GRE Analytical Writing - Tasks
The Analytical Writing section of the GRE is always the first test section, and consists of two separately-timed 30-minute writing tasks: "Analyze an Issue" and "Analyze an Argument". The two tasks are complementary: one requires you to construct your own argument by taking a position and supporting it; the other requires you to deconstruct someone else’s argument by assessing its claims and evaluating its evidence.
While the Analytical Writing section is intended to evaluate critical thinking and writing skills that have been developed over a lifetime of education, everyone should spend time preparing for the Analytical Writing section to review the skills measured, how the section is scored, the scoring guides and score level descriptions, scored sample essays, and reader commentary. This will help ensure that the student is performing in a way that will maximize their score, by following the instructions in the way that is intended.
The first task is "Analyze an Issue", presenting an opinion on an issue of general interest followed by specific instructions for how to respond to the prompt. You will be required to evaluate the issue, taking into consideration its complexities, and to develop an argument that includes reasons and examples to support your perspective.
ETS provides six summary categories of "Analyze an Issue" tasks that may be presented on the GRE: agree or disagree with a statement, explaining your reasoning and supporting your position while considering strengths and weaknesses of the statement and how these influence your position; agree or disagree with a recommendation and explain your reasoning, focusing on specific circumstances in which adopting the recommendation would or would not be beneficial; discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with a claim, addressing the most compelling reasons or examples that could counteract your argument; discuss which view more closely matches your own position, and justify the reasoning for why you hold your views while addressing both of the views presented; discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with a claim and its rationale; or, discuss your views on a policy and explain your justification while considering the consequences of implementing the policy and how they impact your views.
The second task is "Analyze an Argument", presenting a very different challenge than "Analyze an Issue". The essay prompt is an argument with specific instructions: you will be required to evaluate the argument according to the instructions, considering the logical soundness of the argument rather than expressing agreement or disagreement with the position it represents.
ETS provides six summary categories of "Analyze an Argument" tasks that may be presented on the GRE: discuss what specific evidence would be required to evaluate an argument, as well as how that evidence could strengthen or weaken the argument; examine stated or unstated assumptions of the argument, while explaining how the argument depends on those assumptions and what the implications would be if they were erroneous; discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the presented recommendation and argument are reasonable, as well as explaining how the answers to those questions would help you evaluate the recommendation; discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to evaluate a recommendation and argument, while explaining how the answers to the questions would contribute to your evaluation; discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to explain whether a recommendation is likely to have the predicted result, while explicating how the answers could contribute to your evaluation; discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to evaluate whether a prediction and argument are reasonable, while explaining how the answers to the questions would assist your evaluation; discuss one or more alternative explanations that could rival a proposed explanation, and explain why your explanations could be a more plausible account of the facts presented in the argument.
The entire pools of test questions for both the Analyze an Issue and the Analyze an Argument assignments are available on the ETS website, including some that have been scored and commented upon. One good way to practice for the Analytical Writing section is to write responses to these prompts, and compare your answers to the graded essays. If you are trying to gauge how you will perform on test day, be sure to work under timed conditions. The essays are graded holistically, so it is worth spending time early in your essay to plan and structure your argument or evaluation.