Gre Analytical Essay Writing

Chapter 1

Introduction to GRE Analytical Writing

“Getting to know everything about the writing section on the GRE will not only fetch you a perfect score, but also help you become a better writer”

Getting a 99 percentile score on either of Verbal and Quant sections on the GRE requires several weeks, if not months, of diligence, patience, practice, and smart prep. But with only a fraction of the hard work you put in for Math and Verbal, and just a few days of practice, you can easily get a 99 percentile score on the AWA section. Plus, getting a 6.0 on the AWA isn’t a regular occurrence, and only about 8000 test takers around the world do it every year. So, if you can be one of those guys, you will be famous not only among your friends, but also among the admissions committees.

Unfortunately, the AWA is the most neglected section on the GRE. Test takers across the world believe that they can easily master AWA in a day or two. And look at what they end up with: The average AWA score of a GRE test taker worldwide is a mere 4.0, and the average AWA score of an Indian test taker is even lower. Now, to most Indian students, getting a 4.0 on the AWA might seem like an impressive feat. But in reality, 4.0 is considered just average in most countries. And on top of it, getting a 6.0 isn’t really as tough as it seems. It is only that you don’t know how.

If you are looking to score a perfect 6.0 on the AWA section, you will have to be a lot more planned than most other students. Just as with the Verbal and Quant sections, mastering the essay section on the GRE requires the same amount of confidence, persistence, and practice. And in addition to all that, you will also need a solid guide that can help you with all the strategies and tips. You will need an AWA Bible, so to speak.

But sadly enough, there isn’t much useful information on the internet about this frequently neglected section. Yes, there are some good articles and sample 6.0 essays that you can get with a simple Google search, but nowhere on the internet is a definitive guide to help you write a 6.0 essay on the GRE. And that is why, we at CrunchPrep, decided to provide you with a complete, advanced guide to scoring a perfect 6.0 on the AWA. And hey, don’t blame us if the 6.0 percentile goes down from 99 to 80 soon.

What is the AWA all about?

The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) portion of the GRE consists of two essays, each of which you will need to write in 30 minutes or less. The two essays you will see on the GRE are, Analysis of an Issue and Analysis of an Argument. These two essays will always come first on your GRE test, no matter what. You cannot simply skip off AWA, move on to the other sections, and come back later. AWA itself is a separate section, and only after you finish writing the two essays can you move on further.

Despite what most students say, you should remember that the AWA only tests how well you can write an essay, and hence measures only your writing abilities. Contrary to popular opinion, the AWA does not analyze your thought process. As long as your essay sounds logical, writing ability is all it measures. We will be discussing more about this in the upcoming sections.

How important is the AWA?

It is a widely known fact that your AWA essay score is not as important as your composite math and verbal score on the GRE, and getting a 5.0 or 6.0 won’t make or break your chances of getting admitted to the university of your choice. Graduate school admissions officers only bother about your AWA score, if it is too low, or significantly lower than their usual class average. Yes, a poor score on the AWA can definitely send up a red flag, and the admissions committee will certainly think twice before letting you in. Sometimes, they even go to the extent of rereading your SOP and LORs, to find out if they were actually written by you or someone else. So, it is rather safe to say that the AWA score is an important enough factor when it comes to admissions.

What is the score range for AWA?

The AWA score ranges between 0 and 6.0, with 0.5 point increments. But what exactly does it mean to get a 6.0, or 4.0 or for that matter, a 0 on the AWA? Well, the scoring system is designed in a way that your responses to each of these essay questions are scored on a 6-point scale, with 6 being the highest score and 1, the lowest. Given below, are the parameters that ETS looks at when grading your AWA essays:

6.0 – Outstanding:

A well-articulated critique of the argument/issue, demonstrating mastery of effective writing, and displaying the following characteristics:

  • Clearly identifies and analyzes the most important features of the argument with deep insight.
  • Develops cogent ideas, organizes them logically, and connects them properly without sudden transitions.
  • Supports the main points of the critique strongly.
  • Demonstrates superior control of the English language, including diction, sentence formation, spelling, grammar and syntactic variety used in standard written English.
  • Few to no flaws in the essay.

5.0 – Strong

A well-developed critique of the argument, demonstrating good control of writing, and displaying the following characteristics:

  • Clearly identifies the important features of the argument and analyzes them thoughtfully.
  • Develops ideas clearly, and connects them logically, with appropriate transitions.
  • Gives a very sensible support to the main points of the critique.
  • Has clear control of language, including diction and syntactic variety
  • May have minor flaws like spelling errors, but no major flaws.

4.0 – Adequate

A satisfactory critique of the given argument, demonstrating decent control of writing, and displaying the following characteristics:

  • Capable of Identifying and analyzing the main features of the argument.
  • Develops and organizes ideas satisfactorily, but some important connections and transitions may be missing.
  • Supports the main points of the critique.
  • Demonstrates sufficient control of language, but may lack syntactic variety.
  • May have many minor flaws or some major flaws.

3.0 – Limited

A satisfactory essay with clearly flawed critique of the argument, demonstrating little control of the elements of writing, and displaying the following characteristics:

  • Does not identify or analyze many of the important features of the argument.
  • Has limited logical development and no proper organization of ideas.
  • Offers support of little relevance and value for points of the critique
  • Uses language imprecisely and/or lacks sentence variety
  • Contains occasional major errors or frequent minor errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

2.0 – Seriously Flawed

An unsatisfactory essay with serious weakness in analytical writing skills, and displaying the following characteristics:

  • Demonstrates no understanding of the main features of the argument.
  • Almost no analyses of the main points have been made.
  • Does not develop any ideas or is disorganized
  • Provides nil to few relevant evidences.
  • Has frequent serious problems in the use of language, grammar, spelling, and sentence structure.

1.0 – Fundamentally Deficient

An essay full of fundamental deficiencies in analytical writing skills, and displaying the following characteristics:

  • Provides little to no evidence of the ability to understand and analyze the main idea.
  • Failure to develop an organized response.
  • Contains severe and persistent errors in language and sentence structure
  • Has an unusually frequent pattern of errors in grammar, usage, and logic.
  • A totally incoherent response.

0.0 – Unscorable

A paper that is totally illegible or obviously not written on the assigned topic. A score of zero is given to responses that come under one of the following cases:

  • The responses are off topic.
  • The responses are written in a language other than English.
  • The responses are a mere copy of the given topic.
  • The responses consist only of random keystroke characters.
  • No response.

So, it is safe to say that if you write at least a few sentences in English, you will get a score of 1.0. But rest assured, no university under the sun will accept a score that low.

How is the AWA graded?

Each of your AWA essays is scored on a scale of 0 to 6. Two readers will read your Issue essay and assign it a deserving score and two different readers will read your Argument essay and assign it a score. Each grader will award a 6.0 to the top essays and scores of 0 are reserved for essays written on topics other than the one assigned or written in a foreign language. The graders spend about 30 seconds to 2 minutes on each essay, and give it a score based on pre-defined evaluation metrics such as the overall quality of your critical thinking and writing, as mentioned previously. The graders who evaluate the responses are college and university faculty members from various subject matter areas, including higher education.

Once the readers finish grading your essay, the two scores will be averaged to arrive at a final AWA score. If the grades given by the two readers differ by more than a point, a third, highly experienced grader is brought in to resolve the discrepancy (i.e., determine your final score for that essay).

For each essay, your final score is the average of the scores assigned by the two readers or the adjusted score assigned by the third reader.

Here’s how a typical Analytical Writing score might be derived:

If you earned scores of 6 and 5 on the Analysis of an Issue, then your final score for the Issue essay would be the average of these two i.e., (6 + 5) /2 which equals to 5.5 and if you earned scores of 4 and 5 on the Analysis of an Argument, your final score on the Argument essay would be (4 + 5) /2 which equals to 4.5.

Your final AWA score will be the average of your scores on Issue and Argument essays i.e., (5.5 + 4.5) /2 which equals to 5, which will be your final AWA score.

It should be noted that though your AWA scores range from 0 – 6, about 90 percent of all scores fall between 2 and 5. The average score for the AWA section for all the test takers so far is around 4.2.

Your Analytical Writing Assessment scores are computed and reported separately from the multiple-choice sections of the test and have no effect on your Verbal, Quantitative, or Total scores. Your score report however will not include copies of your responses; only scores are sent. You will receive your essay scores approximately 10-15 days after your test date.

What do graders look for in your AWA essays?

Most students think that essay length the only important factor when it comes to AWA scoring. But, in reality, it is not. Of course, it is one of the most important factors, but it isn’t the only factor. You will have to take many other factors into consideration, if you are looking to get anywhere near the perfect score. We have complied a list of all the factors that affect your overall AWA score, so you can be well prepared, while improving your writing skills on those lines.

The 7 Elements Graders Look For:

1. Clarity

This is the most important, and also the most fundamental of all factors that the graders judge your essays on. The grader should understand what you are trying to say, by reading once. This makes their job easier, and they will understand that if it can be understood with just a single reading, then your essay has clarity.

As we discussed earlier, the grader can spend a maximum of only two minutes per essay, and it is your duty to make sure your essays have clearly composed ideas, because more often than not, graders do not bother to reread your essay and waste another couple of minutes. Consequently, you will end up with a score much lower than what you actually deserve.

Ask yourselves these two questions when you are writing the essays. What are you trying to say? What’s your main point? These two questions must have solid answers by the time the grader finishes reading the essay. If you think about it, these are the exact same questions you will have to answer, during Reading Comprehension. Just like how you can easily solve a Reading Comprehension question if you have answers to those two questions, graders assessing your essay will also need to find answers to these exact same questions, if you need a perfect score. Substance matters more than any other factor when it comes to your essays. So, make sure you have solid points, and clear logical reasoning that can be easily understood.

2. Structure

You should have seen it coming; structure is the second most important factor on your essays. The way an article is formatted, has a massive impact upon its readability. Your essays should read like a story; something that can be easily understood, and something that has a proper structure and organization. So, it is important that you break up your essay into distinct paragraphs, each with its own meaning and context, while maintaining a smooth transition between one paragraph and the next.

This way, every paragraph reads like a separate story, and the essay graders can easily scan through your entire response easily. Plus, since the transitions are smooth, and there aren’t any sudden twists in your response, it will make the grader’s job a whole lot easier.

So, ideally, you should have a structure in mind before you begin writing the essay. The general structure is to start with an introductory paragraph followed by 3-4 body paragraphs and finish off with a conclusion paragraph. So, you should make sure that there are at least 5-6 paragraphs in your essay, if you want a solid score on the AWA.

3. Sentence Variety

Even though you are writing several paragraphs on the same topic, you should ideally avoid writing similar or same sentences. If you are an avid reader of news, you get the point. No good writer under the sun writes two exactly same sentences in a single essay or article. Consecutive sentences with the same structure and length can sound monotonous and lifeless, and will obviously bore the reader.

Instead of sounding repetitive and boring, use sentence style skillfully. But this doesn’t mean you should rearrange the words, or chance the voice from passive to active or vice versa. It simply means that you should use a different variety of words to mean the same thing.

For example, if you have already written the sentence ‘The most important virtue of a leader is a strong sense of ethics.’, and if you have to use the same sentence at a later point in the essay, you should try and rephrase that same sentence and write something like this: ‘A strong moral framework is paramount for any leader.’ Get the point?

In this way, you should keep varying the sentence structures, flow and rhythm by switching between short and long sentences. You should also make use of transitional and signal words to vary sentence openings and endings.

4. Vocabulary

There has been a longstanding myth among test takers that the GRE really loves heavy vocabulary, and using it on your AWA essays will boost your score. Well, this isn’t true at all. We have seen students with exceptional vocabulary but poor coherence get paltry AWA scores in the past. And we have seen students with great essay scores without using heavy vocabulary.

Like we said earlier, the AWA is not testing how much vocab you have in your arsenal. There’s Sentence Equivalence and Text Completion for that. AWA only tests how logically you can deduce information and write a reasonable critique about an issue or an argument made by someone else. So, don’t buy those myths. As long as you use sensible reasoning, proper grammar and as long as you can defend your point intelligently and use precise vocabulary to convey meaning effectively, you should be alright. It is not needed that you use heavy vocabulary or GRE words.

5. Language and Grammar

Though officially ETS says you may have minor errors in the essay copy, that doesn’t mean you can ignore silly mistakes. Even though the mistakes or errors do not interfere with overall meaning and coherence, you should understand that the time you make your first error on the essay, the grader will notice it, and will be more conscious while reading the rest of the copy. The grader will be even more vigilant to see if there are any visible or obvious blunders that you have made, and this can have a negative impact on your AWA score. So, try and make sure your essay is as spotless as possible, and eliminate all errors before submitting. Take time to proofread your essay, once you finish writing it. Don’t be in a hurry to submit it off and skip to the next section.

6. Reasoning

Reasoning plays a key role in determining the overall quality of your essay. You should always look to include as many logically compelling reasons as you can to support your stance. One of the most important features about a compelling essay is its ability to convince the reader by means of sound logical reasoning. Anyone who reads your response should be totally convinced of your view point, without having second thoughts. To be able to write such a compelling and well-reasoned copy within 30 minutes would be rather difficult, but you can definitely do it with a lot of practice.

So ideally, you should be able to connect your ideas properly to the central theme or idea of the essay, and convince the reader to agree to your point of view. If the essay doesn’t sound logical or reasonable, you will unfortunately have to pay the penalty, no matter how long the essay is.

7. Evidence

In order to make your essay sound reasonable and logically sound, you will obviously need to provide sufficient evidences. If you want to impress the readers, and convince them to agree to your point of view, you will ideally want to provide convincing evidence to back up your thesis. Search for evidences, either direct or implied, and connect them with the essay. You can even create some random examples and evidences, as long as they fit the bill and don’t sound too random. Develop examples that cogently reinforce your thesis is key to a high essay score.

So, those are the 7 most important elements that graders look for in your essays. Make sure you have all these things covered in your essay, and you’re sure to see a perfect score.

Should you skip the AWA section during practice?

This is probably a question that is on the minds of many students. Almost half of the GRE test takers are native English speakers. And these students tend to neglect practicing the AWA section at home, because according to them, it’s not worth investing time on something they are very confident about. But, there are a few vital points that they don’t realize. We’ve observed what students do when they practice for the GRE, how their approaches have affected their scores on test day, and figured out four reasons as to why the AWA section is an extremely important aspect of the GRE exam.

Number 1 Reason Why Practicing GRE AWA is Important: Inflated Scores During Practice:

This is the single most important thing to consider when we talk about the importance of the essay section. Students normally tend to skip the essay section when they take practice tests, so they can directly go to the first section of Math/Verbal. Though this might seem like the obvious choice to you, you should consider the aftereffects before jumping into conclusions.

Think about it. The GRE is not a typical test that you encounter at college or elsewhere. It is a marathon. An intense, 3 hour 45 minute journey, which obviously you aren’t accustomed to. Now, if you skip the essay section during practice, you’ll be forfeiting 60 minutes of the total test time, which means you are going to have to sit for 2 hours and 45 minutes only.

This translates into an inflated overall score during practice, because you are just that much more active than you will be on test day. So, you get accustomed to sitting for 2 hours 45 minutes for the test, and your brain is hardwired to concentrate for that much time only. But, on test day, you still have two more sections to finish after you complete 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Do you get the point? It’s that extra one hour of concentration that requires sudden attention from your brain, which it sadly isn’t ready for. This is exactly why thousands of students score very low on their last two to three sections. They simply aren’t ready for the extra time, because their brains feel tired already. So, if you don’t skip the essay during practice, you’ll be writing in the exact test conditions as on test day, thereby training your brain for the big encounter.

There are a few other important reasons why you should not skip off AWA during practice, and we have discussed them separately.

How Long Should My Essay Be?

The essay graders are aware that you only get 30 minutes to write each AWA essay and they also know that you won’t be able to cover every possible argument, reason and rebuttal. Hence they do not expect you to write a super long detailed analysis of the issue or argument given to you. Remember that most GRE test takers won’t be able to find time to cover everything they would like to cover on the test.

So, how long should your AWA essay be? We see students wondering about this all the time and we know you would like to know about it too. ETS has not spoken out about the ideal length of an essay, and there is no word on the word limit as such. But there seems to be a pattern that appears on GRE sample essays that come along with the ETS official guide to the GRE.

When closely observed, there is a significant increase in the number of words from a 5.0 graded essay and a 6.0 graded essay. The reality is, longer essay is usually better. To analyze further on this topic, we have done a bit of research, and found out an interesting relation between essay length and the final score. If you look at the statistics below, you will have to concur with me. Longer essays usually score better on every essay topic.

If you are a long-essay fan and insist to pen a high scoring AWA essay on the GRE, you should write anywhere between 500-600 words. Don’t ask us why. The research shows that’s how it is, and if it true for a sample of 500 students, it must be true on a larger scale as well.

A column chart with average word count for essays from 500 students

As you can see, the longer the essay, the higher the grades. Notice that a 5+ point essay has length exceeding 500 words. Another interesting fact is, it seems as if 600 is an upper limit for word count. If you go beyond 600 words, you can see how the scores go down. This isn’t surprising, though. Almost no student on this planet can write a perfect 800 word essay under pressure in 30 minutes. If someone is shooting for a high word count, they are surely sacrificing on quality. So, it’s safe to say that 500-600 is what you should be looking at.

If you’d like to know more about the GRE essay length, we’ve done a separate post on that. Go check it out now.

Categorization of GRE Essay Topics

The most fascinating thing about the GRE essay section is that each and every essay topic that shows up on the real test is already published on the official ETS website. This may sound crazy because giving out the questions in advance is totally unnatural. By knowing the topics beforehand, you can prepare sample responses for all those topics and on the test day, all you need to do is just reproduce your sample response. Isn’t that a great advantage for you? You can get a perfect 6.0 score very easily!

But there’s a catch! You were expecting a few, aren’t you?

Well, there are close to 200 topics in all – far too many to practice responses in advance. Also, practicing each of these topics is not advisable as it is going to take a lot of time and effort and there is no point in mugging them up. You could as well spend this time on learning some math or vocabulary. However, there’s a good news. Just scanning through these two lists of essay topics will give you an excellent idea of the types of issues and arguments that show up on test day.

Now, most of the topics that show up on the GRE Essay section can be broadly grouped into five categories. I made things a bit easy for you and listed those five categories below. Take a look.

  • Education
  • Arts
  • Government/Politics
  • Philosophy
  • Sciences and Technology

So, next time when you practice writing an essay response, make sure you write at least an essay from each of these categories.

How do I get ideas for the essay?

This is most likely the second most frequently asked question in our support mails by students around the world. It’s because a large number of issue and argument prompts on the official essay pool are hard to understand correctly. And when you don’t understand something, how can you write about that something?

So, what can you do about to solve this problem? Here are a couple of things you should work on:

If you were asked to write about a topic from out of nowhere, you would struggle for ideas. But when you already know that there could only be five categories from which your essay topics can show up, then you can turn the table in your favor. You should keep a few related examples for each one of these categories (i.e. education, arts, politics, technology, philosophy) as they will be handy and save you precious time on the test day.

Also, the essay prompts are full of obscure vocabulary and hence are hard to comprehend. Since, every essay prompt that could appear on the GRE is openly accessible on the official ETS website, you should give them a read through. While reading, you should also make note of all the unfamiliar words and later learn them. Learning these new words will ensure that you understand the topic well or at least allow you to take a very good guess.

How to get your essays graded?

Believe it or not, one of the most frequent questions that we receive from students around the world, is how they can get their essays graded. That is a good question, actually. Given the fact that there are so many practice tests for the GRE where you get your Math and Verbal sections graded, there is not even one practice test in the entire world that can grade your AWA score for you. If you are wondering why, it is because it is not at all easy to grade your essay instantaneously.

Think about it. Even on the test day, you will only receive your Math and Verbal scores, but not the AWA score. ETS itself takes about 7-10 days to give you an official report of your AWA score. It is that difficult to assess an essay. Plus, it is required that a human grader reads and grades your essays, if you want an accurate score. Which is obviously impossible if you are taking a practice test at home.

So what can one do? Is there no way to get your AWA essays graded? Well thankfully, there are quite a few options that you can consider. We’ve listed down all the available options, and it is up to you to decide which of them you want to choose.

5 Ways to Get Your AWA Essays Graded

ETS Score It Now!

The ETS Score It Now, is a great feature available for you to get your essays graded. For a small amount of $13 dollars, the ETS Essay Grader will grade two of your essays. You can submit any two of your essay responses, and the software will get back to you with a graded score of your AWA. Now, for most students around the world, and especially for those from the developing world, $13 is quite a lot of money.

And that is probably the reason why most students don’t even know that such a facility is available. We must agree, that even we at CrunchPrep have never used the service ourselves, or know any student who has, simply because we did not need to. Our expert tutors, on the other hand, have been grading student essays for free for a long time now. But nevertheless, we’re pretty sure that the ETS Score It Now feature will get you an accurate score, because well, it’s ETS who developed it.

And there is one more downside with this feature. The score is all you get, when you submit your essays. No feedback. Now, you would expect that ETS would give you some valuable tips to improve your score, but unfortunately, that $13 you spend is only going to get you a couple of numbers from ETS. So, unless you don’t need feedback, you are really not improving on the essay, and you have money to spend, you should definitely try and consider some other alternatives to this service offered by ETS.

Friends, Family, and Experts

Yes. However unbelievable it might seem, your friends can sometimes help you get better marks. They can help you identify the mistakes you did not find obvious enough, and you also get an outsider’s opinion on your essays, and therefore on your points of view. Now, even though your friends might be untrained, or unaware of the GRE AWA grading system, having a second pair of eyes look at your writing can be really beneficial to finding your flaws. Plus, you receive feedback then and there, right on your face, and it is sometimes the easier way to learn.

But before you let your friends or family judge your essays, you should tell them beforehand that you only had 30 minutes to write your essay, and so they should not expect you to write an award-winning piece. You should also tell them to pay attention to, and then judge you on the following aspects of your essay: structure, logical flow of ideas, and persuasiveness of examples. They should ideally not be looking for impressive words or sentence framing, but it is just an added bonus.

If however, you are too shy to ask your friends or family, try asking an experienced professor at your college, preferably a professor in linguistics or someone who is really good at formal, written English language. These professors not only give you an accurate assessment of your essays, but will also give you valuable insights as to where exactly you can improve your writing skills.

Self-Evaluation

When you don’t have access any professors or wise friends who can help you evaluate your AWA essays, the best option you are left with, is you. Self-evaluation, though most of the time not recommended, can be a really useful option for you. There are hundreds of mock essays on the internet, and with a simple google search, you can get access to various essays for the GRE. Even the ETS website has a few sample answers for essays, and the same questions have sample answers which are purposefully written to mirror a 6.0, or a 5.0 level essay, for example.

So, if you can compare your response with those on the internet, you can roughly estimate whether your answer is closer to the 4.0 or the 5.0 sample. If you can do this a lot of times, you will begin to see a definite pattern, which can help you estimate your average AWA score. Also, most mock essays usually have an explanation at the end, which explain why they have been given their respective scores. This really helps you see if your essay is lacking in similar ways.

This sounds rather difficult, and it actually a really complex and time taking process, which is why you should try and take this approach as a last measure; if you cannot find any other alternative helpful enough.

Internet Strangers

If you are an internet geek, you would probably agree that sometimes, internet strangers are really helpful in nature. There are many GRE forums like Urch, PaGaLGuY, etc, where you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of GRE experts and aspirants, who wouldn’t mind lending a hand. Thousands of GRE aspirants visit these forums every single day, and if you can post your essay and ask for some feedback, more often than not, someone will provide you with the necessary assistance. While this someone may or may not be an expert, it often helps to have a second opinion from someone in your niche.

GMATAWA.com

Alright. We’ve saved the best for the last. GMATAWA.com is probably the most fantastic resource out there, when it comes to grading your essays. It was developed to grade GMAT AWA essays, but rest assured, there’s not much difference between GMAT and GRE AWA essays. The basic structure of essays is the same everywhere, and this website is really helpful in grading your essays.

The grading happens instantaneously, and as soon as you submit your essay, you will receive a composite AWA score, along with various metrics on which your essay has been graded. We, at CrunchPrep, assure you that, other than ETS Score It Now, this is probably the most accurate AWA rater you will see, and you can expect a similar AWA score on your exam as well. So, make full use of this feature, and assess your writing strengths and weaknesses. However, you should remember that the website allows you to grade only 10 essays per email address, so choose wisely which essays you will be sending.

So, those are the five ways that you can get your AWA scores graded. Most often, more than one of the resources mentioned above will definitely be helpful to you. And by the way, remember this: Only two things can make you a better writer – Practice, and Feedback.

The best way to figure out how to get a high Analytical Writing score is to look at a GRE essay sample, but doing so without any guidance can be overwhelming. How do you show insight? Do typos affect your score? What’s a good way to keep your essay organized?

We’ll answer all these questions for you (and more!) in this article by analyzing four real GRE essay examples and highlighting the key features you’ll want to include in your own essays.

 

How to Use This Guide

Before we get to the GRE sample essays and their analyses, I’ll highlight two best ways to use this guide to improve your essay and get a great scoring essay yourself.

First, use the perfect-scoring sample GRE essays in this guide as models of possible ways to accomplish the essay tasks. By this, I don’t mean you should plagiarize entire sentences, paragraphs, or essays – that’s both wrong and against GRE code of conduct (it will disqualify your entire test if discovered). Plus, there are so many prompts (152 Issue prompts and 176 Argument ones) that it’s unlikely you’d be able to use any of these exact essays anyway.

What you can and should do is incorporate the features highlighted in the analyses below in your own essays. For instance, if you’ve been struggling with how to logically connect ideas within paragraphs in your own essays, take a look of some of the examples of logical connection I point out in this article and see how they fit within the context of the full essay. You can then practice replicating successful connections between ideas in your own practice essays.

The other main way to use this guide is in conjunction with the essay grading rubrics to help ferret out your writing weaknesses and work on them. Start with the rubrics for the Issue and Argument tasks and identify which criteria are most difficult for you to meet. Even if you can’t articulate precisely what your weakest spot is (e.g. failing to logically connect your ideas within paragraphs), you can at least narrow down the general rubric area you most struggle with (e.g. organization in general).

Once you’ve identified the general area you have the most trouble with, read the GRE essay examples and our analyses in this article to find concrete instances (rather than the abstract descriptions) of the rubric criteria. For more information about the different rubrics for the different essay tasks, read our articles on how to write perfect-scoring GRE Issue and Argument essays.

 

 

Because this article is on the longer side, we’ve created a table of contents to enable you to jump to a specific essay example or task type:

 

Table of Contents: GRE Essay Examples 

Issue Essay 1: Technology and Human Ingenuity

Issue Essay 2: Cooperation Vs. Competition

Argument Essay 1: Mason City Riverside Recreation

Argument Essay 2: Super Screen Movie Advertising

 

Issue Essay 1: Technology and Human Ingenuity

The first of the GRE sample essays we’ll be looking at is written in response to the following “Analyze an Issue” prompt:

As people rely more and more on technology to solve problems, the ability of humans to think for themselves will surely deteriorate.

Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.

The essay written on this Issue prompt takes the position that rather than hindering our abilities to think for themselves, technology will spur humanity on to achieve ever-greater things. The full text of this GRE essay sample can be found on the ETS website.

In this analysis, I’ll go over the different ways in which this essay meets the GRE essay rubric criteria for a perfect scoring Issue essay. The first of these rubric criteria I’ll be discussing is the way the author takes a clear and insightful stance on the issue in the essay.

The author’s position that instead of fearing new technology, we should embrace its possibilities is methodically articulated over the course of the entire essay, culminating in the essay’s conclusion with a full thesis statement (“There is no need to retreat to a Luddite attitude to new things, but rather embrace a hopeful posture to the possibilities that technology provides for new avenues of human imagination.”). Below is an outline of how the author expresses her thesis throughout the essay:

  • Paragraph 1: The author acknowledges “technology has revolutionized the world.”
  • Paragraph 2: The author explains the reasoning behind the statement in the prompt (“The assumption is that an increased reliance on technology negates the need for people to think creatively to solve previous quandaries”).
  • Paragraph 3: The author counters the reasoning she discussed in paragraph 2, writing that “reliance on technology does not necessarily preclude the creativity that marks the human species.”
  • Paragraph 4: The author advances her counterclaim one step further, stating that “technology frees the human imagination.”
  • Paragraph 5: The author further develops the idea from Paragraph 4, stating “By increasing our reliance on technology, impossible goals can now be achieved.”
  • Paragraph 6: This final paragraph concludes the essay with a fully articulated thesis that also sums up what went before: “There is no need to retreat to a Luddite attitude to new things, but rather embrace a hopeful posture to the possibilities that technology provides for new avenues of human imagination.”

The author’s straightforward explanations of her thinking and logic enhance the clarity of her position, while the nuanced content of the position itself demonstrates insight into the issue.

 

 

The next area a perfect-scoring Issue essay must demonstrate mastery of is the development of its position through compelling and persuasive examples and reasoning. The author of this essay accomplishes this task by providing examples to support each idea she discusses and, furthermore, explaining not only the content of the examples but also why the examples support her position.

Here’s an example from paragraph 5:

By increasing our reliance on technology, impossible goals can now be achieved. Consider how the late 20th century witnessed the complete elimination of smallpox. This disease had ravaged the human race since prehistorical days, and yet with the technology of vaccines, free thinking humans dared to imagine a world free of smallpox. Using technology, battle plans were drawn out, and smallpox was systematically targeted and eradicated.

In this example, the author begins by laying out the main idea to be discussed (impossible things can be achieved by relying more on technology). She then supports this idea with the example of the impossible problem of smallpox and the steps taken that led to its eradication.

The great thing about the way the author explains her reasoning and examples is the concision and precision with which she gets her information across. Rather than going off into a discussion about the damage caused by smallpox, or staying too vague by mentioning how “diseases” had been solved by the use of vaccines, the author chooses a specific example (smallpox) and mentions only the details relevant to proving her point. This kind of precise writing takes practice, but being able to effectively sum up an example and why it supports your position in just a couple of sentences is essential if you want to get a high score on the GRE Issue essay.

 

 

Focus, organization, and logical connections are the third criterion that a perfect-scoring essay needs to fulfill. In the case of this GRE essay sample, the author achieves this organization and focus by linking ideas both within paragraphs (as seen in the previous example) as well as between paragraphs. Let’s look at the way the author transitions between the end of paragraph four and the beginning of paragraph five:

The unlikely marriage of economics and medicine has healed tense, hyperinflation environments from South America to Eastern Europe.

This last example provides the most hope in how technology actually provides hope to the future of humanity. By increasing our reliance on technology, impossible goals can now be achieved.

The author connects the two paragraphs by continuing paragraph four’s discussion of ways human imagination has been pushed by technology (technology combining economics and medicine has solved a problem) with paragraph five’s exploration of how this example has led to achieving things previously considered impossible. The smoothness of the transition between the two paragraphs is effected both by presenting the content of the next paragraph as a logical progression from what was just discussed as well as by using language (“this last example”) that connects the two on a more superficial level.

By keeping paragraphs tightly linked on both the surface level of sentence structures as well as on the deeper level of content being discussed, the author of this essay also keeps her writing focused and cohesive.

 

 

The last quality a perfect-scoring essay must demonstrate is precision of language and flow in writing. The author of this GRE Analytical Writing sample fulfills this requirement by using language to precisely and economically convey meaning throughout her essay. Here’s one example of precise and effective use of language in the essay:

This disease had ravaged the human race since prehistorical days, and yet with the technology of vaccines, free thinking humans dared to imagine a world free of smallpox.

In this excerpt, the author uses the evocative word “ravaged” to show the dire extent of the problem solved by technology, reinforcing that the issue was previously considered impossible to cope with. She also uses the phrase “humans dared to imagine” in this sentence, which ties the example being discussed back to the previous paragraph’s discussion of human imagination.

While there are a couple of minor errors in this excerpt (“prehistorical” should be “prehistoric,” “free thinking” should be “free-thinking”), they do not significantly change the meaning of the author’s words and so do not detract from the overall effectiveness of the author’s language.

 

 

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Issue Essay 2: Cooperation Vs. Competition

The second of the GRE Issue essay samples I’ll be analyzing is written in response to the following prompt about the values of cooperation vs. competition:

“The best way for a society to prepare its young people for leadership in government, industry, or other fields is by instilling in them a sense of cooperation, not competition.”

Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim. In developing and supporting your position, be sure to address the most compelling reasons or examples that could be used to challenge your position.

The sample Issue essay written in response to this topic takes the stance that cooperation, not competition, is a preferable value to instill in young people in preparation for government. You can read the full essay on page 108 of this PDF. Read on for a discussion of the different ways in which this essay meets the requirements for a perfect score.

As with the previous GRE essay sample, we’ll start by looking at how this essay meets the perfect-scoring essay criteria of stating a clear and insightful position (as required by the essay task). The author fulfills the first part of the criteria with his clear statement of his thesis in the last line of the very first paragraph:

I would have to agree that the best way to prepare young people for leadership roles is to instill in them a sense of cooperation.

He reiterates this clear position with the last two sentences of his conclusion:

Getting to be President of the United States or the managing director of a corporation might require you to win some battles, but once you are there you will need diplomacy and people-skills. Those can be difficult to learn, but if you do not have them, you are likely to be a short-lived leader.

To achieve a perfect Issue essay score, however, it’s not just enough to be clear in your position; your position must also demonstrate insight into the issue. The author of this essay accomplishes this second part by choosing a two-pronged approach to answering the essay question. Rather than merely explaining how cooperativeness leads to positive outcomes in government, industry, and other fields, the author also explains how competitiveness leads to negative outcomes.

Thus, the author makes his position clear by stating it in the opening and closing paragraphs of the essay and shows insight by taking the more complex position that not only is cooperation good, but competition is bad.

 

The next of the rubric criteria we’ll discuss has to do with how well the author develops his position with examples and reasoning. A great example of this development can be found in the second paragraph of this essay, which discusses the drawbacks of competition.

The author begins his discussion of competitiveness by arguing that it’s a quality that doesn’t need to be “instilled” because it’s already present. Beginning with general reasoning about human behaviors at school and the office to introduce his point, the author then neatly segues into specific examples of competitiveness gone amok (Hitler in Germany and the recent economic meltdown in America).

With each example presented in the essay, the author pushes his position along a little further. He moves from discussing the most extreme historical cases (genocide) to more recent events (economic recession), concluding by focusing in on one person’s life and career (Tiger Woods). This final example allows the author to reach his final destination in his discussion of competitiveness: yes, competition can serve people well up to a certain point, but the price is that it is also “detrimental and ultimately quite destructive.”

 

 

The third way this essay meets the requirements of a perfect-scoring essay is through the logical connection of ideas within and between paragraphs. The transition between the end of paragraph two and the beginning of paragraph three provides a stellar example of this skillful connecting of ideas:

It [competitiveness] served him well in some respects, but it also proved to be detrimental and ultimately quite destructive.

Leaders who value cooperation, on the other ahnd, have historically been less prone to these overreaching, destructive tendencies.

On the face of it, the author only connects the two paragraphs by using a transition phrase (“on the other hand”) that sets up the next paragraph as contrasting with what came before. While this kind of transition would be good enough for a lower-scoring essay, though, the author does not just leave the connection between the two paragraphs at that. Instead, he also connects the two paragraphs by keeping the focus on the same issue from the end of one paragraph to the beginning of the next.

The content-level transition between paragraphs occurs when the author transitions from discussing the “detrimental and ultimately quite destructive” competitiveness of Tiger Woods directly into claiming that cooperation-valuing leaders are “less prone to these overreaching, destructive tendencies.” This twofold linkage of content (deeper level) and transition phrase (more surface level) makes it clear to the reader that the discussion of leaders valuing cooperation follows logically the discussion of negative outcomes for competition-valuing leaders.

 

 

The final 6-level quality demonstrated by this GRE Writing sample is its use of skillful and precise language to convey specific meaning. Overall, the language in this essay is formal and academic, despite the profligate use of first person point of view by the author (which can make writing seem less formal). The following sentence exemplifies the author’s command of language:

The recent economic meltdown was caused in no large part by the leaders of American banks and financial institutions who were obsessed with competing for the almighty dollar.

Despite the minor error in this sentence (it should read “in no small part,” rather than “in no large part,”), the author’s meaning is absolutely clear: competition led to the meltdown. Strong vocabulary choices like “economic meltdown,” “obsessed,” “almighty dollar” are what make this an effective statement of the author’s position. Compare the above excerpt to a more milquetoast version of the same statement:

The recent economic downturn was mostly caused by financial leaders who wanted to earn lots of money.

This second sentence has the same basic meaning as the real excerpt from the essay. Because it doesn’t use particularly precise or compelling language, however, this watered-down version ends up minimizing the magnitude of problems caused by competitiveness (which undercuts the author’s point). This vaguer version of the essay excerpt also lacks the word “competing,” which makes it useless as an instance of competition among leaders leading to negative consequences.

The original excerpt from the essay, and indeed the entire GRE essay example, is so strong precisely because it manages to pack in specific relevant language that adds to, rather than detracts from, the author’s meaning.

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Argument Essay 1: Mason City Riverside Recreation

The next essay I’ll be analyzing is written in response to the following “Analyze an Argument” prompt:

In surveys Mason City residents rank water sports (swimming, boating and fishing) among their favorite recreational activities. The Mason River flowing through the city is rarely used for these pursuits, however, and the city park department devotes little of its budget to maintaining riverside recreational facilities. For years there have been complaints from residents about the quality of the river’s water and the river’s smell. In response, the state has recently announced plans to clean up Mason River. Use of the river for water sports is therefore sure to increase. The city government should for that reason devote more money in this year’s budget to riverside recreational facilities.

Write a response in which you examine the stated and/or unstated assumptions of the argument. Be sure to explain how the argument depends on the assumptions and what the implications are if the assumptions prove unwarranted.

The GRE Argument essay sample I’ll be analyzing critiques the numerous assumptions made and ultimately concludes that the argument for spending more money on Mason City’s riverside recreational facilities rests on faulty assumptions.

The full text of this essay can be found on the ETS website. Be sure to read through the essay first before coming back to read my analysis of it. We’ll start by looking at the ways in which this GRE essay sample identifies and examines the argument given in the prompt in an insightful way:

There are three key assumptions made by the argument that are identified in the essay:

#1: The survey results are valid and representative

#2: The reason Mason River isn’t used is because of odor and pollution

#3: Cleaning the pollution in the river will get rid of the odor and then lead to more usage by residents

The Argument essay example we’re looking at examines each of the assumptions by considering the implications if the assumptions made by the article turn out not to be true. Here’s part of the essay’s investigation of the second assumption listed above:

Though there have been complaints, we do not know if there have been numerous complaints from a wide range of people, or perhaps from one or two individuals who made numerous complaints.

The author identifies the assumption that complaints indicate many people want to use the river and examines it by reasoning through possible scenarios other than the one presented in the prompt. The insight comes from the fact that the specific possibilities discussed by the author are highly plausible alternative explanations for the facts that would change the validity of the prompt’s assumption. It’s very possible that the complaints were not made by every single resident, or even a majority of residents, as the prompt seems to assume, but were in fact only made by a few people.

As a result of her analysis, the author ultimately concludes that there is insufficient information to support the assumption that Mason River isn’t used due to its odor and pollution.

 

 

The next way the author of this sample GRE essay fulfills the requirements of a perfect-scoring Argument essay is by providing comprehensive support for each of her main points. Throughout the essay, the author is able to explain exactly why each assumption made is problematic by using examples that precisely illustrate her argument.

Consider how this is approached in the second paragraph of the essay. The author starts the paragraph by presenting the assumption made in the essay argument that the survey results can be relied upon. She then proceeds to decimate that assumption with multiple examples of ways in which the survey could be flawed and not be an accurate representation of the residents’ opinions, as can be seen in the following excerpt:

For example, the survey could have asked residents if they prefer using the river for water sports or would like to see a hydroelectric dam built, which may have swayed residents toward river sports. The sample may not have been representative of city residents, asking only those residents who live upon the river. The survey may have been 10 pages long, with 2 questions dedicated to river sports. We just do not know.

The thoroughness of the author’s support for her point is magnified by the specificity of the scenarios she proposes. Stating “the survey might not have been representative of the city residents” would have been far less compelling a point than stating “[t]he sample may not have been representative of city residents, asking only those residents who live upon the river.”

 

 

Another important ideal a perfect-scoring Argument essay must live up to is being organized logically, with clear transitions between ideas. The author of this GRE essay sample is able to meet the first part of this requirement with a simple five-paragraph organizational structure: an introduction, one paragraph for each assumption discussed, and a conclusion.

Accomplishing the logical connection and development of ideas throughout the essay requires a little bit more finesse, but the author still manages it. Here’s an example from the beginning of the third paragraph of a skillful transition:

Additionally, the author implies that residents do not use the river for swimming, boating, and fishing, despite their professed interest, because the water is polluted and smelly.

In the above example, the author uses the transition word “additionally” to connect the ideas that will follow with what went before. The example also references the previous paragraph’s discussion of the unreliability of the survey of residents (“their professed interest”) and links it to the current discussion of pollution and smell being the cause of low participation in riverside recreational activities. The combination of these two methods of connecting the two paragraphs results in a smooth logical flow from one idea to the next.

 

 

Lastly, a perfect-scoring Argument essay must be precise and effective in its discussion of ideas, with few if any errors. The author of this essay successfully meets this standard by using purposeful language to efficiently and clearly get her point across, as can be seen in this example from paragraph three:

While a polluted, smelly river would likely cut down on river sports, a concrete connection between the resident’s lack of river use and the river’s current state is not effectively made.

The author contrasts the prompt’s assumption (“a polluted, smelly river would likely cut down on river sports”) with the “concrete connection” that is not present. The essay as a whole is not completely devoid of errors (for example, the author writes “afffected” instead of “affected”), but the errors are few and do not have a negative impact on the clarity of the writing.

 

 

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Argument Essay 2: Super Screen Movie Advertising

The last of the GRE essay examples I’ll be analyzing at is written in response to this “Analyze an Argument” prompt:

The following is taken from a memo from the advertising director of the Super Screen Movie Production Company.

“According to a recent report from our marketing department, during the past year, fewer people attended Super Screen-produced movies than in any other year. And yet the percentage of positive reviews by movie reviewers about specific Super Screen movies actually increased during the past year. Clearly, the contents of these reviews are not reaching enough of our prospective viewers. Thus, the problem lies not with the quality of our movies but with the public’s lack of awareness that movies of good quality are available. Super Screen should therefore allocate a greater share of its budget next year to reaching the public through advertising.”

Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the recommendation and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the recommendation.

The essay written in response to this “Analyze an Argument” prompt raises and evaluates questions about how many viewers and reviews of Super Screen productions there actually were, if there is a strong relationship between how movie reviewers and general audiences react to movies, and whether or not the percentage of positive reviews about a movie reflects how much of an impact reviews have on audiences.

The full text of this GRE essay sample can be found on p. 112 of this PDF. Read through the essay first, then check below for an analysis of its positive (and negative) qualities.

The first aspect of the essay we’ll analyze is how it succeeds in identifying and examining the parts of the argument that are relevant to the task. In the essay’s introduction, the author mentions that there are questions that need to be asked (“Before this plan is implemented, however, Super Screen needs to address some questions about its possible flaws”), but he really hammers it home in the conclusion by specifying which questions need to be answered:

In conclusion, there are many questions Super Screen needs to answer before using this advertising director’s plan. They need to look carefully at actual numbers, both of viewership and of positive reviews. The also need to identify the relationship that their target audience has with movie reviewers and determine how their target audience feels about their movies. Fianlly they need to take a nuanced look at the movie reviews that they use in their advertising.

With this conclusion, the author hits the three main points that need to be considered before agreeing to the advertising director’s plan: viewer and review numbers, audience reactions to reviews, and whether or not reviews are a useful metric by which to measure movie success.

An instance of the author identifying a particular argument can be found in the third paragraph of this GRE essay sample. The paragraph starts by clearly stating the question that needs to be answered (what the number of positive reviews was and how it compared to past reviews). After this initial identification of the question, the author also explains how answering this question would have an impact on the usefulness of the recommendation: if the increase in positive reviews was from 1% to 2%, allocating more money to advertising to emphasize this fact is likely to have less impact than if the money were instead budgeted towards improving film quality.

 

 

Another quality all perfect-scoring Argument essays must contain is strong and thorough support for each point discussed. The author of the GRE essay sample we’re analyzing fulfills this requirement, supporting every question she raises about the argument in the prompt by showing how its answer would affect the recommendation.

A good example of this all coming together happens in paragraph five of the essay:

Finally the studio must ask whether the percentage of positive reviews is really a relevant way to measure the potential impact of movie reviews. There are dozens of movie reviewers but when deciding whether to not to go to a movie, the general public will usually pick from among the 10 most popular movie reviews. These are the reviews that will impress the public if they are included in advertising. If the most popular movie reviewers disliked Super Screen movies that a larger number of small time film bloggers reviewed positively, Super Screen needs to think of a new advertising strategy.

In this paragraph, the author opens by identifying the element of argument to be discussed (are positive reviews a useful way to measure the impact of movie reviews in general?). She then develops this point through reasoning about why the answer to this question might contradict the assumption made in the argument (people mostly use popular reviews to decide on what movies to see, rather than the ratio of popular to negative reviews).

The author ends this paragraph by conclusively showing that the answer to the question raised in this paragraph is crucial for determining whether or not Super Screen should follow the advertising director’s plan: if the percent of positive reviews isn’t a good way to measure movie impact and the real issue is that relatively few popular movie reviewers liked Super Screen movies, then the recommendation of the advertising department is unreasonable.

 

The third requirement for a perfect-scoring Argument essay is that it must develop and connect ideas in a clear and logical fashion. The organization of this GRE argument essay sample helps accomplish this by routing the author’s thoughts into an introduction, four body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Each body paragraph of the essay is centered around one or two related questions. A good example of this can be found in paragraph four, which contains two related questions about the relationship between audiences and movie reviewers:

Finally, Super Screen needs to ask what the relationship is between its viewers and the movie reviewers cited in the memo. Using a survey distributed to its target audience, Super Screen could determine if movie reviews have an effect on their audience’s decision to go see a movie, whether movie reviewers tended to have the same taste as the target audience and exactly whether or not movie reviews are reaching the audience. Super Screen also needs to consider how its movie choices have affected the separate movie reviewer and audience populations. If the studio has switched from making mega- blockbuster action movies to more nuanced dramas, the general public may be less willing to go see their movies even though movie critics prefer the dramas to the action movies.

The above paragraph starts out by discussing if Super Screen’s target audiences are affected by reviews and whether their audiences and movie reviewers have the same taste, then segues into discussing if the studio’s film-making choices have affected audiences and movie reviews. The transition between the two different questions being discussed is effected by the simple use of the word “also” in the third sentence of the paragraph:

Super Screen also needs to consider how its movie choices have affected the separate movie reviewer and audience populations. [bolded for emphasis]

The last sentence of the paragraph again links back to the discussion of audience taste vs. reviewer taste, reinforcing the close and logical connection between the two questions discussed in the paragraph.

 

 

Finally, a perfect-scoring Argument essay must employ varied and precise language, with few errors. Earlier, we discussed paragraph four as a particularly strong example of the author’s effective development of ideas. The last sentence of this paragraph contributes to this efficacy through the use of specific language:

“If the studio has switched from making mega-blockbuster action movies to more nuanced dramas, the general public may be less willing to go see their movies even though movie critics prefer the dramas to the action movies.”

The use of the descriptor “mega-blockbuster” to describe the action movies preferred by the masses effectively conjures up something that is the diametric opposite of a “nuanced drama.” In addition, the author’s contrasting of the “mega-blockbuster action movies” with “more nuanced dramas” parallels the second half of the sentence’s contrasting of the preferences of the general public vs. those of the (possibly) more refined movie reviewer.

There are a few minor spelling errors (e.g. in “attendence” instead of “attendance”), and the last two body paragraphs both start with “finally” (which is a little repetitive), but in general, this is a skillfully written essay. It’s not perfectly polished like an essay you’d turn in for school, but that’s absolutely OK. In the grand scheme of the GRE essay scoring rubric, writing flourishes matter much less than clarity of thought and precision of language.

 

 

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6 Tips for a Perfect-Scoring GRE Essay

To wrap up this article, I’ll go over some of the key points you should take from the four GRE sample essays I analyzed in this article.

 

#1: Include an Introduction and a Conclusion

One thing that all these perfect-scoring GRE sample essays had in common was an introduction and a conclusion. It doesn’t have to be a full paragraph, but you need to at the very least introduce your ideas at the beginning of your essay and wrap up your conclusions at the end of it.

 

#2: State Your Position Clearly

In my notes to myself on one of the GRE Issue essay examples I analyzed above, I observed that the author “states her thesis early and often” because of the way her position was made clear throughout the essay. While obviously you don’t want to just repeat the same sentence over and over again, it is imperative that you include at least one clear statement of your position in your essay, preferably in your introduction paragraph.

The importance of clearly stating your position varies between the two GRE essay tasks somewhat. For the Argument essay, you might be able to get away with a vague summary of the points you’ll cover and still get a 4.0 or above on the essay; by contrast, it’s nearly impossible to get above a 3.0 on the Issue essay if you do not clearly state your position on the issue, as that is integral to the essay task itself.

Whatever the prompt or essay type, if you want to get a perfect score on your essay, you’ll need to include a clear statement of your position on the issue or what points you’ll be analyzing in regards to the argument in the prompt.

 

#3: Be Specific in Your Support

All of the perfect-scoring GRE essay examples analyzed in this article contained specific and relevant support for the claims made by the authors. In the Issue essay examples, the authors drew upon well-defined examples and concise examples that directly supported the author’s position on the issue. In the Argument essay samples, the authors focused in on several specific parts of the arguments and debated their validity using specific hypothetical scenarios and questions.

The takeaway of this for your own writing is that the specific is always more persuasive than the general when it comes to supporting a point. And if you can’t find specific support for your position or for the flaw you’ve found in an argument, then that’s a good sign that you need to consider changing your position or finding another part of the argument to critique.

 

 

#4: Explain Your Support Clearly

As I discussed in my analyses of the four GRE Writing samples, whether or not your writing is polished and perfectly worded and spelled is not nearly as important as your successful communication of your ideas and how they are supported. In the GRE essay, all is precision, and analyses of issues that use clearly-explained compelling examples or analyses of arguments that cut to the very heart of why an argument is flawed with supporting explanations will ultimately score higher than beautifully crafted but logically imprecise essays.

 

#5: Use Transitions

All of the authors of the GRE essay examples analyzed in this article are able to maintain focus and organization in their essays by employing multi-level transitions that link ideas between and within paragraphs on both content and linguistic levels. In your own writing, be conscious of when you are changing from discussing one idea to another and make sure the transition is smooth. Even just adding transition words like “additionally” or “in contrast” to the beginning of new ideas can help your writing flow better.

 

#6: Stay Organized

While all of the GRE essay examples used in this article were written in response to different prompts, they all adhered to basically the standard five-paragraph, introduction-body paragraphs-conclusion format.

There’s no reason to take extra time away from your analysis of the questions to figure out a unique organizational structure for each essay when the five paragraph essay will get it done just as well (if not better). This is not because other forms are not possible; as the ETS website says, “You are free to organize and develop your response in any way you think will enable you to effectively communicate your ideas about the issue.”

But the utility of the five paragraph form is that it’s a tried-and-true way to keep your essay organized. Using it will save you the time of having to figure out a new organizational strategy for every essay you write. And the more consistently you stick to a simple (but clear) organizational structure, the faster you’ll get at it, until organizing your thoughts logically comes as second-nature (especially important in a timed essay environment when every second counts).

 

 

What’s Next?

Now you know what it takes to get a perfect essay score. But do you actually need to get a perfect 6.0 on GRE Writing? Find out with our discussion of what a good GRE Writing score is.

Curious about how the criteria mentioned in this article translate into numerical scores? Read our article on how the GRE essay is scored to learn more!

Need to boost your essay score quickly? We have 15 great tips and strategies that help you improve your Analytical Writing score.

Ready to dive into practice essays with some practice topics? Use our guide to the 328 official GRE essay topics to get started.

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Author: Laura Staffaroni

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel and fulfill their college and grad school dreams. View all posts by Laura Staffaroni

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