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How to score that perfect 6.0 on GMAT AWA Essay

This guide is meant for essay-phobes who dread the blank screen with the blinking cursor and/or people who simply want to score well (or full) on the GMAT. As far as my qualifications are concerned, I recently gave the GMAT and with good confidence scored a full 6 on my GMAT AWA, despite being an essay-phobe myself.

To get started, you should read Chineseburned’s article on AWA Writing here -http://gmatclub.com/forum/how-to-get-6-0-awa-my-guide-64327.html. The idea of his article is to form a “template” and it suggests some supporting words for you to use while writing your essay. This idea forms the meat of my strategy, and there’s no point in me reproducing the material in this already well-known reference article. Also, note that the Issue essay has been discontinued much to my relief, and this guide will focus exclusively on the Argument essay. I actually waited a whole year so I could give the Next-Gen GMAT rather than the old GMAT with 2 essays, and I must say this “pathetic” strategy paid off – 780 + 6 AWA + 8 IR on my first attempt. I do believe the Quant and Verbal scores would have been negatively affected due to the energy drain caused by the 2 essays.

I’m only going to build on the tips given by Chineseburned, add some more tips and make it EASIER for you to follow.

Now that you’ve read the article, it’s time to jump into some more tricks:

Three things to remember:
1) Remember that the argument essay is more science than art. You need to use connecting words to “build up” your argument. (“Moreover”, “for example”, “to illustrate”, …; do not use “etc…” unless absolutely necessary, it looks like an open ending – make your argument sound robust and confident) People suggest writing about 500 words per essay – the reason being unless you’re a good writer, it’s difficult to convey what you want to say minimally. Take a look at the score 6 essay in the Official Guide – can you pull off an essay like that?

If yes, you don’t need this guide – I should be taking tips from you. If you can’t, read on. A good 500+ word essay usually shows that you can whip up ideas and write atleast well about your ideas in the 30 mins. It’s also useful to remember that the GMAT asks for a “draft” version, not a very awesome finalized essay. So, a bit of structure, good grammar and 3 argument loopholes (2 or 4 is fine, but 3 is a good number to stick to) are all the things that you need to write your essay.

2) It’s also useful to keep in mind that one of your raters is an algorithmic e-rater. You can test yourself against the official e-rater by buying the “GMAT Write” pack from mba.com. I did do this because I wasn’t feeling too sure about my scores, and I feel more confident if I know what to expect beforehand. I do suggest you do the same, because it’s one thing to write an essay and another to see your actual score. The thing here is – good structure and grammar with connecting words in a 500+ word essay is almost guaranteed to give you a 6 – it’s how the e-rater seems to be programmed. On top of that, from what I’ve read, the human graders seem to be so overburdened with essays to check that they too follow an “algorithm” almost the same as the e-rater; a longer essay is sure to score better than a shorter one.

3) Don’t worry about making too much sense in the essay. The e-rater can’t validate your facts and figures – it can only read structure. And the reader cannot verify any of them either – trust me, he doesn’t have the time or the inclination nor is he supposed to do so. All they need is structure, grammar and a well substantiated argument. Feel free to conjure examples out of thin air so long as they substantiate your argument. As I’ll explain later, the examples form the bulk of the essay.

What does this mean for you? Aim for 500+ words – and I’m going to show you exactly how to do that.

How to write a 500 word essay in 30 mins?
After writing my first 2 essays, I realized I was finding it difficult to vomit 500+ pretty words in 30 mins – I needed a shortcut. This section is organized in chronological order from a time management perspective. My time breakup was very simple –

1. Type out your template with full introduction and conclusion. Yes, I cheated. I had a 100+ word intro-conc template ready to vomit without even reading the question! And now I have conclusive proof that this strategy works! That should take approximately 3-4 minutes to type. Voila! No more blank screen , plus you’re free to attack the question and who cares if you even forget the template at this point?

Here’s my template: (MS Word word count: 126)
“The argument that omits some very important considerations that are necessary to get a full 360-degree view of the described scenario. The argument does not provide substantive evidence to be able to prove or even support the main conclusion from the given premises.

First, the argument readily assumes that…

Second, the argument claims that…

Lastly, the argument fails to account for the fact that…

In summary, the argument is extremely flawed because of the above-mentioned reasons and hence comes across as weak and unconvincing to the reader. If the author had mentioned all the relevant facts that are essential to objectively assess the situation under consideration, the argument would have been much stronger. Without this information, the argument remains unsubstantiated and open to debate.”

I must mention that this was close to what I wrote on some of my first practice essays, which helped me memorize it easily. Whatever template you use, just remember to restate the argument in the introduction and keep the other parts independent of the actual argument.

Don’t fill in the part till the next step. Just mark it with a “” or whatever and come back to it after reading the question.

2. Now that you’ve typed out your template, take 3-4 mins to read the question and JOT DOWN 3 loopholes. Write them down on your scratchpad, do not memorize.

2B. Fill in the part in the introduction.

3. All that remains is for you to expand your points into 3 paragraphs which we already started in the template. You’ll need about 400 words. I found this difficult initially, but then, as usual, I came up with a trick – elaborate your examples. They are your saviors. Below is one of my last GMAT Write essays – note the length of the “example” sections marked in red.

Essay prompt:
The following appeared in a memorandum from the director of research and development at Ready-to-Ware, a software engineering firm. “The package of benefits and incentives that Ready-to-Ware offers to professional staff is too costly. Our quarterly profits have declined since the package was introduced two years ago, at the time of our incorporation. Moreover, the package had little positive effect, as we have had only marginal success in recruiting and training high-quality professional staff. To become more profitable again, Ready-to-Ware should, therefore, offer the reduced benefits package that was in place two years ago and use the savings to fund our current research and development initiatives.”

My essay response:
“The argument that Ready-to-Ware should decrease its benefits package for professional staff omits some very important considerations that need to be addressed to get a full 360-degree view of the situation under consideration. The argument does not provide substantive evidence to be able to prove or support the main conclusion from the given premises.

First, we need to consider if the decline is profits has occurred solely due to the increase in employee compensation. There could be multiple reasons for the decrease in the company’s profits over the past two years. For example, the company might have one of it’s major customers to a rival, thus putting pressure on the revenues. If this single customer were responsible for more than 50% of the company’s revenues, a severe drop in profits is to be expected. Another scenario would be if too many competitors have entered Ready-to-Ware’s target space, in the process putting pressure on the company to provide considerable discounts to current and prospective customers to maintain and gain market share.

This is the same scenario that drove out profits from the auto industry in the 1980’s. With too many car manufacturers hogging the same target consumer market, the downward pressure on car prices virtually eliminated the car manufacturer’s profits. One more example of a profit-declining scenario would be a ramping up of taxes by the government to cover it’s budget deficit. Companies usually tackle such problems by shifting headquarters to a more tax-friendly location. Hence, the argument fails to convince the reader that the fall in profits was specifically due to the increase in employee benefits and not due to any other cause.

Second, the argument claims that Ready-to-Ware had problems retaining high-quality professional staff even with the increased compensation package. However, the author fails to mention the competitiveness of Ready-to-Ware’s benefits package in comparison to industry standards. Here, there is a good possibility that Ready-to-Ware’s package was very incompetitive to begin with, thus explaining the company’s low employee retention rates. Even with the increased benefits package, we cannot be sure that Ready-to-Ware is providing enough incentives to its professionals to stick with it when faced with any of its rival’s offers.

For example, if Ready-to-Ware’s original compensation package totaled $30,000 in value, whereas it’s rivals were offering $50,000 on an average at that time for the same job position and responsibilities, it becomes quite clear why the company had problems retaining its professional employees. Again, if the increased compensation package equals $40,000 as a sum total of all benefits, it is still not sufficient to satisfy employees who can see the better opportunities offered by it’s competitors, and that too without considering the fact that the the average job salary in the industry might already have risen above the original $50,000 to adjust for inflation.

Lastly, the argument fails to take into account the negative effects of reducing the package. If the company is already facing employee retention issues, this problem might only be exacerbated by the decrease in benefits. Employees might leave the company is hordes, leaving their positions unmanned, and at the same time creating a two-sided problem for the company which might not be able to attract new employees due to their low salary offering. In the worst case scenario which in this case I believe is actually realizable, that company might go out of business and have to liquidate itself.

In summary, this argument is extremely flawed and unconvincing for the abovementioned reasons. The author fails to take a complete view of the situation and omits some very important considerations required to assess the merits and issues in this situation. If only the author had taken all the above points into account and omitted the counterarguments, the line of reasoning would have been considerable strengthened. “

Notice how the examples have been stretched out and well-developed? It’s easy to do once you practice a few times. Start telling a story in the example, and many a times you’ll find it’s actually more difficult to stop writing than to keep extending. Practicing a few times will give you a good sense of how long each paragraph should be. In most of my essays, the lengths of the 3 body paragraphs decrease from top to bottom – it’s just because I like it that way.

How you want it to look is up to you. Don’t bother to put your 3 points in any order – each can be substantiated well beyond 100 words – your brain will take care of that. To reiterate – conjure examples out of thin air as long as they help strengthen your argument. It’s not cheating, it’s just common sense. A good essay takes time – give me a day and I’ll cook you a feast you’ll never forget; give me a half hour and I’ll microwave leftovers. If I had more time to write that essay above, I’d NEVER EVER have
formatted it the way I have done and it’d have come off WAY BETTER than it currently is – and that will be true for your essay too, it’ll be far from your perfect work. But who cares as long as it gets you that 6, eh?

And the time allotted for this step? Just make sure you finish your essay by the 29th minute. If you aim for the 29th minute, you might need 30 seconds extra and you’ll have a buffer. I tried to finish it by the 30th minute once when practicing and ended up leaving an open sentence when software abruptly ended my essay session. It’s best to finish by the 29th minute.

4. DO NOT reread. Relax. Trust the template and trust what you’ve filled in the blanks. Rereading will only lead to anxiety and might screw up your later sections. There WILL be mistakes in your essay. Remember – it’s a draft, you’re allowed some grammatical, spelling or punctuation mistakes.

Practice makes a man perfect. And women too. Sorry for that cliché, but none of this will be helpful unless you write your own essays to get the hang of it. Depending on your confidence level, you’ll need to write 4-8 essays to get comfortable with typing it all out in 30 mins without a hitch. And again, if you want to get really confident about your scores, just get a GMAT Write package – it’s much more satisfying to actually see your essay graded by the actual e-rater algorithm. GMAT Write also gives you a breakup of your score, so it’ll be easier for you to hit the deficient areas if any.

On the day of the GMAT
Trust your template. Don’t question your method just because it’s mechanical. Remember – you’re running a marathon and this is just the first 1/7th of it. Conserve your energy. Just follow what you’ve planned without questioning. And once the essay is done, forget about it. Concentrate on the sections you’re doing. This article might be about scoring a 6 but most schools don’t care as long as you score a 4+. The high score is just to satisfy your big ego.

Best of luck for your GMAT and I’d love to hear any feedback!

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