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Written Ability Tests - Tips and Tricks to Ace

This is one of the latest trends with IIMs but I am sure soon would be caught up by other institutes. While for long GD has been an evaluation criteria post the written exam along with the personal interview, the pattern is changing. IIMs have started giving a written essay writing exercise in lieu of GD to judge general analytical skills and thought process of the candidates. The reason put forward by the institutes is that it gives the examiners more objective method of evaluation of the candidates. It apparently also saves the candidates from succumbing to their personality traits. While personally, I do not agree with that as GD is much closer simulation of what a candidate would face post his MBA and is fair opportunity to perform for everyone. But then how does it matter what we think, when it is them who decide how one joins them. So here are few tips and tricks to keep up your sleeve while getting into preparation for and taking up a written ability test or WAT as they would be popularly called.

So what is this WAT? To say it simply it is a short essay writing test with a glamorous name. The only trick about this one is limit on words and severe time constraints within which that limit need to be met. Though there is an indicative word limit, it is not as much a constraint as the sheet of paper provided to write. So, one needs to be quick, yet concise, while showcasing the clarity of views elaborate enough to do justice with the topic allotted. It may sound much easier than it may sound but some practice can make it a smoother process.

Quick check on the specifications reveal that WAT exercises involve an essay of something between 200 to 400 words within 20-30 minutes to accomplish the task. The topics given are generally the same as those of group discussions (GDs) as I have already covered as part of another article. Just the medium of expression of the views is different. Read more about the topics at - Group Discussions - Prepare to Handle Topics

Here are things to keep in mind for the WATs.
Develop a habit of writing
This is the digital age where we have come to spend more time on computers than ever before. Even the “written” part of CAT is not undertaken online on electronic platform. It sometimes is years before we actually write a full sentence on paper. This is going to be the first challenge when you have write as fast as you can while still thinking through the topic. So get your pens out, refill them up and get to writing. This could mean taking notes in one of your courses at college (if you are a fresher) or taking down the tasks of the day at you job. Better still, you could start thinking of potential topics and get in habit of writing short essays.

Do not be in haste to start writing
Once you get the topic, it is extremely important to take some moments to plan your way ahead. First and foremost, Determine exactly what the title or essay question is requesting you to deal with. Examine any particular wording for exercises and the approach that you need to take. In case there are some action verbs in the question like analyze, elaborate, describe or discuss then you would have to take that cue and put down your views in that light.

Once you understand the title, think through the views that come to your mind. Also during this time, take a stand on which side of the topic you stand if it is a debatable topic or something which could have two sides. Construct a quick mental outline for the essay and organize your ideas in head. This would help you put down your arguments in an organized and logical sequence.

As a thumb rule I would suggest to spend about 10% of the total time allotted for this planning and preparing. Once you are done with it, get to the writing as fast you can. Keep a watch on your handwriting though. Someone has to read it and you don’t want it to make too difficult for the evaluator.

Structure your essay for completeness and logic
A structured presentation of views is as important as the content itself. The entire essay should show a logical flow of ideas and each argument should pick from previous one while leading to the next one. I would recommend breaking the entire essay into three parts as taught during the primary school – Introduction, Body and Conclusion.

In an introduction offer a short, concise summary of the main points to be raised. First of all introduce the topic itself in a sentence. Use another sentence or two to put across all the potential conflicts that the topic asks you to deal with and then quickly indicate your stand and wrap the introduction.

Begin the main part of the essay with a quick follow-up of the stand you have taken and put down your basic statement or argument. This would make it clear to the evaluator on where you stand and how you would move forward. The second step is to explain your statement. Don’t forget you need to explain in relation to the question. Also, just because you think the explanation is obvious, doesn’t mean you can avoid putting it down. I would say that prepare two or three quick points with short explanations defending your stand. Put them one after other connecting adequately. This gives you flexibility in case you feel time could be running out. You do not want to leave the essay incomplete. Covering an additional point at cost of conclusion is obviously not what you would like. Also, I foresee situations where the invigilators would ask candidates to wrap up the essay in next 2 minutes when clock is still halfway from pre-assigned time limit.

If appropriate, do not shy on giving the other side of the argument a sentence or two so that you do not come too strongly on one side. I have seen sometimes examiners have a favorite side and you do not want sub-conscious human psychology to come out against you.

Towards the end, use a couple of sentences to solidify your view while relenting enough to allow that other side also has a justified view and the issue is debatable at best. If it is a futuristic topic, do leave a wriggle room for time to reveal how it ends up ultimately.

Keep it short, simple and sweet
First and foremost, ensure that you stick to the point. Remember that the real estate is limited and wasting it is a luxury you cannot afford. Each square centimeter of that page in your hand comes at a premium so do not put it away wandering around an idea which does not logically take your point forward. Being concise allows you to convey all your ideas without committing unrequired mistakes or boring your reader with excessive details and tangential perspectives. It is a difficult balance that you have to maintain. The important thing is to write as much as you can in the allotted time, but, only write what is relevant. Although it is true quality is more important than quantity, don’t try to do a minimalist style and write as little as possible. Generally speaking, if you write more you have a better chance of getting more points across.

Another area to watch out for is the language. Avoid use of jargons or complex vocabulary which probably even examiner may have to look up in dictionary. Some industry terms are okay to use as far as they are easy to cohere. Keep the language as simple as you can and try to be interesting in how you express your views. Use personal instances if they help your argument but do not oversell. Also try to use a lot of active verbs and avoid colloquial language. It is best to keep sentences short and convey a simple concept in each of them. Long complicated sentences using lot of conjunctions never ease reading.

Keep time to catch mistakes
However careful you are with the essay, you are bound to make some quick mistakes with articles, spellings or simply connectors between two sentences. So, it is a best practice to keep some time towards the end to proof read the essay. I would say a minute or two at the end won’t harm. Planning to keep this time would also give you a buffer for completing your essay in time.

This is it people!! Keep these in mind and you are good to go for attempting this new trick thrown by IIMs. Just remember to practice and perform. And as always, feel free to comment, message or mail for any queries you may have.

Good luck :)

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