The GMAT AWA section (Analysis of an Argument) is designed to test your analytical-writing and critical-reasoning skills. Your task is to critique the stated argument in terms of its logical soundness and in terms of the strength of the evidence offered in support of the argument. [AWA format and directions]
The essay prompt shown below consists of a GMAT-style argument, followed by the standard directive for responding to GMAT arguments. Keep in mind: the argument here is not one of those in the official pool, and so you won't see this one on the actual GMAT.
Sample Analysis-of-an-Argument Writing Prompt
The following appeared in a memorandum issued by the human-resources department of Capital Bank:
"Capital Bank has always required that its employees wear suits at all times while at work. Last month, Capital’s employee absenteeism and attrition rates both reached all-time highs. In order to reverse these trends, Capital should adopt a company-wide "casual Friday" policy, under which all employees would be permitted, and even encouraged, to dress casually for work every Friday. After all, most companies in the software industry allow their workers to dress casually for work anytime they want; and those workers often remark that this policy enhances their job satisfaction. Moreover, most software firms experience lower rates of employee absenteeism and attrition than companies in other industries, including banking."
Discuss how logically convincing you find this argument. In your discussion, you should analyze the argument's line of reasoning and use of evidence. It may be appropriate in your critique to call into question certain assumptions underlying the argument and/or to indicate what evidence might weaken or strengthen the argument. It may also be appropriate to discuss how you would alter the argument to make it more convincing and/or discuss what additional evidence, if any, would aid in evaluating the argument.
Sample Analysis-of-an-Argument Essay (440 Words)
This argument concludes that a "casual Friday" policy would reverse Capital Bank’s high absenteeism and attrition rates. This conclusion, based solely on certain comparisons with the software industry, is tenuous at best.The memo fails to address important differences between the two industries and between dress codes, other possible reasons for Capital’s problems, and potential problems with the cited statistics.
First of all, the memo assumes that since software workers prefer casual attire, so would bank employees. But this might not be so. People attracted to finance jobs are generally more oriented toward authority and wealth, and thus prefer to wear suits to impress and intimidate. Therefore, a "casual Friday" policy might have no positive impact on morale at Capital. It might even backfire, prompting even more workers to leave the company. The memo also assumes that a "casual Friday" policy is similar enough to the software industry’s dress codes to have the same effect on job satisfaction. But would just one casual day per week be enough to reduce absenteeism and attrition? Possibly not.
The memo further assumes that the dress code is to blame for Capital’s high absenteeism and attrition rates, without considering other possible explanations. A high absenteeism rate might be due instead to other working conditions, such as poor ventilation or cafeteria food, while a high attrition rate might be explained by such factors as inadequate salaries or benefits. Since the memo hasn’t ruled out these sorts of possibilities, the conclusion that a "casual Friday" policy will solve Capital’s problems is, at best, weak.
Finally, the statistics cited in the memo seem unreliable.One cannot draw any firm conclusions about job satisfaction from "remarks" made "often" by software workers unless the remarks are backed up by a proper survey of a sufficiently large and representative sample. Nor can one draw any firm conclusions about employee absenteeism and attrition from a single month’s data. Last month’s data might have been a one-time-only spike (to which the memo’s author over-reacted). Even if not, the monthly variation in itself tends to show that the dress code, which has remained the same, is not to blame for last month’s data.
In sum, the memo has not convinced me that worker preferences and dress codes in the software industry are similar enough to Capital’s workers and the proposed policy to ensure that the "casual Friday" policy will have the desired impact at Capital. Nor has the memo convinced me that Capital’s current dress code is the actual cause of the absenteeism and attrition problems in the first place.
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.