Analytical Writing Study Guide for the GMAT

Page 1

General Information

This section of the GMAT will come first on test day. From the time you receive the assignment, you will have 30 minutes to plan, write, and review your essay response. In the word processing program provided, you will not have access to a spelling or grammar check, so you’ll need to do this yourself as you write and during your review. You will be able to cut and paste, undo an action, insert/delete text, and scroll.

The way you approach the writing will make a big difference in your performance. Before you begin to write the actual analysis, take a few minutes to form your overall response theme and list a few supporting points. Then add noted evidence of support for each of those points. As you write, you will be able to refer to these notes to get the most out of the time given.

Skills to Master

Regardless of the actual assignment content, certain practices will enhance your chances of completing a good essay for the GMAT Analytical Writing Test.

Work Quickly and Efficiently

As you are only given 30 minutes to plan, organize, and complete your essay, it is essential that you work quickly and efficiently. Choose a firm opinion regarding the author’s assumptions and logic, take the time to plan out your points and evidence, and begin. Do not confuse working efficiently with rushing—many test-takers are tempted to begin writing the second they finish reading the prompt. Taking a few minutes to organize your thoughts and plan your essay will make the time spent actually writing much more effective. Without a plan, it would be easy to get caught mid-essay without any idea of where to go, resulting in wasted time.

Once you have planned out your essay, work quickly. Do not waste time by wavering on your stance or wondering if you should change it after you have already started writing. As these essays are opinion-based, there is really no wrong answer as long as you have sound logic and strong evidence. Save time by sticking to your original stance right from the start. Proofreading as you go can also save time, as you will have less to edit once you finish. When completing your final proofread, focus on spelling, grammar, and usage errors only—do not add to your arguments or change anything major as there will not be enough time left.

Always Start with a Plan

As mentioned previously, it is wise to start with a plan before you actually begin writing your essay. This will help you to stay on track and work efficiently when you start writing. A simple outline is a great way to plan. A simple sentence or two for your introduction, main points, and conclusion is sufficient, as well as listing the pieces of evidence/examples for each main point.

If you disagree with the author’s logic, each main point should list and explain one flaw with their reasoning. If you think the author’s logic is sound, each main point should give new evidence to support your opinion. After you write your outline, the actual essay will feel like you are following a roadmap. It will be easy to stay on track and work quickly when you have a clear plan to follow.

Use Transitional Words

Using transitional words will help the reader understand your purpose for writing certain parts of your essay. These words can also help provide clear structure within the text. Transitional words and phrases can indicate all kinds of things, including (but not limited to) agreement, contradiction, support, cause, and conclusion. When listing several different arguments, using key words like first, next, and finally will give your essay clear structure because it will be obvious that your piece has three main points and you are listing them in a linear fashion. Within these points, you can use transitional words to show the reader that you are about to give evidence for your reasoning. After stating your point, phrases like for example will signal to the reader that you are about to give evidence to your claim. Another great option would be using words like therefore or thus after giving an example, making it clear that you are about to explain the logical results or consequences of the evidence.

Use Evidence to Support Points

Your essay should contain several main points that will explain your reasons for either agreeing or disagreeing with the author’s reasoning. To make a strong argument, your points must be supported with evidence or examples. Simply listing your points or explaining that you feel a certain way is a weak argument. You must give the readers evidence to support each topic; otherwise, they have no reason to believe your argument.

Evidence can come in the form of real-life examples, either from your own life or public knowledge. Current events and events from history are great places to pull examples, especially in the case of well-known situations that cannot be refuted.

Use Paragraphs for Structure

Separating your essay into paragraphs will result in an organized, well-structured essay. Each paragraph should serve one purpose and discuss only one topic. Revisiting a previously discussed point in another paragraph only serves to convolute the structure.

Within your essay, you should have one paragraph for your introduction (where you summarize the author’s point of view, state whether or not you believe their logic is sound, and briefly outline your points), a paragraph for each point (this is called the body of your essay, there should be at least two), one paragraph to identify what would, if present, strengthen the author’s argument, and one paragraph for your conclusion.

Be Sure Your Writing Flows

Proofreading as you write will ensure that your essay is flowing appropriately. If something seems out of place, it is best to realize it before you continue with the entirety of the essay, as it will be harder to correct at the end.

Many of the previously mentioned topics will help you make sure your writing flows smoothly, including a clear outline, transitional words and phrases, and separate paragraphs. You should briefly explain your main points in your introductions and then stick to them. There should be no “left field” ideas or topics in your essay, but each idea should flow smoothly and logically from one to the next.

Use Deep Logic

The GMAT writing section asks you to test the logic of an argument. Before you can write a word of your essay, you must first question the logic used in the prompt. Do the author’s claims hold up to deeper questions? Is the evidence supplied adequate for the claims made? You must identify the author’s point (the conclusion they have drawn) and any evidence they have provided that seems to prove their point. Question the author’s assumptions and ask yourself if they are logical.

If you do not believe the author’s assumptions are logical, each paragraph in the body of your essay must identify why you believe that. You can also include, prior to the conclusion, what ideas or evidence could have been present that would have strengthened the author’s argument.

Things to Remember

As you prepare for this test, there are certain things to keep in mind about the type of writing that will achieve a good score. Here are some of them:

Write Using Business English

The best way to write a professional essay is by using clear, concise language with minimal grammatical or spelling errors. The best way to achieve this is by keeping things simple. Attempting to use complicated words or a complex structure often results in a convoluted essay riddled with errors. Make your ideas clear, concise, and right to the point. If you can communicate your idea in five words instead of fifteen, do it. If you are using two descriptors that are redundant, choose one word that communicates the same idea. For example, it is better to use sprinted than ran very quickly. Both choices communicated the same thing, but sprinted is much more concise. As a general rule, cut any words that do not add information or have a purpose.

Avoid Overuse of Complex Vocabulary

Many writers are tempted to use complicated vocabulary in order to impress those reading the essays, but as mentioned previously, this often results in more errors throughout your essay. If you feel comfortable and confident using complex words, then by all means use them. However, if this type of vocabulary is not within your comfort zone, it is highly advisable to use simple and clear language. You will not be faulted for using simple vocabulary, and it is usually the best way to make clear and direct points anyway.

Practice Quickly Reviewing Your Own Work

The best way to improve at reviewing and proofreading your work is to practice. There are many great resources, including, that provide sample prompts. Using these, you can time yourself and type the essay in a word processor. Do not use spelling or grammar checks, as these will not be available on test day and you must practice correcting your own work. You should leave yourself 2 minutes, at minimum, for a final proofread. Practice writing until you are comfortable with the 30-minute time constraint.

Recognizing errors in grammar, spelling, and clarity will take practice as well. The more essays you write and proofread, the easier it will become to spot the errors that could negatively affect your score.

All Study Guides for the GMAT are now available as downloadable PDFs