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GMAT AWA Strategies

Here are the tips that will support your success on the GMAT’s AWA. 

1) Recognize Unstated Assumptions

This skill is essential for the Critical Reasoning questions, and it will also serve you well on attacking the prompt argument in your AWA.  You can read more about that skill here:


2) Know the Directions

This a matter not only of knowing what they say but also, more importantly, understanding the various options you have for analyzing the argument.  This list of analytical strategies is always given in the paragraph that follows the prompt argument.  It’s important to get familiar with this “analytical toolbox”, so it is yours to employ on test day.


3) Recognize the Common Flaw Patterns

GMAT AWA prompt arguments often contain one of six types of flaws.  Learn to spot these patterns, so you are ready on test day.


4) Plan Before You Write

This is obvious to some test-takers.  Your first task is to find objections to and flaws in the prompt argument.  Create a list of flaws.  Then, select the 2-4 of those that are most relevant, that would be the most persuasive talking points.  Once you have your list of insightful flaws, then you are ready to write.


5) Use a Template

Many test takers find it helpful to have the basic structure of the AWA essay already planned out and practiced, so it’s just a matter of plugging in the specific details on test day.  Here’s an example of a possible template:

  • Paragraph #1: state that the prompt argument is flawed.  Briefly enumerate the flaws you will examine, in the order that you will discuss them.
  • Paragraph #2 (or #2 & #3): Sticking to that same order, analyze each flaw in detail, explaining your reasoning why each is a serious weakness of the argument.
  • Last paragraph: Suggest improvements, which are the reverse of the flaws (i.e. “This argument would be considerably stronger if it did such-and-such to remove flaw #2.”)  Close by restating that is it a weak argument.

Feel free to adapt this template as is, modify it, or create one of your own.


6) Write with Variety

First of all, vary your sentence structures.  Here are some examples of different structures.

  • Simple sentence, one independent clause: Jack went to town.
  • Sentence with two independent clauses: Jill went to town and Jack stayed home.  (Two independent clauses can be joined by “and”, “or”, “but”, “yet”, “so”, etc.)
  • Sentence with an independent clause and one (or more) dependent clauses: Jack went to the town where Jill lives.
  • Sentence with an infinitive phrase: Jack went to that town to see Jill.
  • Sentence with a participial phrase: Hoping to see Jack, Jill went to town.

A good essay might never have two sentences in a row with the same structure.

In addition to variety in sentence structure, strive for variety in word choice.  Of course, you will want to echo words that appear in the prompt argument.  But in your own analysis, vary the descriptive words, never using the same word twice.  Don’t say “weak … weak … weak” when you can say “unpersuasive … untenable … questionable.”  Well-chosen synonyms can make an essay shine.


7) Proofread! Proofread! Proofread!

When you proofread, you have to consider several levels simultaneous: Is every word spelled correctly? Is every structure grammatically correct?  Does the argument logically flow?  Unfortunately (or fortunately!) you are not allowed to read your essay aloud in the testing center.  What I do recommend, though: silently mouth the words, as if you are carefully pronouncing each word, even though you are not making any sounds.  When you move your mouth & tongue, you are engaging more of your brain than when you are simply reading silently with your eyes, and you are more likely to catch subtle mistakes.


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