GRE Analytical Writing Section

Preparing for the GRE Analytical Writing Essays

The GRE Analytical Writing essay section includes two types of essays: the "Analyze an Issue" essay and the "Analyze an Argument" essay. Essentially the "Issue" essay asks the GRE test taker to form an opinion on an issue and create an argument to support it. The "Argument" essay asks the test taker to critique someone else's argument on an issue and evaluate whether or not it was well-supported.

The two essays are scored together, resulting in one score, ranging from zero to six at half-point intervals. The essays are scored by a trained reader and a computerized e-rater, with the two scores averaged together. The test interface does not include a spell checker, so applicants should budget their time carefully and be sure to allot time to review work for obvious spelling or grammatical errors.

Essays are scored holistically. This means that there isn't a specific value awarded for perfect grammar, nor a specific amount deducted for grammar mistakes, but the essays are evaluated as a whole. Educational Testing Service (ETS) lists critical thinking and analytical writing as the two most important factors in the holistic scoring of the essays.

Practice is the best way to prepare for the GRE test. ETS lists the entire pool of possible essay questions on its Web site, as well as several examples of essays that scored at different levels and explanations of why they received their scores. Some test takers begin practicing for the essay by writing sample essays without a time limit, and then find ways to trim their writing process to fit the 30-minute time limit. Others have preferred timing themselves from the start.

Analyze an Issue Essay

The "Analyze an Issue" essay presents an issue that can be discussed from different sides or perspectives. Test takers are then asked to discuss how they agree/disagree or discuss their views on the issue. In some cases they might be asked to discuss opposing views on the issue and why they would choose one view over the other.

Essays will be scored based on how well the writers argue their case. Essay readers are looking for clear, articulate arguments that are well supported. The essay will be scored both on how well the argument was developed and how effectively it was communicated. Using supporting examples is recommended. ETS cautions test takers to beware of arguments or examples that are too general.

Analyze an Argument Essay

In the "Analyze an Argument" essay, test takers are presented with a brief passage that contains an argument. It could be a passage that takes a view on something, or suggests a course of action based on certain information. The writer has to evaluate the assumptions made in the argument to determine whether the conclusions presented are sound.

Some points to consider when reading the argument are: What does the passage offer as proof? What assumptions does the passage make without any proof? Does the argument draw logical conclusions from one fact to the next or make leaps of faith that aren't supported?

It is important to read the passage and instructions carefully. The instructions for this essay tend to be very specific about how the argument should be analyzed. An example is: Discuss what specific evidence is needed to evaluate the argument and how that evidence would strengthen or weaken the argument.

ETS says that because this is a critical thinking task, analytical skills tend to be weighted most heavily in the scoring, however clarity of writing is also important.