Is AWA worth the effort??
Simple answer is: Depends on how much effort you are talking about.
I was talking to this guy, who is a good friend and a class of 2012 aspirant. He has already finished most of the stuff that I had suggested (Kaplan comprehensive, OG etc) and is presently getting scores around 750 in practice tests. When I last talked to him about his preps, he planned to spend his last month before the test working mainly on AWA.
If your idea of effort is something similar to this guy’s (Before my GMAT, I used to think on somewhat similar lines too, though even at that time, I would have considered 1 month for AWA as too much) , let me assure you: it’s not really worth ths amount of effort. The primarily reason that I say this is that unless you score abysmally low (which is 3.5 or lower), nobody really cares about your score. In last two years, I have gone through numerous threads and blogs, contacted a number of current and prospective students and attended many B-school events, but till date, I am yet to find an instance, where a candidate was denied admission due to a low AWA score. Why should the schools actually care about how you write on some random topic, when they already have their essays to guage your writing skills?
However, I am not suggesting that you dismiss AWA altogether. In particular, if you are headed towards a real good GMAT score, you’d surely like it better if it’s accompanied by a stellar AWA score too. ( At times, it pinched when while entering GMAT scores for a school, I had to write AWA percentile as 53 (score 5.0) after mentioneing Quants and Verbal as 99 and 97 respectively. ) Also, I have heard that some schools schools compare your AWA essays (yes, they get your essays too instead of just the score!!) to check whether the app-essays have actually been written by you. (I find this a bit unreasonable as it’s not fair to compare a time-bound performance on a random topic with your output on topics that are about your life and about which you typically have more than 3 months to think about.)
Another reason AWA needs to be practiced is that it’s the first section of the GMAT and if you feel good about what you have written your essays well, you’ll start the real stuff on a confident note. Also do practice a few full-length tests with real AWA essays. That will help you develop the test-taking stamina lasting 3.5 hours.
Enough of why AWA is important and why it’s not. Here’s how I would suggest handling it:
- Get a template ready for both issue and analysis essays. There are many templates available on the internet.Use that as a base and get one of your own ready. Remember that one of the readers of your essays would be a computer. So make sure that you include proper transition words.
- Download the list of AWA essays from mba.com. These are two long lists of 130+ topics each and the topics that you’ll get on the test day would be from these lists.
- Everytime you get too loaded correcting sentences or testing data sufficiency, take a look at one of the topics and think of 3-4 points for the topic. You don’t have to write it every time.
- For Analysis of Argument, normally, it’s suggested to keep a strong stand in your analysis.Your CR preps will help here. The claims made in the question stem are invariably bogus and you can easily find at least 3 flaws in most of these.
- For Analysis of Issue, normally, it’s suggested to keep a moderate stand in your analysis. Think of what stand you’d like to take on the issue. Think of at least 2(preferably 3) points favouring your stand and preferably one opposing it. After the opening para, expand each point into a para. Try to include some examples. (See next point). In the penultimate para, acknowledge the other side and then towards conclusion, mention why you still favour your original stand.
- If you go through the issue-list, you’d easily locate 6-7 recurring themes. I can recall a few from the list that I had prepared: “business and ethics”, “Successful/powerful women”, “rags to riches” , “technology V/s environment” (Will add more to this list in case I locate my notebook.) Get ready a few real world well-known examples for each of them. You’d be surprised to see how preparing examples for a small list will help you cover a very good number of essay topics.
- Find some time may be once a week in your last month to complete a time-bound AWA exercise. Once you complete that post your answers on your blog or some GMAT prep forums. Not many would care to comment, but some times you can get some real good inputs. (I got very good feedback as comments on the essays I posted on this blog.)
- Practice atleast 3-4 full length tests with the AWA section as well. As discussed above, this will help you test your real GMAT stamina. Most of the tests (other than the official ones:GMAT Prep and Powerprep) will either have no AWA secion or essays on topics different from the ones in the offical list. So it’s better to open the official list and start on any randomly picked topic.
- FInal, but very important tip: For practising AWA, never use MS word or any other editor that offers features like spell-check or grammar-check. The editor in the real exam will have minimal features. (As far as I remember, just cut, copy, paste and undo/redo upto last one operation.) You can try that from the GMATPrep software. (Even the powerprep editor is different from the one that is currently being used.)
Hope this helps. If you have any specific Q about AWA section that is not covered here, leave a comment and I’ll try to cover that as well.