How much does your GMAT writing score really matter? Business schools only release GMAT score data for their students’ Total scores, so it can be difficult to find information about what constitutes a “good” or “bad” GMAT writing score and how important your GMAT analytical writing score really is.
Luckily, we’ve done the research and figured out the answers for you. In this post, we’ll tell you what business schools have to say about the Analytical Writing Assessment, how they weigh it against other parts of your GMAT score and your overall application, and how your score stacks up against other test-taker worldwide. Finally, we’ll help you figure out what a good GMAT analytical writing score is for you.
How Is the GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment Scored?
The Analytical Writing section is graded on a scale of 0-6 in half-point increments. According to the GMAC AWA score guide, 6 is considered “outstanding,” 5 is “strong,” 4 is “adequate,” 3 is “limited,” 2 is “seriously flawed,” and a 1 is considered “fundamentally deficient.” Like the Integrated Reasoning score, the GMAT writing score does not factor into your Total GMAT score, which is why it’s generally considered to be less important.
Your AWA essay is graded once by a human and once by a sophisticated computer grading program called E-Rater. If the two scores are identical or differ by one point, they are averaged to obtain the final score for that essay. If the scores differ by more than one point, an expert human reader will step in and determine the final score.
Graders are trained to consider the following when assigning a score:
- The overall quality of ideas about the issue and argument presented
- Your overall ability to organize, develop, and express those ideas
- The relevant supporting reasons and examples used
- Your ability to control the elements of standard written English (grammar and syntax), with a bit more leeway given to international ESL students
Along with your scaled score, you will also be given a percentile ranking, which corresponds to the percentage of test-takers whom you scored higher than. For example, if you scored in the 80th percentile on the AWA section, this means you did better on that section than 80% of people who took the exam. This percentile is based on the last three years of GMAT scores, so if you took the test in 2014, your 80th percentile score would encompass all GMAT-takers from 2012 through 2014.
Thus, while scaled scores are static, percentiles can (and do) change over time. Percentiles help contextualize your scores by comparing them with those of other applicants, and they are assessed by business schools along with the scaled score to see how you measure up.
GMAT Writing Score Averages and Percentiles
Most test-takers score highly on the Analytical Writing Assessment: almost half of all test takers score a 5 or higher. The average GMAT Analytical Writing score is a 4.37.
Below are the current percentile rankings for GMAT Analytical Writing scores.
|GMAT Writing Score||Percentile|
What’s a Good GMAT Writing Score Overall?
Remember, there’s no score on any section of the GMAT—even an 800 Total score—that is guaranteed to get you into your top choice business school. Plus, your AWA score is certainly the least influential score one way or the other. Business schools definitely care far more about your Total score, and it’s likely that they care more about your IR score as well. While no part of the GMAT should be neglected, the AWA is the bottom of the GMAT totem pole in terms of your MBA application.
The ultimate takeaway is that a good GMAT writing score is is the one that doesn’t hinder your acceptance into the MBA program of your choice. We say “doesn’t hinder” rather than “gets you into” because the majority of test-takers do very well on the AWA, which makes it hard to get a score that truly stands out. Even if you score a perfect 6, that’s unlikely to be impressive enough to boost an otherwise so-so Total score, or a poor GPA, etc. In fact, the difference between a 5 and a 6 isn’t going to affect your application much, if at all.
Statements from the GMAC itself confirm this: they explicitly advise business schools to “not make distinctions among applicants on the basis of a small scoring distinction—one point or less apart.”
So while it’s hard to stand out, on the other hand, the fact that almost half of test-takers score a 5 or above is an encouraging sign: with just a little bit of prep, you can easily achieve a GMAT analytical writing score of 5 or higher.
One thing to note is that even though the AWA isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things, scoring below a 4 could raise a red flag. Business schools say very little about how they weigh the AWA, but a low score like a 3.5 might signal to them that your writing skills aren’t developed enough to handle the rigorous coursework of an MBA program. More importantly, a huge gap between the writing level reflected in your AWA and the writing level reflected in your application essay is disconcerting in that it calls into question your authorship of the latter.
The GMAC itself advises business schools to “consider that the scores are based on 30-minute, first-draft writing samples” and cautions that these essays “are not comparable to prepared essays that may be submitted with a school application.” The GMAC rather recommends that business schools use the AWA as a “diagnostic tool in recommending or requiring additional instruction in writing,” though it’s unclear how much universities actually carry this out.
In Summary: What’s a Good GMAT Writing Score for Me?
As a baseline, a 5 is considered a strong GMAT essay score. At a 5 or above, you’ll essentially be fine in that your GMAT essay score won’t hinder your application. For the vast majority of schools, a 5 is a good score.
However, if you’re applying to some top 10 business schools, you might want to push yourself further. To be safe, you should aim to score a perfect 6, or at least a 5.5. A 5.5 or above puts you in the top 20%, which is a safe area to be in for the AWA for an elite MBA program.
A 4.5 is generally an “okay” score. A 4 or below puts you under the average, which could hurt you if you’re an international applicant or if your application essay is far better. If you’re scoring 4.5s or below on practice tests, this signals that you could use a little extra AWA prep before taking the GMAT for keeps.
Looking to raise your GMAT essay score? Creating an AWA template is an excellent method.
Also, be sure to read through our essential AWA tips and guide to approaching every kind of GMAT essay prompt.
Author: Jess Hendel
Jess Hendel is a Brooklyn-based academic advisor, test prep tutor, and content writer for PrepScholar. A graduate of Amherst College, she has several years of experience writing content and designing curricula for the top e-learning organizations. She is passionate about leveraging new media and technology to help students around the world achieve their potential. View all posts by Jess Hendel
Was this helpful? Sign up for FREE GMAT and MBA guides!
See an ideal GMAT AWA essay example.
In the previous post, I demonstrated some brainstorming and identified six objections to this argument. I then selected three of them as the basis of the essay that follows. This is one way to go about writing the essay.
In a memo to the president of Omega University, the music department chair argued that the university should expand the music-therapy program. This argument is substantially flawed. The argument presents inconclusive information, offering dubious support, and from this draws unreasonably far-reaching conclusions.
First main paragraph:
The evidence cited involves ambiguous language. For example, the argument asserts that the symptoms of mental illness are “less pronounced” after a group music-therapy sessions. Of course, calm music will have a soothing effect on almost anyone, but can this be considered a legitimate treatment for the mentally ill? Presumably, the benefits of music therapy are neither as powerful nor as long-lasting as those of appropriate medications. Simply by making the claim that symptoms are “less pronounced”, the author has failed to indicate whether the improvement is significant enough to merit any serious investment in this new field. The music chair also cites an “increase” in job openings in the field of music-therapy. This is another unfortunately indefinite word. The word “increase” might mean that music-therapy is a wildly burgeoning new field, although nothing suggests that this is the case. Alternately, the word “increase” might denote, for example, a rise from 60 jobs nationwide last year to 70 this year — admittedly, this is an increase, although a change across such small numbers hardly would be large enough to warrant any major modifications in a university’s programs.
Second main paragraph:
Having presented such questionable evidence, the music chair then draws a grand sweeping conclusion: the graduates of the university’s program will have “no trouble” finding jobs in this field. Quite rare is the combination of a vibrant professional field and a thriving economy, such that applicants entering this field have “no trouble” finding a job. Even if there is a plethora of jobs in this mental health niche, how do we know that these jobs would go to recent graduates of Omega University? Surely practitioners with years of experience, or recent graduates of more prestigious universities, would be preferred for such positions. Even interpreting the questionable evidence in its most optimistic light, we hardly can expect that this one field will explode with employment possibilities for Omega graduates. This conclusion is far too strong, and therefore the request for funding is not well justified.
Third main paragraph:
This music-therapy program is already in existence, so presumably it has already had graduates leave Omega University in pursuit of employment. Evidence that all these recent music-therapy graduates found robust job possibilities waiting for them would enormously strengthen the argument. Curiously, the music-director is silent on this issue. If we knew the employment statistics of these recent graduates, these numbers would help us to evaluate this argument better.
Fourth main paragraph:
The music chair draws another untenably strong conclusion when he asserts that expanding this program will “help improve the financial status of Omega University.” When alumni of a university make millions or even billions, and choose to give back in substantial amounts to their alma mater, that undoubtedly strengthens the financial standing of a university. We don’t know the specifics of jobs in music-therapy, but their salaries most certainly do not rival those of hedge fund managers; mental health services are clearly not a field in which practitioners routinely amass remarkable wealth. Even if the graduates of music-therapy had relatively good job prospects, which is doubtful, having a few more alumni with middle-class to upper-middle class incomes, who, if they choose, may make some modest contributions to, say, the university’s annual fund — this is not an impactful issue in the overall balance sheet of university’s total budget. The claim that these alumni will substantially improve the “financial status” of the university is hyperbolically overstated.
This argument is neither sound nor persuasive. The music director has failed to convey any compelling reasons for Omega University to expand the music-therapy program in his department.
This is a particular long and thorough sample essay, but it gives you an idea of what it takes to get a 6. In line with the AWA directions, notice that I organized, developed, and expressed my ideas about the argument presented. I provided relevant supporting reasons and examples — i.e. I didn’t just say, “This is bad,” but I provided a cogent and reasoned critique. Finally, I “controlled” the elements of standard written English: that is to say, (a) I made no spelling or grammar mistakes, (b) I used a wide vocabulary (not repeating any single word too much), and (c) I varied the sentence structure (employing subordinate clauses, parallelism, infinitive phrases, participial phrases, substantive clauses, etc.) As you write practice essays, check yourself afterwards: is every grammatical form commonly tests on GMAT Sentence Correction present in your practice essay? That is an excellent standard to use.
How important is it to get a 6 for the AWA? How important is the AWA section on the GMAT? As I discuss in that post, the AWA is clearly the least important part of the GMAT, less important than either IR or Quantitative or Verbal, but you can’t neglect it entirely. This sample essay should give you an idea of the standard for which to strive on the Analytical Writing Analysis.