Tag Archives: GMAT AWA

IR might be really important… in 2017

If you’re applying to MBA programs during the current (2012-13) admissions season, you’ve probably already read a few dozen articles about the new Integrated Reasoning (IR) section. As many other GMAT tutors and bloggers and forum participants have suggested, there’s little reason to think that the IR section will have any meaningful impact on your odds of admission at top business schools this year. The section is simply too new, and MBA admissions committees have absolutely no basis for evaluating the new section.

But what if you’re looking ahead, and you’re preparing to submit your MBA applications in late 2013 or beyond? Should you worry about Integrated Reasoning at all? And if so, how much of your GMAT preparation time should you devote to the IR section?

Although GMAC is doing its best to convince everybody that Integrated Reasoning is extremely important (click here or here or here or here to see their official GMAT blog posts about the awesomeness of Integrated Reasoning), I would argue that there’s still no good reason to spend much time studying for the Integrated Reasoning section… for now.  And here are three reasons why:

Reason #1: five years of GMAT fairness

GMAT scores are valid for a full five years, and a substantial percentage of applicants will submit “old” GMAT scores (taken before the IR section existed) during the next few admissions cycles. And it simply isn’t reasonable for schools to use Integrated Reasoning scores to compare applicants, when a certain percentage of applicants haven’t taken the new section at all.

In theory, MBA programs could require all applicants to submit an Integrated Reasoning score beginning with the 2013-14 admissions cycle, but this seems incredibly unlikely. We still know very little about the value of the Integrated Reasoning section (see reason #2 below), and there’s absolutely no incentive for MBA programs to aggressively require an IR score before the five-year window is over.

Reason #2: GMAC needs time to determine IR test validity

Somewhere in the bowels of GMAC headquarters, researchers are busy calculating the “validity” of various portions of the GMAT exam. Basically, those researchers are interested in determining what, exactly, the GMAT tells us about test-takers. Do GMAT scores correlate to performance in business school? Do GMAT scores correlate to success in the business world?

For what it’s worth, most of the studies I’ve read (and yes, I’m apparently dorky enough to read academic studies about the GMAT) suggest that the quant and verbal sections do an excellent job of predicting MBA students’ grades in business school, but the GMAT does a pretty lousy job of predicting post-MBA success… and the AWA isn’t really a great predictor of anything, which is why one of the AWA tasks has been replaced by Integrated Reasoning. If you’re curious and want to geek out on some old GMAT validity studies, you could start by clicking here.

Anyway, the bottom line is that researchers need time to “prove” that the GMAT’s new Integrated Reasoning section actually means something. Until that happens, why would MBA programs worry about your IR score?

Reason #3: MBA applicant information overload

By the time you submit your MBA application, business schools know a ton about you. They have your work history, academic transcripts, lists of extracurricular activities, two or three references, at least a few essays, maybe a cover letter, possibly a slide presentation, an interview, and probably some extra interactions with you from campus visits or other events. Oh yeah, and they have your GMAT quant score, your GMAT verbal score, your GMAT composite score, and your GMAT AWA score.

Really, do you think the adcom needs yet another data point? And do you think that the adcom is likely to care about a data point that doesn’t show up in any MBA rankings?

Don’t get me wrong: someday, all of this will probably change. If U.S. News and World Reports decides to include IR in its MBA program rankings, adcoms will suddenly care—a lot—about the IR section. I also believe that the GMAT validity studies will someday make the IR section look really, really good; frankly, the GMAT should be testing your ability to analyze basic data tables, and the exam should include some non-multiple choice questions. In my (probably very irrelevant) opinion, the Integrated Reasoning section has plenty of potential to be a valuable tool for evaluating MBA applicants.

And someday, the IR section really will matter. But not yet. Call me in 2016 or 2017, and maybe I’ll tell you to start worrying about it then.

In the meantime, your approach to Integrated Reasoning should be the same as your approach to the AWA section: both tasks are warmups for your quant and verbal sections, and it’s not worth burning much of your precious GMAT energy on IR or AWA. The IR section is not adaptive at all, so just answer the easy ones to avoid complete embarrassment, and let the harder ones go. It just isn’t worth spraining any brain cells for a section that has another four years of irrelevance ahead of it.

But again, call me in 2016 or 2017—the story might change by then.

nobody reads your essays, part II

Most GMAT students I’ve met really don’t worry all that much about the Analytical Writing (AWA) portion of the test, but I occasionally meet somebody who is absolutely neurotic about this part of the GMAT. In my opinion, there’s rarely any need to spend more than a token amount of time on AWA.

First of all, one of the main reasons why MBA programs care about the GMAT is because of rankings. Unfortunately, US News & World Reports will look less favorably on a b-school if the program has low average GMAT score, so admissions committees are forced to obsess over your GMAT composite results. (Of course, there are plenty of other reasons for admissions committees to care about your GMAT score, but that’s a story for another day.)

Of course, the AWA section has absolutely nothing to do with your composite score, and it therefore has no impact on MBA rankings. You don’t want to completely screw it up, but there’s no reason to believe that your AWA score of 5.0 would keep you out of Stanford or HBS. The adcom might start to wonder if your AWA score is, say, 2.5, but I see no reason to worry if your score is reasonably high. They’re looking for business leaders with decent communication skills, not novelists.

So what does it take to earn a “reasonably high” score? Not much, really. I’ve seen some really, really bad writers earn scores of 5.0 or 5.5. They took advantage of the fact that nobody really reads your GMAT AWA essay.

As you probably know, GMAT essays are graded by a computer and by a human; if there’s a discrepancy between the two scores, then an additional human reads the essay. Obviously, the computer’s exact scoring system is a closely guarded secret, but I’m convinced that the program primarily looks for structure using basic keyword algorithms. From there, it probably counts things like the average number of words per sentence and the average number of letters per word, and then it checks for grammar, usage, variety of words used, and perhaps spelling. I suspect very strongly that structure is the most important part of the AWA scoring system; spelling might not even count at all. (Again, I’ve seen some horrid spellers get really good scores.)

The “human,” for his part, is ultimately looking for the same things as the computer when he grades the GMAT AWA: structure, clarity, correctness, richness of language, etc. But this human probably doesn’t actually read your GMAT essays any more closely than the computer.

Again, imagine that you’re the poor slob who gets paid $20/hour (as of a year or two ago, GRE and TOEFL graders earned $20/hour; I don’t know whether the rate is similar for GMAT) to read bazillions of these AWA essays, most of which are tragically bereft of interesting content. Are you going to read every single word? Hell, no. You’ll skim the introduction, maybe read the first sentence of each paragraph, and then maybe skim the conclusion. (And if anybody asks, you’ll tell her that you read every single word with great care.)

When I wrote about the people who read (or skim) your MBA essays, I claimed that you should strive to make your essay interesting–you want them to read it carefully, right? For the AWA, you don’t necessarily care if the human grader (or the GMAT computer) actually reads your essay. You just want to earn a decent score, with a minimum amount of exertion. If you can conserve energy during the GMAT AWA section, you’ll be much sharper when you battle the (far more important) quant and verbal sections.

So focus on structure on the AWA, even if that means that you produce an essay that would, under normal circumstances, seem like a crappy, contrived piece of writing. Don’t beat around the bush: every paragraph should start by clearly stating the main point of the paragraph. The entire AWA essay should start with a crystal-clear thesis statement. Somebody should be able to read the first sentences of each paragraph, and still basically understand the entire essay. Just make sure that you leave a few minutes to proofread your AWA essay, simply to avoid committing any egregious grammar, usage, and spelling errors. (If this means that you don’t write a terribly long essay, that’s fine–quality matters more than quantity.)

Honestly, it’s almost that simple. If you lay out your argument in a completely clear, five-paragraph format, you’ll be in good shape, especially if your writing mechanics (grammar, usage, etc.) are basically solid. You might ultimately write an essay that is about as much fun to read as a phone book… but fun isn’t really the point of the GMAT, is it?