GMAT Essay Writing Guide

The AWA section of the GMAT is made up of one essay called the “Argument” essay. It will be given two independent scores, one of which is done by an automated essay-scoring engine called the E-rater. The other is done by a human grader, and the two scores are averaged then rounded to the nearest half-point. For example, if the E-rater gave the essay a 4 and the human rater gave the essay a 5, then it would have a final score of 4.5. To maximize your score, review our GMAT essay tips, time management techniques, and essay template.

The main qualities that the readers look for are the organization of your ideas, the quality of the ideas themselves, the strength and relevance of the examples, and your grasp of standard written English. According to GMAC, the “Analysis of an Argument tests your ability to formulate an appropriate and constructive critique of a specific conclusion based on a specific line of thinking.”

Basic Strategy: GMAT Essay Tips

Don’t lie. Ever.  Made up statistics and facts won’t impress the GMAT graders, but strong organization, logical arguments, and specific supportive examples will. Don’t be tempted to make up data because you are not an “expert” in the subject matter.

Be clear, not pedantic. Focus more on conveying your argument succinctly and forcefully than on sounding scholarly. Don’t include long-winded sentences that go nowhere in the hopes of sounding more intelligent.  The argument essay needs to be formal, but more importantly, forceful.

You already know your thesis. No matter what the prompt, your thesis is essentially, “the argument is flawed.” All you have to do is come up with solid logic backed by specific examples that show why.

Criticize the wording of the argument. An easy way to find fault in the structure of the argument is to pick apart its diction. Just how many is “many”? Exactly what does the author mean by “benefits”? Look for vague wording and qualifying language to attack. It will be there!

Time Management – “PWR”

You are given 30-minutes to complete the essay, so pacing and time management is crucial. Plan to spend 5 minutes planning out your essay fully, followed by 20 minutes of writing, and 5 minutes of revising.

Step 1 – Plan. In this phrase you will thoroughly take apart the presented argument, construct your thesis, choose your three examples (flaws), and lay out your main points. Give yourself a clear “road map” before you start writing.

Step 2 – Write. 20 minutes may not sound like a long time, but with a solid template structure under your belt (see below), you’ll be surprised how quickly you can get your thoughts down.

Step 3 – Revise. Always leave time to proofread your essay.

Argument Essay Template for AWA

Below is a GMAT AWA Template for your Argument Essay. In our sample outline we are aiming for 5 paragraphs total. You may opt for a shorter 4 paragraph version if you have trouble finishing 3 body paragraphs, but try for 5 paragraphs. If you are an adept writer, you may wish to place your “How to Strengthen” paragraph on its own right before the Conclusion, and then have a separate shorter Conclusion. This template is only a suggestion, so feel free to adjust it slightly into a version that best works for you!

Paragraph 1 – Introduction (3-4 sentences)

Like a Critical Reasoning passage, before you begin writing you will need to understand the Conclusion, Evidence, and underlying Assumptions in the argument. Do not use self-reference, or the words “I agree” or “I disagree” anywhere in your essay. You will absolutely use phrases like “the argument” and “the author” but you want your statements to come across as accepted fact, not the small opinions of once person. Your main task in your introduction is to show you understand the premise. Restate it in your own words.

–          Introduce the timeliness of the argument’s topic

–          Describe the argument in your own words

–          State emphatically that the argument is flawed.

For example, your introduction could take a form like this:

The issue of _______ is as timely as ever. Recently, _________. Regarding this issue, the author of the argument claims __________. He suggests that _________.Though the underlying issue certainly has merit, because of a lack of evidence, weak assumptions, and vague language the author’s argument is unsubstantiated and deeply flawed.

You do not have to list your three examples in your thesis, but it can be a nice way of clarifying for the reader what you will be discussing.

Paragraph 2  – “Lack of Evidence” (4-6 sentences)

Almost every Argument can be criticized for a lack of evidence. If evidence is provided, how can you explain that it is confusing, unrelated, or unsubstantiated?

Paragraph 3 – “Weak Assumption” (4-6 sentences)

What is the author assuming to be true? Show the reader you can see the gaps in logic between the weak evidence provided and the conclusion. Use very clear transition words between your body paragraphs.

Paragraph 4 – “Vague Language” (4-6 sentences)

Use a transition phrase again, then attack the specific terminology the author utilizes in the argument. How many is “many”? Who exactly does he mean by “most”? Here you will be using the author’s own rhetorical construction against him.

Paragraph 5 – How to Strengthen (2-4 sentences)

In your conclusion, introduce a few ways the author could improve his argument, other than the three flaws you have already discussed. Reinforce the idea that there is SOME merit in the issue underlying the author’s argument, but not nearly enough as it to be convincing. Here’s an outline:

Although as written the argument is categorically unconvincing, the author could strengthen his position were he to _________, and _________. If he _____________, then the argument’s reasoning would be significantly improved. However, without these changes, the argument is implausible and the reasoning faulty.


You can find the entire pool of Argument topics online at Remember to practice writing at least 2-3 full essays with the time constraint before Test Day!

More AWA Resources:
GMAT Sample Essays