Writing the GMAT Argument Essay

By - Jan 27, 07:00 AM Comments [0]

Writing the GMAT Argument Essay

As you probably know by now, with the inclusion of the Integrated Reasoning (IR) section came the exclusion of the one of the previously required essays.  Before the test change, GMAT test takers built the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) score on the backs of two essays: Analysis of an Argument and Analysis of an Issue.  These two essays would be scored independently—by one human and one computer—then those two scores would be averaged for a total AWA score on a 0-6 point scale in ½-point increments.  In order to keep total testing time at 3.5 hours, test makers decided to cut the thirty-minute Analysis of an Issue essay and insert a thirty-minute Integrated Reasoning section. Now, only the GMAT Argument essay remains.

So what can you make of this decision?  Are you better off with the Argument essay over the Issue essay?  And, if so, is there a way we can ensure a top-scoring essay on test day?  Good news: yes and yes.

First, writing the GMAT Argument essay over an Issue essay is preferable because of all the work you do studying GMAT Critical Reasoning (CR) questions.  Seventy percent of CR questions you will see on test day will come from what is known as the Assumption Family of question types (aka, the Argument Family).  In each of these question types—Assumption, Strengthen, Weaken, and Flaw—you always approach in the exact same way.  That is, you identify the Conclusion, then the Evidence, and then tease out the author’s primary Assumption(s).  You see, a GMAT argument will always state both a conclusion and evidence for the conclusion.  What you will never be given, what the author will never state explicitly, are the underlying assumptions that allow this evidence to lead to this conclusion.  But, in order to answer Assumption Family questions you must identify what those unstated assumptions are.

The good news about the Argument essay can be summed up by “The Four Truths” present in every single essay prompt created:

  1. There will be a Conclusion.
  2. There will be Evidence.
  3. There will be Assumptions linking the Conclusion and Evidence.
  4. Those Assumptions will be flawed.

Beautiful, right?  The better you get at Critical Reasoning, the easier deconstructing the AWA essay prompt will be.  In the Issue essay, you had to come up with your own ideas, reasoning, and support for taking a particular position on an issue provided.  However, in the Argument essay, all you need is tucked away within the prompt itself.  Sure, you have to do some detective work to sniff it out, but it is comforting to know it’s there.

OK, so what about the other question: Is there a sure-fire way to churn out a top-scoring essay no matter what the given argument is?  You bet.  Quite simply, you’ll open by restating the conclusion and evidence in your own words.  Then, you’ll identify at least two flawed assumptions and explain why they are flawed—one assumption per paragraph.  After that, you’ll talk about how the argument could be strengthened (here, you can just feed off of what you said was wrong with it), then you’ll wrap up with a conclusion.  That’s it.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, your GMAT essay is going to be scored by one human and one computer.  I suggest reading my previous post: GMAT essays: Computers score your work, and they are really good at it to learn more about those computers.  But just in case you’re running short on time, I’ll give you the gist…

When that human grader gets to your essay—you know, the one you toiled over for half an hour—what do you think that human had been doing right before your essay popped up on their screen?  Grading essays.  And what do you think that human is going to do after they finish with your essay?  Grade more essays.  And how much time do you think they will devote to evaluating your little essay baby that you worked so hard to compose?  Under two minutes, even as little as one.  So, then, what is that human trying to do?  Emulate a machine.

The aforementioned structure of an Analysis of an Argument might seem formulaic, but you need to appreciate that you are writing for a machine and someone trying their darndest to act like one.  Feed the machine and you will be rewarded.

Questions about the argument essay or the test change? Talk to us in the comments!

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