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by Vault Education Editors | May 15, 2009


The first section of the GMAT is called theAnalytical Writing Assessment (AWA). What better way to kick off athree-and-a-half-hour test than with a full hour of writing? Futurebusiness students will begin their GMAT exam by writing two essayquestions; each timed for 30 minutes. Here's everything you need toknow before you start typing.

The lowdown

Two essay questions are asked, and you are given30 minutes to write each (one hour total). Lucky for you, however,you'll get to write them on a built-in word processor, as the test iscompletely on the computer. The AWA questions fall into twocategories--Analysis of an Issue and Analysis of an Argument--and eachtest will ask one of each. Below, find an overview of the two questiontypes and how you should approach them.

  1. Analysis of an Issue. Thisessay asks you to analyze a given opinion of an issue and develop yourown stance on the subject. You should list various perspectives anddemonstrate your rationale behind your opinion. According to official GMAT website), specific knowledge of the essay topic isnot necessary, but you will be evaluated on your ability to writeanalytically and on the depth and diversity of your variousperspectives. In other words, there is no right or wrong answer. Here'show the Analysis of an Issue question breaks down:

    • What you'll see: Two paragraphs. The first willconsist of a short, opinionated quote is given regarding a currentissue. The next paragraph will ask to what extent you agree or disagreewith the opinion stated, and prompt support of your views with reasonsand/or examples.

      • Example (provided by "People oftencomplain that products are not made to last. They feel that makingproducts that wear out fairly quickly wastes both natural and humanresources. What they fail to see, however, is that such manufacturingpractices keep costs down for the consumer and stimulate demand."

        Which do you find more compelling, the complaint about products that donot last or the response to it? Explain your position, using relevantreasons and/or examples from your own experience, observations orreading.

    • How it's graded: You will be graded on how well you:

      • Organize, develop and express your ideas about the argument presented
      • Provide relevant supporting reasons and examples
      • Control the elements of standard written English

  2. Analysis of an Argument. This essay invitesyou to look at an argument on a certain issue and analyze the reasoningbehind it and write a critique. Unlike the Analysis of an Issue essay,you are not being asked whether or not you agree with the statementposed. Instead, you should consider what assumptions the argumentrelies on, what issues could weaken the conclusion of the argument, andwhat evidence could strengthen or refute the argument.

    • What you'll see: Two paragraphs. The first is ashort, informational paragraph on a specified topic, concluding with anopinionated statement about what should be done, given the information.The next paragraph asks that you consider how well the conclusion drawnin the first paragraph is substantiated within the paragraph. If not,why not and how could it be improved. Whichever you decide, remember toconsider what the opposite stance would look like.

      • Example (provided by "Most companieswould agree that as the risk of physical injury occurring on the jobincreases, the wages paid to employees should also increase. Hence itmakes financial sense for employers to make the workplace safer: theycould thus reduce their payroll expenses and save money."

        Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion besure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in theargument. For example, you may need to consider what questionableassumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations orcounterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss whatsort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changesin the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, ifanything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

    • How it's graded: Although it is different from theAnalysis of an Issue, the essay grading criterion is the same asAnalysis of an Issue. You will be graded on how well you:

      • Organize, develop and express your ideas about the argument presented
      • Provide relevant supporting reasons and examples
      • Control the elements of standard written English


There is no specified length for the essays, butmost successful essays consist of five to seven paragraphs (intro,three to five body paragraphs, conclusion), and are between 400 and 700words. However, keep in mind that you are graded for quality, notquantity, and a 400-word essay is completely sufficient if it istightly written and thoroughly demonstrates your rationale.


The essays are the only portions of the GMAT thatare not graded immediately. Your score is based on a scale of 0 to 6with increments of one, and has no effect on your overall 200 to 800test score. Each essay is subject to two separate evaluations:

  1. Human grader: Actual,real-live graders spend an estimated two minutes on each essay, and areinstructed to evaluate holistically, examining the persuasiveness ofthe writer's argument. According to GMAC, all human graders go throughextensive training in rating GMAT essays, and are aware of thedifferences among dialects of the English language, choices of wordsand culturally related preferences of expressions.

  2. E-rater: The second reviewer is acomputerized rating system designed to calculate an essay's score basedon more than 50 quantifiable characteristics (grammar, syntax, wordusage, punctuation, etc.), emulating the process carried out by humanraters. The E-rater relies on its human counterpart to grade forcontent.
Once the two evaluations are completed for anessay, they are compared to determine a single score. More than likely,your score will be the same for the E-rater and the human grader. Inwhich case, that score will be your final AWA score. If the E-rater andhuman grader scores are within a one-point range of each other, the twoare averaged to determine a single essay score. However, if your twoscores are more than one point apart, a third party is brought in(another human) and your score is based on the mean of the two humangrades.

In the end, your total AWA score (you receive onetotal score for the section as a whole) is the average of your scoreseach of the essays, rounded up to the nearest half point.


Why does the GMAT have an essay portion? Afterall, you'll have to write personal statements and other essays for yourbusiness school applications. In truth, the AWA is just another waythat admissions officers can see that you can analyze an argument in afree-style format, thereby demonstrating that you are able to evaluatean issue without set answer choices. Admissions officers also use yourAWA to confirm that you are the actual author of all your other essays.If you score a 1 on the AWA and your admissions essay is PulitzerPrize-worthy, it's going to send up some red flags that, maybe, youaren't the real author of your essay.

Try to think of the AWA as a smooth transition totaking the GMAT. So take it easy, write what you know, and then sitback, relax and spend the rest of your time choosing A-E.


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