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WAT Tips: Improve your writing skills for IIM Interviews

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

Written Ability Test (WAT) is a non-elimination round in all the IIM interviews:

This post will extensively cover everything you need to know about writing a good passage for your upcoming WAT or AWT. Here is an agenda for the post divided into 5 parts:

  1. Difference between WAT and AWT

  2. Why are they conducted?

  3. What are the types of topics?

  4. How to prepare for these topics?

  5. How to structure the passage?

Let's begin with them step-by-step:

Difference between WAT and AWT

With the exception of IIM Ahmedabad, all other IIMs conduct a Written Ability Test (WAT). IIM Ahmedabad conducts an Analytical Writing Test (AWT), the intent behind which is to test the candidates' ability to reason and think logically. Unlike WAT, knowledge is not tested in AWT.

WAT topics are often 2-3 lines long. AWT topics, on the other hand, are up to 3 paragraphs long and already mention the arguments made by the author. The candidates are required to evaluate the strength of those arguments and come up with better arguments to support or refute.

For example, the topic for my IIM-Calcutta WAT was“Some people consider Nuclear Weapons as a deterrent to war. While others claim that they’re dangerous and hence of no use. What is your opinion?" Notice carefully that here there is no author, who has made any claim. These are generally held beliefs. The topic of my IIM-Ahmedabad AWT was "IITians are offered subsidy for their education and it is taxpayers’ money. They end up taking management jobs and hence it is a wasteful expenditure on them. Write the claim of the author, whether you agree or not and why?” Now here, an argument has been made by the author and as a part of our writing, we are being asked to critique the strength of his argument.

From hereon, we'll be talking about WAT only as the preparation for both is same.

Why are they conducted?

To understand this, let's list all the elements of WAT and see what is being evaluated on their basis:

  1. Topic - is used to evaluate the knowledge of the candidate.

  2. Ideas - are used to evaluate the lateral thinking of the candidate. It is the ability to think from different perspectives and helps the panelist judge how comprehensively the candidate thought.

  3. Structure - reflects the clarity of thought of the candidate.

  4. Word Limit - tests the ability of the candidate to be crisp and precise.

  5. Time Limit - shows if the candidate is swift and adaptive.

Apart from these, WAT also acts as a discussion point for the interviews. Interviewers generally have a set list of question types that they use to drive the interview in a particular direction. If the candidate is not able to answer those questions, one talking point can be his/her performance in the WAT.

What are the types of topics?

In general, the WAT topics are categorized into 4 types:

  • Current Affairs Based - These topics test the knowledge of the candidates on what is happening around. They are make or break - if you don't know the topic, there'll be nothing to write. Examples include:

  1. MeToo Movement is just a propaganda.

  2. Selection Criteria of Supreme Court Judges is unfair.

  • Opinion Based - Here, the idea is to give a generic topic, on which you may or may not have data points, but you will always have some view points. Examples include:

  1. Is intelligence hereditary?

  2. Politicians are not respected anymore.

  • Philosophical - These are often quotes or famous sayings. A philosophical point of view is expected which can further be supplemented with anecdotes or instances. Examples include:

  1. Happiness is a state of mind.

  2. There is no wrong time to do the right thing.

  • Abstract - If there's still a topic left that cannot be bucketed in the above three, it is likely to be an abstract topic. These topics look for lateral thinking i.e. the ability to think from multiple perspectives. Examples include:

  1. What is green can never be red.

  2. A pencil can be used for _____?

In each of the four topics, I've underlined some words - they are the expectations/evaluation criteria for the respective topics: Current Affairs - knowledge; Opinion - view points, data; Philosophical - view points, anecdotes; Abstract - lateral thinking. 40% of the topics are Opinion-based, 25% are philosophical, another 25% are Current Affairs-based, 10% are Abstract. This is based on past year topics.

How to prepare for these topics?

The first thing you need is a repository of past year topics to get familiar with the above-mentioned types and develop the ability to spot the type. Here is a list of WAT Topics for all the IIMs:

Now that you've got the list, try scanning through all the topics once and filter them in your mind. It will help you develop that habit of identifying the topic type. Why is it necessary to filter? Because, each type requires you to prepare and attempt differently:

Current Affairs Based - Since the criteria of evaluation here is knowledge, the source of preparation is newspaper. I'd recommend you to read two kinds of newspapers - general and business. I preferred The Hindu and Mint, you can pick any two. While reading the news, focus on two things:

  • Opinions - help you build arguments.

  • Facts - help you back up arguments.

You have to create a repository of such burning issues and note down the following - the topic, arguments in favour of it, facts supporting those arguments, arguments against it, facts supporting those arguments and finally, your stance i.e. the side you favour more. Most often, students make a mistake of not having an opinion in regards to the news articles they read. It is crucial to not only look at both the sides but also choose one.

Often students ask if they should watch some videos related to the important issues or refer to GK books, etc. You may definitely look up extra resources like these especially if you weren't an avid news reader already. But, while referring to any resource, remember to take notes covering the five points mentioned above.

Opinion Based - These topics require you to think of data points that you're generally aware of (because of day-to-day reading or observations) and supplement them with your opinions. Now, opinion shaping technique has already been covered above i.e. to think of multiple perspectives. But, regarding the data points, what you can do is read blog posts, books, magazines, etc. which will make you familiar with a variety of topics.

This answer by Deepak Mehta on Quora is a great source for book recommendations to increase one's general awareness. Now, a key suggestion here would be to not read novels for opinion-building. This is because non-fiction may provide more familiar and heard-of examples to quote.

Philosophical - These topics are often tricky ones. Apart from judging your values and morals, they also judge your ability to connect anecdotes to reasoning. For example, if you quote an example, it is often judged how relevant it is to the point you're making.

Apart from opinion-building and general reading that have been mentioned already, there is another kind of data-point that you can share, for which you need no preparation except presence of mind - real-life experiences. The key here is to put it crisply and in a non-personal way i.e. not going too much into details.

Abstract - These are the most interesting topics because they involve creativity and lateral thinking. The more variety of points you can bring onto the floor, the better. For these, I'll share two thinking techniques that will help you develop lateral thinking ability:

  • PESTEL - Whenever you come across a topic, try thinking of examples from the following areas:

  1. Political

  2. Economic

  3. Social

  4. Technological

  5. Environmental

  6. Legal

  • SCAMPER - Whenever there is a situation mentioned in the topic, try thinking if you can do better than status quo by exploring these alternatives:

  1. Substitute

  2. Combine

  3. Adapt

  4. Magnify/Minimize

  5. Put to another use

  6. Eliminate

  7. Reverse/Rearrange

Using these, you'll be able to come up with diverse points and examples.

How to structure the passage?

There is a general format which is followed for any WAT or AWT:

  1. Introduction - Here you not only share what you've understood by the problem statement but you also mention the scope of your writing. For example, if the topic is 'Politicians are not respected anymore', you can set a boundary saying I'd discuss only the scenario of India in the passage.

  2. Body - It can span up to 2-3 paragraphs divided as follows: - Points in Favour - Points Against The key is to remember that each paragraph should talk about only one aspect of the topic. It is highly recommended that you cover both sides of the coin and back both of them by reasons and examples.

  3. Conclusion - Your passage should end with a conclusion, wherein you mention which side weighs more in your opinion and why and summarize.

Now, some topics might not allow you to follow this structure. For example, the Abstract ones. So, just substitute the points in favour or against with paragraphs that talk about individual benefits or elements related to the topic. That should suffice.


With this, we get to an end of our discussion on WAT and AWT writing tips. Often, it is recommended to spend at least the first 1-2 minutes in brainstorming (using the techniques shared) and writing down the points on a spare sheet or with pencil so that you have your data in place. Following that, you can decide on where the points would go in the structure and in what order.

Keep a check on time as it likes to fly by quickly. Divide your time as follows: 2 minutes brainstorming, 15 minutes writing, 3 minutes buffer for a 20 minutes WAT or AWT exercise. Write neatly and avoid grammatical mistakes or informal lingo.

Wish you the best! Read more about IIM Interviews for your further rounds.

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