Structuring Your Analysis of An Argument Essay
Your GMAT essays are unlikely to be the linchpin of your application. Although I don’t like to say “never,” I personally have not heard of a student getting in to B-School because of his or her GMAT essays. It certainly seems possible, though, that your essays could keep you out, if your entire application package is borderline and you write one or two truly awful essays. For that reason, it’s important that you keep the AWA in perspective: it shouldn’t take up much of your prep time, but it’s certainly to your advantage to spend some time familiarizing yourself with what makes for a good essay, and getting some feedback from a qualified source, whether that is a professional mentor, a professor, or a test-prep specialist.
Of the two essays you’ll be expected to write, the Analysis of an Argument is likely to be the more challenging, if only because the task is not a familiar one to most business school candidates. The easiest format to use in writing this essay is the classic 5-paragraph style, and a simple, effective format will look something like this:
- Paragraph 1: Brief recap of argument and statement that the argument has merit but also contains multiple flaws. Also include a “roadmap” of the points that you will make, in the order that you will make them.
- Paragraph 2: Explanation of first flaw– this paragraph should have a strong topic sentence and then several sentences explaining the flaw in detail.
- Paragraph 3: The second flaw gets the same treatment here as the first one did in the previous paragraph.
- Paragraph 4: The third flaw is explained here in the manner established in the previous two paragraphs.
- Paragraph 5: Briefly recap the flaws you’ve presented and diplomatically explain how those flaws could be remedied to present a stronger argument.
A good rule of thumb is that your reader should be able to get the gist of your entire argument just by skimming the first sentence of each paragraph. Remember, your reader is probably going to devote no more than three to five minutes to your essay. Take a few minutes at the beginning of your AWA to outline the five sentences that will begin your paragraphs; this strategy can make your reader’s job far easier, and a happy reader is probably more apt to make those tricky 4/5 line calls in your favor. Similarly, the e-reader is programmed to assess organization, and well-written topic sentences that use transition words and clearly state the point of each paragraph are a big help in creating the kind of organizational structure that earns you points on test day.
To start your essay on the right note, make sure that your first paragraph does what it needs to do (recap the argument, state your position, and map out your three points) without any attempts at rhetorical bells and whistles. At some point in high school or college, a composition instructor may have told you to use an “attention-getting” opening to really draw your audience in, but your GMAT AWA reader doesn’t need to be “drawn in;” she is getting paid to read your essay, and wants to do her job as efficiently as possible. She’s likely to regard literary flourishes as a waste of your energy and her time. Now, let’s look at a sample prompt and opening paragraph:
WPTK, the most popular television station in Metropolis, does not currently provide traffic updates to viewers. Since Metropolis is located in a Midwestern state with serious winter weather road delays 4 months out of the year, WPTK would significantly reduce the incidence of auto accidents on Metropolis-area roads by providing traffic updates.
Response Paragraph 1:
The argument, which states that WPTK’s broadcast of traffic updates would reduce the incidence of auto accidents on Metropolis-area roads, has merit. However, the argument also exhibits several serious flaws which could limit its persuasiveness. The author weakens his claim by assuming that televised traffic updates would be timely enough to impact drivers’ actions, by failing to explicitly state how the updates would affect auto accidents, and by predicting a “significant” reduction in Metropolis auto accidents without specifying what kind of a reduction would be deemed “significant.”
As you can see, the opening paragraph responds to the prompt by taking a clear position, referring back to the issue briefly, and outlining the points that the essay will be addressing. Let your concise, informative opening paragraph set the tone for your essay, and look for an upcoming article on common flaws in Analysis of an Argument prompts!
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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.
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.
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.