It’s been a couple of months since I took the GMAT, and although I didn’t do great, I did score a 6.0 or 90 percent on the essay portion. (I’m too embarrassed to share my quantitative score – let’s just say it left much to be desired. Thank goodness I scored well on the verbal section; that was my saving grace for my achieving a solid mediocre overall score.) Despite my slightly-lower-than-average GMAT score, I still was accepted to California State University, Fullerton, and you, too, can get accepted to the MBA program of your choice.
The GMAT essay portion was the only section I felt truly confident about because I did so well on the practice ones in my Bobrow prep course. In fact, I did so well, the professor kept mine to share with future classes. I thought I’d share it here as well with his commentary. (I have another sample essay from another student to share, but this post will be long enough as it is.)
Prompt: “Violence is the unavoidable consequence of the Western idea of manhood: winning at all costs, physical supremacy, the primacy of work, the suppression of sensitivity.”
Do you agree with this position? Support your view from your reading and/or your observations.
“With so many violent and brutal crimes that occur every day in the United States, one can see how other cultures can blame our Western philosophies of manhood for the violence we see on television or read about in the news. While it is true Westerners, or Americans, tend to value winning at all costs, physical supremacy, the primacy of work, and the suppression of sensitivity, these ideals are not necessarily responsible for the violence in our society.
Violence is not unique to Western culture. Violent acts can be viewed throughout civilization in all parts of the world. It’s even present in the animal kingdom, and is an unfortunate part of reality. It is too universal to be labeled or branded as being a consequence of one society’s viewpoint.
Furthermore, who says ideals such as winning, physical strength, and strong work ethics are negative? Yes, when winning is taken to the extreme of ‘winning at all costs,’ it could be devastating. However, each of these values can produce confidence, pride, and strength. If people are strong and confident, violence can be reduced through diplomacy and peaceful negotiations. Attributes or ideals are not responsible for violence; actions are.
In addition, is the belief in suppression of sensitivity still popular in our Western culture? I do not think so. Doctors, psychologists, and other experts have encouraged and supported men and women alike to share their feelings. Many experts agree it is beneficial to mental health. In reflection, many movies, shows, and other pop culture now depict men crying, thus showing it is no longer taboo. If anything, Western culture embraces emotional sensitivity and the need to express it.
Even if cultural ideals were removed or non-existent, violence would persist. It occurs because people and animals compete for resources. Even in a ‘utopian’ society, which is what communism claimed to create, violence emerged to keep the illusion of ‘perfection’ alive. Violence will be a part of every culture until the end of time, no matter what beliefs the society values.
While no one wants violence, we cannot hope to find better solutions until we stop blaming cultural beliefs and ideals for the problem.”
Here is former English teacher and Bobrow professor Gregg Heacock’s analysis of why this is an excellent example of a GMAT essay from an email he wrote to our class:
“People who write well tend to think outside the box. They tend to look at value-laden terms and ask what they mean. Consider how your definition of a friend has probably changed over the years. Such thinking is essential to being original. It leads naturally to better writing.
Laura Lee, in her first paragraph, lays out what we have right now that raises the question at the heart of the essay. She acknowledges what is true in the accusation made but claims this is not the cause of the violence we see around us. In other words, she gives us a ‘Yes, but …’ The ‘yes’ establishes common ground; the ‘but’ takes us in a new direction. I assume you can see how economical her writing is. It goes straight to the point and leaves you wanting to know more.
She begins her next paragraph with the word ‘violence.’ This, after all, is the subject of her paper. Immediately, she gets us to question the proposition that violence is the natural consequence of our Western way of thinking. The reference to the animal kingdom is enough to get us thinking.
She follows this with ‘furthermore,’ then ‘in addition,’ and she advances her challenge even further with an ‘even if’ supposition. Guide words are important in framing paragraphs for your readers. This helps readers understand the purpose of each paragraph.
Notice how she thinks outside the box when she analyzes those Western values. She acknowledges that ‘winning at all costs’ is not positive but, then, points out that winning, by itself, is not so bad. She next makes the case that these values can actually help us turn away from violent solutions. She assumes that the reader shares a common understanding of the premise she has advanced and moves on to her next paragraph. But, notice how she sets things in opposition: ‘Attributes or ideals are not responsible for violence; actions are.’ That short clause at the end speaks strongly – even more strongly when it is the last thing said.
At all times, Laura Lee counts on her readers knowing what she is referring to. In her last paragraph, she questioned whether these values really lead to violence. In this next paragraph, she questions whether all of these values still have much efficacy in our culture. Though she refers to no specific example, she trusts that we are with her. But, even without examples, she is not vague: She refers to ‘many movies, shows, and other pop culture’ so that we can pick and choose for ourselves.
With her ‘even if’ challenge, Laura Lee gives us the real cause of violence, competing for what we think are limited resources. Again, she assumes that we will understand that violence has been used against people who challenge the illusion of ‘perfection’ that communism put forth. It can be comforting to a reader to sense the writer’s trust. But, if you think that elaboration is needed to help your reader know what you are referring to, you should be more explicit.
What came to me as a total surprise was the ending. The writer turns the whole question on its head by suggesting that placing such labels is part of what causes the violence which those labelers condemn. Now, if we were not in a post-9/11 struggle with people who see our culture as being at fault for all the violence in the world, this idea might not strike with the impact that it does. However, this is the world we are in, and so we are fully prepared to understand the surprise the writer gives us at the end.
What you can see from this essay is that communication is a negotiation between writer and audience. If the writer goes on too long about what the readers already know, they will be bored. If not enough is said about what the readers do not know so well, they will be confused.
Powerful writing comes from powerful thinking. You may believe that I mean ‘thinking in advance of your writing your essay.’ I do not. It comes from thinking powerfully as you writing. Sure, thinking beyond how others frame issues is a habit that needs to be cultivated over time. But, once cultivated, it needs to be applied with great diligence during the 30 minutes you have to write your essay. By following the process of connecting with your audience as you acknowledge what some see the issue to be and then doing a ‘yes, but …,’ leading to your own take on the matter, you can start writing right away.
Notice that each paragraph of the body has almost a narrative aspect to it as each tells a tale that calls the issue into question. There is almost a causal thread running through each. This is the product of thinking-at-work. Finally, we come to the last paragraph where the writer connects again with the reader, not through the imagination as with the body paragraphs, but with shared values. The reader is encouraged to say, ‘Oh, yeah!’ when we hear violence connected to ‘blame.’ This connects to our core where we have already processed the understanding that we must stop blaming others if we wish to stop being violent, for one leads almost naturally to the other.
If you write like this, you will be trusting yourself to discover truths that are buried inside you. This is very exciting. Yes, you will be taking a risk. And you will be nervous. But if you accept that nervousness as being just an aspect of the excitement and anticipation you feel, you can learn to center yourself, breathe deeply, and go forward into what you may discover to already be known to you.”
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