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Sample GMAT Essay Prompt (Topic) and Exemplary Response

The GMAT AWA section (Analysis of an Argument) is designed to test your analytical-writing and critical-reasoning skills. Your task is to critique the stated argument in terms of its logical soundness and in terms of the strength of the evidence offered in support of the argument. [AWA format and directions]

The essay prompt shown below consists of a GMAT-style argument, followed by the standard directive for responding to GMAT arguments. Keep in mind: the argument here is not one of those in the official pool, and so you won't see this one on the actual GMAT.

Sample Analysis-of-an-Argument Writing Prompt

The following appeared in a memorandum issued by the human-resources department of Capital Bank:

"Capital Bank has always required that its employees wear suits at all times while at work. Last month, Capital’s employee absenteeism and attrition rates both reached all-time highs. In order to reverse these trends, Capital should adopt a company-wide "casual Friday" policy, under which all employees would be permitted, and even encouraged, to dress casually for work every Friday. After all, most companies in the software industry allow their workers to dress casually for work anytime they want; and those workers often remark that this policy enhances their job satisfaction. Moreover, most software firms experience lower rates of employee absenteeism and attrition than companies in other industries, including banking."

Discuss how logically convincing you find this argument. In your discussion, you should analyze the argument's line of reasoning and use of evidence. It may be appropriate in your critique to call into question certain assumptions underlying the argument and/or to indicate what evidence might weaken or strengthen the argument. It may also be appropriate to discuss how you would alter the argument to make it more convincing and/or discuss what additional evidence, if any, would aid in evaluating the argument.

Following is an essay that responds to the above prompt. As you read the sample essay, keep in mind:
  • Each of the three body paragraphs isolates and discusses a different problem with the argument. (A typical GMAT argument will contain 3-4 major reasoning flaws.)

  • Some phrases are highlighted to help you see the structure of the essay and how it responds to the directive. (The exam's basic word processor does not provide this feature.)

  • The essay is intended as a benchmark response — one that would earn a top score of 6 based on the AWA evaluation and scoring system. Though brief enough to plan and type in 30 minutes, it was not composed under a strict time limit. Be assured that you can attain a top score with an essay that's less polished and somewhat briefer than this one.

Sample Analysis-of-an-Argument Essay (440 Words)

This argument concludes that a "casual Friday" policy would reverse Capital Bank’s high absenteeism and attrition rates. This conclusion, based solely on certain comparisons with the software industry, is tenuous at best. The memo fails to address important differences between the two industries and between dress codes, other possible reasons for Capital’s problems, and potential problems with the cited statistics.

First of all, the memo assumes that since software workers prefer casual attire, so would bank employees. But this might not be so. People attracted to finance jobs are generally more oriented toward authority and wealth, and thus prefer to wear suits to impress and intimidate. Therefore, a "casual Friday" policy might have no positive impact on morale at Capital. It might even backfire, prompting even more workers to leave the company. The memo also assumes that a "casual Friday" policy is similar enough to the software industry’s dress codes to have the same effect on job satisfaction. But would just one casual day per week be enough to reduce absenteeism and attrition? Possibly not.

The memo further assumes that the dress code is to blame for Capital’s high absenteeism and attrition rates, without considering other possible explanations. A high absenteeism rate might be due instead to other working conditions, such as poor ventilation or cafeteria food, while a high attrition rate might be explained by such factors as inadequate salaries or benefits. Since the memo hasn’t ruled out these sorts of possibilities, the conclusion that a "casual Friday" policy will solve Capital’s problems is, at best, weak.

Finally, the statistics cited in the memo seem unreliable. One cannot draw any firm conclusions about job satisfaction from "remarks" made "often" by software workers unless the remarks are backed up by a proper survey of a sufficiently large and representative sample. Nor can one draw any firm conclusions about employee absenteeism and attrition from a single month’s data. Last month’s data might have been a one-time-only spike (to which the memo’s author over-reacted). Even if not, the monthly variation in itself tends to show that the dress code, which has remained the same, is not to blame for last month’s data.

In sum, the memo has not convinced me that worker preferences and dress codes in the software industry are similar enough to Capital’s workers and the proposed policy to ensure that the "casual Friday" policy will have the desired impact at Capital. Nor has the memo convinced me that Capital’s current dress code is the actual cause of the absenteeism and attrition problems in the first place.