Page 1 - Analytical Writing Study Guide for the GRE

General Information

Since the September 2023 GRE revision, there is only one essay to write in this section of the test. It is called Analyze an Issue. Following the directions in the prompt, you will take a stance on that issue and design an argument for your position.

The Task: 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.

Your Task

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 sample prompts used for this test section and released by the GRE program.


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 score discrepancy 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 between 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.

Presentation of Position

This test will ask you to answer a question about a given issue. To answer it, you must present a position clearly and intelligently. For example, a good position would involve more than just agreeing or disagreeing with a position, but stating how strongly you feel and why. The position should be stated clearly and briefly within the first two paragraphs, but also reinforced throughout the paper.

Position Development

After you have made clear what your position is, you will need to clarify and add nuance to your argument 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.

Use of Allotted Time

You will only have 30 minutes to write your essay, so you will need to plan well to use your time judiciously and produce the best result within the time limits. Here is a suggested time management plan:

Planning (5 minutes or less)

The planning phase of your essays will include reading over the prompt or material. For argument analysis, you may want to make brief notes on the argument as you read. You will then need to decide what position you are taking and what your main pieces of evidence will be. Since you will not have much time to write extra material that will ultimately be discarded, make sure you have a plan for the essay that will ensure a complete and fully supported argument. You may want to create a brief outline or notes to refer to while writing.

Writing (at least 20 minutes)

You will need to quickly write all the material you will use in your finished essay. Referring to your plan, write out your argument in detail, giving both topic sentences and proof or examples for all your claims. Keep referring back to your plan and make sure you are leaving enough time to address all the points you intend to. One tip is to save the introduction for last so you can be sure it will effectively introduce the material to come.

Reviewing (5 minutes or less)

Reviewing is essential to ensure that careless errors do not lower your score. You will not have time for extensive rewriting. Instead, read over what you have written from the perspective of an outside reader. Make sure you have effective transitions between ideas so that readers can follow your logic and that each idea is introduced with a clear topic sentence. Then read over one final time slowly, looking for errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Other Tips and Tricks

Practice Writing with a Time Limit

Writing with a time limit is a skill, but one you can quickly improve with practice. Doing 30-minute practice essays will give you a sense of how quickly you need to work and how much time you will be able to devote to each aspect of the writing process. Your goal should be to finish in time, but also use all the time allotted; if you rush and do not generate enough material during the writing stage, for example, it could harm your score.

Practice Reviewing Your Own Writing

The GRE writing section tests your ability to quickly critique what you have written in terms of both substance and how it is expressed. Each time you practice GRE writing, make sure to read over what you have written, looking for logical gaps, inconsistencies, possible counter-arguments, or questions the readers would want to be answered. Since it is easy to miss typos in your own writing, proofreading your work is also a skill that improves with practice.

Read and Write on Varying Topics

The GRE will likely ask you to write on subjects on which you are not an expert. To hone your skill at writing on a previously unfamiliar topic, write practice essays with prompts chosen at random rather than picking the prompts you like the most. Reading formal writing on a variety of topics is also crucial to improving your vocabulary and general knowledge, and familiarizing you with the conventions of academic writing.

Get Others to Evaluate

This test will require you to quickly revise your own work. You can improve your ability to do this during the preparation phase by periodically getting feedback from others. The ideal person to help you evaluate your writing is someone skilled and experienced with academic writing, and who is familiar with the guidelines for GRE essay. Ask your reader to identify possible gaps in your reasoning and places they got confused, as well as any issues with mechanics and style that you need to work on.

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