How to Assess an Analytical Writing Assessment Prompt

The Analytical Writing Assessment, or AWA, is the first section of the GMAT exam. You are allotted 30 minutes to compose an Analysis of an Argument essay in which you must assess the strength of an argument by identifying its assumptions and flaws. Here are five steps to help you craft an effective critique in the minimal time the AWA allows.

1. Read the prompt

Before you begin your response, review the AWA passage presented to you. Determine what is being said, as well as who is saying it. For example, consider the Analysis of an Argument prompt available on page 25 of this document, which concerns a potential uniform policy at Bayview High School.

This prompt poses the question of whether high school students at one school should wear uniforms based on the performance of students at another school in the same town. This issue is being raised via a letter written to the editor of a newspaper. Now that we know the situation at hand, what is the next step? 

2. Determine the argument

The argument often appears at the end of the passage, and it usually includes a prediction, a suggestion, or an assumption-based conclusion. What does the author of this letter to the editor think should happen? He or she hopes that Bayview High School will adopt a uniform policy. Once you find the argument, assess its overall strength and start outlining your response. 

3. Identify the assumptions

What is the author basing his or her argument on? Why should Bayview High School students wear uniforms? According to the writer, Acorn Valley Academy students, who do wear uniforms, generally earn higher grades and are more likely to attend college than Bayview High School students. Additionally, Acorn Valley Academy students are infrequently absent, late, or disruptive. The writer appears to associate the notable performance of students at Acorn Valley Academy with uniform use, and he or she believes that students at Bayview High School should have the same clothing requirements. This stage can be difficult—if necessary, request the assistance of a mentor or GMAT tutor as you complete practice prompts. 

4. Develop two to three flaws

What is incorrect about the author’s assumptions? How does he or she leave the argument vulnerable to attack? In the example above, the unnamed writer provides no proven evidence that the presence of uniforms at Acorn Valley Academy has caused its students’ exemplary performance. The differences between the students at the two schools may be attributable to other issues. For instance, though the students live in the same town, they do not necessarily live in the same neighborhoods. They may come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. The students at each school might not even be the same age.

Furthermore, the quality of the classes, teachers, and administrative staff at the two schools may be far from equivalent. More qualifying information must be provided before deciding that uniforms are the best way to resolve the discrepancies between the two groups. If possible, include a concrete example of schools in a similar circumstance whose characteristics differed based on reasons outside of uniforms. These are some simple ways to improbve your writing skills which may help you as well.

5. Conclude with advice

Conclude your response by restating your main thesis and what must be examined before arriving at a decision. How can these logical flaws be addressed? How would doing so strengthen the argument? In this example, research could be conducted to examine the effects of requiring uniforms at other schools in the region. In addition, a survey could be completed at both Bayview High School and Acorn Valley Academy to assess what qualities the students, parents, teachers, and staff believe influence average grades and college attendance. 

In addition to following these five steps, remember to budget your time wisely. You only have 30 minutes to compose a detailed critique. Use the first five minutes to plan your essay. Spend the next 20 minutes writing as much as you can. Finally, use the last five minutes for editing and polishing. Your prose need not be perfect, but it should leave the reader with the best impression possible of your composition skills as a future MBA student. Here are some great tips on how to increase your GMAT analytical writing score.