GRE Analytical Writing

GRE (Graduate Record Examination) General Test which is conducted by the Educational Testing Services (ETS) consists of three main sections –

  1. Analytical Writing Analysis (AWA)
  2. Verbal Reasoning
  3. Quantitative Reasoning.

What is AWA in GRE?

GRE general test is a typical computer-based test which starts with the AWA or Analytical Writing Analysis section. In this section, a test-taker needs to write two essays – The Issue essay and the Argument Essay. The time allotted for AWA section is 1 hour (30 minutes for each of the two essays). In this section, a candidate's analytical and critical thinking skills are tested.

How important is analytical writing in GRE?

  • Great performance in AWA acts as confidence-booster

  • As the AWA section is the first thing a test-taker will see during taking the test hence acing this section will boost great confidence for him.

  • Graduate schools or Universities give extra gravitas for AWA score

  • Universities know very well that majority of the applicants make their Statement of Purpose (SOP) write up by taking help from professional essay writers or agencies. So to get an idea whether the applicant has really written his own SOP on his own or not many University Admission Committee gives great importance to the score achieved by the applicant in the AWA section. If the applicant's AWA section score is good, it sends a positive impression to the University Admission Committee.

Hence applicants should not skip the essay section while they practice because if they directly face this section on the test day without practicing their brain may start feeling tired before moving on to the remaining two sections.

What skills are measured by AWA?

The most important point that the test-taker must keep in mind is that this section not only focuses on how well he writes but also tests his analytical and critical thinking process. This section judges how well a candidate understands an issue or the instructions given and how well he can form his own argument and logical reasoning after developing rationality for the topic. It evaluates the candidate’s ability to develop a cogent argument and to provide examples to support the argument.

A short introduction to Issue Essay task and Argument Task

The Issue Essay writing prompt consists of an issue related statement of general interest and instructions or directives are given how to respond to it. The task statement can be from fine arts to music or chemical science to socio-economic subjects, but the writer does not need knowledge of the specific issue content. One needs to analyze the issue presented and develop his own position on the issue. There is no “correct” answer. Instead one should develop his own logical arguments backed up by real-life examples.

The Argument task contains a short argument, and one requires evaluating it according to the specific instructions given. In this task, the test-taker should not develop his/her own argument but instead write a detailed analysis of the argument presented in the prompt by assessing the plausibility of the argument.

What is GRE Issue Essay?

Among the AWA section, the first essay that the test-taker needs to write is the essay on an issue. The word “issue” defines an important subject or problem about which discussions are carried forward. Here in the GRE Issue Essay, the test taker will be introduced briefly to an issue of general interest. He/she will then be asked to develop an opinion about the same according to the specific task instructions given and then to give a solid argument to support his/her opinion.

How to write GRE Issue Essay?

During GRE Issue Essay writing first, the test taker needs to develop rationality about the issue given. Then it requires presenting his/her perspective by providing relevant reasons and examples to support the position on the given issue.

  • Within a time span of 30 minutes a test taker has to write down his response to the issue but strictly adhering to instructions given.
  • Writing on a topic in the Issue Essay section is about just using the knowledge that one already has in a way that makes sense. As test-takers are from different backgrounds, it is not expected that an individual from say, a Physics background will know much details about Beethoven’s music and vice-versa. So the test taker should stick to writing whatever he/she knows instead of developing new facts and figures then and there in the test center.
  • One needs to develop a response to whether he/she agrees or not with the claim in which they are discussing, and proper justification must be given for their reasoning and claims. After considering both sides of the issue, the test taker has to
  • +take the decision of the side the candidate can support confidently using reasons and examples.
  • After finishing typing the essay, one needs to be sure to spare few minutes for reviewing the essay to minimize grammatical and standout mistakes. Persistent serious grammatical and spelling mistakes may lower one’s score in this section.

How to structure GRE Issue Essay?

The test-taker should take a minute or two to plan out what he/she wants to write about the issue and create an outline so that the candidate stays on the topic and answer according to the instructions given.

Generally, it is expected that a GRE Issue Essay should contain 5-6 paragraphs –

  1. Introduction
  2. consisting one paragraph which sets the stage for what one plans to write the essay. The introduction should be structured in such a manner that the reader of the essay will get a signal that the test-taker had well understood the assignment and the specific instructions given. One should start the essay by writing clearly and convincingly about the issue given and stating his position on the given assignment. Next, he needs to introduce the reader with examples and reasons he is going to provide in the next three paragraphs with one or two sentences each for the forthcoming paragraphs. Overall he should give an impression to the reader that he has well understood the complexities of the issue and he needs to reflect that in the very first paragraph in good Standard English.

  3. Body Paragraph 1
  4. The strongest reason or the most specific explanation should be covered in the first body paragraph. The test-takers should support their position along with logical analysis. While citing an example in order to support the test taker’s reason, one should clearly explain why the example is supporting and the reason why and how it supports according to the test taker’s logic. Here the most important part is the clarification as to how the example cited is related to the topic and how that supports the essay of the writer.

  5. Body Paragraph 2
  6. The second best example is to be cited in the second body paragraph which is meant to be supporting his reason. Apart from that the same process as the first body paragraph is to be repeated.

  7. Body Paragraph 3
  8. While moving from one paragraph to another it is better to use a transition phrase which catches the attention of the reader. While stating examples in each of the paragraphs, the writer should make clear as to how each of these examples is related to the topic.

  9. Conclusion
  10. A nicely constructed conclusion is very important to make the whole essay writing look robust and meaningful. A careful summarization of the essay is necessary, and this paragraph consists of the recap of the thesis statement. Also, it is to be reminded to the reader that this paragraph is basically what the writer’s position in this essay is. Hence it can be stated that the concluding paragraph is basically a brief mirror of the introductory paragraph of the essay.

Tips or strategies for issue essay
  • The essay should not be overcomplicated
  • In essay writing, it is expected from the writer that the end product is a work of substance and that the facts to assert and defend the candidate’s position is true, at least according to the test taker. Clear writing supporting writer’s arguments may outweigh the use of bombastic words. As already mentioned earlier it is not expected from the writer that he/she will be familiar with all subjects. So it should be kept in mind not to overcomplicate the essay but to react to the issue assigned with logical and apparent reasons.

  • Not to think too much about whether the writer’s position is “correct” or not
  • There are two options for an issue – whether to agree or not. During writing the essay, it does not matter whether it the “right answer” or not as the purpose of the Issue Essay is to judge how well a writer develops an argument for a specific issue and how well he defends his position.

  • Including very specific real-world examples in the essay
  • Readers expect specific examples in the essay like the Vienna Convention for protection of ozone layer, Keynesian economic theory, etc. which are real-world examples.

  • First person and self-reference are to be avoided
  • Writers should be aware not to use "I" in introductory or concluding paragraphs. Though while citing an example in the form of a story from writer's own life a writer can use first-person pronouns in the body paragraphs.

  • Opposing view in concluding paragraph is to be nullified
  • While writing the essay a writer can introduce and explain opposing viewpoints which may be supported by some other writers. Then he/she should refute their arguments and explain logically the rationality of his/her thesis.

What is GRE Argument Essay?

The second type of essay in the analytical section is the Argument Essay. In this section “an argument” is given in which the author of the argument expresses his point of view on a certain topic. So here the test-taker is not being asked to express his argument about the topic, or in other words, he is not being asked to agree or not agree with the writer’s point of view. So what is expected from the test-taker is that he understands the essence of the author’s position and he evaluates author’s argument in a detailed and analytical way.

How to write Argument essay?

  • Much similar to the time allotted for Issue essay part, the Argument Essay writing part also got 30 minutes to be completed, and the test-taker is expected to chalk down and construct a response to the argument passage.
  • There are many unmentioned assumptions in the argument, and the test-taker needs to analyze how the argument is dependent on those assumptions.
  • If the test-taker feels introducing new pieces of evidence might make the argument more rational, so he may bring forward shreds of evidence to support assumptions.
  • After finishing typing the essay one needs to proofread the write up to be sure to minimize grammatical and standout mistakes.

How to structure GRE Argument Essay?

The test-taker should take a minute or two to understand the topic and identify the conclusion and then create an outline. The essay should contain around 5 paragraphs.

  1. Introduction
  2. First of all after the conclusion has been identified; important assumptions within the evidence and conclusion are to be found out. Also, unstated assumptions are to be found out, and explanations are to be given how the argument could be logically valid with respect to the assumptions made. In the first paragraph, the test-taker should show in his own words that he understands the argument well.

  3. Body paragraph 1,2 and 3
  4. Examples of evidence are to be given one in each of the paragraphs that would strengthen unstated assumptions. Also, flaws are to be identified in the author's reasoning. Alternative evidence can be put forward that might support the conclusion which could make the argument strong.

  5. Conclusion
  6. In short the test-taker should be able to prove that he has analyzed the argument and also he should point out the flaws. He could mention his specific logical recommendations that could help make the argument strong.

Tips or strategies for argument essay
  • The logic of essay should be clear and lucid as much as possible.
  • Instead of agreeing or not agreeing with the argument the test-taker should understand the essence of the argument and point out its assumptions.
  • Strong and firm statements should be used when the test-taker shows that he has found flaws in the argument.

GRE Analytical Writing Scoring:

GRE Analytical Writing scoring system is based on the combined effort of both human and machine and amalgamating them into a score on a scale of 0-6. The scoring system is “holistic” which means that the graders deliver score based on their overall impression of the essays of the test-taker. GRE Analytical Writing section consists of two parts – Issue Analysis and Argument Analysis and overall GRE Analytical Writing Score is calculated after both of the essays have been scored.

Human Grading – Each of the above-mentioned essays is graded primarily with the help of a human grader expert in this field on a scoring point of 1-6 (6 being the highest score).

e-Grading – After the essays have been graded by a human grader next they are sent to an electronic rater that is basically a computer-based program that grades the write-ups on parameters such as sentence construction, the standard of vocabulary used, etc.

Now if the score given by human grader and machine grader does not differ by more than one point, then the average of scores is the overall score a test-taker receives for the Analytical Writing section. However, in case the scores given by them differ by more than one point then a third grader (human grader) is given the task to score the essays. Now, in this case, the candidate will get a final score which will be average of the scores by the human graders.

The following rubric presents an idea of the grading scale based on the following scores –

  • 6 – “Outstanding” Essay
  • 5 – “Strong” Essay
  • 4 – “Adequate” Essay
  • 3 – “Limited” Essay
  • 2 – “Weak” Essay
  • 1 – “Fundamentally Deficient” Essay
  • 0 – “Unscorable” essay

Half point Increments

During the scoring process as mentioned above final scores from two graders are first averaged, and then they are rounded up to the closest half-point numerical figure. For example score of 3.4 is rounded up to 3.5 and so on.

Practice essays

The test taker can practice from a wide variety of sources available on the internet.

The candidate can browse through the sample essays by following the link- or

Here the candidate can get a detailed idea about these sample essays are supposed to be written, and they can work on their weak and strong areas to get the desired score. Sample essays are a good way of learning for any candidate aiming to ace the AWA section of the exam, as human beings learn a significant portion visually these sample essays may be the ultimate trump card for the candidate. AWA scores should not be neglected as they help form an overall profile of the candidate, an individual with a decent GRE score in all other sections but a poor score in the AWA section may not be offered admission into his/her desired college. In addition to this, the candidate can get into several chat forums that offer expert analysis and insights into the AWA section. One such example is-

This would help the test taker understand the essay grading nuances of the test which in turn can help him/her strategize accordingly.

Essay prompts and topics

The ETS website has a list of essay prompts from which the two types of essay are chosen from in the final GRE examination. No topic apart from the ones mentioned on the website will be coming in the exam. This proves to be a sigh of relief for candidates as having a cursory glance over the pool of topics mentioned in the website makes them aware of the type of essays that can come in the final GRE exam. Thus there is no fear of any surprise topic for a candidate who has gone through these topics thoroughly.

The links to the topics are mentioned below-

Test takers are advised to go through the list of issue and argument topics so as to get a brief idea about each one of them. This will help them evaluate the argument and understand the issues that the test taker needs to write based on the topic given.

Importance of AWA scores with respect to universities and colleges

The importance of AWA scores is entirely dependent on the particular university or college that the candidate is applying to. This is because some colleges/universities stress on the AWA scores while others do not. So the GRE test taker has to take an informed decision and plan from beforehand whether he/she has to score well in this particular section. However, it would be wise to score at least a decent amount of marks to keep the options open on all sides.

Basic word processor developed by ETS in which test taker will write the essay

Individuals taking the computerized test have to use the word processor which is developed by Educational Testing Service (ETS) organization. The word processor contains some basic functions like – texts inserting option, delete texts option, cut and paste option, undo option, etc. But spelling and grammar checking options are not available in this editor since that would defeat the purpose.