Mastering The AWA

The SBC GMAT Files

Mastering The AWA With Templates
Staff, Test Prep New York/Test Prep San Francisco

Believe it or not, your MBA program will involve a lot more than NPV calculations and Excel! In addition to a strong numerical background, you will be expected to be able to clearly and effectively express yourself in writing, both in formal written assignments and in everyday communication with your peers. In addition, the ability to write effectively will be infinitely useful when it comes time to apply for jobs and internships. For these reasons and more, the GMAT tests your writing ability using the Analytical Writing Assessment (or AWA), and with just a little preparation, practice, and strategy, you can demonstrate your mastery of this crucial business skill to your target MBA programs.

The Anatomy of the AWA

As you have probably guessed, the AWA is basically a short essay response to a given prompt. The prompt will present you with a statement about some business-related topic or issue, then ask you to analyze the statement in some way. Although you have a mere 30 minutes to complete writing your response, the good news is that you are not expected to be intimately familiar with the subject matter being discussed, nor are you expected to give your own opinion. You need only analyze the logic, assumptions, reasoning, and overall strength of the argument in the prompt statement. In addition, there is no right or wrong answer for you to give; you will be assessed only on how well you present yourself and how clearly and effectively you convey your ideas.

The AWA is also unique in terms of your overall score. Your essay will be given two independent grades, one of which may be performed by an automatic essay-scoring engine that will check your grammar and analyze your overall organization. While the multiple choice sections of the GMAT determine your overall score out of 800, the AWA is scored separately on a scale from one to six, where one is failing and six is a perfect score. The AWA appears as a separate line item from your multiple choice score on your score report, and though the common consensus is that the AWA is less important than the multiple choice in terms of getting into your choice school, MBA programs will likely expect you to be able to demonstrate at least a baseline level of writing proficiency (a score of 4, which GMAC defines as “adequate,” or above) before they will seriously consider you for admission. In other words, you don’t need to stress as much about the AWA as you will about the other sections, but you still need to be able to perform well on it.

Recipes for Success

Because the AWA does not expect you to be an expert in the subject matter being discussed and does not expect you to take any particular viewpoint, the keys to owning the AWA are to write in standard and proper American English and to make sure you structure your essay in a clear, logical, and easy-to-follow way. Your review of grammar rules for the Verbal multiple choice section will help you with the first part, so that means that mastering the AWA really means practicing organization.

The easiest way to effectively organize your AWA is to start with an outline to organize your thoughts and make sure you stay on topic for the entirety of your essay. Even if you are an extremely strong writer, the relatively short period of time you have to write your piece means that you probably will not have time to backtrack or figure out your organization on the fly. You need to map out your entire argument before anything else, then stick to that map, to make sure you cover everything you need to cover.

Given that condition, the best strategy is to simply memorize a template and practice outlining arguments using that template. Though there are many different ways to organize your piece, here is one possible template we recommend:

Paragraph 1 ”“ Introduction
-Summarize the argument given in the prompt
-Thesis statement that explains the flaw in the logic of the prompt
-Summarize your argument in one sentence
-2 ”“ 3 sentences long

Paragraph 2 ”“ First Flaw in the Prompt’s Logic
-Begin with words such as “To begin with,” “Firstly,” etc.
-Explain one reason why the prompt’s logic or reasoning is faulty
-Do not talk about anything but the flaw you are focusing on
-4 ”“ 6 sentences long

Paragraph 3 ”“ Second Flaw in the Prompt’s Logic
-Begin with words such as “In addition,” “Secondly,” etc
-Present a different reason why the prompt’s reasoning is flawed
-Do not talk about anything but the second flaw
-4 ”“ 6 sentences long

Paragraph 4 ”“ Alternative Viewpoint
-Begin with words such as “As an alternative,” “However,” etc.
-Present your stance on the issue
-Show how your stance clearly addresses the flaws
-Do not talk about anything but the alternate viewpoint
-4 ”“ 6 sentences long

Paragraph 5 ”“ Conclusion
-Begin with words such as “In short,” “In summation,” etc.
-Briefly summarize the flaws and your alternative
-2 ”“ 3 sentences long

As you can see, this template uses a fairly basic “five-paragraph essay” format that is probably very similar to what you might have used on essays in high school. If that seems boring or uncreative to you, that’s because it is, but remember: your objective on the AWA isn’t to be the next Shakespeare. Your objective is to write a concise, clear, well-organized essay, and although using this (or any) template cannot guarantee you a high score, it can help simplify your thought process and make organization a snap.

Now that we’ve got a template in our toolbox, let’s take a look at a real AWA prompt and outline a possible response using our template above. Here’s the prompt:

“Most companies would agree that as the risk of physical injury occurring on the job increases, the wages paid to employees should also increase. Hence it makes financial sense for employers to make the workplace safer: they could thus reduce their payroll expenses and save money.”
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.
We now know we’re discussing how the risk of injury should affect pay. From the outset, all you should really pay attention to are the words in the quotation marks; the text below that are simply standardized instructions meant to help you along and will always read exactly like that. You may disagree with my reasoning in the example below, but remember, the AWA does not score you on content. In addition, you’ll note that I leave out a lot of the key transition words we discussed above: that’s because I’m just working with an outline right now, I’m not writing the actual essay yet.

Watch how I apply the template:

Paragraph 1 ”“ Introduction
-The prompt states that controlling workplace risk means controlling cost
-This assumes that wages can be lowered, and that it is actually possible to make every workplace safer
-Other factors, such as industry fixed costs and best practices, can drive costs up even in very safe workplaces.

Paragraph 2 ”“ First Flaw in the Prompt’s Logic
-Companies with dangerous workplaces such as construction sites and factories frequently must deal with labor unions to set wages
-Even if the company makes the workplace safer, it may be under a contractual obligation not to reduce wages
-The company or industry may also be subject to laws that dictate how and how much the employees are paid
-Just making the workplace safer does not necessarily mean a company can lower wages.

Paragraph 3 ”“ Second Flaw in the Prompt’s Logic
– Increased safety may cost more than any possible payroll savings
-Safety is desirable for other reasons, but the argument specifically mentions costs
savings and these may not be achievable
– Some safety measures may cost a lot for very little increase in safety

Example: Construction workers are already required to use safety equipment such as hard hats. Reducing the risk of construction site accidents might require expensive changes to scheduling, manpower and workflow and might not produce much increase in safety.

Example: Medical personnel already use precautions such as double-gloving and wearing masks to avoid contact with contaminated blood. Added stringencies such as requiring medical workers to wear “bunny suits” might reduce risks only slightly, since needles and scalpels could still poke through, but would cost a lot.

Paragraph 4 ”“ Alternative Viewpoint
-Safe workplaces can reward companies outside of wage savings
-Example: Fewer accidents means fewer work stoppages and fewer
Workman’s Comp claims
-Workers who feel safe and valued may also be more productive
-A company can make its workplace safe for its workers and reap
hard benefits aside from just wage savings
-A company should not strictly focus on wages when making its
safety decisions

Paragraph 5 ”“ Conclusion
-Making a work place safer may not necessarily affect wages, however it can
benefit a company in other ways

As you can see, each paragraph has a clear, well-defined purpose, and the main point is always very easy to point out. In addition, as soon as I prove my point in each paragraph, I quickly move onto the next. In addition, all of the examples in my template are very specific and easy to follow, meaning I will be able to write my essay very quickly once I’m done. Although your specific viewpoint and content will vary, using an outline template is a quick way to help you organize your thoughts and get started.

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(c) 2012, Test Prep New York

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