The Unconventional Guide To Writing For The GMAT

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Prepare to think on your feet

Structure gets all the limelight.  Structure is undoubtedly a huge deal on the GMAT AWA. After all, you are being graded in part by a computer. But there is still much to be said for content, and the more you think about what to say before you say it, the less likely you are to run out things to say, besides simply repeating, “the argument is also weak because it fails to substantiate a number of points.” Remember, only one of the graders is a computer. The other grader will be very aware if your content is lacking.

Content is king

Much of the content, believe it or not, will come from your brain. All the advice you get about the structure and the exact wording will only help you so much. Generating ideas on the fly, though, can be difficult—especially on test day. A good tactic is to practice using the arguments in the back of the Official Guide. Your job: identify several assumptions and ways that those assumptions can be strengthened or disproven.

Official prompt from GMAT webpage:

“The following appeared in a memorandum from the business department of the Apogee Company:

“‘When the Apogee Company had all its operations in one location, it was more profitable than it is today. Therefore, the Apogee Company should close down its field offices and conduct all its operations from a single location. Such centralization would improve profitability by cutting costs and helping the company maintain better supervision of all employees.’

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion.”

The first step is to identify possible assumptions. This process might seem difficult at first, but with a little practice, you’ll become more adept at it.

Generating ideas means generating content

Questionable assumptions

1.  Profitability had one cause: having all operations centralized in one location.

2.  Even if that were the case, returning to a centralized operation does not ensure profitability.

3.  Supervision of employees is desirable and will lead to profit.

I probably could have come up with a few more assumptions, but I’d be stretching. The point of this exercise—indeed, the whole point of the AWA Argument task—is not to identify every questionable assumption, but to identify the main assumptions. From these few assumptions, you can build your essay. Remember, the instructions explicitly tell us to do the following:

“…what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion.”

Therefore, we need to take those first three assumptions and build off of them by offering alternative explanations and/or counterexamples.

1.  Profitability had one cause: having all operations centralized in one location.

Alternative explanation:

Profitability could have resulted from a number of different factors.


For instance, Apogee could have focused on just one product, one that did well in the market and boosted company sales. The fact that operations were all under one roof did not impact the success of the company’s product. Indeed, Apogee could have continued to be profitable when it expanded its operations. We only know that at some point it was no longer profitable.

At this point, I could list another counterexample for the alternative explanation and house it under the same paragraph. This will help you add the much-needed length that many students struggle to provide in the essay. By coming up with realistic counterexamples, you can not only write a longer essay, but also a more persuasive one.

A good approach is to repeat the above for each of the questionable assumptions so that you are able to come up with five paragraphs (introduction, three bodies, and a conclusion). First, practice writing one solid paragraph, containing alternative explanations and realistic counterexamples. Once you can confidently do that, repeat two more times and you will be well on your way to a competitive essay score.


You must be able to pinpoint questionable assumptions upon which the argument hinges and you must generate original counterexamples. No amount of learning cookie-cutter language (“the argument is unconvincing because it fails to account for several notable….”) will help you think of ideas specific to the argument you see on test day.

MBA 5 Fatal Flaws

This post was written by Chris Lele, resident test prep expert at Magoosh and a leader in GMAT prep. For more advice on taking the GMAT, check out Magoosh’s GMAT blog.

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Why Is The SAT Scored From 600 To 2400?

Download your copy of: Preparing for college in high school: A to-do list for 11th gradeThere are only a few times in your life when you’ll look at test scores and see a number like 1200 or 2000. Wait, wait—there’s only one time, really: that’s the SAT. Ninety-nine percent of the tests you take are scored as a fraction or a percentage, so what gives? What’s the point of putting SAT scores in this bizarro range of 600 to 2400?

There are a few reasons:

1. The Wrong Answer Penalty:  The SAT isn’t scored just by counting how many correct answers you got; your incorrect answers also count to your total score. That’s right—you’re punished for your mistakes. In theory, it’s better to leave an answer blank than it is to get it wrong. In practice, that ends up not really being the case; you’ll definitely want to guess if you’re stumped on the test, especially if you can rule out one of the wrong answer choices.

Anyway, the system is pretty simple. A wrong answer is worth -¼ of a right answer. So if you get 1 question right, then 4 wrong, the correct answer is completely canceled out. Now, imagine you had a really hard time on the test and got more than four times as many incorrect answers as you did correct answers. That would lead to a negative score, right? But that’s nonsense. Test scores don’t go negative. So the raw score, calculated by the number of correct and incorrect answers you got, has to be converted into a different scale, a scale that is only positive.

2. Standardization:  If you take the SAT in May, then again in October, there’s a chance you’ll see harder questions on one test or the other. It’s not a pattern, though—it’s not as though SAT Math is always harder in the spring (that’s a common myth, but it is just a myth). Instead, there are just normal variations in the test difficulty. It’s pretty much impossible to create two tests with the exact same difficulty level. So if you answer 70% of the questions correctly on SAT critical reading one month, but only 65% correctly four months later, it’s likely the second test was just a bit harder by chance. To deal with that, the College Board, who makes the SAT, scales scores according to how hard the test was—you could end up with the exact same score on the 200 to 800 scale for that section from both test dates.

3. Distinction: This is the biggest reason, really. A high score on your algebra final might be a 95% or even 100%. The average score in the class might be closer to 80%. But if the SAT were on a 1 to 100 scale, the average score would be more like 50 (the average SAT score is near 1500, which is halfway between the minimum 600 and the maximum 2400). It would give the wrong impression of how well you actually did on the test, because people would immediately associate that 50 with a 50%, a failing grade, which an average SAT score absolutely is not.

So taking the score out of the 1 to 100 scale is necessary. But why 600 to 2400? The truth is that it’s pretty arbitrary. If you’ve taken or studied the ACT, you know that test is scored on a scale of 1 to 36. The PSAT, meanwhile, is from 60 to 240. The GRE is scored from 260 to 340, the LSAT from 120 to 180, and the TOEFL paper test from 310 to 677 (just to screw with people, I’m sure). Any standardized test has to pick a range of numbers to use. Test makers don’t want the scores of their test to be easily confused with the scores of another test, so they choose number ranges that don’t look like those of other tests’.

Get calibrated: If you’re not sure how to read your score, then forget about the actual number: just look at the percentiles. That shows you what percentage of people you scored higher than. If you’re in the 60th percentile, for instance, you scored higher than 60% of the other SAT takers. That gives a much better picture of where you stand and exactly how good your score is.

Find out what you can do NOW to make applying to college go as smoothly as possible!

This post was written by Lucas Fink, resident SAT expert at Magoosh, a leader in SAT Prep. You can learn more about Magoosh on our SAT blog.

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Magoosh Guide To The TOEFL eBook

Click here for help on your TOEFLFeeling overwhelmed by the TOEFL test? Don’t know where to start? Or have you taken the test 5 times before and just need a quick refresher before you take it for (hopefully!) the last time?

Either way, it can be tough to find quality resources that provide everything you need to know for the test while also being easy to understand. But that’s where our friends at Magoosh TOEFL come in!

They’ve put together this new (and free!) TOEFL iBT eBook to help you prepare for and succeed on your TOEFL test! So no need to spend hours browsing the web for TOEFL practice questions, test strategies or problem explanations–you can find all these resources and lots more in the Magoosh TOEFL eBook.

Go ahead and get to studying–and of course, good luck on your test!

Click here to download your TOEFL iBT eBook!

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Interpreting Your SAT Scores [Infographic]

Getting ready for your SAT? Check out our podcast episode GMAT, GRE, SAT, and All Things Test Prep!If you already took the SAT test, then the next challenge you have to face is enduring through the 3 long weeks it takes to receive your SAT score. But by the time you’ve made it through those drawn-out weeks and can finally log into your College Board account, you might find this to be the beginning of yet another challenge–how on earth am I supposed to understand what this score report means?

The good news: this is actually not as difficult as it may seem at first glance! You will just need to know a few key pieces of information to successfully dominate the SAT score report challenge, and our friends at Magoosh SAT have made this even easier with their new Interpreting Your SAT Scores infographic.

Take a look at that infographic below and learn–once and for all–how to understand your SAT score report:

Interpreting Your SAT Score

Download Free: Preparing for College in High School: A To-Do List for Eleventh Graders
Accepted: The Premier Admissions Cosultancy
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GMAT, GRE, SAT and All Things Test Prep
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Prepare for the TOEFL With This Infographic!

Don't be afraid of the TOEFL.  Check out this infographic and get prepared!There’s a lot to be tense about when it comes to the TOEFL speaking section–you’ll need to show your comfort level with the English language while speaking clearly into a microphone while surrounded by other test-takers who are also speaking into their microphones, and all of this done under a time crunch. That’s enough to make even the most sophisticated test-taker break out in a sweat!

However, all is not lost. There is a lot you can do to practice and improve on this section of the test. And as a first step, you can study this handy TOEFL Speaking infographic that our friends at Magoosh TOEFL put together! It’s complete with info on the structure of the test, useful strategies to keep in mind, and helpful tips to make this section more manageable.

 So take a look at the infographic below and get confident about your TOEFL speaking skills!
Magoosh TOEFL Speaking Infographic
Learn how to use sample essays to create an exemplary essay of your own!
Accepted: The Premier Admissions Cosultancy
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