Essay Writing/Written Ability Test (WAT) for B-schools

What is a Written Ability Test(WAT)/Essay?
A Written Ability Test (MBA)/essay is a short literary composition, providing a personal view on a single subject. An essay is not just an exercise in research, it is also an exercise in communication. Essays require you to demonstrate that you understand the question asked, issues involved and that you possess the required knowledge quotient. Essays also allow you to demonstrate your analytical thinking and force a deep and powerful form of learning to take place for both the author as well as the reader.The length of the essay should be apt enough to meet the purpose, keep the reader gripped, and conform to any pre-stated space constraints. It is important to understand that a redundant detail may take the charm away from an essay while an over condensed one may elude certain relevant details.
Many B schools (including IIMs) have replaced the GD with a WAT (Written Aptitude Test)/Essay Writing test. Others have added the WAT to their existing processes. Generally, time given ranges from 10 to 40 minutes and the word limit is between 100-500 words. 
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What does an essay reflect ?
An essay reflects one's personality. It gives an insight into an individual's ability to express. It gives the reader an idea about the person's attitude, aptitude, and vision. In fact, the purpose of an essay is to evaluate the following aspects of one's personality:
  • Knowledge- This is an important parameter as it measures the awareness levels of the writer; more so in case of factual topics. It reflects a well-rounded and aware personality with a strong environmental sensitivity.
  • Written ability-This parameter evaluates the writer's expression of interest. A well written essay demonstrates good written communication skills.
  • Logical structure-This parameter displays the writer's logical thinking and ability to prioritize. It is important to cluster and group different sets of ideas and arrange them in a manner that reflects logical progression and proper sequencing.
Foundations of a Good Essay
A good essay is based on the following foundations:
  • Content: This is the subject matter on the topic; please remain close to the topic given. For example, if the topic is "FDI in higher education", don't deviate to include issues and challenges w.r.t "FDI in retail", as they are very different topics. Focus on higher education in India and explain the rationale for FDI in higher education.
  • Organization: How the argument is constructed using examples from the introduction till the conclusion.
  • Presentation: This includes style, use of language, correct sentences & spellings and ease of reading. Using simple words with a clean and neat handwriting is an added advantage.

What are the steps in writing a good essay?
The process of writing an effective essay is quite simple. In fact, it can be outlined in three steps:
  1. Define the purpose
  2.  Organize your ideas
  3.  WRITE !!! 
Let’s look at each of the above and understand what needs to be kept in mind for each.
  • Define the purpose - Broadly, the purpose can be either to give an overview or an analysis. More specifically, it should be pre-defined as an essay intended to:
    • Persuade - whether ‘for’ or ‘against’, you should be at least moderately passionate about the issue.
    • Explain/Educate- you should be suitably well-informed about the issue.
  • Organize your ideas
    • Brainstorm- This helps you to think laterally and divergently on the various issues and challenges with respect to the given topic. The following are some simple tips to brainstorm effectively:
      1. Write the topic in a circle
      2. Arrows and smaller circles outside
      3. Fill these circles with points/facts/info. which support the respective point
Remember, the above are simple pointers that you can relate with the topic in any way possible. You can build content on these pointers and take the essay in any direction you wish.
Another aspect of organizing your ideas for the essay is to prepare effective outlines and thesis statements. You can keep the following points in mind for these two activities.
  • Outline
    • Edit the main points- consider: chronology, logic, sequence
    • Put the strongest points at the start and the end, leaving the weakest in the middle
    • Ensure a logical and structured flow
  • Thesis Statement
    • Tells the author the domain and range of the essay
    • Tells the reader what the essay will be about
    • The Thesis Statement follows from the main ideas you have listed about the topic-what do they say or indicate about the topic?
The Thesis Statement has two parts:
  1. The first part states the topic
  2.  The second part either states the point of the essay or lists the ideas you will discuss
In its most basic and traditional form, an essay has three elemental parts: (1) introduction, (2) body and (3) conclusion. Each of these parts has a specific purpose which means the reader will be looking for certain expected features.
Tips for writing a distinctive essay
There are four key ingredients you need to get right in order to write an effective essay. In this final section, we explore this one at a time:
  • Interpreting the topic the right way
Your interpretation of the topic is based on your familiarity with the topic as well as on the wording itself. For example, consider this topic: "Corruption- a necessary evil?" versus "Corruption- a necessary evil."
A simple change in the punctuation has changed the implication of the topic itself. This is something you need to be careful about while interpreting topics: make sure you are on the lookout for minor details and you can understand the subtle nuances that these topics contain.
  • Determine your stand
Does the topic allow you to choose your stand? If yes, then you are writing an essay intended to persuade; If no, then you are writing to explain/educate.
For example, consider the topic "UN-Reforms". Let’s see how this topic will look if any takes any one of the above lines of thinking.
  • Persuade :  Does the UN need reforms? (list arguments FOR or AGAINST)
  • Explain : The UN needs urgent reforms ( list the steps proving why)
  • Educate : The need for UN reforms (list the areas that need attention)
  • Ideation
There are three kinds of ideation that you can up for essay topics:
  • Theoretical-the underlying basis
  • Conceptual- the tools/concepts
  • Empirical-the illustrations/examples
All three refer mainly to the body paragraphs
  • Theoretical – the main point of a body paragraph
  • Conceptual - the elaboration of the body paragraph
  • Empirical -the example to substantiate the body paragraph
Let’s take up two sample topics and built the ideation table for these topics.
Topic 1 : Combating Corruption
Socialism / Liberalism
Anna Hazare
Enron / Kingfisher
Arab Spring
Topic 2: Educational Reforms
Primary, Sec., Higher
SSA, Mid-day meal, online CAT
Gender ratio, financial independence
Demographic Dividend
  • Better Presentation
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This is the final part of the jigsaw and once you have this in place, you have solved the puzzle for writing effective essays. In order to present your well, you need to keep the following parameters in mind:
  • Mention the TITLE
  • Indent (for each new paragraph)
  • Avoid slang/casual references
  • Avoid too many corrections/cuttings
  • Avoid spelling mistakes
  • Handwriting should be neat and legible.
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