Page 2 Analytical Writing Study Guide for the GRE
Scoring Guide for Writing about an Argument
Identification and Examination of Argument Aspects
The first step in writing this type of essay is reading the argument you will evaluate, deciding on the most important aspects of the argument, and identifying what is effective or ineffective about those elements. You do not need to develop or support your own ideas on the topic the author is discussing, but only evaluate their argument. For each point you make, positive or negative, you should be able to support it with evidence and logical analysis.
Organization and Development of Ideas
As with the issue paper, there is no standard way you must organize your thoughts. Base your organization on the most effective way to analyze the argument. You could start out with a brief summary of the author’s argument, or with a question that their writing raises. You might base your organization on the structure of the paper, going through point by point, or arrange your paper around one large-scale critique (for instance, presenting a thesis that the author’s argument is self-contradictory, and then using body paragraphs to explain why).
Argument analysis papers are not based solely on your opinion of the author’s argument or of the topic under discussion, but of how well the author succeeds in constructing a logical and persuasive argument. For instance, if you are claiming that the author’s argument is self-contradictory, use two or more quotes from the text that contradict each other to prove this point. (Paraphrasing can also be an effective form of evidence.) And support your claims by explaining them in detail—rather than just stating that a given quote demonstrates poor logic, show exactly how.
Appropriate Vocabulary and Sentence Variety
You do not need any specialized vocabulary to explain what is persuasive or illogical about an argument. As with any piece of graduate writing, you will need to demonstrate your ability to use college-level vocabulary effectively and use a variety of sentence structures that are suited to your ideas.
Written English Conventions
Aim to create an essay that is largely free of grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors. This means budgeting enough time to read over your work carefully after writing. When analyzing an argument, you will need to be especially aware of conventions for quoting and paraphrasing text and embedding quotations from another author in a sentence of your own.
Use of Allotted Time
You will only have 30 minutes to write each essay, so you will need to plan well to use your time judiciously and produce the best result within the time limits.
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 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 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 essays. 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.