was a depressive, we also should not consider them an important part of his political heritage. In contrast, many people criticize Lincoln’s decision to suspend the right of habeas corpus. This (presumed) failing is not personal in nature, but relates directly to Lincoln’s work in his field. Criticisms of this sort are entirely relevant, whereas personal criticisms are not.

Another example of a great individual dogged by criticism of his personal conduct is Albert Einstein. Einstein developed a number of the most important theories in modern physics, including an explanation of the photoelectric effect, an explanation of Brownian motion, special and general relativity, and Bose-Einstein quantum statistics. Each one of these theories would have been considered a great life’s work for a scientist; for one man to contribute this much is remarkable. However, Einstein also had life-long problems with infidelity. The fact that he cheated on his wife is in no way relevant to his accomplishments in the field of physics, and indeed most references to Einstein properly ignore it. To focus attention on the faults of his personal life is to obscure the impact he made on history.

Great individuals have personal faults, as all human beings do. Yet it is incorrect to assert that these faults detract from those individuals’ accomplishments. We are better able to appreciate the gravity of great accomplishments when we are not burying our heads in the sand, in search of personal failings.

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The essay above earned a 6 because it takes all five steps necessary for a perfect score on the AWA.

The thesis is extremely clear and concise. There is no ambiguity about how the author feels about the issue; she simply states her opinions with confidence and clarity. This section tests how well we can present a position on an issue effectively and persuasively—and this author passes with flying colors.

The piece is also very well organized via the suggested intro-body-body-body-conclusion template. While she does deviate slightly from the suggested model by giving two examples rather than three, the first body paragraph strengthens the essay by lending heft and specificity to her position. Her two examples are very strong. President Lincoln is an ideal case study of a leader whose greatness should be not be obscured by his domestic doldrums (however interesting they may be to learn about). The same can be said with Einstein; his infidelities went to the grave with the women he may have wounded emotionally, while his work will live forever.

Additionally, the conclusion is substantial and does an excellent job of summing up the essay without sounding too much like the introduction. It is easy to recycle many clauses from the intro in the conclusion, but this author does a great job of restating the thesis without sounding overly redundant. Lastly, this essay is extremely well-written. The grammar and syntax are practically flawless; the author sounds knowledgeable but not pedantic.

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Keep these steps in mind as you write your GMAT essay and you should have little trouble earning a score that is reflective of your overall b-school portfolio. Good luck!

About Knewton

Knewton has developed the industry’s most powerful adaptive learning engine, customizing educational content to meet the needs of each student. Whereas traditional classrooms and textbooks provide the same material to every student, Knewton dynamically matches lessons, videos, and practice problems to each student's ideal learning arc. Constant assessment across dimensions such as difficulty, frequency, and media maximizes learning efficiency and concept mastery. Knewton's test prep courses for the GMAT and LSAT bring the brightest and most experienced teachers directly to students worldwide via a live and on-demand online video classroom. The Knewton platform also powers third-party educational content from major publishers, corporations, and other organizations.

Knewton was founded by Jose Ferreira, a former Kaplan executive, with funding from Accel Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, First Round Capital, and prominent angel investors. The company was a finalist in the 2008 Amazon.com Start-Up Challenge.

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