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Format of the Analytical Writing Assessment

The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) is the first section of the GMAT. It is 30 minutes long and requires you to respond to an essay question: the Analysis of an Argument essay. You will be given 30 minutes to complete the essay.

The Analytical Writing Assessment requires you to respond to an essay question within 30 minutes. The Analysis of an Argument asks that you evaluate an argument or critique a line of reasoning. You are not required to agree or disagree with the argument, but you must clearly point out the strengths and weaknesses in the argument.

The argument topics that you will be asked to write about may or may not pertain to business. You can visit the Web site www.mba.com to download a comprehensive list of sample topics. It is helpful to review this list of topics, but do not try to write a sample essay for each one because the list is much too extensive. Moreover, the wording of the question on the test may be altered, so it is best just to become familiar with the kind of arguments you will be required to address. The more familiar you are with the material that will be on the test, the more prepared and confident you’ll be on test day.

You will type your essay on a computer using a very basic word processor. The Analytical Writing Assessment starts with a tutorial that shows how the word processor works. You may write your essay on the computer or on paper supplied at the center. However, handwritten essays can take up to four weeks to be scored. Once you exit the section, you cannot return, even if you finish with time remaining.

How to Get a “Top-Half” Score

Writing essays for standardized exams can raise anxieties in people who are poised when answering other kinds of test questions. Perhaps this is because critical and creative skills are being tested and evaluated in a more subjective manner than they are within the objective multiple-choice format. Performance anxiety can lead to a host of problems, from having a difficult time understanding exactly what is being asked to having debilitating uncertainties about how to begin an answer.

The best way to reduce such anxieties, and therefore increase your chance of obtaining a top-half score, is through rehearsal, which encompasses four activities that need to take place before taking the GMAT:
  1. understanding the writing task
  2. knowing what the evaluators expect to find in top-half essays
  3. anticipating an organizational scheme for the two essay
  4. writing out at least one answer for the question
Having completed these four steps, you will be in an excellent position to approach the Analytical Writing Assessment with confidence and competency.

Scoring the Analytical Writing Section

Although you can view your math and verbal scores at the test center shortly after the test, your analytical writing score will not be available until 10–15 days after the test.
Your essay will be graded holistically, receiving a score between 0 and 6, with half-point intervals possible. Your paper will be read by two readers, one of which may be E-rater®. E-rater is an electronic evaluation that will examine the organization and variety of your essay as well as the clarity with which you have analyzed the given topic. The two readers’ scores will be averaged to give one score that represents the total score awarded for the Analytical Writing Assessment. Papers awarded 6's are considered to be outstanding, 5's are strong, 4's are adequate, 3's are limited, 2's are seriously flawed, and 1's are fundamentally deficient.
Notice that papers graded with “top-half” scores—4, 5, or 6—are described as having positive attributes, whereas papers receiving “bottom-half” scores—1, 2, or 3—are described as being problematic.
Before we begin studying particular essays, we need to review some fundamentals of sentence structure and punctuation. No matter how inspired an essay is, its score may be hurt by punctuation errors that make the essay difficult to read or inadvertently change its intended meaning.

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