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Huh? Crazy low AWA score


janaca

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So, I took the GRE over a month ago and was pleased with my verbal score (770), and pretty proud of my math score (700), even though I'm told humanities programs won't care about the math. However, I was shocked when I received my AWA score of 4.0, which put me in the 41st percentile. I'm a native English speaker. I majored in English and creative writing. I've won awards for my essays and had them published in various places, including my university's freshman writing textbook. I tutored for the freshman writing class at my university, and I've been an editor and writer in the two and a half years since I finished undergrad. I wrote practice essays before I took the test, and I thought I wrote solid, well structured essays. I paid for a re-score but again received a 4.0. Do I really have to take the bloody test again just to convince a history PhD programs that I am a good writer? Also, is there any research out there to back up this claim that the AWA section is a remotely accurate measure of analytical writing ability?

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Oh, man. This is exactly what happened to me the first time I took the GRE! I also got a 4.0, despite winning awards for writing and the like, and at that point a 4.0 was at the 33rd percentile. Not great. I contacted several of the programs to which I was planning on applying to see how detrimental this would be to my chances at admission, and nearly all of them came back and that said while it wouldn't be a reason to deny admission outright, the score was extremely low for a native speaker and that I should retake the GRE, even though I had 700+ scores in both verbal and math. So, that sucked. I did end up retaking it and managed to raise the writing to a 5.0 which, while not my goal, did seem to satisfy the programs. So, long story short, I'd reach out to the departments to which you're planning on applying to see what they recommend.

And as for the accuracy of the writing section, I think it's total bull!

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Apparently what they're looking for in your essay is simple, coherent, concise writing, but writers that are generally considered "talented" or "creative" tend to embellish or complicate their texts more than needed (resulting in low scores). A bit stupid if you ask me, this whole thing, but that's just the way it is and we have to deal with it.

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Thanks for the responses. I certainly argued and reasoned well the first time I did the AWA. (You can't write well without arguing and reasoning well, and people who dismiss "talented" writers as non-analytical never cease to piss me off.) The only thing I can think is that my idea was probable too complex and my structure was probably too unusual, thought it was certainly well suited to the point I was making. I guess I'll take the test again, although I'm tempted to just submit my credentials, my writing samples and personal statement, and let the programs see for themselves what a waste of time this AWA crap is. But yeah ... going to resist that temptation!

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That's what I've been saying. The test is messed up.

People like you got the same score as I did, and I'm not a native speaker, nor am I even a remotely "talented" writer (Which I would want to be, by the way).

They're looking for a very specific format that's "right". I find this prescriptive approach ridiculous in this case.

I would so much prefer to do the old format which was more about a specific thinking ability.

Maybe I should ask my programs if they'd cut me some slack as a non-native speaker. That's kind of reassuring, so thanks peffy1962.

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Don't worry too much about it. That section isn't particularly important, unless you are applying to schools that have strict GRE score cutoffs and include AWA in that equation. Writing samples and SOPs are much more important.

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My MA program (top 10-ish, social sciences) said that they use the writing section in determining financial aid (they ran regressions and found a close correlation between high writing score and success in the program), so it isn't true that the section is completely ignored.

I would retake it. Why not? Do you fear that your other scores will go down? There is a bit of variation with the verbal (but honestly, a 720 is still 98th percentile, so you have a way to go before you hurt yourself), but not as much with the math.

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I sympathize, and wonder myself if I should take them again. It got me in to my MA program, but I'm planning on applying to doctoral programs next year. I've been in the working world a long time and have been writing professionally for several years. I've sold scripts and articles, authored technical manuals, financial, scientific and legal presentations and been published in major publications. I got a 4.5. Granted, with both essays I felt very rushed towards the end and my conclusions suffered. I'd not be surprised to see this exercise modified or removed from the GRE in the next couple of years. Frankly it's a ridiculous exercise.

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Although I got a score I expected, I agree that the analytical writing section is silly. I've even heard that ETS is beginning to use computer-programs to automatically search through essays and pick out structures/phrases that they think convey the writer's ability to express him- or herself clearly.

But then, the whole test is arguably a bit of a farce (along with the SAT); all it really tests otherwise is your ability to cram vocabulary and review high-school math.

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Thanks for the responses. I certainly argued and reasoned well the first time I did the AWA. (You can't write well without arguing and reasoning well, and people who dismiss "talented" writers as non-analytical never cease to piss me off.) The only thing I can think is that my idea was probable too complex and my structure was probably too unusual, thought it was certainly well suited to the point I was making. I guess I'll take the test again, although I'm tempted to just submit my credentials, my writing samples and personal statement, and let the programs see for themselves what a waste of time this AWA crap is. But yeah ... going to resist that temptation!

Don't take this the wrong way, but do you think maybe you were too confident going in? You sound very confident in your abilities (justifiedly, I'm sure) so you may not have spent as much time preparing for the AW section of the test. A lot of people dismiss it and think 'I'm a good writer; I'll be fine' without bothering to study strategies that contribute to a good score - i.e. the typical high school intro, point 1, point 2, point 3, conclusion structure is all they're looking for. Change up your sentence structure, keep it interesting, but no points for flowery, showy language that takes too long to read. In case you're wondering, I was guilty of all of that myself. I was cocky about my writing ability until I did practice essays and got bad scores. I finally gave in, wrote the way they wanted me to and got a 6.0 on the actual GRE.

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That's a tough call. The verbal can be so hit or miss that I'd be nervous about losing your 770. I agree with what has been stated about the AWA being a poor measure of good writers, but that's little consolation at this point.

If you've been in contact with the schools you are interested in, maybe give them an email or a call and ask what impact the AWA has on their decisions for admission and funding. Hopefully your writing ability will shine through in your SOP, but if they use arbitrary cut-offs for certain awards you could still be screwed. No fun at all.

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