While the two essays on the GMAT require you to do completely different things, the approach and foundation of each essay is exactly the same. In this blog article, I want to address two questions my students often ask: “How long should I spend on planning the essay vs. writing the essay?” and “How long should the essay be?”.
Pacing the Essay
Thirty minutes isn’t a great deal of time to write Shakespeare. However, you don’t need to be as eloquent and esoteric in your style. What you need to be is clear, organized, and direct. The best way to accomplish those three objectives is to spend a significant amount of time planning your essay before you start typing the essay. Kaplan has specific templates and approaches that we discuss in our course; however, I’m going to simplify our approach for this post:
- Step 1: Spend about 8 minutes planning your essay
In this step, make sure you critically assess the argument and issue at hand. Keep yourself unbiased and objective as you initially understand the argument or issue presented.
- Step 2: Spend about 20 minutes writing your essay
During the writing step, this is where you pull together the ideas you came up with during the planning stage of the essay. While you were objective during the planning stage, in the writing stage, you drop that objectivity and vociferously attack each essay appropriately. However, make sure you also mention the other side – i.e. acknowledge the dissenting point of view. Indicate that while you understand the different point of view, it is not as strong as your position.
- Step 3: Spend about 2 minutes proofreading your essay
Most test takers fail to conduct this final step. Please! Take two minutes to review what you wrote. While you are not restructuring the argument in this case, you need to re-read the essay, correct spelling mistakes, and liberally add structural words.
Length of the Essay
The length of the essay is actually the least important component. The essay is graded on four dimensions – length is not one of those dimensions. Generally, shorter is better (if you were able to clearly articulate your points with specific and clear examples). At the end of the day, the length won’t matter if you are sure to include the following points:
- At least two clear points that articulate your position, broken down by the different essays:
- Argument = Two clear flaws of the argument
- Issue = Two clear points that defend your side of the issue
- At least two clear examples that drive your point home
- At least one counter point (with rebuttal), broken down by the different essays:
- Argument = One clear strengthener point that the author could include to support his position
- Issue = Acknowledgement of a potential point someone on the other side of the issue would argue
If you have these three components in a well-written essay, you’ll score at the top of the AWA range; no matter what the length of the essay.
Make sure you practice full-length CAT tests that have essays included! Before you ever see a quantitative question on test day, you will have already spent 60 minutes writing two intense essays, so it’s important to make sure you practice under the same test like conditions. Good luck!