How to Do Well on the GRE Analytical Writing Section

How to Do Well on the GRE Analytical Writing Section

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is vital to many graduate school applications. With recent changes to the Analytical Writing section, prospective test-takers should be well-prepared and familiar with the current requirements. Let’s delve into the changes and provide some resources to excel in the Analyze an Issue task.

Changes to the GRE Analytical Writing Section

On September 22, 2023, significant modifications were made to the GRE’s Analytical Writing section. Previously, test-takers faced two separate writing challenges: the “Analyze an Issue” task and the “Analyze an Argument” task, each allocated 30 minutes. The recent changes have streamlined this section, retaining only the “Analyze an Issue” task.

Here, you’re presented with a statement or opinion on a topic and asked to write a response. Your job is to write an essay where you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the opinion and explain your reasoning.

The statement could range from socio-political issues, such as the effects of media on public opinion, to more abstract philosophical debates, like whether inherent knowledge exists. Regardless of the topic, your primary objective is to present a well-thought-out response supporting your stance.

What is Evaluated on the GRE Essay?

The GRE’s Analytical Writing section is scored on a scale of 0 to 6 in half-point increments. Every essay is read by at least two trained raters who evaluate it against specific criteria to assign a score. Knowing what these raters are looking for can provide invaluable insight into how to craft your essay. Here’s a breakdown of the evaluation metrics:

  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning: It’s not just about taking a stance; it’s about why you’ve taken that stance. The examiners want to see a logical progression in your thoughts. Can you dissect the topic, identify its nuances, and provide insights?

  • Clarity of Expression: Can you communicate your thoughts clearly? This doesn’t mean using ornate language; instead, it’s about ensuring the reader understands your perspective without ambiguity.

  • Variety & Accuracy in Sentence Structure: While this isn’t a grammar test, effective variation in sentence structure and correct grammar usage can make your essay more compelling and easier to follow.

  • Use of Real-World Examples: Concrete examples can bolster your argument. They demonstrate that you can connect abstract reasoning to real-world scenarios.

  • Organization: How well is your essay structured? A clear introduction, body paragraphs with distinct points, and a thoughtful conclusion are essential.

  • Engagement with the Prompt: Did you fully address the prompt’s question? Skirting around the main issue or missing its nuances can detract from your score.

Though the GRE does not have a strict word limit for the essays, a comprehensive and detailed piece typically falls in the range of 500-700 words. Writing less might indicate a lack of depth in your argument, while excessively long essays could be repetitive or lack clarity. A solid, well-structured essay within this range allows for a clear introduction, multiple supporting paragraphs, and a succinct conclusion.

Strategizing Your Approach

Crafting an impactful essay, especially under time constraints, requires a deliberate approach. Structuring your essay can be likened to building a house: you need a strong foundation, sturdy walls, and a roof that ties everything together. Let’s dive into each section of the essay and explore strategies to optimize them.

1. Introduction

Your introduction sets the stage. It’s the reader’s first impression of your analytical capabilities and writing style. Your goal is to:

  • Hook the Reader: Begin with an engaging statement or a provocative question related to the topic. This doesn’t have to be sensational but should pique the reader’s interest.

  • Contextualize the Topic: Briefly provide context. What’s the broader significance of the issue? Why does it matter?

  • State Your Stance: Conclude your introduction by clearly stating your position on the topic. This serves as a roadmap, letting the reader know where you’re headed.

Example for a Prompt Discussing the Effects of Digital Technology on Reading Habits:

In an era where a tweet’s lifespan is a mere 18 minutes, has the digital age diminished our depth of reading, or has it simply transformed it? While digital technology has reshaped our consumption patterns, it has not reduced our ability to engage deeply with texts.”

2. Body

The body of your essay is where you defend your stance, showcasing your analytical prowess and depth of understanding. Make sure to include the following:

  • Topic Sentence: Each paragraph should begin with a clear topic sentence that presents a unique point or argument related to your stance.

  • Provide Reasoning: Expand on your topic sentence. Why do you believe this? How does it support your overall stance?

  • Use Real-World Examples: Concrete examples bolster your argument and demonstrate your ability to connect theory and reality. They make abstract concepts tangible.

  • Concluding Sentence: Link back to your central stance. This creates coherence and reminds the reader of the larger picture.

Example of a Body Paragraph:

Digital platforms, such as e-books and audiobooks, have revolutionized access to literature. A single device can store thousands of books, democratizing knowledge access across different socio-economic classes. In regions where physical books are a luxury, a student can access classics and contemporary works at the click of a button. Thus, while the medium has shifted, the depth of engagement and democratized access showcases the evolving nature of reading.

3. Conclusion

Your conclusion provides closure, ensuring your arguments come full circle. Be sure you:

  • Reiterate Key Points: Briefly summarize the main arguments you presented in the body without simply repeating them verbatim.

  • Restate Your Stance: Reaffirm your position on the issue.

  • End with a Thoughtful Statement: Leave the reader with something to ponder. This could be a rhetorical question, a prediction, or a call to action.

Example of a Strong Conclusion:

While the tactile joy of flipping through pages might be nostalgic for many, it’s undeniable that the digital age has transformed our reading habits. Yet, transformation doesn’t equate to diminishment. As we stride further into the digital era, it’s not about choosing between pixels and paper, but embracing the myriad ways we can engage with the written word.

By following this structured approach, you can ensure that your essay is coherent, compelling, and clearly communicates your perspective on the issue at hand.

Dissecting the Good and the Bad: GRE Essay Examples

When preparing for the GRE’s Analytical Writing section, understanding what constitutes a high-scoring essay versus a low-scoring one can be invaluable. The difference often lies not in the ideas presented but in the argument’s structure, clarity, and depth. To help elucidate this, let’s examine an example prompt and compare a good essay with a less effective one.

Example Prompt:

The primary goal of technological advancement should be to increase people’s efficiency so that everyone has more leisure time.

Good Essay


In the bustling age of digital transformation, technological advancement often finds itself intertwined with the objective of elevating human efficiency, ostensibly to grant individuals greater leisure time. While a noble pursuit, one must question: should efficiency be the zenith of technological aspirations, or should we cast a wider net?


Paragraph 1: At the outset, the correlation between technological progression and efficiency is undeniable. We live in an epoch where automation and artificial intelligence can streamline processes that once required extensive manual intervention. Consider telecommuting tools that emerged during the global pandemic. Platforms like Zoom or Teams not only made virtual communication more efficient but, by eliminating commutes, also returned invaluable hours back to the workforce. This newly gained “leisure” time enhanced work-life balance for many.

Paragraph 2: Furthermore, in the domestic sphere, smart homes and IoT devices promise efficiency beyond compare. A smart thermostat or a voice-controlled home assistant, by streamlining mundane tasks, ostensibly bestow upon homeowners more free moments, which they can then channel into recreational or creative pursuits.

Paragraph 3: Yet, making efficiency the magnum opus of technological innovation may be myopic. An overt focus on efficiency could jeopardize the quality of output. For instance, if an AI-driven content generator can produce articles in minutes, does that ensure the content’s richness, authenticity, or emotional resonance? There’s a looming risk of sacrificing depth for speed.

Paragraph 4: Additionally, the question of accessibility and equity arises. A relentless chase after efficiency-driven technology might inadvertently cater only to a privileged few, leaving behind those who can’t afford or access these advancements. If a portion of society gains more leisure time at the expense of another segment becoming more marginalized, the ethical foundation of such innovations becomes dubious.

Paragraph 5: Then there’s the environmental calculus. Ultra-efficient gadgets often come with a carbon footprint, be it through energy-intensive production processes or electronic waste. Thus, a broader goal for technology could be sustainability, ensuring that our quest for leisure today doesn’t rob future generations of theirs.


Efficiency, while integral to the ethos of technological advancement, should not be its solitary goal. A holistic perspective mandates balancing speed with depth, inclusivity, and sustainability. In weaving a future where technology augments human experience, leisure might be a delightful by-product, but the tapestry should be richer, encompassing a spectrum of values and benefits.

Ineffective Essay


Tech stuff is growing a lot. The main reason is to make life faster and give us free time. But is this the right goal?

Body :

Paragraph 1: Computers, phones, and robots are everywhere. They do things quickly. This is because of technology. Now, we don’t have to do long math problems or wash dishes by hand. We can watch TV instead.

Paragraph 2: But there are problems. If everything is fast, maybe the quality is not good. For example, if a machine makes a shirt quickly, maybe the shirt will break easily.

Paragraph 3: Also, not everyone has the newest phone or robot. Some people can’t afford it. So, they have to work more and have less free time. This seems unfair.


So, tech is good, but maybe it shouldn’t just be about being fast. Other things are important too. Maybe we should focus on things like helping people not use drugs or raising wages for workers instead, that seems more important.

Evaluating the Essays: Deciphering the Good from the Not-So-Good

To excel in the Analytical Writing section of the GRE, knowing the qualitative differences between a compelling essay and one that falls short is essential. Let’s dissect our two examples to understand these distinctions better.

The Good Essay: Attributes and Strengths

  1. Structure and Organization: The essay follows a clear structure with an introduction, body paragraphs each dedicated to a unique point, and a conclusion. This makes the essay easy to follow.

  2. Depth and Complexity: The good essay delves into the intricacies of the topic, offering various perspectives. It doesn’t just state the obvious but contemplates the broader implications.

  3. Use of Concrete Examples: The essay substantiates its claims with pertinent examples. Mentioning specific technologies or real-world scenarios lends credibility and weight to the arguments.

  4. Varied Sentence Construction: The good essay uses a mix of short and long sentences, making it more engaging and showcasing writing prowess.

  5. Formal Language and Tone: The essay employs a more scholarly tone, aligning with the academic nature of the GRE.

  6. Conclusion Ties Everything Together: The concluding paragraph recaps the main points and provides a thoughtful ending, creating a full-circle narrative.

The Not-So-Good Essay: Areas of Improvement

  1. Simplistic Approach: The essay begins with a very general and vague introduction (“Tech stuff is growing a lot”). There’s a lack of depth and specificity.

  2. Repetitive and Redundant Phrasing: There are instances of repetition, like “This is because of technology.” Such statements add little value and can be eliminated for conciseness.

  3. Absence of Transitional Phrases: Unlike the good essay, this essay lacks smooth transitions between points. Effective transitions would make the narrative flow better.

  4. Lack of Focus: The essay occasionally veers off-topic. The conclusion suddenly introduces the ideas of drug use and wage increase without any previous mention or connection to the main topic. These points, while potentially valid, are introduced haphazardly.

  5. Casual Tone: Phrases like “Tech stuff” and “watch TV instead” lend the essay a more casual tone, which may not be suited for a formal examination setting.

  6. Conclusion Lacks Cohesiveness: The conclusion should wrap up the points discussed, but this essay’s conclusion introduces new ideas without adequately summarizing or tying together the essay’s content.

In summary, while both essays address the prompt, the good essay does so with depth, clarity, organization, and formal language. In contrast, the not-so-good essay, although touching upon some valid points, lacks depth, organization, and maintains a more casual tone. Recognizing these differences can be pivotal in refining one’s essay writing skills for the GRE.

Mastering the GRE’s Analyze an Issue Task

As you Writing practice essays, it’s crucial to grasp the nuanced differences between a stellar essay and a lackluster one. Depth, clarity, organization, and the formality of language play pivotal roles in crafting a compelling narrative. Writing practice essays before test day can serve as a valuable exercise, allowing you to internalize these distinctions and receive feedback on areas of improvement. By diligently practicing and refining your approach, you can ensure that when faced with the “Analyze an Issue” task, you respond effectively and stand out with your analytical and writing prowess.

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