How to Use the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) Score

The AWA score helps you select applicants for admission and diagnose additional writing instruction.

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The Analytical Writing Assessment score can be used to select applicants for admission to your school and as a diagnostic tool in recommending or requiring additional instruction in writing.

The following guidelines should be kept in mind when using the AWA:

  • Use multiple criteria when evaluating an applicant, recognizing that the AWA is only one indicator of academic readiness.
  • Use the AWA scoring guide (detailed below) as your basis for score interpretation.
  • Consider that the scores are based on 30-minute, first-draft writing samples. They are not comparable to prepared essays that may be submitted with a school application.
  • Do not make distinctions among applicants on the basis of a small scoring distinction—one point or less apart.
  • Conduct a validity study to ensure that the AWA scores you require are appropriate. The free Validity Study Service is available to help you conduct your study.

How AWA Is Scored

AWA essays are given two independent ratings, one of which may be performed by an automated essay-scoring engine. The automated essay-scoring engine is an electronic system that evaluates more than 50 structural and linguistic features, including organization of ideas, syntactic variety, and topical analysis.

If the two ratings differ by more than one point, another evaluation by an expert reader is required to resolve the discrepancy and determine the final score. 

College and university faculty members trained as readers for the AWA will consider the following:

  • Overall quality of ideas about the issue and argument presented
  • Overall ability to organize, develop, and express those ideas
  • The relevant supporting reasons and examples used
  • Ability to control the elements of standard written English

In considering the elements of standard written English, readers are trained to be sensitive and fair in evaluating the responses of examinees whose first language is not English. 

AWA Scoring Guide

Analysis of an Argument

Download the Analysis of an Argument Scoring Guide (pdf).

A Score of 6 Is Outstanding—A cogent, well-articulated critique of the argument, demonstrating mastery of the elements of effective writing, and displaying the following characteristics:

  • Clearly identifies and insightfully analyzes important features of the argument
  • Develops ideas cogently, organizes them logically, and connects them smoothly with clear transitions
  • Effectively supports the main points of the critique
  • Demonstrates superior control of language, including diction and syntactic variety and the conventions of standard written English. There may be minor flaws.

A Score of 5 Is Strong—A well-developed critique of the argument, demonstrating good control of the elements of effective writing, and displaying the following characteristics:

  • Clearly identifies important features of the argument and analyzes them in a generally thoughtful way
  • Develops ideas clearly, organizes them logically, and connects them with appropriate transitions
  • Sensibly supports the main points of the critique
  • Demonstrates clear control of language, including diction and syntactic variety
  • Demonstrates facility with the conventions of standard written English, but may have minor flaws

A Score of 4 Is Adequate—A competent critique of the argument, demonstrating adequate control of the elements of effective writing, and displaying the following characteristics:

  • Identifies and capably analyzes important features of the argument
  • Develops and organizes ideas satisfactorily, but may not always connect them with transitions
  • Supports the main points of the critique
  • Demonstrates adequate control of language, including diction and syntactic variety, but may lack syntactic variety
  • Displays control of the conventions of standard written English, but may have some flaws

A Score of 3 Is Limited—A competent but clearly flawed critique of the argument, demonstrating some control of the elements of effective writing, and displaying the following characteristics:

  • Does not identify or analyze most of the important features of the argument, although some analysis is present
  • Is limited in the logical development and organization of ideas
  • Offers support of little relevance and value for points of the critique
  • Uses language imprecisely and/or lacks sentence variety
  • Contains occasional major errors or frequent minor errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

A Score of 2 Is Seriously Flawed—A paper demonstrating serious weakness in analytical writing skills, and displaying the following characteristics:

  • Fails to show an understanding of and does not identify or analyze the main features of the argument
  • Does not develop ideas or is disorganized
  • Provides few, if any, relevant or reasonable supports
  • Has serious, frequent problems in the use of language and sentence structure
  • Contains numerous errors in grammar, usage, or mechanics that interfere with meaning

A Score of 1 Is Fundamentally Deficient—A paper demonstrating fundamental deficiencies in analytical writing skills, and displaying the following characteristics:

  • Provides little evidence of the ability to understand and analyze the argument or to develop an organized response to it
  • Has severe and persistent errors in language and sentence structure
  • Contains a pervasive pattern of errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics thus resulting in incoherence

A Score of 0 Is Unscorable—A paper that is totally illegible or obviously not written on the assigned topic.

Note: The AWA section will include only one essay beginning on June 5, 2012, upon the launch of the GMAT® exam with Integrated Reasoning.  

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