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3 Tips to Ace the GMAT Analysis of an Issue Essay

Posted in Test Prep on June 17, 2011 by

178/365 One small step for essay kindWhen studying for the GMAT, I was intimidated by the Analysis of an Issue essay. While the test gives you strict limitations for Analysis of an Argument (critique the argument; don’t give your own opinion), the Analysis of an Issue essay is much more open-ended. It’s all about what you think.

You get a general opinion, with no supporting evidence, and are asked to evaluate that opinion. The opinion could be about space travel (“the government should spend more on space exploration”), what makes a good manager (“managers do not need to have the same specialized knowledge their employees do”), or general sociological observations (“The people we remember best are the ones who broke the rule.”)

With so many possible directions to go in, here are three tips to help craft your argument (and earn a perfect 6):

1) Don’t worry about being right.

I had this problem when I was prepping for the GMAT. I not only wanted my Analysis of an Issue essay to be well-written and persuasive, I also wanted my argument to be right. This need, however, while crucial on the multiple-choice portion of the GMAT, can be absolutely fatal on Analysis of an Issue essay (it can also make one a terrible person to be around, but that’s an issue for another blog).

On the GMAT, it doesn’t matter what you argue, as long as you argue it well. If you’re given an opinion about what makes a good manager, don’t waste 15 minutes of your time wracking your brain to try to remember what you learned in that Management for Dummies book you read 5 years ago. Just pick a side, and go with it.

2) Don’t try to be even-handed.

In searching for that one “correct” answer, I quickly realized that there is no such thing. The issues presented on these essays are too broad. Realizing that the issues are complicated, however, can lead to another problem: constructing an essay that tries to be so even-handed that it ends up with no real thesis, i.e. “Space travel is cool, but there are also many pressing social issues here on Earth, so there is no acceptable solution to this problem.”

The essay graders aren’t looking for evenhandedness: they are looking for an opinion. Be decisive: “The government should not increase its spending on space exploration; instead, it should spend money on the many more pressing social issues on Earth.”

3) Go with your gut.

Okay, so you have to choose a side. But how do you pick? My advice: go with your gut.

When I took the GMAT, I had to write on the following statement: “The most successful business leaders are also the most ethical.” It’s a hugely complicated issue: how do we define “ethics” or “success”? Were Ivan Boesky or Bernie Madoff ever really “successful”? We could spend hours arguing about the terms of the debate.

But on the GMAT, you have 30 minutes. So instead of dwelling on the subtleties of the issue, I went with my gut. My gut told me that the claim I was asked to evaluate was, well, stupid. So I wrote my essay enthusiastically trashing the claim. I used the Koch family, Donald Trump, and a former boss as examples of successful people I found to be unethical. I was highly polemical; in fact, I was a little concerned that the scorer would think I was some kind of Marxist guerilla, sent to undermine the system of business education from within.

But guess what? I got a perfect score (6.0), proof that the scorer is not concerned with how perfectly your argument conforms to his or her politics. You are graded on clarity of expression and the relevance of your evidence.