Meet the AWA
Many people give the AWA short shrift – after all, it is not included in the 260 – 340 score range. However, a very low writing score could hurt your chances of getting accepted to many graduate programs. So, it is important, even if you have to take a little time out from your busy GRE prep schedule, to practice just enough.
The AWA is scored on a scale from 0.0 to 6.0, in 0.5 increments. While very few people are able to get a perfect 6, most graduate programs aren’t too concerned about your score, as long as you are able to get a 4.0 and above. Of course, you know best whether your graduate program falls into that range. Are you looking to go to journalism school? Well, then anything less than a 5.0 is problematic. Looking to do computer science or engineering? For most programs, a 4.0 should be sufficient.
A 4.0 translates to roughly the 50% mark. Basically, you are able to write two essays, 30-minutes each, better than half of the essay applicants. To get to this level should be your goal. If you program requires at least a 4.5, which some do, you will then be only 0.5 off.
Yes, the AWA is not just one long, taxing essay but two, relatively long, taxing essays. For the first essay, you will have to take a side on a complex issue and craft a 4 – 6 paragraph essay, offering supporting examples and logic to support your position. This is the Issue statement, and, for most, is usually the more difficult of the two essays.
The next essay is called the Argument. Instead of having to argue your own position, the way you must do on the Issue task, you must criticize someone else’s argument. This someone else happens to be the GRE test-writers. But don’t worry – they are not going to ask you to challenge an essay written on Marxist theory. The arguments are always based on real-world, straightforward examples. Better yet, the arguments are usually filled with gaping logical holes that make it relatively easy for you to take apart the argument (don’t worry, the logical skills you employ on the critical reasoning questions in the Verbal section are far more nuanced).
So what does it take to get a 4.0? Well, for both the Issue and the Argument task, you will want to write an essay that is each of the following:
- Well-structured: The essay should have an Intro, Body Paragraphs and Conclusion. Your intro should end with a clearly defined thesis, so the person reading your essay knows what you are trying to prove.
- Well-reasoned: For the Issue paragraphs, your body paragraphs should contain examples, either actual or hypothetical, that cogently defend your position. For the Argument task, you convincingly show why the argument is weak.
- Well-Expressed: The GRE wants to get a sense of how well you write. And by write, I mean, do you use relatively sophisticated speech? Do you vary up your sentences? Do grammar issues interfere with your expression?
Together, the three points will give the GRE reader an overall impression (what they call a holistic approach) of your writing ability. Again, this score will be based on a scale from 0.0 – 6.0.
So, those were the high-level basics. But don’t worry – there is a lot more to come. We are going to take a look at the Issue and Argument independently. I will show you the difference between a 4.0 and a 6.0 (and just as importantly, a 3.0 and a 4.0). I will also show you how to improve your writing by focusing on concision, clarity and logical flow.