I just started seriously preparing for the AWA section of the GMAT. Until a week or so ago, I had no idea what was involved in the Analytical Writing Assessment. After reading a few different sample essays and some preliminary prep material, I devised a basic approach.
Intro to the AWA
The AWA includes 2 essays: an analysis of an issue and an analysis of an argument. The time allotted for each essay is 30 minutes. Each essay is graded on a scale of 1-6 by multiple markers, and the average of these marks is what you are awarded. The average is rounded up to the nearest multiple of 0.5. A score of 5 or 6 would be a good score to achieve.
The analysis of an issue is your standard five-paragraph opinion essay. You are given a topic and you are expected to choose a side on the issue and make arguments to support your position. Generally, 2-3 arguments with some supporting examples drawn from history, literature or personal experience are more than enough for a strong essay. As with any essay, a strong introduction/conclusion stating your thesis is required.
The analysis of an argument essay is like an extension of the critical reasoning questions from the verbal section. You are given an argument: “when i taught middle school the grades of my students went up x%. When I was fired and someone else took over, grades fell x%. Therefore I should get my job back.” Based on such an argument, you are to discuss how well-reasoned the argument is. In every case, the best bet is to say that the argument is poor or flawed, and provide reasons why. Invariably, the reasons are that the author’s premise and assumptions are not well supported. The authors of these arguments usually do not provide any evidence to support their claims, and implicit to their arguments are assumptions that establishe causal links between two events. Breaking 2-3 of these assumptions down should be enough for a strong essay.
How to Approach the AWA
If you are comfortable with your writing skills, the best way to prepare for the AWA is to practice. Most of the time, you would want to allot 5 minutes to outline your essay and come up with your main points, spend 20 minutes writing, and the last 5 minutes proof-reading the essay. So if you are a strong writer, the best way to tackle these essays is to visit mba.com (http://www.mba.com/the-gmat/test-structure-and-overview/analytical-writing-assessment-section.aspx) and download the official list of topics, and then just write as many timed essays as you can before the test day.
If your writing skills need some brushing up, there are numerous resources providing tips and templates/outlines that you could memorize to make life easier. These can be found at Beat the GMAT.com (http://www.beatthegmat.com/mba/resources#linkcat-68). After reviewing these tips and formulating an approach that works for you, go back and practice, practice, practice.
My Prep Plan
Given that I like to write, I decided that the best way to practice for me was to write timed essays along with my practice CATs. I might occasionally write a couple of timed essays when I have a free 30 minutes as well. I’ll post my latest essays separately in case anyone’s interested in seeing a sample or providing feedback.
I plan on reviewing the official topics and making sure I don’t see anything too difficult. If I see topics I might be unfamiliar with, I will probably try to set aside time to write them. My goal is to write between 10-15 of each type of essay between now and June 4th.
The AWA does not test whether someone is an amazing writer. The goal of these tests is to assess whether someone is a competent business writer, and can think analytically about an issue and critically about an argument presented to them. So the goal is not to spend hours polishing writing skills and achieving the quality one might need to be an author, but rather to understand how to formulate an argument, develop each point fully but concisely, and present an essay with minimal grammatical and spelling errors. This is a much easier goal, and should be achievable for everyone comfortable with the English language.
Hope that provides some encouragement to anyone who might be dreading the AWA portion of the GMAT. Happy writing!