The best known sections of the GMAT are the verbal and quantitative sections, but that doesn’t mean you can escape the business school admissions test without writing. The GMAT has four components: A quantitative section, a verbal section, a new "integrated reasoning" section, and the "Analytical Writing Assessment" AWA the GMAT essay. While all four aspects are required, only the quantitative and verbal sections of the GMAT count to your score of 800 - the score business schools use to evaluate you as part of your application.
Even though the essay doesn't count toward your score of 800, you still need to complete it, and complete it prior to starting on your verbal and quant sections. Here's the point of the essay: Admissions wants to make sure you can write legible, understandable English. That's it! The essay is scored from 0-6, with 90 percent of test-takers scoring a 3 or above. An admissions committee from a top business will be thrilled with a 6, happy with a 4.5-5.5 and satisfied with a 4. In other words, don't stress about the essay - just follow the steps below to make sure you get a decent score, and save your energy for the harder - and more important - verbal and quant sections.
1. Read and evaluate the argument
The prompt for the AWA essay will be a few sentences. Your job is to read it, to evaluate it, and to determine what pieces of evidence are missing and where the argument could be strengthened. You should do this in less than 5 minutes.
Take a few minutes (no more than 5) to outline your essay. Most essays will look like this:
P1: Introduction - what the author is trying to say, and why the statement isn't as strong as it could be.
P2: Your first supporting paragraph. Your first strongest point in evaluating the argument.
P3. Your second supporting paragraph. Your second strongest point in evaluating the argument.
P4. Your third supporting paragraph. Your third strongest point in evaluating the argument.
P5. Conclusion - tell the reader what you just proved.
Make sure you break your supporting paragraphs up into more than one paragraph. Even if the paragraphs are super short, each piece of evidence you site should have its own paragraph.
Start writing. The good news is, you can keep it really simple and really straightforward. Say what your point is, list out the evidence that would strengthen your point, and then move on to your next sentence. For example, here's how your first supporting paragraph could start:
"First, the argument made by the author X could be strengthened by mentioning Y. One piece of evidence the author could cite that would make the argument stronger is Z."
Spend about 15-20 minutes writing (you can spend more if you took less time with reading and evaluating the prompt and writing your essay).
Give yourself 3-5 minutes to read over your essay and make sure there's no silly grammar or spelling mistakes. Each GMAT essay is read and evaluated by a computer and by an actual person, so if there are mistakes, they'll definitely be spotted.
When you take the GMAT, your goal should be to finish the AWA essay with little stress. Just follow the plan above to save your brainpower for the verbal and quant sections.
Laura Oppenheimer works in San Francisco for an online physics tutoring company.