Page 1 Analytical Writing Study Guide for the GRE

How to Prepare for the GRE Analytical Writing Test

General Information

There are two components of the Analytical Writing section of the GRE: Analyze an Issue and Analyze an Argument. The two tasks are very similar and you can use some of the same strategies in your writing: Identify what position is taken and think about how the position could be supported. If you are doing the Issue task, you will design the argument. In the Argument task, the argument is already given and you will decide if it is valid and well supported.

Analyze an Issue ― This task requires you to analyze a statement and a reason for the statement about a common issue. Then you need to take a position on the statement and support your reasoning.

Sample Prompt:

All schools in a country should provide the same curriculum to all students, from grades Kindergarten through twelve, to best prepare all students for the future.

Write a response in which you tell whether you agree or disagree with this statement. Be sure to include specific reasons and situational examples to support your position.

Analyze an Argument ― This task requires you to analyze an argument given for, or against, a common issue. You also need to evaluate the writer’s reasons, in terms of validity and how well he/she has supported the position taken.

Sample Prompt

The following was part of a testimonial given by one citizen regarding the two leading grocery stores in a town:

“If given a choice, I would always shop at Good Groceries for all of my grocery needs. Their store is always clean and the people are friendly. Plus, there is never a charge for bags. I shopped at the other grocery store in town one time and was not pleased. I also did not notice the savings at the other store that I found at Good Groceries.”

Write a response in which you evaluate the statements made by this customer. Include any additional evidence needed to make the given argument more convincing and identify anything that you think is faulty reasoning.

Writing an analysis requires careful study of given information plus an insightful thought process. Even doing these things well is not enough. You must be able to put together a concise written piece that specifically addresses the prompt. Here are some things to consider when taking this section of the GRE.

About the Prompts

  • Prompts for this test are designed to be fair to all test-takers, regardless of their field of expertise.

  • The type of thinking required is similar to that required of graduate school students.

  • Writing a good, solid response may be done in a variety of formats and contain a wide range of content. It’s the effect of your writing that will make the difference.

  • You can access all of the actual prompts used for the issues task here.

  • The actual prompts used for the argument analysis can be found here.

(These prompts are published by the GRE Program to help you prepare for the test.)


How will your essays be scored? For what are the scorers looking? Here are some things to consider as you practice writing and on the day of the test.

The Scorers

The paper version of this test is usually only available where the computer version is not given. It is scored by two trained human scorers, using a scale ranging from 0 to 6, in half-point increments. These scores are then averaged if they are not more than 1 full point apart. If the discrepancy in scores is more than one point, a third human scorer is assigned to settle the discrepancy.

Most tests are computer-administered and will be scored first by at least one trained human scorer, then reviewed by a computerized scoring program. If there is a wide difference in these two scores, a second human scorer is called in and the two human scores are averaged.

The scorers for both versions of the test have been highly trained to utilize a scoring rubric that guides them to look for specific things in your essays. Scoring is more objective than you might think as these items are either present or not present in an essay. The following guidelines will give you an idea of the types of things that are evaluated. You can use these guidelines to evaluate any practice writing you do before the test.

The Guidelines

Generally, the scorers are looking for how well you think analytically and how well you express that in writing. Grammar and mechanics are considered, but isolated, minor errors in these areas will not affect your score.

Scoring Guide for Writing on an Issue

Presentation of Position

This test will ask you to answer a question, such as whether or not you agree with a given statement. In order to answer it, you will have to present a position clearly and intelligently. For example, a good position would involve more than just agreeing or disagreeing with the proposition, but stating to what extent you agree or disagree, and why. The position should be stated clearly and briefly within in the first two paragraphs, but also reinforced throughout the paper.

Position Development

After your have made clear what your argument is, you will need to clarify and add nuance to that position throughout the paper. This can involve differentiating your position from other similar ones (for instance, people who support the same policy as you but for different reasons), laying out what your main reasons are, stating possible counterarguments to your position and why you feel they are not persuasive, and outlining circumstances where your views might not apply.

Logical Organization

There is no one right way to organize your essay. Focus on arranging your ideas in a way that makes sense and will help a reader understand what you are saying. For instance, you might structure your paper as a series of examples, or start with reasons for supporting a policy and then move on to considering and rejecting possible counterarguments. One tip for clear organization is to create a rough draft, then look over it for ideas that are similar and should be placed together.

Appropriate Vocabulary and Sentence Variety

Since you are aiming for graduate-level writing, your essay should show the ability to use appropriately sophisticated vocabulary and sentence structure. However, this does not mean consistently using the most difficult or unusual words. Use words whose meaning you know well and which you are confident that you can use correctly. Long, complex sentences are also not always the best choice. Good writing has a mix of short and long sentences that are structured in different ways.

Written English Conventions

GRE test takers are expected to be familiar with the conventions of standard written English, including grammar, usage, punctuation, and other mechanical issues. This means using a formal writing style throughout, and thoroughly proofreading your work to ensure there are few errors. Conventions of formal writing can sometimes be broken for effect (for instance, using a sentence fragment for emphasis), but this is only effective if the paper is largely error-free and the broken rule contributes to your meaning.