The Knewton Blog

Our monthly newsletter features edtech and product updates, with a healthy dose of fun Knerd news.

5 Thoughts To Avoid on the AWA (Part I)

Posted in Test Prep on March 12, 2011 by

Business schools are placing an increased emphasis on communication ability — all the more reason to step it up during the AWA (Analytical Writing Assessment) on the GMAT.

So, how can you ensure AWA success? As any good test-taker knows, it all comes down to mindset. Avoid these 5 thoughts to stay in the zone, channel your energy properly, and earn that perfect 6 on your GMAT essay, and stay tuned for 5 more thoughts to avoid in an upcoming post.

1. Length: “There’s no required length for the AWA. Since it’s always best to be concise, I’ll just write 2 paragraphs and be done with it.”

This thought will sink your AWA score fast. Though it’s true there’s no required length, the highest scoring essays are generally 400 words or more. Why? Longer essays usually demonstrate a more thoughtful and comprehensive treatment of the issue or argument at hand.

What you can do: Note the word count on all your practice essays. Try to push yourself into the 400-430 range. See #2 if you have trouble doing this.

2. Development of Ideas: “I don’t want to write too much, so I’ll just leave it at that. The argument I am making is pretty basic — the essay graders would have to be stupid not to understand how these ideas go together.”

You can almost never develop your ideas too thoroughly on the AWA. At the end of each body paragraph, ask yourself the following questions: “So what? What does this have to do with my thesis? What is the significance of this point?” Remember: it is your job to guide the reader from idea to idea. Be sure to “connect the dots” and provide the appropriate context for your thoughts.

What you can do: Add more “connective tissue” to your prose. Make sure your body paragraphs are more than one or two sentences each.

3. Clarity of purpose: “I know I have to write 400 words, and I don’t have anything to say about this specific topic, so I will write whatever comes to mind and hope it holds together.”

If you’re paralyzed and time is ticking, yes, you can put your hands to the keyboard and just type. (Sometimes the physical act of writing will generate superb ideas.) At the same time, your essay should not be a leisurely exploration of every topic remotely related to the given subject — but instead, a tightly constructed defense of your thesis. You are being evaluated on your analytical writing skill, not your general knowledge.

What you can do: Think “argument,” not “story.” For instance, if you’re using Gandhi as an example in one of your body paragraphs, you should not waste any space on the details of Gandhi’s life that are not directly relevant to your argument.

4. Thesis: “I don’t have an opinion on this issue, and it seems really complicated. I’m going to present both perspectives and not take a side.”

This thought is instant death for your AWA score. You absolutely need to present a clear one-sentence thesis that states your opinion on the subject and governs your entire essay.  Whatever you do, avoid writing your thesis as a question. Don’t “throw it back” on the reader – you need to be assertive and command the space with your argument.

What you can do: If you have trouble taking a stance on an argument or issue, you should go through a series of prompts and construct an outline and thesis for each. Soon, you’ll develop the ability to construct arguments on the fly — a skill that will serve you for life!

5. Specificity of Examples: “I’m not being judged on how much I know, so I don’t need specific examples. This isn’t an AP exam…”

Although the GMAT doesn’t technically evaluate your level of knowledge about business, history, and current events (you should be able to complete the exam with high school training in math and English), you do need to know something about the world to complete the AWA section. Otherwise, what will you write about?

What you can do: You should develop an arsenal of examples from history, current events, literature, and your personal life/work experience to use during the AWA. It can be helpful to start reading The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, or Businessweek.