GRE Analytical Writing Section - A Comprehensive Guide
The Analytical Writing section is the first section of the GRE General Test. You need to complete this section first to go to the other sections, which may come in any order. This section is almost the same in the revised version of the test as it is in the current version. The answers need to be more specific now, and you do not get any choice for the two essay tasks. The current version, however, gives you a couple of choices in the ‘developing an argument’ task. The Analytical Writing section of the test is scored on a range of 0 to 6 with 0.5-point increments, and this is not changing with the revised version of the test.
How it is Structured
The Analytical Writing section of GRE is similar to the writing section of many other competitive exams, such as GMAT and TOEFL. In this section, you have two tasks for writing essays, which complement each other. The first is the Issues task and the second is the Argument task. While the first task asks you to develop a logical argument on the basis of a given topic, the second task requires you to critically evaluate a given argument. You need not provide your own viewpoints; rather, you need to analyze the given viewpoint to find out how logical and well developed the argument is. This section tests how well you can express complex ideas to develop a well structured argument, how efficiently you can handle a given situation, your ability for logically thinking and critically analyzing a given viewpoint, etc. In the revised version of the test, you are given 30 minutes to complete each of the tasks. For the current version of the test, however, you get 45 minutes to complete the first task, but the second task has to be completed within 30 minutes. To make sure that students taking the computer-based test do not get an extra advantage, a very basic word processor with limited functionality is provided within the test.
How to Prepare for This Section
In spite of the fact that there are lots of study materials and guide books available in the market, this section depends highly on the individual student’s abilities. The key here is to practice actual writing on different issues and get those checked by experienced instructors. The ETS website provides an extensive list of topics from which the topics in the test are chosen. You can select topics for both the Issue and Argument tasks from the topic pool and write on those for practice.
What You Are Tested for and How You Are Scored
Most students do not get scores as expected in the Analytical Writing section primarily because they overlook what they are tested for in this section. The ETS website provides details on what is measured in this section and how this section is scored. Remember to check the official website for updated information. Here we try to give basic understanding of how this section of the GRE test is scored and what you are tested for. Unlike the Writing section of the TOEFL test, it does not check your command over the English language itself. As a result, minor spelling or grammatical mistakes are sometimes overlooked. However, a certain level of understanding of the English language is required for admission at college level. You have 30 minutes to complete each of the tasks, so time management plays a big role. Keeping in mind that it is the logical structure of your essay that matters most, you need to allot enough time to think on the given issue. Thus the time you get for the actual writing becomes very limited. The readers who score the essays understand the time limitations of the test; actually, according to ETS, the essays written by the students are considered as of draft quality. Nevertheless, your writing has to be as complete as it can get within the allotted time. This section checks the essays for Independent Intellectual Activity also, which basically determines how original your essay is. If part of your essay is similar to other essay responses, or if you forget to properly cite any quote, reference, etc., ETS reserves the rights to cancel your scores. However, such cancellation is not mentioned in any future score reports. You can take a look at the scoring guides provided by ETS on its website to have a deeper understanding of the scoring procedure.
In the Analytical Writing section of the revised version, each of your essays is checked by two human readers; if the two scores do not differ by more than one point, then the average of the two scores is taken as the final score. In case the two scores differ by more than one point, a third human reader checks the essay to decide the final score. The writing section of the paper-based format of the current GRE test is scored in a similar way. In the computer adaptive format, however, each of the essays is usually checked by one human reader, and the e-rater software developed by ETS evaluates how accurate the scoring is. Again, if the two scores do not differ by more than one point, the average is taken as the final score. In case they differ, a second human reader checks the essay. The final score is the average of the scores given by the two human readers. The average of the final score of each of the two sections becomes the total score for the Analytical Writing section. Thus, you get only one score for this section. The score of this section is showed separately on your score card. Depending on the subject you take up, or the college or university you choose, the admission authorities may give added importance to the score you get in this section. Be sure to check with the institution to know what their requirements are.
This is the only section of the GRE test which is written and requires you to prepare and write down actual answers. The other sections, including the experimental sections, contain multiple-choice type questions (the only exception is, perhaps, the quantitative section of the revised version, which now includes Numerical Data Entry type questions). Thus, you will need more time to prepare for this section, as you need to practice writing a lot. Start your preparation well before the test date, and keep in mind what you are tested for in this section, and how it is scored.