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?

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