The Unconventional Guide To Writing For The GMAT

By - May 21, 14:31 PM Comments [0]

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Prepare to think on your feet

Structure gets all the limelight.  Structure is undoubtedly a huge deal on the GMAT AWA. After all, you are being graded in part by a computer. But there is still much to be said for content, and the more you think about what to say before you say it, the less likely you are to run out things to say, besides simply repeating, “the argument is also weak because it fails to substantiate a number of points.” Remember, only one of the graders is a computer. The other grader will be very aware if your content is lacking.

Content is king

Much of the content, believe it or not, will come from your brain. All the advice you get about the structure and the exact wording will only help you so much. Generating ideas on the fly, though, can be difficult—especially on test day. A good tactic is to practice using the arguments in the back of the Official Guide. Your job: identify several assumptions and ways that those assumptions can be strengthened or disproven.

Official prompt from GMAT webpage:

“The following appeared in a memorandum from the business department of the Apogee Company:

“‘When the Apogee Company had all its operations in one location, it was more profitable than it is today. Therefore, the Apogee Company should close down its field offices and conduct all its operations from a single location. Such centralization would improve profitability by cutting costs and helping the company maintain better supervision of all employees.’

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion.”

The first step is to identify possible assumptions. This process might seem difficult at first, but with a little practice, you’ll become more adept at it.

Generating ideas means generating content

Questionable assumptions

1.  Profitability had one cause: having all operations centralized in one location.

2.  Even if that were the case, returning to a centralized operation does not ensure profitability.

3.  Supervision of employees is desirable and will lead to profit.

I probably could have come up with a few more assumptions, but I’d be stretching. The point of this exercise—indeed, the whole point of the AWA Argument task—is not to identify every questionable assumption, but to identify the main assumptions. From these few assumptions, you can build your essay. Remember, the instructions explicitly tell us to do the following:

“…what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion.”

Therefore, we need to take those first three assumptions and build off of them by offering alternative explanations and/or counterexamples.

1.  Profitability had one cause: having all operations centralized in one location.

Alternative explanation:

Profitability could have resulted from a number of different factors.

Counterexample:

For instance, Apogee could have focused on just one product, one that did well in the market and boosted company sales. The fact that operations were all under one roof did not impact the success of the company’s product. Indeed, Apogee could have continued to be profitable when it expanded its operations. We only know that at some point it was no longer profitable.

At this point, I could list another counterexample for the alternative explanation and house it under the same paragraph. This will help you add the much-needed length that many students struggle to provide in the essay. By coming up with realistic counterexamples, you can not only write a longer essay, but also a more persuasive one.

A good approach is to repeat the above for each of the questionable assumptions so that you are able to come up with five paragraphs (introduction, three bodies, and a conclusion). First, practice writing one solid paragraph, containing alternative explanations and realistic counterexamples. Once you can confidently do that, repeat two more times and you will be well on your way to a competitive essay score.

Takeaway

You must be able to pinpoint questionable assumptions upon which the argument hinges and you must generate original counterexamples. No amount of learning cookie-cutter language (“the argument is unconvincing because it fails to account for several notable….”) will help you think of ideas specific to the argument you see on test day.

MBA 5 Fatal Flaws

This post was written by Chris Lele, resident test prep expert at Magoosh and a leader in GMAT prep. For more advice on taking the GMAT, check out Magoosh’s GMAT blog.

Related Resources:

• The GMAC, the GMAT, and the MBA Degree
• Get Accepted to Top B-Schools with Low Stats
• Analyzing Your GMAT Score: 4 Questions to Ask Yourself

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