Structure Of Gmat Essay

The essay portion of the GMAT, known as the Analytical Writing Assessment, probably doesn’t resemble the kinds of essays that you’ve written for college.  Luckily, the essay task itself and the prompts that you’ll encounter for it are fairly formulaic. This means that your approach to writing the essay can be boiled down into a template. A template is like a blueprint or a model: it gives you a predesigned, customized format and structure. You’ve likely written outlines for essays before—the GMAT essay template is similar but a bit more detailed, as anything that is standard can be pre-written out, so that all you have to do is fill in the specifics. 

If you’ve already done some research, you know that there are several variations of GMAT essay templates out there—both individual high scorers and a few test prep companies have offered up their own template styles, based on the approaches they like best. In this post, we’ll go over what the GMAT essay assignment is, how a template can help you nail it, and give you a few example templates that reflect different kinds of approaches you can take. Finally, we’ll discuss how to make your own template based on what works best for you.

 

 

What Is the GMAT Essay Assignment?

For the Analytical Writing Assessment, you will be given a single, one-paragraph prompt containing some kind of argument. The prompts often center on debates from the business or political worlds and are sourced from the editorial and op-ed sections of magazines and newspapers, annual company reports, memorandums, proposals and the like.

While this prompt changes from test to test, the directions are always the same, so you should memorize them in advance. I’ve reproduced them for you below:

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

In other words, you have only one task for the GMAT essay: to write a critique of the given argument. Invariably, every single GMAT argument will have flaws—faulty assumptions, inadequate evidence, sampling or statistical issues, vague words (such as “many” or “few”), unsuitable comparisons, information or considerations that have been overlooked, and so on.

Many GMAT essay prompts will contain more than one of these flaws. Your critique should consist of an in-depth analysis that exposes them, and (if applicable) suggestions of ways to fix the flaws or otherwise improve the argument.

The best approach is to pick apart the prompt bit-by-bit: point out each flaw the author makes, challenge it using your own reasoning and specific counterexamples that support your claims, and suggest ways the author could fix the flaw and thereby improve the validity of their conclusion.

Do not present your own views on the argument at hand. Regardless of the prompt, you should always make the case that the given argument is flawed—not whether or not you agree with it.

 

 

What Does a GMAT Essay Need to Get a Top Score?

In designing a functional GMAT AWA template, you should take into account how you’re graded on the essay, what the score range is, and what skill areas a top-scoring essay will demonstrate mastery over.

As you may already know, your GMAT AWA essay is graded on a scale of 0-6 in half-point increments, once by a human reader (usually an English or Communications professor) and once by a computerized grading program called E-Rater. If the two different scores differ by less than one point, the two scores will be averaged to get your final scaled score. If they differ by greater than one point, a second human reader will step in.

Both the human reader and E-Rater grade holistically, with four skill areas taken into account: content (relevant, persuasive ideas, reasoning, and examples); organization (using an organized and cohesive structure to present your argument); language use (diction and syntax), and grammar.

In other words, to get a 6, you’ll need:

  • A targeted, accurate analysis of the given argument’s main flaws, with excellent reasoning and supporting examples, and suggestions for how to fix the flaws or otherwise improve the argument.
  • A logical organization—introduction, conclusion, and body paragraphs in which the progression of your ideas makes sense, and skillful use of transition words and phrases.
  • An excellent command of grammar.
  • Varied sentence structures—avoid using any sentence stem (EG, “this is not true because”) over and over again.
  • Sophisticated, precise vocabulary and some display of very basic economic terms (only when called for—this includes concepts like supply and demand, capital expenditure, and so on).

 

 

How a GMAT Essay Template Helps

While a GMAT writing template can’t really help with grammar, it can addressall of the other considerations by providing a detailed blueprint for your essay. An effective GMAT essay template will include the following features:

  • The structure of your essay, paragraph by paragraph
  • The kind of content that should be in each paragraph
  • Varied and sophisticated pre-written sentence stems (as in, the beginning part of a sentence) for the main kinds of flaws

You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) do anything very creative or innovative in your AWA response—the top-scoring essays are fairly standard, often sharing the same basic structure and similar kinds of analyses. Therefore, a GMAT AWA template is an incredibly useful tool for ensuring that you address every moving piece of the argument and successfully perform the written and analytical task required of you.

In short, a GMAT writing template gives you a proven plan of action to take with you on test day, so that you can write an essay that hits all the right notes while conserving mental energy for the sections that matter most: the Integrated Reasoning, Quant and Verbal sections.

 

 

Example GMAT Essay Templates

Slight variations aside, there are essentially two main styles of template for the GMAT essay: one that saves suggestions for improvement for the end, and one that includes them in each body paragraph (one for each “flaw”).

No matter which template you’re using, you should always spend about five minutes planning and outlining your essay before diving into the writing. This includes identifying the flaws that you’re going to discuss and the order in which you’re going to discuss them, so you don’t find yourself having to rewrite or reorganize halfway through.

 

Sample GMAT AWA Template 1: Flaw-by-Flaw

The first method is to dedicate each body paragraph, two to three in total, to analyzing a different flaw of the given argument. This analysis includes suggestions for improvement within each body paragraph. I’ve included some sample sentence stems that I myself have written, so you can see them in action.

    • Intro Paragraph (2-3 sentences)
      • One sentence summarizing the argument
        • EG: “This argument makes the case that ____________ “
      • State your thesis, which is that the given argument is flawed
        • OPTIONAL: Acknowledge that the author’s case isn’t all bad
        • EG: “Though the argument is compelling at face value, its conclusion is ultimately untenable because it rests on ________ ”
          • [Introduce your examples in the blank space: insufficient evidence, assumptions that may not apply, etc.. Do this in the order in which you will discuss them.]
    • 2-3 Body Paragraphs(5+ sentences)
      • Introduce one of the specific flaws
      • Explain why it is a flaw
        • EG, for insufficient evidence: “The fact that ______ does not necessarily support the claim that _______. In fact, this evidence could warrant numerous other conflicting claims, including that _______.
      • IF APPLICABLE: Give a counterexample, and explain why it works to undermine the argument.
        • EG: “____ is an example of a successful company in the same industry whose strategy is based on the opposite premise: that ______.”
      • IF APPLICABLE: Suggest ways to fix the flaw
        • EG: “Some additional evidence that would fix this issue and truly bolster the argument is _________ “
  • Conclusion Paragraph (3-4 sentences)
    • Re-state that the argument is flawed
      • EG: “Overall, this plan of action rests on too many logical fallacies to be viable for _____ ” [company X]
      • OPTIONAL: Re-acknowledge that the author’s side has some merit
    • Briefly recapitulate your reasoning (using new words)

 

 

Sample GMAT AWA Template 2: Save Improvements for the End

You might find that not every flaw can be fixed, or that some of your suggestions for improvement cover more than one flaw. If this is often the case for you, consider starting with this second template instead, as it saves the suggestions for the end of the essay.

    • Intro Paragraph (2-3 sentences)
      • One sentence summarizing the argument
        • EG: “This argument makes the case that ____________ “
      • State your thesis, which is that the given argument is flawed
        • OPTIONAL: Acknowledge that the author’s case isn’t all bad
        • EG: “Though the argument is compelling at face value, its conclusion is ultimately untenable because it rests on ________ ”
          • [Introduce your examples in the blank space: insufficient evidence, assumptions that may not apply, etc.. Do this in the order in which you will discuss them.]
    • 2-3 Body Paragraphs (5+ sentences)
      • Introduce one of the specific flaws
      • Explain why it is a flaw
        • EG, for insufficient evidence: “The fact that ______ does not necessarily support the claim that _______. In fact, this evidence could warrant numerous other conflicting claims, including that _______.”
      • IF APPLICABLE: Give a counterexample, and explain why it works to undermine the argument.
        • EG: “Moreover, ____ is a prime example of a successful organization in the same industry whose strategy is based on the exact opposite premise: that ______.”
  • Conclusion Paragraph (5+ sentences)
    • Re-state that the argument is flawed
      • EG: “In conclusion, while it may seem to make sense for ______, this plan of action as presented rests on too many logical fallacies to be viable for _____ ” [company/organization X]
      • OPTIONAL: Re-acknowledge that the author’s side has some merit
    • Briefly recapitulate your reasoning (using new words)
    • Give suggestions for how the author could fix these flaws and/or improve the argument
      • EG: “One way to fix the sampling issue is to ______ “

A slight variation on this: Sometimes you can’t find three different flaws in the prompt to discuss. In this case, feel free to use the conclusion outline from the first sample template, and make your third body paragraph devoted to improvements instead.

 

 

How to Make Your Own GMAT Essay Template

In writing your own essays, you may find that one of the templates given above works best for you, or you may find it more effective to combine different elements of each. The most important thing is to formulate and practice with a set GMAT essay template well before you take the real test.

Try each template out as is (excluding my sentence stems) on a different essay prompt. Afterward, take a stab at grading your own essay, and then jot down notes on what went well and what didn’t work for you as much. Does the essay seem to “flow” better when you leave the flaws for the conclusion? Alternatively, it easier to just go flaw-by-flaw, including a suggestion to mitigate each (if you can come up with one) in each body paragraph, and having a shorter conclusion instead? Are there any turns of phrases that were particularly clever, that you might want to reuse on other essays?

Once you’ve practiced writing two different essays and reviewed your post-essay notes, you should be able to come up with a template that works for you, including some clever canned sentences or sentence stems that you can reuse for the common flaws acrossprompts, like the ones I used above. Once you’ve formulated a template of your own, practice with it on two to three more essays to see how it holds up in action. Note that your template is never going to work 100% perfectly: a little flexibility should be baked in, so that you can vary your wording a bit from prompt to prompt.

 

Pre-Writing Your Essay and an Important Note on Avoiding Plagiarism

It’s totally okay to use a GMAT essay template, and it’s even okay to create those sentence stems for preemptively constructing your critique—what’s not okay is using the exact wording or specific ideas that were written by another person. For example, you can use the “summarize the issue, acknowledge the author’s point, and state your thesis about how the argument is flawed” template for your introduction, but you shouldn’t use the sentence that I gave you illustrating this thesis in action (“Though this argument is compelling at face value, its conclusion is ultimately untenable because it rests on ______ “).

The same goes for anything you’ve read online or in a test prep book: while it’s a great idea to Google and read other essays on the practice prompts that you find challenging during your prep, you shouldn’t use anyone else’s words if you encounter such a prompt on test day.

In short, everything you write has to be your own words, but they can be your own words that you yourself came up with beforehand. And there are some key advantages to doing a bit of pre-writing beforehand: that way, you can just plug in the specific details from the prompt. You can even plan your transition words ahead of time, as I did in some of the examples above.

However, as you’ll notice when you get going on your essay prep, the templates are not always one-size-fits-all. You may find an argument that doesn’t fit the mold, in which case you’ll have to improvise a bit.

For example, here’s a real GMAT essay prompt from the list of official prompts released by the GMAC:

The following appeared in the editorial section of a local newspaper:

“The profitability of Croesus Company, recently restored to private ownership, is a clear indication that businesses fare better under private ownership than under public ownership.”

Discuss how well reasoned . . . etc.

The big problem with this argument, unlike other GMAT arguments, is that it doesn’t support its conclusion at all. It’s more or less just a conclusion—there’s very little specific flawed reasoning to work off of. So, in your essay, you might focus mostly on what else you would need to evaluate the argument—like all the different kinds of reasoning and evidence that the author would need to further support this conclusion.

 

 

The Bottom Line: Using a GMAT AWA Template

Ultimately, you should use the sample templates above as a jumping-off point to formulate your own GMAT AWA template. And you should be comfortable with your template (and the plan-of-attack baked into it) well before test day.

Still—it’s a good idea to expect the unexpected. Practice using your template on a wide array of GMAT prompts, not just ones that deal with plans-of-actions for corporate, which are the most common. Writing more than six essays is likely overkill, but going through four to five practice essays on a variety of different topics will help you test out your GMAT writing template and ensure a top score on the real thing.

 

What’s Next?

Now that you’re well-versed in GMAT writing templates, check our guide to the best GMAT writing prompts to get going on your AWA practice (coming soon).

We also have a more in-depth guide to format, scoring, and tips for the GMAT AWA.

Alternatively, if you’re just getting started with your overall GMAT prep, you may want to go over what to expect on the all the other sections of the GMAT.

Happy studying!

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Author: Jess Hendel

Jess Hendel is a Brooklyn-based academic advisor, test prep tutor, and content writer for PrepScholar. A graduate of Amherst College, she has several years of experience writing content and designing curricula for the top e-learning organizations. She is passionate about leveraging new media and technology to help students around the world achieve their potential. View all posts by Jess Hendel

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Here are the tips that will support your success on the GMAT’s AWA. 

1) Recognize Unstated Assumptions

This skill is essential for the Critical Reasoning questions, and it will also serve you well on attacking the prompt argument in your AWA.  You can read more about that skill here: http://magoosh.com/gmat/2012/arguments-and-assumptions-on-the-gmat/

 

2) Know the Directions

This a matter not only of knowing what they say but also, more importantly, understanding the various options you have for analyzing the argument.  This list of analytical strategies is always given in the paragraph that follows the prompt argument.  It’s important to get familiar with this “analytical toolbox”, so it is yours to employ on test day.

 

3) Recognize the Common Flaw Patterns

GMAT AWA prompt arguments often contain one of six types of flaws.  Learn to spot these patterns, so you are ready on test day.

 

4) Plan Before You Write

This is obvious to some test-takers.  Your first task is to find objections to and flaws in the prompt argument.  Create a list of flaws.  Then, select the 2-4 of those that are most relevant, that would be the most persuasive talking points.  Once you have your list of insightful flaws, then you are ready to write.

 

5) Use a Template

Many test takers find it helpful to have the basic structure of the AWA essay already planned out and practiced, so it’s just a matter of plugging in the specific details on test day.  Here’s an example of a possible template:

  • Paragraph #1: state that the prompt argument is flawed.  Briefly enumerate the flaws you will examine, in the order that you will discuss them.
  • Paragraph #2 (or #2 & #3): Sticking to that same order, analyze each flaw in detail, explaining your reasoning why each is a serious weakness of the argument.
  • Last paragraph: Suggest improvements, which are the reverse of the flaws (i.e. “This argument would be considerably stronger if it did such-and-such to remove flaw #2.”)  Close by restating that is it a weak argument.

Feel free to adapt this template as is, modify it, or create one of your own.

 

6) Write with Variety

First of all, vary your sentence structures.  Here are some examples of different structures.

  • Simple sentence, one independent clause: Jack went to town.
  • Sentence with two independent clauses: Jill went to town and Jack stayed home.  (Two independent clauses can be joined by “and”, “or”, “but”, “yet”, “so”, etc.)
  • Sentence with an independent clause and one (or more) dependent clauses: Jack went to the town where Jill lives.
  • Sentence with an infinitive phrase: Jack went to that town to see Jill.
  • Sentence with a participial phrase: Hoping to see Jack, Jill went to town.

A good essay might never have two sentences in a row with the same structure.

In addition to variety in sentence structure, strive for variety in word choice.  Of course, you will want to echo words that appear in the prompt argument.  But in your own analysis, vary the descriptive words, never using the same word twice.  Don’t say “weak … weak … weak” when you can say “unpersuasive … untenable … questionable.”  Well-chosen synonyms can make an essay shine.

 

7) Proofread! Proofread! Proofread!

When you proofread, you have to consider several levels simultaneous: Is every word spelled correctly? Is every structure grammatically correct?  Does the argument logically flow?  Unfortunately (or fortunately!) you are not allowed to read your essay aloud in the testing center.  What I do recommend, though: silently mouth the words, as if you are carefully pronouncing each word, even though you are not making any sounds.  When you move your mouth & tongue, you are engaging more of your brain than when you are simply reading silently with your eyes, and you are more likely to catch subtle mistakes.

 

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About Mike MᶜGarry

Mike creates expert lessons and practice questions to guide GMAT students to success. He has a BS in Physics and an MA in Religion, both from Harvard, and over 20 years of teaching experience specializing in math, science, and standardized exams. Mike likes smashing foosballs into orbit, and despite having no obvious cranial deficiency, he insists on rooting for the NY Mets.

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