GRE Analytical Writing - Basics
The Analytical Writing section is always the first section of the test to be administered and consists of two 30-minute essay-writing tasks, a task to "Analyze an Issue" and a task to "Analyze an Argument". The Issue task presents an opinion on an issue along with specific instructions on how to respond to the issue, constructing an argument with reasons and examples to support your views. The Argument task presents an argument and asks you to evaluate it according to specific instructions, evaluating its logical soundness rather than agreeing or disagreeing with it. ETS intends the tasks to be complementary: one task asks you to take a position and provide evidence to support your view, the other requires you to evaluate someone else's argument by assessing its claims and evaluating its evidence.
Both Analytical Writing tasks are intended to test critical thinking and the ability to articulate and evaluate complex arguments and discussions. The essays must be written in accordance with the provided instructions. The writing section is scored on a scale of 0-6 in 0.5 point increments, with a score of 6.0 representing a "cogent, well-articulated critique of the argument [that] conveys meaning skillfully" and a score of 0.0 representing a paper that is "off topic, in a foreign language, merely copies the topic, consists of only keystroke characters, or is illegible or nonverbal". Although the Analytical Writing section consists of two discrete tasks, the score is reported as a single combined number. The reported score represents an average of the scores for each task.
Individuals taking the computer-delivered test will use a basic word processor developed by ETS. The ETS word processor contains the following functionalities: insert text, delete text, cut-and-paste and undo the previous action. Tools such as a spell checker and grammar checker are not available in the ETS software, in part to preserve fairness with those examinees who must handwrite their essays at paper-delivered administrations. Handwritten essays will be transcribed directly into the test booklet, along with all of your answers to the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections. If you will be taking the paper-based test, you must ensure that you can write quickly and legibly, and you may want to devote additional time at the beginning of your essay to ensure that your thoughts are well-organized before you begin to write.
For both the computer-based test and paper-based test, the Analytical Writing portion is scored by a combination of human and computer grading. Each essay is reviewed by at least one trained reader, who analyzes the essay holistically and assigns a score based on its overall quality. The essay will also be reviewed by an ETS computer program called "e-rater", which helps contribute to the standardization of grades across different writing styles and knowledge backgrounds. If the computer and the human essay scores disagree by more than a trivial amount, then a second human will read the essay, and the final essay score will be an average of the two human ratings. Final scores on the two essays are averaged and rounded up to the nearest half-point interval; Analytical Writing scores are reported as a combined score for both writing tasks.
The ETS recommends that even superior writers spend time preparing for the Analytical Writing tasks, because it is important to understand how the skills are measured and how the tasks are scored. While it is important to be able to write quickly and clearly, drawing on the critical thinking abilities that you have developed throughout your undergraduate education or professional life, it is equally important to remain completely focused on the task at hand, and to ensure that every part of your essay reflects and contributes to the progression of your analysis and argumentation.
As a resource for students preparing for the GRE, ETS has published the entire pool of essay prompts that may be used for all Issue and Argument tasks. The tasks relate to a diverse range of subject, but no prompt requires specific knowledge. Spending some time reading, analyzing, and comparing the range of essay prompts for both writing tasks is one excellent way to grow in your understanding of what will be expected of you from the Analytical Writing section on test day. You should also practice writing a few essays, under timed or untimed conditions, to gain familiarity with how to analyze the types of essay prompts used on the GRE, and to gain an understanding of what sort of essay length and argument complexity to strive for on test day. You should analyze your own writing style and develop a systm of approaching and unpacking the sorts of prompts that will be presented on test day, so that you can reliably perform at the peak of your ability under test conditions.
In order to help students gain an understanding of how their Analytical Writing submissions will be graded on test day, ETS offers an online writing service called "ScoreItNow" that utilizes the same essay prompts and computer scoring algorithm that will be used on test day. For $20, you may purchase two GRE Analytical Writing topics in any combination (ie, two Analyze an Issue topics, or two Analyze an Argument topics, or one of each), complete the essays online (timed) or offline (untimed), and receive a computer-generated score as well as additional feedback for each submitted response. Students who enroll in Manhattan Review preparation courses will receive a curricular package of online resources including five full-length computer adaptive GRE General Tests, with computer-generated essay scores and feedback.