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Does AWA Really Matter for Business School?

What is the GMAT Essay, and Why Does it Matter?

The GMAT Essay is– true to its name– an essay you write for the GMAT. In the GMAT’s writing task, you must give a written analysis of an argument. This task, also known as the Analytical Writing Question, or AWA, has no specific length requirements. But typically, a successful GMAT AWA essay is between 4 and 6 paragraphs long.

The Analytical Writing Assessment measures skills that are important for your studies and career. The arguments you analyze pertain to business operations, governmental policies, and scholarly research. The ability to critically examine such arguments is very important in management classes and in actual managerial work.

So that’s why the skills in GMAT AWA is important. But how important is the task itself? How is your AWA score related to your whole-test score? And how much do schools care about your marks on the GMAT essay? Read on to find out.

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.

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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?

GMAT analytical writing score from the GMAT essay

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.

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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.

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17 Responses to Does AWA Really Matter for Business School?

  1. Taylor December 16, 2016 at 11:29 am #

    730 (45 Quant) (45 Verbal) (6 AWA) (8 IR)
    I want to retake because my quant score is awful but I also don’t want to risk my perfect score on AWA and IR…
    Am I better off just trying to prove my quantitative ability another way?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert December 16, 2016 at 4:28 pm #

      Hi Taylor,

      First of all, congrats on a strong GMAT score! I actually went back to our What is a Good Score on the GMAT? post because I was confused by your ‘awful quant score’ comment and thought that the score system had somehow changed. Your score right now puts you in the average of the top business schools in the world, so there’s nothing ‘awful’ about it! 😀

      The retake question, unfortunately, is a difficult one to answer. In our Should I Retake the GMAT? blog, Mike says that anyone who scored above a 720 shouldn’t even consider a retake. But it really depends on how much your target schools rely on the quant score–some research or an email to the admissions department might clear that up for you. However, remember that there are many other components to a strong application, as well as other ways to show your math aptitude if you are worried about that. Unless you are completely convinced that your target school won’t accept anything less than an elite math score (which probably isn’t the case), your time would probably be better spent crafting a strong application and relaxing after a strong GMAT showing 🙂

  2. Rentol July 19, 2016 at 6:48 am #

    Hi Mike, I had been advised that if you are fine with your IR and AWA scores, in case of retake, there’s no need to retake also these two sections (as far as you will use both scores in your application). So i did that way and on my retake the overall quantitative and verbal score were satisfying so I would apply using both scores. Do you think that was a bad idea? Thank you!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 23, 2016 at 7:56 pm #

      That’s a very interesting question. It’s certainly possible to demonstrate good performance in IR and AWA when you take the GMAT the first time, and then demonstrate good Verbal and Quant abilities separately on a retake. Whether a school will actually accept qualifying GMAT scores if they’re spread across two separate tests is hard to say. Policies likely vary from school to school. TO see if the approach you took will work for the schools you applied to, I’d advise consulting with a professional admissions counselor or asking the admissions offices at your target schools.

  3. Ryan November 4, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    Hi Mike, I’m took the GRE and I am applying to grad school programs. I got a 167 in Verbal and 160 in Quant, but I only got a 4.0 on my essay. After taking the test I was looking forward to moving on to focusing on applications, but when I received my essay score, now I’m not sure if I should retake the test. Do you think that that 4.0 score will hurt me?

    • Dani Lichliter
      Dani Lichliter November 5, 2015 at 12:12 pm #

      Hi Ryan,
      Thanks for your question! Here’s an article from Mike about whether or not you should retake the GMAT. I hope it’s helpful! 🙂
      Best of luck!

  4. David September 30, 2015 at 2:31 am #

    Hi Mike – question on the AWA: got a 740 an a 4.0 AWA, which I find surprising… Well, I didn’t really prepare for the AWA, but strongly followed Kapplan’s logic. Do you think it’s fine (for HBS/Stanford) or should I maybe pay for a $45 reassessment? There’s of course the chance that I might get degraded 😉 Thx, David

  5. John February 14, 2014 at 6:05 am #

    I got 740 but 3.0 on AWA. Should i retake the exam or write an extra essay to explain to explain ? Thanks!

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike February 14, 2014 at 9:07 am #

      Hmmm. That’s tough question about a unique situation. I would recommend meeting with a qualified admission consultant about the best way to handle this situation..
      Mike 🙂

  6. Aman October 29, 2013 at 4:21 am #

    Hey Mike,

    I recently took the GMAT and got 650 (Q49, V29), i don’t know what went wrong in my AWA because i didn’t expect 3.5. I am applying to ESADE , CASS, Cranfield and Rotterdam. Do you suggest me to retake the exam before applying?


    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike October 29, 2013 at 10:14 am #

      Dear Aman,
      I will recommend this blog:
      I’m not really familiar with all of those schools, and I think an admission consultant would be more qualified to answer your questions than would a GMAT expert.
      Mike 🙂

  7. Jon C August 28, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    I got a 720 but only 3.5 on writing. I feel like I should retake for sure.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike August 29, 2013 at 10:09 am #

      I would recommend against that. I know other folks who did well on the main 800-scale part of the GMAT, bombed the AWA, and still got into good schools. Just make sure your essay and other materials in your application are exceptionally well written, to dispel any doubts.
      Mike 🙂

  8. N April 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    Hi, the official website states that the Integrated Reasoning is a 30-minute section of 12 questions and that it replaces the AWA Analysis of an Issue essay.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike April 10, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

      N: Thank you. That’s a good catch. We updated the post. Thanks again. Mike 🙂

      • Raghav March 8, 2013 at 10:59 am #

        Hey Mike !!

        I got a 750 but 4.0 AWA. Do you think i need to rewrite the exam ?

        • Mike MᶜGarry
          Mike March 8, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

          Raghav: No way! Just make your application essay shine! Mike 🙂

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