Until the introduction of three possible test section orders, The Analytical Writing Assessment had been the first section on the GMAT. It is thirty minutes long and consists of one essay task. The AW section is designed to measure your critical thinking skills as well as your ability to communicate your ideas—skills that will be used in your graduate studies. The essay asks for an analysis of an argument. There is no right or wrong answer and you do not need specific knowledge of the essay topic--only your analytical writing skills are assessed.
The Analytical Writing section of the GMAT requires you to formulate a constructive critique of an argument. The essay prompt will be a short paragraph which draws certain conclusions from stated premises. There will be many errors in the line of thinking leading to the conclusion. Your task is to identify the errors of logic and reasoning in the paragraph and write a critique of the argument. You may also want to bring up ways in which the argument could be strengthened, or to discuss assumptions underlying the argument which lead to its logical flaws. Your own views on the subject are not at issue. Your essay will be scored based on the skill with which you analyze the argument given in the prompt, as well as your command of English.
An example of an Analytical Writing prompt (taken from www.mba.com):
The following appeared in the editorial section of a monthly business news magazine:
"Most companies would agree that as the risk of physical injury occurring on the job increases, the wages paid to employees should also increase. Hence it makes financial sense for employers to make the workplace safer: they could thus reduce their payroll expenses and save money."
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.
The Analytical Writing essay is initially scored on a 0 to 6 scale by two readers--one human reader, and one electronic reader. The electronic reader analyzes more than 50 features of your essays, including how the ideas are structured and the variety of the words used. The human reader is generally a college faculty member, and will consider the overall quality of the essay, including organization, supporting reasons and examples, and your ability to express your ideas. Spelling does count, as do grammar and other aspects of writing mechanics. They attempt to be fair and sensitive to writers who are not native English speakers.
If the two ratings for your essay differ by more than one point, an expert reader is brought in to determine the final score. Otherwise, the two scores are averaged together to create a final score for the section.
For many MBA programs, the Analytical Writing score may not be weighted as heavily the Verbal and Quantitative scores. For one thing, the scoring system is far less precise than that of the other two sections. Your score is more likely to receive extra attention if it is unusually high (a 5.5 or a 6.0) or unusually low (below a 4). Whether or not the programs to which you are applying consider the AW score as important as your Verbal and Quantitative scores, it is best to be well-prepared. Keep in mind that business schools may read your essays, and although a school may claim that the written essays are not as important, the admissions committee may use your writing performance as a tiebreaker when trying to decide between you and another applicant.