What's Tested on the GMAT: Analytical Writing Assessment

The Analytical Writing Assessment, or “essay” section, helps business schools analyze your writing skills. It is scored separately, and your AWA score is not used to generate your 200–800 point score.
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Format: one question
  • Tests: ability to analyze an argument and writing skills

Essays are scored by a human grader and a computer grading system, and the two scores are averaged for your final score. If the ratings differ significantly, then another human reads and scores your essay.
For your writing task, you’ll be presented with a brief argument similar to a paragraph you would find in a Critical Reasoning question on the Verbal section. You are not asked to present your own point of view on the topic; instead you’re tasked with critiquing the author’s argument, analyzing the soundness of the author’s evidence and reasoning.

How the AWA is Scored

When scoring this section, essay graders are looking for whether you can clearly identify and insightfully analyze parts of the argument, develop and organize your ideas thoughtfully and logically, and connect your statements with clear transitions.
Your essays will be graded on a scale from 0 to 6 (highest). You’ll receive one score, which will be an average of the scores that you receive from each of the two graders, rounded up to the nearest half point. Your essay will be graded by a human grader as well as a computerized essay grader (the IntelliMetric™ system). The two grade completely independently of each other—IntelliMetric™ isn’t told the human’s score, nor is the human told the computer’s.
If the two scores are identical, then that’s your score. If the scores differ by one point, those scores are averaged. If they differ by more than one point, a second human will grade the essay to resolve any differences. IntelliMetric™ and the human grader agree on the same grade about 55 percent of the time and agree on identical or adjacent grades 97 percent of the time. (Only 3 percent of essays need rereading.) These figures are equivalent to how often two trained human graders agree.
IntelliMetric™ was designed to make the same judgments that a good human grader would. In fact, part of the Graduate Management Admission Council’s (GMAC’s) argument for the validity of IntelliMetric™ is that its performance is statistically indistinguishable from a human’s. Still, you should remember that it is not a human and write accordingly.
IntelliMetric’s™ grading algorithm was designed using 400 officially graded essays for each prompt. That’s a huge sample of responses, so don’t worry about whether IntelliMetric™ will understand your ideas—it’s highly likely that someone out of those 400 responses made a similar point.
Before you begin to write, outline your essay. Good organization always counts, but with a computer grader, it’s more important than ever. Use transitional phrases like first, therefore, since, and for example so that the computer can recognize structured arguments. The length of your essay is not a factor; the computer does not count the number of words in your response.
Furthermore, computers are not good judges of humor or creativity. (The human judges don’t reward those either. The standard is business writing, and you shouldn’t be making overly witty or irreverent remarks in, say, an email to a CEO.)
Though IntelliMetric™ doesn’t grade spelling per se, it could give you a lower score if it can’t understand you or thinks you used the wrong words.

Grading Criteria

StructureDoes your essay have good paragraph unity, organization, and flow?
EvidenceIt’s not enough simply to assert good points. Do you develop them well? How strong are the examples you provide?
Depth of LogicDid you take apart the argument and analyze its major weaknesses effectively?
StyleThe GMAC calls this “control of the elements of standard written English.” How well do you express your ideas?
Now let’s take a more in-depth look at the scoring scale so you get a sense of what to aim for. The
following rubric shows how the GMAC will grade your essay based on the four categories of Structure, Evidence, Depth of Logic, and Style:
GMAC will grade your essay holistically based on the above rubric to arrive at your final score:
6: Excellent
Essays that earn the top score must be insightful, well supported by evidence, logically organized, and skillfully written. A 6 need not be “perfect,” just very good.
5: Good
A 5 essay is well written and well supported but may not be as compellingly argued as a 6. There may also be more frequent or more serious writing errors than in a 6.
4: Satisfactory
The important elements of the argument are addressed but not explained robustly. The organization is good, and the evidence provided is adequate. The writing may have some flaws but is generally acceptable.
3: Inadequate
A 3 response misses important elements of the argument, has little or no evidence to support its ideas, and doesn’t clearly express its meaning.
2: Substantially Flawed
An essay scoring a 2 has some serious problems. It may not use any examples whatsoever or support its ideas in any way. Its writing will have many errors that interfere with the meaning of the sentences.
1: Seriously Deficient
These essays are rare. A 1 score is reserved for essays that provide little or no evidence of the ability to analyze an argument or to develop ideas in any way. A 1 essay will have so many writing errors that the essay may be unintelligible.
0: No Score
A score of 0 signifies an attempt to avoid addressing the prompt at all, either by writing only random or repeating characters or by copying the prompt. You could also score a 0 by not writing in English or by addressing a completely different topic.
NR: Blank
This speaks for itself. This is what you get if you write no essay at all. Some schools will not consider your GMAT score if your essay receives an NR. By skipping the essay, you give yourself an unfair advantage—everyone else wrote an essay for 30 minutes before the other sections!