However, that’s not completely true. Imagine two applicants: One who scored 330 on the GRE but only 2 on the AWA and another who scored 315 and 4 on the AWA.
Who do you think has a better chance of admission, given that everything else is exactly the same?
You probably think the first candidate. But NO! That’s the importance of the AWA. It distinguishes two candidates’ skills. Clearly the AWA section is still on the GRE for a reason, despite the recent changes in the format. So let’s look at what the AWA section is? Why it’s important? Who it’s important for? and How much is a good AWA score?
The Analytical Writing tests your critical thinking and analytical writing skills.
What does that mean?The test is an assessment of your ability to articulate and support complex ideas, construct and evaluate arguments, and sustain a focused and coherent discussion.
The Issue task tests your ability to evaluate an issue, understand the complexities, and develop an argument giving reasons and examples to support your stance.
The Argument task measures your understanding of a writing piece, evaluate their claims and the evidence it provides.
So what makes these tasks important for your career?
- Psychology: This is the first section in your GRE. Performing well in this section instills confidence in your ability to score well for the rest of the GRE. Have you heard of the famous saying on tests: “If you don’t get it on the first attempt, skip it and come back to it later.” Why? So you don’t lose confidence in yourself.
Okay, maybe this may not be as apparent in terms of this test, but let’s think about this in terms of sports.
When your favorite sports person, be it Roger Federer, Sachin Tendulkar or Lebron James, starts off their game strong, with confidence, then nothing can stop them. Their confidence only grows as they continue their game. How many times have you seen this?
Well more importantly, isn’t the GRE’s similar to a five-set tennis match, a One Day Innings, or a four-quarter NBA game?
- Percentiles: Percentiles help universities understand how you stack up to the rest of the field, as opposed to just random numbers. That’s why universities look at GRE percentile scores, more than the actual numbers. Top universities want you to be in the top 85th percentile for Quantitative and about 70th percentile in the Verbal, which isn’t as important in engineering degrees. What about AWA percentiles?
International students score usually in the 2.5 – 3.5 range. That means, at best, you’re in the 35th percentile. When has that been a good score? Which university would want to take you? A 4.5 or 78th percentile is ideal for your application to stand out amongst the crowd. This shows that your application has multiple strengths as opposed to just the Quantitative section.
Analytical Writing Percentiles
- Practical: Every job requires you to have analytical skills. Whether it is analyzing data and establishing meaningful interpretations, reading through others interpretation of data and sustaining a discussion, and articulating and supporting complex ideas. These are very important skills that you should have once you land in the US. Why not start with the GREs and build on your skills once you get here?
- TOEFL vs AWA: Can a high TOEFL score substitute for a low GRE AWA score? No, it cannot. The TOEFL tests your language proficiency through reading, writing, listening and speaking. A high TOEFL score means you are proficient in your handle of the English language and nothing more.
Yes, that’s completely different from the AWA section, which tests a deeper understanding of the language and applies it to various scenarios through the Issue and Argument essays.
So why does the AWA score matter?
- To have a well-rounded application, a high AWA score is recommended. Your chances greatly increase at top universities in the US.
- A high AWA score can supplement a weak application. Your chances increase for moderate universities.
- MS thesis and Ph.D. aspirants especially need to have a high AWA score. Research is about analyzing other arguments, articulating and supporting complex ideas, and sustaining a discussion with your peers and advisors.
- Universities usually have a minimum AWA score of around 2.5 or 3. Why would you want to score barely above the minimum? It’s highly unadvisable.
What’s a good GRE score?Average is usually a good start. However, average in the AWA means 3.0, which really is 14th percentile and nowhere close to the average. A minimum of 4.0, or just above 50th percentile, is needed to get into those top universities.
So now you have the question: How do I score above a 4.0?
Check out our blog post on tips and techniques to improve your GRE score by 1.0 at least.