A Universal Template for the GMAT Essay: Part I

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This tip for improving your GMAT score was provided by David Newland at Veritas Prep.

The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) comes first on the GMAT exam, but it is often the last section a student studies. If are new to the AWA section or just looking for an efficient way to structure your essay, you will find this template useful.

During the 30 minute AWA section, each student must write an essay analyzing an argument. The essay is designed to measure the quality of a student’s writing. The emphasis is on the quality of the writing and the quality of analysis. Having an organized outline and strong points to write about can result in better grammar, spelling, sentence construction, and organization, as well as a better analysis of the argument.

On the GMAT, every argument is flawed.
You should begin the AWA section with the understanding that the argument you will be analyzing is intentionally flawed. (That is what makes the AWA interesting.) If the argument had no deficiencies, it would be hard for you to point out the flaws and offer solutions. So whether you plan to simply expose the flaws and conclude that the argument is lacking in evidence and reasoning or you prefer to indicate what is needed in order to strengthen the argument, identifying the assumptions and other weaknesses is always the first step.

Analyze the argument as you would an assumption question.
The assumption question is the critical reasoning question type that is perhaps closest to an AWA prompt. The assumption question has premises and a conclusion and there is some gap in logic between them. The AWA prompt generally has more premises and more assumptions, but the gaps in logic are similar.

Here is the procedure to follow as you begin the AWA section:

Identify the main conclusion of the argument. Begin your analysis by reading the entire prompt and identifying the conclusion. As is true of most critical reasoning questions, the conclusion is likely to be at the end of the AWA argument. If you have been practicing critical reasoning, the conclusion should be easy to identify.

Isolate the basic evidence used in the argument. AWA arguments are usually big on assertions but short on good hard evidence. While it may seem impressive at first, an entire argument is often based on a few facts or statistics, such as the fact that an airline had the highest on-time rate, or more graduates of a particular high school are going to college. You can see that evidence such as this is not likely to support a very broad conclusion.

Pinpoint any sub-conclusions or extended assumptions that the argument makes. The AWA argument differs from the typical critical reasoning prompt by often having intermediate conclusions or having an extension of the evidence that requires an additional assumption, such as the assumption that the higher college-attendance rate of high school graduates is a sign of improved education at the school.

The Template
The evidence, subordinate conclusion (or assumption), and main conclusion now become the three body paragraphs for your essay. Add an introduction and a conclusion and your essay will look like this:

Paragraph 1: Introduction stating the source of the argument, summarizing the argument, and stating that it is flawed.

Paragraph 2: Body paragraph indicating assumptions and other flaws in the basic evidence. Do not allow the author to simply give you a fact or statistic without questioning the source and the context.

Paragraph 3: Body paragraph indicating the gap between the basic evidence and the subordinate conclusion, or pointing out the additional assumption that is required to extend the basic evidence.

Paragraph 4: Body paragraph showing the flaws in the main conclusion. Indicate that even if all the evidence is taken in the best way—and even granting all of the assumptions—the main conclusion is still not supported.

Paragraph 5: Conclusion summing up the argument and restating that the conclusion is flawed.

Optional: You may choose to follow your descriptions of the flaws in the argument with suggestions for improvement. This is not required because a great essay can be written merely describing the flaws in the argument, but some students find it natural to include suggestions for improvement.

Now that you have the template, come back next week for part 2 of this article, in which we use the template to breakdown an actual GMAT AWA prompt.

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