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Help me! GRE AWA score


hyo
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I am an international student who wants to major English literature in ph.D program in USA.

I took GRE test last month, and got 720(V), 770(Q).

However, I got an awefully low score in AWA, 3.5.

Do you think this(low writing score) affects hugely on admission process?

Besides this, I got almost perfect GPA.

As long as I write great SOP and writing sample, can my application be considered by the committee at least, or be screened out at first because of AWA socre?

This is very important for me because I am considering to take another GRE test next month. Or should I concentrate on my SOP and sample writing?

Please, give me useful advice. As an international student, I do not have a person to ask and get information.

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I would guess (and this is strictly a guess) that if you have a great SOP and writing sample, programs will overlook the low AWA score. From what I've read, most schools rely more on the SOP and writing sample to gauge individuals' writing abilities than the AWA score anyway. But it may depend on the particular program and specific department...

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From the admissions people I talked to I would say that your AWA score would ring some alarms, especially since your major is English lit. But judging by your post it looks like you have a good handle on the English language so you should score better.

Maybe your approach was wrong. How did you study for the AWA? Did you download the ETS software and see their sample essays? Those are very helpful. This might be a ridiculous question, but did you try to memorize some essays your wrote and then try to adapt them to the essay question/issue? I know that sounds silly, but I know some people who would try to approach the test this way and it will always fail.

Make sure you write freely and not try to use any words or sentence structure that you don't feel comfortable with. The essay section was created in part because intl students were getting into programs, but were not ready for college level writing in English. They are just testing to see if you have a good handle of English and can express yourself clearly, not that you're the next James Joyce.The ETS has a list of all of the topics/issues on their website. Try responding to them as practice so that you feel comfortable with writing essays on the fly, then take it again.

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One thing about the SOP and writing sample is that they can be translated, written by someone else, or have used a larger amount of preparation than would be realistic in a grad school setting. So admissions might keep these things in mind when seeing a low AWA.

However since the rest of your application is so good, just take the GRE again, they'll only look at your highest score usually. They'll totally understand if you were nervous and flubbed the writing sample the first time, but get a 4 or 5 on another try. They'll just use the highest score in admissions.

Admissions also receive a copy of your AWA if they want. So if you messed up and wrote a bad essay, they'll see that along with your other materials.

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Have you taken the TOEFL yet? If your writing/overall score is high, I think you can get by without retaking the GRE. From my experience, the AW is the least important of the three GRE sections, and a high TOEFL score combined with a well written SOP and writing sample should be enough for the department to see that your English is good.

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Have you taken the TOEFL yet? If your writing/overall score is high, I think you can get by without retaking the GRE. From my experience, the AW is the least important of the three GRE sections, and a high TOEFL score combined with a well written SOP and writing sample should be enough for the department to see that your English is good.

Thank you for your advice. I took the TOEFL as well and it was 114/120. I got 27/30 in writing section.

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From the admissions people I talked to I would say that your AWA score would ring some alarms, especially since your major is English lit. But judging by your post it looks like you have a good handle on the English language so you should score better.

Maybe your approach was wrong. How did you study for the AWA? Did you download the ETS software and see their sample essays? Those are very helpful. This might be a ridiculous question, but did you try to memorize some essays your wrote and then try to adapt them to the essay question/issue? I know that sounds silly, but I know some people who would try to approach the test this way and it will always fail.

Make sure you write freely and not try to use any words or sentence structure that you don't feel comfortable with. The essay section was created in part because intl students were getting into programs, but were not ready for college level writing in English. They are just testing to see if you have a good handle of English and can express yourself clearly, not that you're the next James Joyce.The ETS has a list of all of the topics/issues on their website. Try responding to them as practice so that you feel comfortable with writing essays on the fly, then take it again.

Great advice. I also agree that my approach was a little bit wrong. It would not be that bad to take GRE test again since I have time until the deadline. Thnaks!

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Great advice. I also agree that my approach was a little bit wrong. It would not be that bad to take GRE test again since I have time until the deadline. Thnaks!

I might do that if I were you. A test prep guy told me that I could possibly be a red flag if you score well below average on the AW section but have a sparkling SOP. He said that SOME might think you could have gotten "help" on the SOP.

Of course, this probably varies by admit committee, so take it at face value. Just wanted of offer another perspective (obviously, you don't want to write a crappy SOP on purpose!) :)

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I've been a successful applicant for English Ph.D programs twice, and was once a testprep tutor/teacher. I've heard that advice (that the AW is compared against the SoP) circulated frequently, and absolutely refused to pass it on to my English students. (Most testprep teachers have little real knowledge of the admissions process, unless it's for the specific field that they applied to. There's a lot of general "tidbits" that we are taught to "feed" to our students to make ourselves look more knowledgable. I'd be quite circumspect about such advice, unless you can verify it with your professors). While it's vaguely relevant for, say, the LSAT's, it really doesn't hold for humanities applications, and certainly not for English students.

I absolutely would NOT recommend re-taking the exam just to boost your AW score. English Ph.D programs really do not care about the A.W score at all. I've never seen it discussed or used as a "cutting" score of any sort (the verbal and sometimes subject test scores are usually used precisely for this purpose). English ad-comms know perfectly well that our academic writing is absolutely NOTHING like the AW portion, and that score is a horrible indication of our writing skills. Your SoP and writing sample will give them a much better indication of whether or not you're proficient at the skills that actually count. Really do make sure that you pour a lot of time into those elements. The GRE is ultimately a very tiny part of the application package, and AW score is virtually ignored.

Contrary to the other advice you've received, I think that fear of outside "doctoring" for the SoP and writing sample is highly unrealistic. A good English SoP is extremely research-specific...it's virtually impossible for someone outside of academia to have sufficient knowledge to write an SoP for another person. And quite frankly, as a graduate student...we DO pour as much effort into our papers (and proposals, abstracts, etc) that we once exerted on application materials, especially if we're pursuing publication. The only "real" difference is that as we become more proficient at it, we can attain the same (or better) results with less time.

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The advice above makes more sense... I retract my thoughts! At least I HOPE they don't put that much emphasis on the AWA because it totally sucks :D It's just something I heard could be of concern. Take it worth a grain of salt.

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I absolutely would NOT recommend re-taking the exam just to boost your AW score. English Ph.D programs really do not care about the A.W score at all. I've never seen it discussed or used as a "cutting" score of any sort (the verbal and sometimes subject test scores are usually used precisely for this purpose). English ad-comms know perfectly well that our academic writing is absolutely NOTHING like the AW portion, and that score is a horrible indication of our writing skills. Your SoP and writing sample will give them a much better indication of whether or not you're proficient at the skills that actually count. Really do make sure that you pour a lot of time into those elements. The GRE is ultimately a very tiny part of the application package, and AW score is virtually ignored.

I would disagree with circumfession on this one. If he was a native English speaker than your advice would be spot on, but since this is an international student we're talking about, their application is subjected to different selection criteria. A low AWA score from an intl student might indeed raise some flags, and there might be concern that their SOP and sample are not indicative of their communication ability. Having lived in China for several years, I can say first hand that many people pay to have a SOP translated from Chinese (I've been asked to do so), edited and even hire professionals to help draft the content. Plagiarism is also very wide spread in the academic world here, and admissions people are aware of this.

Besides, Since hyo has a good toefl score, he should no doubt be able to score at least a 4 (and likely a 5) on the GRE on the second time through with a little practice leading up to the test. With such stellar verbal and quant scores, he might as well take it again just to make sure the AWA doesn't raise any eyebrows.

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Hyo,

Follow the below link to download the ETS powerprep software.

http://ntis01.ets.org/onyx/powerprepTestTakers.htm

Check out the sample AWAs they have and also be sure to check out the COMMENTARIES they have for each essay. Seeing first hand the difference between a 3, 4 and 5 will probably help.

Also, if the AWA is still a problem, draw attention to your high TOEFL writing score in you SOP. You might even include an extra (keep it short) letter addressing the low AWA score and let them know you scored very well on the TOEFL. I know that it is ok to include a letter like this to explain low grades or academic anomalies, no reason it wouldn't be ok for a situation like this too.

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The AWA score is the least important of your GRE sectional scores. Also, I'd advise you to keep a tab on your grammar when you write your SOP/writing sample because we guys (international students from some specific countries) have a tendency to miss out on articles when writing/speaking English. I see that you have missed out on quite a few articles in your initial post. Concentrating on your SOP and writing sample would do you good in my opinion rather than retaking the GRE. Also, they will see your old scores when your scores are sent. Some adcomms take the avg of the two scores. This is what I've heard from people claiming to be experts. So if that is true, retaking the GRE is really not worth the effort because you have a great overall score! The AWA will most probably not affect your application in any way.

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I would disagree with circumfession on this one. If he was a native English speaker than your advice would be spot on, but since this is an international student we're talking about, their application is subjected to different selection criteria. A low AWA score from an intl student might indeed raise some flags, and there might be concern that their SOP and sample are not indicative of their communication ability. Having lived in China for several years, I can say first hand that many people pay to have a SOP translated from Chinese (I've been asked to do so), edited and even hire professionals to help draft the content. Plagiarism is also very wide spread in the academic world here, and admissions people are aware of this.

I'm absolutely aware that plagarism is common, and some unscrupulous applicants (both internationally and within the US) attempt to pay for an SoP. That said, my advice stills stands, largely because English literature (and this might extend to other fields in the humanities) SoP's and writing samples are quite different than your "average" SoP. Simply put, there is a tiny, tiny handful of individuals who are actually capable of writing a good SoP for an English program, and most of those can only write it for their OWN research. You can't simply hire an SoP writer (professional or not) from the internet or your local university (especially aboard) and still expect decent results. It's difficult to explain the distinction, but our projects involve such specialized, esoteric knowledge that it's very difficult to understand without the background training, much less to inflect with one's own interest and communicate in sufficiently sophisticated/academic parlance, the nuances of our research. And an English SoP, more than any other, is always simultaneously also another writing sample. You can't even lay out "the facts" and ghostwrite an English SoP for someone else. It simply won't work. In short...one cannot successful hire an "SoP writer" to produce one for you...not if you actually want to be accepted into a program. (Even translation won't work. At this level, you simply cannot translate what you do not understand, and I sincerely doubt that the "professional" SoP writer will understand nuances of our work). The most that another individual can do is edit for spelling/grammar/writing style...and well, quite frankly, that hardly counts as unscrupulous practice, considering that we solicit the same from our colleagues.

I also want to point out that the OP scored a 720 verbal, which is nearly the 99th percentile. Considering that that test involves reading comprehension in addition to vocab, I sincerely doubt that any ad-comm will still question his/her language skills with that sky-high score.

Furthermore, if we really want to nitpick, unless the OP has a PMLA-published writing sample, an SoP written by James Joyce himself, 1600 GRE scores, a 4.0 and perhaps half a dozen conference presentations on top of it, there's always, ALWAYS room for improvement in every part of the application package. It's a matter of choosing what to devote one's resources to. As an English applicant, I can say with a great deal of confidence that the writing sample and SoP are far more important than ANY GRE score, and the AW score is by far the least important of the three. IF the OP wants to maximize his chances, s/he's far better off devoting the weeks and months to the writing sample (I spent half a year revising mine, and most of my successful colleagues put in a similar amount of effort) and SoP...which are extremely important, and absolutely critical for his/her chances. Putting all that effort into the AW score simply isn't worth it, especially since most ad-comms do not look at it.

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circumfession, looks like you feel strongly about this! :D It sounds like you know your stuff when it comes to Eng lit Phds.

I'm definitely no expert on the English SOP, so take my advice with a grain of salt. It sounds way more technical than it does for the type of stuff I'm applying for (MA and MPP programs).

Hyo, one easy way to save yourself some time and stress: just call up the admissions office at your target program(s). Call them or email them, they are probably pretty responsive. Tell them your GRE scores, tell them your TOEFL score then ask if the AWA is a big deal. You can totally ask them this anonymously.

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I'm absolutely aware that plagarism is common, and some unscrupulous applicants (both internationally and within the US) attempt to pay for an SoP. That said, my advice stills stands, largely because English literature (and this might extend to other fields in the humanities) SoP's and writing samples are quite different than your "average" SoP. Simply put, there is a tiny, tiny handful of individuals who are actually capable of writing a good SoP for an English program, and most of those can only write it for their OWN research. You can't simply hire an SoP writer (professional or not) from the internet or your local university (especially aboard) and still expect decent results. It's difficult to explain the distinction, but our projects involve such specialized, esoteric knowledge that it's very difficult to understand without the background training, much less to inflect with one's own interest and communicate in sufficiently sophisticated/academic parlance, the nuances of our research. And an English SoP, more than any other, is always simultaneously also another writing sample. You can't even lay out "the facts" and ghostwrite an English SoP for someone else. It simply won't work. In short...one cannot successful hire an "SoP writer" to produce one for you...not if you actually want to be accepted into a program. (Even translation won't work. At this level, you simply cannot translate what you do not understand, and I sincerely doubt that the "professional" SoP writer will understand nuances of our work). The most that another individual can do is edit for spelling/grammar/writing style...and well, quite frankly, that hardly counts as unscrupulous practice, considering that we solicit the same from our colleagues.

I also want to point out that the OP scored a 720 verbal, which is nearly the 99th percentile. Considering that that test involves reading comprehension in addition to vocab, I sincerely doubt that any ad-comm will still question his/her language skills with that sky-high score.

Furthermore, if we really want to nitpick, unless the OP has a PMLA-published writing sample, an SoP written by James Joyce himself, 1600 GRE scores, a 4.0 and perhaps half a dozen conference presentations on top of it, there's always, ALWAYS room for improvement in every part of the application package. It's a matter of choosing what to devote one's resources to. As an English applicant, I can say with a great deal of confidence that the writing sample and SoP are far more important than ANY GRE score, and the AW score is by far the least important of the three. IF the OP wants to maximize his chances, s/he's far better off devoting the weeks and months to the writing sample (I spent half a year revising mine, and most of my successful colleagues put in a similar amount of effort) and SoP...which are extremely important, and absolutely critical for his/her chances. Putting all that effort into the AW score simply isn't worth it, especially since most ad-comms do not look at it.

By the way, that previous quote was attributed to me but it belongs to carpecc... just trying to keep things straight here

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