How to Score a 6 on Your GMAT Essay Writing Score
Here is an example of a GMAT essay that earned the score of 6. Take a few moments to read it over. Below we will break down exactly how and why the piece was able to earn this score.
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When someone achieves greatness in any field such as the arts, science, politics, or business that person’s achievements are more important than any of his or her personal faults.
When individuals attain greatness, their achievements are more important than their personal faults. While historians should not whitewash the personal foibles of great individuals, the impact that these mortals have had in their fields should tower over any personality defects. To focus on the personal weaknesses of great individuals is to miss the importance of their achievements.
The course of human history is decorated with individuals able to rise above their peers and reach the zenith in their fields. These individuals are often the subject of intense scrutiny from contemporaneous skeptics and later historians. But no one can lead an exemplary private life all the time; no human being is able to withstand such surveillance and historical scrutiny without personal faults coming to light. Great individuals are no exception. However, it is misguided to focus on their personal faults rather than their achievements. To do so is to miss the importance of their work, without which our culture would be worse off.
For example, Abraham Lincoln was arguably one of the greatest Presidents the United States has ever had. He managed to bring the country through a substantial revolution and to end slavery despite powerful economic and social forces working against him day and night. However, Lincoln was not a saint. He was moody and prone to depressive funks that disrupted his family life and slowly eroded his marriage. These personal faults did not reduce his success as a President. While we do not have to ignore questions about whether he was a depressive, we also should not consider them an important part of his political heritage. In contrast, many people criticize Lincoln’s decision to suspend the right of habeas corpus. This (presumed) failing is not personal in nature, but relates directly to Lincoln’s work in his field. Criticisms of this sort are entirely relevant, whereas personal criticisms are not.
Another example of a great individual dogged by criticism of his personal conduct is Albert Einstein. Einstein developed a number of the most important theories in modern physics, including an explanation of the photoelectric effect, an explanation of Brownian motion, special and general relativity, and Bose-Einstein quantum statistics. Each one of these theories would have been considered a great life’s work for a scientist; for one man to contribute this much is remarkable. However, Einstein also had life-long problems with infidelity. The fact that he cheated on his wife is in no way relevant to his accomplishments in the field of physics, and indeed most references to Einstein properly ignore it. To focus attention on the faults of his personal life is to obscure the impact he made on history.
Great individuals have personal faults, as all human beings do. Yet it is incorrect to assert that these faults detract from those individuals’ accomplishments. We are better able to appreciate the gravity of great accomplishments when we are not burying our heads in the sand, in search of personal failings.
The essay above earned a 6 because it takes all five steps necessary for a perfect score on the AWA.
The thesis is extremely clear and concise. There is no ambiguity about how the author feels about the issue; she simply states her opinions with confidence and clarity. This section tests how well we can present a position on an issue effectively and persuasively and this author passes with flying colors.
The piece is also very well organized via the suggested intro-body-body-body-conclusion template. While she does deviate slightly from the suggested model by giving two examples rather than three, the first body paragraph strengthens the essay by lending heft and specificity to her position. Her two examples are very strong. President Lincoln is an ideal case study of a leader whose greatness should be not be obscured by his domestic doldrums (however interesting they may be to learn about). The same can be said with Einstein; his infidelities went to the grave with the women he may have wounded emotionally, while his work will live forever.
Additionally, the conclusion is substantial and does an excellent job of summing up the essay without sounding too much like the introduction. It is easy to recycle many clauses from the intro in the conclusion, but this author does a great job of restating the thesis without sounding overly redundant. Lastly, this essay is extremely well-written. The grammar and syntax are practically flawless; the author sounds knowledgeable but not pedantic.
Keep these steps in mind as you write your GMAT essay and you should have little trouble earning a score that is reflective of your overall b-school portfolio. Best of luck with your GMAT prep!
While there is no way to predict which topic you’ll see on test day, by following the same process and using the same template for each practice essay you write, you’ll be well-prepared. You can download a list of topics here. The topics may change, but your approach never will. Let’s look at one of the official GMAT topics:
The first step towards strong essay examples is to understand the two sides of the issue. You must either strongly agree or strongly disagree with the presented issue. Unlike real life where most of your opinions are probably a mix of gray, the GMAT Issue essay requires you to take a strong stand on one side of the issue. You won’t be able to adequately argue a middle-of-the-road approach in 30 minutes, and you risk appearing indecisive and muddling your essay.
First state the two sides of the issue in your own words:
TRUE: More violence should be incorporated into entertainment.
FALSE: More violence should NOT be incorporated into entertainment.
Now you can begin to brainstorm examples for both sides. Look at the language of the prompt. It mentions “television programs, movies, songs and other forms….” Those are big clues to some of the areas from which you can draw examples!
Examples of successful popular culture entertainment that incorporate violence:
- TV: WWF programs, MXC on SpikeTV, Gordon Ramsey on Hell’s Kitchen (he throws plates!)
- Movies: Kill Bill series, adaptations of graphic novels like Sin City, the Saw franchise
- Songs: rappers like Eminem, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, etc.
- Other forms: videogames like Grand Theft Auto, Resident Evil, etc.
Remember that you won’t use every single one of these examples, but making a list and expanding upon the topic will help you brainstorm what points you’d ultimately like to make. Now it’s time to decide how you’d like to use these examples. Do you want to say that Saw and Grand Theft Auto are detrimental to society or do you prefer to argue that they represent harmless escapism? Don’t simply choose the side with which you agree. Let the examples and your own knowledge and background dictate which side you support.
For example, someone with a lot of knowledge about psychology may argue persuasively that exposure to violence leads to increased violent behavior in children, whereas a history buff may put forth that violence as entertainment has historically always been a normal part of human expression. You will not be scored on your opinion, but on how clearly and forcefully you make and defend your argument. Choose one or two main points based on your own knowledge, and then choose specific examples from your brainstorm list to support your conclusions.
To score well on the GMAT, you’ll have to impress the readers with your essay’s content, structure, style. We’ve heard quite a bit about content and structure: have a clear argument, provide concrete examples, build your essay like a hamburger, etc. What about style, a.k.a. writing well? What does that even mean? To start with the obvious, writing “well” means the difference between saying “writing good” and “writing well”–in other words, grammar. To be honest, though, you could write a perfectly grammatical essay with concrete examples and clear focus, and it still might not cut it. Check out this example below:
“The Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century had both negative and positive consequences. The Industrial Revolution caused child labor and poor working conditions. The Industrial Revolution then led to reforms that amended these injustices.”
Clearly, this short paragraph is not written well. But, how can that be? The sentences are grammatical, the information is factual, the writing is clear, and the vocabulary is apt. The problem is sentence variation.
Varying sentence structure often comes naturally to many writers; after all, we certainly do not talk in the manner of the Industrial Revolution paragraph. In my example, each sentence begins with the same subject, “The Industrial Revolution,” and each sentence has the exact same subject-verb construction, which makes reading laborious and tiresome. If you notice that you tend to repeat sentence structures when you write, try getting used to inverting or rewording the sentence.
For example, look at these two sentences which have the same structure:
“People rarely observe grammar rules when speaking because not all grammar rules are conducive to clear communication. People just say what they mean instead of carefully crafting sentences.”
Notice that, like our earlier example, the writing is unnecessarily repetitive. What options do we have for inverting the sentences?
Sentence 1: People rarely observe grammar rules when speaking because not all grammar rules are conducive to clear communication.
Inversion: Because not all grammar rules are conducive to clear communication, people rarely observe grammar rules when speaking.
Sentence 2: People just say what they mean instead of carefully crafting sentences.
Inversion: Instead of carefully crafting sentences, people just say what they mean.
To improve sentence variation, just change one of the sentences to its inversion.
Option 1: People rarely observe grammar rules when speaking because not all grammar rules are conducive to clear communication. Instead of carefully crafting sentences, people just say what they mean.
Option 2: Because not all grammar rules are conducive to clear communication, people rarely observe grammar rules when speaking. People just say what they mean instead of carefully crafting sentences.
Notice that both options sound significantly better than the original, though the exact same clauses are used. Sentence inversion is one very simple way to improve sentence variation. When you write or even when you read, try inverting the sentences to see what combinations you can come up with. Remember, trust your ear! If a certain phrasing sounds like an improvement, it probably is.