Recently, I received a couple of emails about Analytical Writing Assessment aka AWA. So, I thought it would be a good time to blog about this "mysterious" test. Firstly, let's go to the fine print, which like any other fine prints, no one cares to read or notice.
"Writing scores are computed separately from the multiple-choice scores and have no effect on the Verbal, Quantitative, or Total scores." - MBA.com
To do or not to do?
So, what does this mean? Either you can skip it entirely or do your best and be done. I won't recommend the first option, at least not if you're a first time GMAT taker. I don't know how much time the Admissions Officers or their part-time assistants have to read your AWA essays but given a typical top 100 business school with more than 1000 applications in any other year, I don't think they even care. However, does this mean that you should score 0 out of 6 points? Nope. Do at least a 5.5 out of 6. It's doable and I will explain how, next. For retakers, you can skip the AWA if you already hit a good 5.5 or above.
So, how do you do AWA?
As mentioned in the MBA.com website, AWA is designed to measure your ability to think critically and communicate your ideas. All the things you learn in high school and in the Sentence Correction and/or Critical Reasoning books will be used now.
There are 2 questions, each for 30 minutes including reading, thinking, planning, writing and rereading.
For Analysis of Issue, it tests your ability to explore the complexities of an issue or opinion and, if appropriate, to take a position that is informed by your understanding. So the operative word here is "take a position". So think about it - either agree or disagree. Don't be a fence-sitter. If you agree, why; if you don't, why.
For Analysis of Argument, it tests your ability to formulate an appropriate and constructive critique of a specific conclusion based on a specific line of thinking. In this case, you start with the "conclusion". Be careful now. Look for the main conclusion - weak or strong, not the subsidiary conclusion. In Critical Reasoning, you learn about different types of conclusions and must be able to differentiate which is the main one.
You can find a list of AWA questions here and sample answers. The GMAT Official Guide has examples of sample answer for a 2/6 scorer, 4/6 and 6/6 scorer. Check the Guide and learn the techniques.
How did I do it?
I spent 5 minutes reading and planning the structure, 2o minutes writing and 5 minutes proof-reading per question. Some time back, I shared my analysis of GMAT. Here it is again if you missed it. Have a structure:
1. Opening paragraph
For Issue analysis, what is your understanding of the issues? Do you agree or not?
For Argument analysis, what was the main conclusion? Do you think it was a weak or strong conclusion?
2. Body Paragraphs
Have 3 paragraphs, max. 1 point per paragraph and quote examples from real-life events or from your country. Each point and examples must support your position of the issue.
For Argument analysis, look for the assumptions. Remember, Premises (P) + (hidden) Assumptions (A) = Conclusion (C). Because assumptions are hidden premises, you need to analyse what were the assumptions that led to the conclusion and whether the assumptions were valid. Again, 3 paragraphs, max. 1 point per paragraph and examples.
3. Closing Paragraph
Sum up with your stated position (Issue analysis) or what would make make a weak conclusion stronger (Argument analysis).
I always find that using real-life examples would boost your arguments in the body paragraphs. The examples also something you can relate and tie to your arguments. Don't worry about quoting numbers. You can make it up. The examiners are not going to check anyway, except for some obvious facts or numbers. If you make up on these, God bless you.
After May 2012
Starting from 1 June 2012, there will only be 1 AWA essay for 3o minutes. It could be either Analysis of Issue or Argument. Whatever it will be, the above technique applies.
In place of the other 30 minutes is the Integrated Reasoning. Now I can't tell you how tough it is or how to prepare. I did not take it and do not plan to take it. You could be the first to do it. Again, GMAC has said that you will get a separate score for Integrated Reasoning. Read this press release.
Since GMAC has consulted business schools on Integrated Reasoning and the schools welcomed this change, it means that how well you do in it matters a lot. You can expect at least for the next 2-5 years, Admissions Officers will look closely at how well you do in Integrated Reasoning AND the usual Verbal/Quant score than AWA. GMAC already announced that takers can try out between now and May 2012, inclusive without affecting your score. How true this is I can't tell. But if you choose to try the Integrated Reasoning during this trial period and is reported in your GMAT Score report, then be prepared to explain during admission interviews.
Overall, these changes are said to be in line with the reality of next-generation business managers which business schools will churn out. Just be prepared to take that next step.