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5 Thoughts To Avoid on the AWA (Part II)

Posted in Test Prep on March 26, 2011 by

KeyboardLast week, we shared 5 thoughts to avoid while writing your AWA essays on the GMAT. This week, we’ve got 5 more! Steer clear of these common mindsets if you want to earn that perfect 6 on your AWA.

1. Style: “I should be straightforward and concise, so it’s OK to use the same sentence structure again and again.”

Well, you shouldn’t go out of your way to sound brilliant or original (it is likely to come across as forced or contrived). But in many ways, writing is a superficial art or craft. Style matters – how you say something is as important as what you say. Many prospective MBA students believe that being straightforward and concise means that style will inevitably be sacrificed when in truth, a great writing style should enhance your meaning – should place emphasis on important ideas, draw contrasts, make comparisons, and illustrate the relationships between ideas.

What you can do: Familiarize yourself with different sentence patterns. You can check out a grammar book (Strunk and White’s Elements of Style or the more interesting, How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish) or simply study the prose in high-level publications like The New Yorker. If you have a very rudimentary style, you might want to begin by combining sentences and trying to increase the muscularity of your prose by retaining the same meaning but cutting down the number of words used. Don’t be concerned if your prose doesn’t improve overnight. The key is that you develop more self-awareness as a writer.

2. Audience Awareness: “This essay isn’t for school, and we’re only given half an hour, so it’s OK if I sound a bit more informal.”

Not the case. The following should be off-limits in your prose: slang, exclamation points, rhetorical questions you don’t answer (“What is the meaning of life?” “Why is the sky blue?”) and cliches (“blind as a bat,” “dead as a doornail”). Your GMAT essay should not be a creative writing exercise, a personal memoir, a chatty email to your friend or an extended text message.

During the AWA, many students (for whatever reason) switch into a mode of expression that sounds like bad copywriting for ads: “It’s time that we all question authority and stand up for ourselves!” Or “When was the last time you looked in the mirror?” If you find yourself falling into the 2nd person, “you,” it’s probably a bad sign.

What you can do: Start noticing the way that language changes in different contexts – whether you’re reading an ad, an article in The Atlantic, or a science textbook.

3. Introduction: “They can’t possibly expect me to paraphrase the argument that was just given, do they?”

Three words: Yes. They. Do.

Remember: you don’t have to reinvent the wheel during the AWA. You just have to demonstrate solid analytical thinking and writing skills. You should begin your essay by paraphrasing the issue or argument at hand and making some introductory remarks that guide the reader naturally into your thesis statement.

What you can do: Practice paraphrasing yourself. Good news! This is the kind of skill you can develop overnight.

4. Conclusion: “I don’t have anything new to say in the conclusion, so I won’t write one.”

If you don’t write a conclusion, your essay is going to seem unfinished and unpolished. And yes, “appearances” matter on the GMAT! (Remember what I said above about writing being a “superficial” art?) Don’t simply restate your introduction paragraph – at the very least you should paraphrase yourself. The conclusion paragraph is also a good place to take your argument in a new direction or to introduce a point that seems germane to the discussion but which doesn’t fit in a body paragraph.

What you can do: Go through a series of AWA prompts and construct an outline and thesis for each. Your outline should include ideas for the conclusion as well as the body paragraphs. Don’t be concerned if nothing comes to mind the first few times. Once you write 3 or 4 great conclusions, ideas should start flowing more quickly!

5. Counter-arguments: “I don’t want my grader to notice any holes in my argument, so I won’t point out what people who disagree with me might say about my points.”

It is generally a sign of rhetorical sophistication to anticipate counter-arguments. There is no use trying to cover up any weakness in your argument by failing to address its obvious flaws. Your reader will probably be acquainted with every aspect of the argument or issue you are writing about. In this sense, you will come across as more skilled if you have the confidence to assess your ideas from an alternate perspective.

What you can do: Develop a habit of “arguing” with yourself. One trick that will also strengthen your analytical ability is to make questioning and probing remarks in the margins of whatever you read.