GRE Analytical Writing

The first part of the exam will consist of two essays to be completed in 30 minutes each:
Analyze an Issue (30 minutes)- Discuss a general interest topic.
Analyze an Argument (30 minutes)- Analyze the argument presented
A brief introduction to analytical writing section
The issue essay is very much like every other 5-or-so paragraph academic essay you have ever written. Some people have trouble thinking of examples for abstract topics (“Is justice more important in a society than compassion?”), but if you people feel confident about that, it is likely you won’ t need much preparation.
The Argument essay requires you to analyze a flawed argument. You are not being asked to bring in outside information or give your own opinion.
Write a lot. No matter what the official rules say, longer essays get higher scores.
Pay attention to the specific instructions. On the new GRE, ETS has gone out of its way to write a dozen or so different specific instructions for both Analyze an Issue and Analyze an Argument essays. In the Official Guide to the GRE revised General Test, test-takers are warned that even if they write an otherwise perfect essay, they will not score higher than a 4 without addressing the specific instructions provided in the question prompt.

You can actually read all of the issue essay prompts in advance just by clicking here.

You can actually read all of the argument essay prompts in advance just by clicking here.

How Essays Are Used by Graduate Schools

It is impossible to say how much (or even whether) the essay “counts” in graduate school admissions: there are simply too many programs and too many schools. Some math and science program may take little or no account of the essay, and some writing-intensive graduate programs may consider the essays more carefully. Graduate schools may use the essays as a screening device (so a very low essay score might keep the rest of your application from being given a serious review). It’ s also reasonable to presume that your essays are more likely to be taken into account if your first language is not English, or if you are applying from a country outside the United States.
In conclusion, the admission department at the particular university to which you are applying is the best source of information about how the GRE essay will be used.
Graduate schools to which you send your GRE scores will be able to read your actual essays. Don’ t write any anything you would n’ t want the admissions committee to read (avoid writing anything offensive or anything with a very political or self-exposing slant).

The Physical Mechanics of Essay Writing

Assuming that you are taking a computer-based GRE (true in the US and most other countries), you will be typing your essays into a text box. The system feels like a clunky, old-fashioned word processing program. You will have “Cut” and “Paste” buttons, as well as an “Undo” button. There is no bold, italic, or underline. There is no tab/indent. The program does not offer any type of spell-check or grammar check.

In addition to “Cut,” “Paste,” and “Undo,” you will also have the following basic functions:

Arrow Keys move the cursor up, down, left, or right.
Enter inserts a paragraph break (no indent-simply moves down to a new line).
Page Up moves the cursor up one screen.
Page Down moves the cursor down one screen.
Backspace removes the character to the left of the cursor.
Delete removes the character to the right of the cursor.
Home moves the cursor to the beginning of the line.
End moves the cursor to the end of the line.

Once you have completed an essay and clicked on “submit,” you cannot go back. If you complete an essay before the time expires, you can go immediately to the next section, but you do not get to use any extra time on other sections.
There is no break after the essays; you will proceed to your first Math or Verbal section.

Essay Length

For each essay, use a five-paragraph structure as a baseline. Sometimes you will write four paragraphs, sometimes you will write 6-7 (many high-scoring essays contain 6-7 paragraphs, actually), but the basic structure is an intro and a conclusion sandwiching three or more main examples or reasons, each in its own body paragraph.
Let’ s be very clear: Even when ETS says that essay length does n’ t matter, it does. A lot.
To ensure your essay is long enough, you will have to brainstorm and plan your essay very efficiently (3-4 minutes for the Issue, 2-3 minutes for the Argument), so that you can get started writing as soon as possible.
Write as much as you can in the time allotted!

Spelling and Grammar

On the GRE, while good spelling and grammar are better than poor spelling and grammar, of course, the ideas you present (and the length of your essay) are far more important.
According to ETS, “Scorers are trained to focus on the analytical logic of the essays more than on spelling, grammar, or syntax.” In other words, as long as the grader can understand you, he or she is not supposed to count off for minor and infrequent spelling and grammar errors. Therefore, analytic logic of essay does matter more.


As mentioned earlier, essays are scored from 0-6, and the essay score does not count as part of your main GRE score. According to ETS, an essay that scores a 6 addresses the specific instructions while.

  • Presenting an insightful position on the issue.
  • Developing the position with compelling reasons and/or persuasive examples,
  • Sustaining a well-focused, well-organized analysis, connecting ideas logically,
  • Expressing ideas fluently and precisely using effective vocabulary and sentence variety, and
  • Demonstrating facility with the conventions (i.e., grammar, usage, and mechanics) of standard written English, with possibly a few minor errors.

Essays are scored by specially trained college and university faculty who will not see your name, gender, geographical location, or any other identifying information. Each of your essays will be read by two graders, giving a total of four essay scores (two for each essay). These scores are averaged, and then the averaged score is rounded up to the nearest half point. (Thus, it is possible to get a score such as 4.5).
The two graders for any one essay will always grade within one point of each other; if they were to grade further apart, a third grader would be brought in to adjudicate.


Most Popular Resources

GRE Argument Writing

GRE Issue Essay

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