Cracking the GRE: Are You Ready for the Analytical Writing Challenge?

Are you ready for AW?

AW Challenging… Really?

If you ask students to name the most difficult section in the GRE, most engineers would say: “Verbal Reasoning” and most non-engineers would say “Quant”. Hardly anyone would suggest that Analytical Writing plays much of a role either in cracking the GRE or getting an admit for an MS in US. For most students taking the GRE exam, therefore, the Analytical Writing section (also called AW) is a surprisingly challenging part. There are several reasons for this.

The Problems of the Engineer

  • First, if you are like most students who come to Dilip Oak’s Academy, you have lost touch with essay writing long ago – your last encounter with this lost ‘art form’ was probably 3-5 years ago in the 10th standard, and whatever you did learn about it has long been buried under the load of highly technical data that you had to stuff your head with during your bachelor’s course.
  • Second, as an engineer (or even a non-engineer) you don’t even understand why AW should be included in the GRE at all (check out this article if you are still not clear).
  • And third, you probably think that since you did essay writing in school, you should be able to manage this section without too much trouble.

However, the AW section is important and it demands that you meet a very specialized (and exhausting) set of requirements.

Why the Big Fuss about AW?

1. Do you understand the issues?

The first Task in AW is always the Issue essay where, you have to think deeply about topics that you most probably have never read about or ever thought you would have to tackle. So, for example:

  • Do you think that getting exposure to another culture will help you understand the culture of your own country?
  • How do you think that a civilization should be judged – on the basis of its scientific and cultural achievements or on the basis of the well-being of its people?
  • And finally, do you think that people in public life should be required to hold to the highest ethical and moral standards and do they have any right to expect privacy?

(For the actual topics, see the pool of issue topics here.)

On these unfamiliar topics, you have to come up with a variety of specific examples that show your insight into the topic; and you have to use these examples to examine the central issue from a variety of different angles. At the very least, you are expected to address both sides of the issue.

2. Getting into arguments

In the Argument essay (see the argument topic pool here), which is the second Task you will tackle in the Analytical Writing section, you have to do several things. Among them, you may have to:

  • evaluate the given argument and its line of reasoning
  • raise questions about its hidden assumptions and flaws
  • set out the evidence required to strengthen or weaken it or
  • examine whether its predictions are likely to come about.

You need to know how to do these things and you need to practice them so that, you can analyze and type in smooth, seamless flow. Further, in both these types of task, you will have to fine tune your essay to meet the specific requirements of the question type you are dealing with in that particular task – and there are 6 different question types in the issue task and 7 different question types in the argument task.

Summing up the Challenge

This means that right at the beginning of the exam, you will have to put in an hour of intense analytical effort to identify the key elements in the argument or issue topic and to produce well-written essays which meet the precise requirements of the task. For this your mind will have to be focused, alert and clear and your fingers will have to have the stamina to put in the 20 minute-burst of near-continuous typing required to generate an essay of 350-450 words, the minimum required to adequately cover an analytical writing topic. It’s not the Olympics but, you need to be physically and mentally prepared for the task. So, here’s the bottom line: if you want to be competent at the AW tasks, you will need careful, well-planned preparation and practice. Make sure you do this well beforehand.

Note: If you are a student at Dillip Oak’s Academy you can take a free Analytical Writing Counseling Appointment (scroll to the end of the page on this link for further details).

Cracking the GRE: Getting Hit by the Analytical Writing Bomb – Why You Must Prepare for Analytical Writing

The AW BombFirst Things First

Here’s a fundamental reason why you should prepare for this section: it is the first section that you will face in the GRE exam – this is always the case. The Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections come in random order, and they only come in afterwards. Only Analytical Writing (AW) has a fixed place in the order of sections in the exam, and that place is right at the beginning of this arduous test. It’s a fact you can’t change, it’s a fact you can’t avoid; and it’s a fact that is fundamental to cracking the GRE.

How It is Supposed to Go

Ideally, you should be well prepared for AW. If you are, it should work out like this: you crack the essays. This gives you a surge of positive energy that sets you up to do well in the following sections. The end result? The confidence you gain in AW helps you get through the other sections with flying colors. You walk out of the test center with your head held high, lifted up with the expectation that now you will get some good admits. It’s a happy thought.

The One Thing You Forgot…

On the other hand, imagine this scenario. You know that your GRE score is of paramount importance and you have put in three or more months of grueling effort to make sure that you do well in the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections. You haven’t really done much about Analytical Writing (after all, the only thing you have to do there is write a few essays, and how difficult is that going to be?). But apart from that you are fairly confident that at this stage nothing is likely to mess up your chances of a great GRE score.

…Turns Out to Be the One You Shouldn’t Have

Image credit: Stencil Revolution
Hugging a bomb?

However, the GRE test begins with AW. As you get into the two essay tasks, each with its specific demands and requirements, you realize that there are important things that you don’t understand about the essay tasks, about analyzing the topics and about how to tackle the specific requirements of the question types. It begins to dawn on you that doing a bit of reading would have given you handy examples to use in your essays. You also realize belatedly that that you should have worked on your language skills; and there’s a sinking feeling in your stomach that tells you that you should have practiced so that thinking and typing would be a smoothly flowing process that would fit into the given time.

The Bomb Explodes

Now, however, it’s too late. You are not prepared for AW; and getting hit by all the challenges posed by the AW tasks right in the beginning of your GRE is a big shock. You somehow manage to get through the AW section, but you have lost confidence, and that hits your ability to perform optimally on the subsequent portions of the test – and your performance on the following sections suffers. Not a very good ending after several months of effort.

The Moral

What’s the moral of the story? Don’t take this section lightly – it sets the tone for your performance in the other sections. Start preparing well in advance and set yourself up for success in AW. For those of you who are feeling a little lost, don’t worry, we have some tips for you that will help you to get a grip on this section in a forthcoming blog. Keep your eyes open for it.

Note: If you are a student at Dillip Oak’s Academy you can take a free Analytical Writing Counseling Appointment (scroll to the end of the page on this link for further details).

Cracking the GRE: Why You Can’t Ignore Your AW Score

Why You Can't Ignore Your AW Score

What Albert Einstein had to Say

A simple survey of most GRE students will show you that Analytical Writing (also known as AW) tends to be one of the most underrated sections of the GRE.

  • Firstly, the general perception is that getting an admit for an ‘MS in US’ depends mostly on your Quantitative and Verbal scores.
  • Further, the AW section is scored on a scale of 0 to 6 which, hardly seems worth bothering about compared to the 260-340 score scale of the other sections of the GRE. So, most students don’t give much importance either to this section or to being adequately prepared for it.

But, as Einstein once pointed out, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” This is certainly true for the AW section of the GRE exam. Especially if you are an ambitious student, you can’t afford to do badly in Analytical Writing. In fact, there are 2 compelling reasons why you should give this section of the exam careful attention. As you will see, good preparation for the GRE will not only help you cracking the GRE, but will help you during your ‘MS in US’ even afterwards.

1. AW Scores Count

Think of it this way: getting a 5 or 6 in AW might not ensure a great admit but an AW score of less than 3 is very likely to deny you one (more about that below). On the other hand, getting a good AW score can give you an edge over the competition. Suppose you and another applicant have a the same GRE score (say, 320/340), a similar academic record and similar work experience. However, there is difference between you: in AW, the other applicant has a 2.5 whereas you have a score of 3.5. The difference in the AW scores is likely to help the admissions committee decide in your favor.

So, if you are very confident about the excellence of your academic record, and that your GRE scores for the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections are going to be great, then maybe you can afford to ignore this section. Otherwise, especially if you are aiming for a top-ranking university, you should think of the competitive advantage that a good AW score can give you.

2. It is Good to Aim High on the AW Section

This is especially true, if you are looking at PhD. programs, or aiming for top-ranking universities and departments. In fact, for some high-ranking programs, an AW score of 4.0 or above is a basic requirement. The reasons for this are quite simple.

  • The professors in most top American universities and departments are looking for students who have good English writing skills. You might be a bright student brimming with great ideas, but what good are those ideas if you cannot convincingly communicate them in your reports, research papers or thesis?
  • Having the requisite language skills also ensures smooth completion of graduate school assignments such as thesis writing or publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals. This is important, since good writing skills on your part gives professors confidence that they don’t need to invest any additional effort in correcting badly written manuscripts or training you in writing.
  • Furthermore, professors often require students to help them in writing manuscripts of research papers or with writing grant proposals. Such activities are an important part of being a good graduate research assistant and it really irks professors if they cannot rely on you for assistance in these matters.

For these reasons, if you are a GRE test taker who is serious about getting into a top ranking graduate program, it is important that you be adequately prepared for the AW section. Your scores will tell your prospective professors whether you are someone who they should choose or someone they should avoid; whether you are someone whose work they will be able to read and enjoy or will have to spend long hours on, painfully correcting every line; whether you are going to be someone who helps them or someone who can’t be counted on to contribute. Guess who they are going to prefer?

Booming Trend: Why Indian Students Flock to American Universities for MS in US

Photo Credit: NRIPulseIn August 2014 alone, around 35,000 students from India joined various American universities, with the major outflow of students to American universities from Hyderabad, Chennai, and Mumbai, and Pune not far behind. The increasing demand for Indian students for Master’s courses in America has been driven by a resurgent US economy and student-friendly US government initiatives.

As even the White House has recently pointed out, science and engineering in America create the innovative processes and services that make the US economy the most productive in the world today. The revival of the American economy from 2011 onward has fueled the growing demand for working professionals in the fields of engineering and computer science. To meet this demand the American government is encouraging international students to join American universities for Master’s as well as doctoral programs. It has introduced a special category called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and liberally provides visas for students in this category. These students also have a special quota for the work permit (H-1B visa) and are also allowed to work for 29 months after completing their master’s without a work permit under what is called Optional Practical Training (OPT) . This has provided a golden opportunity that Indian students have been quick to capitalize on.

Another vital factor fueling the outflow of Indian students to American shores is the generous financial assistance provided by American universities to their students. This brings the actual cost of education in America down to around 15 to 20 lakhs. Fortunately, most Indian banks and specialized institutions providing loans for education offer liberal loans of up to 20 lakhs for students joining American universities. Since the salary offered after completing a master’s degree in America is in the range of $65,000-$100,000 students generally repay their entire loan amount within two years of getting a job. So, if you are thinking of an ‘MS in US’, now seems to be a pretty good time to go.

For more information and help on applying to American universities for an MS in US, click here.