Facts about the Analytical Writing question (AWA) and the GMAT Writing Score
Fact: The current GMAT involves just one writing task, the Analysis of an Argument task, a 30-minute essay you’ll see at the beginning of the test that will give you your GMAT analytical writing score. The old (pre-2012) GMAT had two essays, but one was cut when Integrated Reasoning was added.
Fact: Like the Integrated Reasoning score, the GMAT Analytic Writing score does not count in your composite GMAT score. It is a separate score, reported alongside the rest of your GMAT scores. (Currently, the full GMAT score report includes a Quantitative subscore, a Verbal subscore, and the overall composite GMAT score representing a combination of those two, a separate IR score, and a separate GMAT writing score. The overall GMAT score is clearly the most important number in the lot.)
Fact: In addition to seeing your overall GMAT score and Q & V subscores, the admissions committee will see your GMAT essay score.
These facts present a question: how much does this GMAT Analytic Writing score matter? Yes, adcom will see it, but how much does it really matter?
The AWA Task
Before we delve into whether the writing score matters, let’s make sure everyone is on the same page about the task we are discussing. When you sit down at the computer ready to take your official GMAT, after the few introductory screens, your first real task will be the Analytical Writing Analysis of an Argument task. The computer will present you with directions and an argument—typically, a massively flawed argument. You can find the complete list of possible prompt arguments in section 11.6 of the GMAT Official Guide. This essay can be thought of as a freestyle “Critical Reasoning Weaken the Argument” question: in other words, you will have to produce an essay explaining why this prompt contains a poor argument. Here are some AWA strategies, an example brainstorming session, and an example GMAT essay.
That’s at least an overview of what you need to know about the GMAT writing question: those links will provide more information. Now, what about the GMAT Writing score?
The GMAT Essay Score: Not so Important?
We certainly could argue that the GMAT Analytical Writing score is not so important. It’s undeniable that the Quantitative sections and Verbal sections, which contribute to the overall GMAT score, are considerably more important than the separate GMAT writing score. Arguably, the fact that the AWA section was “cut in half” when IR was added in 2012 is a further indication of relative importance of the GMAT essay and its score. It’s true that Business school adcom rely on the Quant, Verbal and Composite scores significantly more than the GMAT writing score. In fact, recent evidence suggest that adcoms also rely on the IR score significantly more than the GMAT essay score.
The GMAT Analytical Writing Score is Less Important, but Not Unimportant
While it’s true that, in your GMAT preparation, Quant and Verbal and even IR deserve more attention than the AWA, it’s also true you can’t completely neglect AWA. The difference between a 5 or 6 as your GMAT Analytic Writing score will not make or break a business school admission decision, but having an essay score below a 4 could hurt you.
The purpose of the AWA is to see how well you write, how effectively you express yourself in written form. This is vitally important in the modern business world, where you may conduct extensive deals with folks you only know via email and online chatting. Some of your important contacts in your business career will know you primarily through your writing, and for some, your writing might be their first experience of you. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and when this first impression is in written form, the professional importance of producing high-quality writing is clear. While you don’t need to write like Melville, you need to be competent. A GMAT Analytic Writing score below 4 may cause business schools to question your competence. That’s why it’s important to have at least a decent showing in AWA.
In particular, if English is not your native language, I realize that this makes the AWA essay all the more challenging, but of course a solid performance on the AWA by a non-native speaker would be a powerful testament to how well that student has learned English. Toward this end, it would be important for any non-native speaker to practice writing the AWA essay and to get high-quality feedback on her essays.
It would be a mistake to devote 30% of your available study time to AWA. It would also be a mistake to devote 0% to AWA. Between those, erring on the low side would be appropriate. If, in a three-month span, you write half a dozen practice essays, and get generally positive feedback on them with respect to the GMAT standards, that should be plenty of preparation.
For concrete advice on improving your GMAT essay score, sign up for Magoosh GMAT. We have over 200 lesson videos, teaching you all the content and strategy you will need for the GMAT, including a video series specifically addressing the AWA question. Magoosh is the best way to help not only your GMAT Analytic Writing score, but also every aspect of your GMAT performance.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2012 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.