UPDATE: Some of this article's advice is now outdated due to changes in the GMAT. An updated article on the exam can be found here.
The Analytical Writing section is the dark horse of the GMAT. Often ignored and rarely prepared for, the Analytical Writing section slides behind the curtain of the Quantitative and Verbal Sections.
However, it can dramatically improve your chances of acceptance, and some schools even place minimum Analytical Writing score requirements. The following tips can make it easier for you to grasp what a solid essay is and the thought behind it. But, working with a GMAT Writing Tutor can help you take your essay to the next level, and ultimately improve your chances of acceptance.
See more from Varsity Tutors on how to increase your GMAT score.
Background: You will write two, 30-minute essays (Analysis of an Issue and Analysis of an Argument), scored 1-6. Your overall score is an average of the two, and it can range in half point increments. Each of your essays will be graded by a human reader and maybe automated, essay-scoring software, which will evaluate structural and linguistic features. But most importantly, your readers are looking for a logical organization of ideas, syntactic variety and topic analysis.
The GMAT Analytical Writing Section boils down to this: make a legitimate point and convince your readers it is true (including your non-human ones). Chances are, you will see a business-related topic, but you might see a variety of other general-interest topics.
The average score is 4, and a 5 or higher would rank you in the 90th percentile. To be accepted into top schools, you will probably need at least a 5.
Analysis of an Issue: Here,you have to argue for or against a given topic. What you really need to do, is establish a firm position in your first paragraph, and then pick 3-4 examples to support your stance. Try to diversify your supporting examples. Use a business example, a historical example and a personal example. With this prompt, you’re writing your typical 5-paragraph essay with an intro, supporting body paragraphs and a conclusion.
Analysis of an Argument: Instead of arguing your belief on a particular topic, you will analyze an argument that is provided. You will be asked to discuss its strengths and weaknesses, and how you can make it better.
You can write about how the argument presented has solid logic. However, you will be able to pull from so much more content if you state the argument is illogical. You want to look for faulty assumptions the author made. That’s your bread-and-butter in this prompt. Chances are, the prompt will take a giant leap forward, claiming one truth causes another, when the truths are actually correlated and not causally related. Look for that.
The prompt will also ignore many factors that need to be considered, especially if it’s a business prompt. There are a lot of business factors that need to consider beyond profit margin, including: image, employee morale, environmental efforts, persona, ethics, etc. Write about how these are ignored. This does not have to be the typical 5-paragraph essay. But, you need to state if the argument is valid or not in your first paragraph, then have 3-4 paragraphs of examples supporting your point, and then a conclusion.
Review with a tutor: Practicing can improve your writing, and it can do so dramatically. Pull a few prompts off the web and write essays for them, and have your tutor grade them and offer suggestions. Write as many of these as you possibly can.
Be specific: Time is an issue, but you need to be as specific as humanly possible for both prompts. Instead of stating something like Wal-Mart focuses solely on cost-cutting, write something like: Wal-Mart takes measures to ensure employees do not earn overtime, uses energy-efficient light bulbs, operates with less packaging – all of which improve its cost-cutting business model.
Use numbers: Money is the universal business language. Most of your prompts will hint at costs, profits and revenues. Use these figures in your essay, either made up, ballpark figures or actual figures.
Teach your reader something: Everybody has some weird, random knowledge that is never useful. Well, it’s useful here because you want your reader to learn something new by reading your essay. If your reader can stop and say: “Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t know that,” then you have won. You have proven that you’re intelligent. For example, cite a specific fallacy the writer makes in your analysis of an argument essay. See a full list here.
Read business material: You’re applying to business school, and you need to be current and knowledgeable in the field. Read the business sections in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and watch as much CNN as you possibly can. Bring this knowledge into your essays. Try to write something like: “It would be wise for this company to avoid the same mistake company XYZ did in assuming….”
Read opinionated pieces: Newspaper columns, blogs, editorials, etc. Pay attention to how these writers form their arguments and try to mimic their style. You know the old saying: you are what you eat. Well the same holds true with writing: you write what you read. So, load your mind up with this style of writing, and it will all just fall out.
Make stuff up: Don’t lie about what existing companies did, but it is safe to make something up about a personal example. You have to argue your point, and if you only use existing facts/knowledge, you are severely limiting yourself. So, be creative and bring your brother’s imaginary business model into your essay.