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Gmat Awa Essay

Here are some common problems that our head tutor, Isaac, notices when he grades AWA essays as the tiebreaker for our Brightest Minds contest:

  • Understanding that the prompt does not ask for an opinion. The strongest essay writers focused on unpacking the author’s argument and using alternate situations, examples, and counterexamples to show why his or her logic was flawed.
  • Leaving time to proofread essays for spelling or grammatical errors. While essay graders shouldn’t really be marking down for spelling, if essay clarity is compromised, your score will suffer.

Here are two short sample responses to our scholarship competition’s essay prompt, followed by a breakdown of the differences between the successful response and the one that falls flat.

Prompt: “The following appeared in a memorandum written by the Dean of Sciences at Wilmark University to employment offices nationwide:

In the past year, it has been observed that the incidence of anxiety episodes in psychiatric patients falls dramatically after dance therapy classes. Therefore, and as based on such findings, the opening of further and significantly higher enrolment in dance therapy courses would be wise, as would the rise in music therapy courses. Consequently, the findings also mean there will be further employment in the field of therapy, which can only mean more money for the university and great success rates in pairing students with fantastic jobs in the field of therapy.

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. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.”

Response 1

The Dean of Sciences at Wilmark University is clearly enamored by dance therapy’s potential benefits for psychiatric patients. However, the Dean has also taken a micro-level view on dance therapy, ignoring the fact that each psychiatric patient is unique and requires programming tailored specifically to his or her needs. Therefore, the sweeping assumptions the Dean makes about the effectiveness of dance therapy cannot be applied to all psychiatric patients.

As I alluded to earlier, each psychiatric patient requires a customized program tailored to his or her needs. While patients suffering from PTSD or recovering from childhood trauma might respond well to dance therapy, patients who are introverted in nature may be resistant to dance therapy and overwhelmed by the experience. Additionally, decreased incidences of anxiety episodes is a finding that only applies to individuals suffering from anxiety in the first place.To assume that all patients will respond well to dance therapy is an error the Dean of Sciences simply cannot make.

Furthermore, the success of one method of therapy does not guarantee an increase in the demand of that form of therapy, let alone any consequential increase in university enrollment by aspiring dance therapists to meet such anticipated demand. The population of individuals suffering from conditions that dance therapy benefits may never even become aware that this method of therapy works in the first place. And even if demand for dance or music therapy increased, how can the Dean know that Wilmark will be the school whose enrollment will benefit from such demand?

Based solely on the findings of one study, it is not reasonable for the Dean of Sciences to jump into such a direct cause-and-effect assumption of the profitability of bolstering of the university’s dance therapy curriculum. If the Dean had also taken additional studies into account, demonstrated specific instances in which dance therapy is and is not successful, and found a demonstrable link between the success of one therapy method and Wilmark University’s ability to generate increased revenue by offering more classes on such therapy methods, then he or she might have been more persuasive. Until the Dean does so, the assumptions he or she made are simply not enough to support the argument for additional dance therapy classes.

Response 2

The assumption that dance therapy has a direct correlation to a decrease in anxiety episodes in psychiatric patients is extremely flawed. The Dean at Wilmark University has made a number of assumptions that do not stand up on their own, nor do they support the argument that opening further dance therapy courses would be a good idea.

Firstly, the Dean’s findings are flimsy and clearly are not substantial enough to support this argument for one simple reason: he does not include the findings in this memorandum. If the findings were as groundbreaking as he alludes to, there would be no need to keep them from the reader. Therefore, it is impossible to conclude that the findings are a good enough reason to move forward with adding additional dance therapy classes, which will only cost the university money it likely does not have.

Secondly, I don’t think dance therapists make enough money. I would never get a degree in a career that doesn’t promise a lot of money, and I don’t think other potential therapists would either. If nobody wants to be a dance therapist, nobody will enroll in these new dance therapy classes.

Therefore, the Dean of the university has made a costly and faulty assumption that adding dance therapy classes will benefit the university. Not only are there no specific findings, but even if the findings were true I don’t think anyone will want to be a dance therapist.


Both sample responses are shorter than your official GMAT essay should be, but the first response is by far the strongest. You’ll find that, although the author of Response 1 should add another supporting paragraph or two, the writer has done a better job of backing up their argument by countering the logic of numerous assumptions implicit in the Dean’s original proposal. By questioning the applicability of the study’s findings to a larger population and any implied consequences on demand of therapy in general or at the university in particular, the author has successfully used multiple logic-based arguments to write their essay.

On the other hand, the author of Response 2 attempts to refute the Dean’s assumptions by relying on opinions and assumptions of their own. Rather than addressing the logic behind the Dean’s cause-and-effect argument, this essayist leaned on less relevant details (whether or not the Dean’s findings were laid out in the prompt) and their own career preferences. We can’t emphasize enough how common it is for essayists to slip into opinion-based arguments in these essays, and how important it is to avoid this common pitfall.

Keep practicing your writing skills, but also make sure to supplement your study plan with outside reading (The Economist is a great place to start) that illustrates the composition of effective logic-based arguments. Additionally, review these AWA essay tips.

Happy studying!

previous Three tips to improve your GMAT AWA score on test day next How much does your AWA score matter on the GMAT?

See an ideal GMAT AWA essay example. 

In the previous post, I demonstrated some brainstorming and identified six objections to this argument.  I then selected three of them as the basis of the essay that follows.  This is one way to go about writing the essay.

Introductory paragraph:

In a memo to the president of Omega University, the music department chair argued that the university should expand the music-therapy program.  This argument is substantially flawed.  The argument presents inconclusive information, offering dubious support, and from this draws unreasonably far-reaching conclusions. 

First main paragraph:

The evidence cited involves ambiguous language.  For example, the argument asserts that the symptoms of mental illness are “less pronounced” after a group music-therapy sessions.  Of course, calm music will have a soothing effect on almost anyone, but can this be considered a legitimate treatment for the mentally ill? Presumably, the benefits of music therapy are neither as powerful nor as long-lasting as those of appropriate medications.  Simply by making the claim that symptoms are “less pronounced”, the author has failed to indicate whether the improvement is significant enough to merit any serious investment in this new field. The music chair also cites an “increase” in job openings in the field of music-therapy.  This is another unfortunately indefinite word.  The word “increase” might mean that music-therapy is a wildly burgeoning new field, although nothing suggests that this is the case.  Alternately, the word “increase” might denote, for example, a rise from 60 jobs nationwide last year to 70 this year — admittedly, this is an increase, although a change across such small numbers hardly would be large enough to warrant any major modifications in a university’s programs. 

Second main paragraph:

Having presented such questionable evidence, the music chair then draws a grand sweeping conclusion: the graduates of the university’s program will have “no trouble” finding jobs in this field.  Quite rare is the combination of a vibrant professional field and a thriving economy, such that applicants entering this field have “no trouble” finding a job.  Even if there is a plethora of jobs in this mental health niche, how do we know that these jobs would go to recent graduates of Omega University?  Surely practitioners with years of experience, or recent graduates of more prestigious universities, would be preferred for such positions.  Even interpreting the questionable evidence in its most optimistic light, we hardly can expect that this one field will explode with employment possibilities for Omega graduates.  This conclusion is far too strong, and therefore the request for funding is not well justified. 

Third main paragraph:

This music-therapy program is already in existence, so presumably it has already had graduates leave Omega University in pursuit of employment.  Evidence that all these recent music-therapy graduates found robust job possibilities waiting for them would enormously strengthen the argument.  Curiously, the music-director is silent on this issue.  If we knew the employment statistics of these recent graduates, these numbers would help us to evaluate this argument better. 

Fourth main paragraph:

The music chair draws another untenably strong conclusion when he asserts that expanding this program will “help improve the financial status of Omega University.”  When alumni of a university make millions or even billions, and choose to give back in substantial amounts to their alma mater, that undoubtedly strengthens the financial standing of a university.  We don’t know the specifics of jobs in music-therapy, but their salaries most certainly do not rival those of hedge fund managers; mental health services are clearly not a field in which practitioners routinely amass remarkable wealth.  Even if the graduates of music-therapy had relatively good job prospects, which is doubtful, having a few more alumni with middle-class to upper-middle class incomes, who, if they choose, may make some modest contributions to, say, the university’s annual fund — this is not an impactful issue in the overall balance sheet of university’s total budget.  The claim that these alumni will substantially improve the “financial status” of the university is hyperbolically overstated. 

Concluding paragraph:

This argument is neither sound nor persuasive.   The music director has failed to convey any compelling reasons for Omega University to expand the music-therapy program in his department.

This is a particular long and thorough sample essay, but it gives you an idea of what it takes to get a 6.  In line with the AWA directions, notice that I organized, developed, and expressed my ideas about the argument presented.  I provided relevant supporting reasons and examples — i.e. I didn’t just say, “This is bad,” but I provided a cogent and reasoned critique.  Finally, I “controlled” the elements of standard written English: that is to say, (a) I made no spelling or grammar mistakes, (b) I used a wide vocabulary (not repeating any single word too much), and (c) I varied the sentence structure (employing subordinate clauses, parallelism, infinitive phrases, participial phrases, substantive clauses, etc.)  As you write practice essays, check yourself afterwards: is every grammatical form commonly tests on GMAT Sentence Correction present in your practice essay?  That is an excellent standard to use.

How important is it to get a 6 for the AWA?  How important is the AWA section on the GMAT?  As I discuss in that post, the AWA is clearly the least important part of the GMAT, less important than either IR or Quantitative or Verbal, but you can’t neglect it entirely.  This sample essay should give you an idea of the standard for which to strive on the Analytical Writing Analysis.


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