How to Prepare for the GMAT Essay Section
Try to make the most of the time you have to prepare for the GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment (the GMAT essay section). Write practice essays under exam conditions, take notes on a variety of official essay topics, and exploit resources such as my two GMAT essay books. This page provides details about each strategy.
Practice, Practice and More Practice
You could study many "model" GMAT essays and review every available essay-writing tip, yet still perform poorly on the actual exam. That's because there’s no substitute for putting yourself to the task under simulated exam conditions.
Compose as many practice essays as you reasonably have time for, responding to the official GMAT essay prompts. In so doing:
Always practice under timed conditions. Unless you're put under the pressure of time, you really won’t be ready for the test.
Always use a word processor for your practice tests. Be sure to use only the GMAT word processor's limited editing functions.
Evaluate your practice essays. Practicing isn’t all that helpful if you make the same blunders again and again. After composing an essay, evaluate and score it based on the official criteria. Then reflect on your weaknesses and concentrate on improving in those areas the next time. Don’t worry if you don’t produce perfect models. Concentrate instead on improving your performance next time.
Take Notes on a Variety of Official Essay Prompts
From the official GMAT website download the current list of Argument Analysis prompts. Select any 10-15 Arguments. For each one, spend about 5 minutes brainstorming and making notes. Even if none of the prompts you selected appears on your exam, this exercise will go a long way toward ensuring that you don't find yourself paralyzed, or stuck, during the actual exam.
Consult My Book of Sample GMAT Essays
My book GMAT—Answers to the Real Essay Questions (published by Peterson's) contains sample essays for more than a hundred GMAT Argument Analysis prompts. Randomly select from Part 3 as many essays as you reasonably have time to study. For each essay:
Identify the types of reasoning problems that the essay discusses and that you learned about in Part 1 of the book.
Highlight transition phrases, which connect the essay's points of critique. Then make a special effort to incorporate similar phrases into your practice essays.
CAVEAT: Don’t try to memorize the book's sample essays. GMAT readers are familiar with the book and will recognize plagiarism when they see it. There’s nothing wrong with borrowing ideas, reasons and transition phrases from the book's sample essays. Do try, however, to include your own specific examples. And be sure to express your ideas in your own words. [Book updates]
Consult My GMAT Writing Skills Workbook
If your analytical-writing skills need significant improvement, further help is available in my book Writing Skills for the GRE-GMAT (also published by Peterson's). The book places special emphasis on building rhetorical writing skills, organizing your GMAT essay, and avoiding or correcting common language, grammar and mechanical problems.
The book also explores additional (less frequent) reasoning problems with Arguments in the official pool. Finally, to help improve and polish your analytic and writing skills, the book contains a variety of reinforcement exercises for the Argument Analysis writing task. [Book updates]