Crafting an Excellent Essay on the GMAT
The Essay assignment on the GMAT asks the test taker to analyze an argument and to write an essay that explains the analysis.
As is stated in the Official Guide, an outstanding essay will:1) Clearly identify important features of the argument and analyze them insightfully
2) Develops ideas cogently, organizes them logically, and connects them with clear transition
3) Effectively supports the main points of the critique
4) Demonstrate control of language including diction and syntactic variety
5) Demonstrate facility with the conventions of standard written English The essay may have minor flaws.
A test taker can effectively conquer each part of this standard by applying systematic thinking and writing skills to create an essay that is well thought out, well organized, and well written. The first step in this process is to brainstorm to identify the features of the argument and to begin the analysis.
Brainstorming for the GMAT essay begins with clearly identifying both the premise(s) and the conclusion of the argument. Flaws are often mistaken assumptions, but they can also be misused or poorly defined terms. It is important to note that although some arguments contain significantly more than three main flaws, the test taker should focus on only three. Attempting to explain more than three often leads to a rambling essay that lacks sufficient analysis.
For example, in the prompt: Many car accidents are caused by a driver failing to recognize that he is approaching an object too quickly and failing to apply the brakes early enough to avoid a collision. The collision warning systems, which will be installed in all cars manufactured after 2020, identifies when the car is in danger of colliding with an object and applies the brakes automatically, thus preventing the car from running into the object. This system will ensure that those new cars will not be the cause of future accidents and will reduce greatly the number of traffic accidents.
The Brainstorming would look something like this on your scratch paper:
Conclusion: The collision warning system, which is to be installed in all cars after 2020, will ensure that those cars will not be the cause of future accidents and will reduce greatly the number of traffic accidents.
Premises: Many car accidents are caused when a driver fails to brake appropriately.
The system will apply the brakes for the driver.
1. The argument does not take into account the fact that older model cars will not have the system and, thus, only putting the system in new cars is not likely to reduce the number of traffic accidents significantly.
2. The author assumes that applying the brakes for the driver will not cause additional problems, which might lead to more accidents.
3. The author fails to take into account other types of accidents, for which the owners of the new cars could still be responsible.
This amount of brainstorming is necessary for a well-organized essay, and it should take no more than 2 to 3 minutes of the total essay time. If this part of essay writing is difficult for you, try doing practice drills in which you use the sample essay topics from the Official Guide to complete the brainstorming portion in timed conditions. Practicing this skill often leads to improved results on the essay overall.
Writing the Essay
One well-organized essay format is the following:
Body Paragraph (Flaw #1)
Body Paragraph (Flaw #2)
Body Paragraph (Flaw #3)
While there are other formats, which might provide good results as well, this format works to show proper organization, while leaving enough time and writing space to analyze the argument completely. Focusing on one format, instead of creating multiple options, will allow you to practice consistency in writing.
For maximum effectiveness, the introduction needs to do three things:
1) Restate the conclusion and the premises of the argument.
2) State that the argument contains logical errors
3) Explain that the logical errors make the argument logically unconvincing.
If you accomplish each one of these tasks in well-constructed sentences, which vary in structure and which contain proper syntax, your essay will be off to a good start.
Because this task is the same for every essay, you can construct a good basic template for this part of the argument. You will be sure to always have a good start for your essay. Construction and proofreading of your personal template will allow you to save time as well as to ensure that this paragraph will conform to the basic rules of English usage and will reduce grammatical errors.
My personal introduction template follows this basic form:
The author of this argument claims that ___________________________ . This claim is based on the facts that _____________________ and _________. While this conclusion may be factually convincing, in its current form, it contains several assumptions that expose its logical inconsistency. In order to make this argument more convincing, the author will need to address these problems.
The example prompt cited earlier in this article fits into this template as follows:
The author of this argument claims that the collision warning system to be installed in new cars will ensure that those cars will not be the cause of future accidents and that the overall number of accidents will be reduced. This claim is based on the fact that the warning system will recognize when a driver is too close to an object and will apply the brakes. While this conclusion may be convincing at first glance, in its current form, it contains several assumptions that expose its logical inconsistency. In order to make this argument more convincing, the author will need to address these problems.
The template provided is not intended for re-use. Instead, use the example to create a template for yourself that allows for a good start to your overall essay.
The Body Paragraphs
Once the introduction is written, it is time to move on to the body paragraphs, focusing on one at a time. A good body paragraph will follow the following format:
I. Topic sentence with a solid transition
II. A full explanation of the gap in the reasoning
III. Discussion of other possible outcomes or interpretations
IV. Statement that this gap makes the argument logically problematic
V. Suggestion for what the author could do to improve the gap in the argument.
An example of a body paragraph for the sample topic would read:
One of the major problems with this argument is that the author assumes that installing a collision avoidance system in new cars will greatly reduce the total number of accidents. The use of greatly reduced shows an assumption that there are a large number of accidents involving new cars. As written, there is no clear statement of how many accidents involved new cars; thus, it is unclear whether equipping new cars with the system will actually have the effect of “greatly reducing” the number of accidents. If the statistics show that older cars are involved in most of the accidents, then the conclusion that the number of accidents would be greatly reduced would be wrong. The author’s use of “greatly reduced” is therefore not warranted by the argument in its current form. In order to improve this argument, the author could provide statistics showing that a large enough number of accidents are caused by new cars to bear the statement that those accidents would result in a large reduction.
As you can see, the above template allows for your to understand the purpose of each sentence in the paragraph and focus on them one at time while allowing room for creativity and personal style to shine through. Each of the three body paragraphs should be drafted in a similar way with a focus on transitions that you can use in every essay.
The final portion of the essay is the conclusion. This final paragraph does not have to be very long, its purpose is to clearly show that you were able to write a complete essay with a beginning middle and an end as well as to reiterate your main points.
A good conclusion can follow the following format:
I. A statement that the argument has several flaws and is not a strong argument
II. A statement that the argument could be made better if the author were to address certain questions.
III. A statement that as written, the argument remains logically unconvincing.
An example of a good conclusion paragraph would read:
As the above discussion reveals, the argument that the installation of the collision warning system will prevent new cars from causing accidents and greatly reduce the number of accidents overall has many flaws and is thus not fully supported. If the author were to address the issues discussed, the argument could be significantly improved. However, as written this argument is logically unconvincing.
The conclusion is similar to the introduction in that the wording of it can be template to improve grammar, idiomatic expression and time management during the exam.
By thinking ahead about the parts of the essay that are consistently the same and writing templates for those, you can free up more time to think about the specific flaws in the argument and spend more time expanding on a full explanation. This will lead to a better overall essay score.
Special offer! Save $250 on GMAT Ultimate Classroom, GMAT Small Group Instruction, or GMAT Liveonline when you use the promo code GCVERBAL250. Or, save $150 on GMAT Self-Prep when you use the code GCVERBAL150. Enroll at www.princetonreview.com