How Is the GRE Analytical Writing Score Calculated?

William Cohen
Published by William Cohen
Last Updated On: October 4, 2022

GRE consists of three sections: verbal reasoning and quantitative sections, which are scored the same, and the analytical writing section, which is scored differently.

An important part of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) prep is knowing what the test looks like and how each section is scored.

Today, I’ll use my decade-long experience teaching GRE prep to explain all about analytical writing, and most importantly, how this GRE section is scored.

Summary of the Key Findings

  • The analytical section on the GRE contains two essays.
  • The essays are scored on a scale of 0 to 6.
  • A single score is provided for the section. The score is an average calculated from a score provided by a human rater and software.

How Scoring for Analytical Writing Works?

male student reading a book and writing

Verbal reasoning and quantitative sections have a scaled score calculated based on the number of correct responses. Their scores are counted in increments of one.

Analytical writing measure is different. There aren’t any questions; this section contains two essays called Issue and Argument task.

Test-takers are given half an hour for each essay. The scaled score is counted in half-point increments of 0.5, from 0 to 6 [1].

To reach the final GRE analytical writing score, the essay gets rated by one trained rater (a person) and an e-rater (a computerized program developed by ETS). The raters use a 6-point scale.

Both raters give scores by identifying essay features related to writing proficiency and evaluating them. If both raters’ marks are close, the average is used as the final analytical writing score.

If the raters’ marks disagree (the final score differs by more than one point), a second human rater is asked to rate the essay. In this case, the final score is the average of the two human scores.

“Although the GRE® Analytical Writing measure contains two discrete analytical writing tasks, a single combined score is reported because it is more reliable than either task score alone.

The score reported will represent the average of the scores for the two tasks.” ETS

The final scores for the analytical writing measure are holistic. This means the overall quality and sentence structure are more important in the scoring process than specific errors.

Also, the two scores are rounded to the nearest half-point interval.

Score Scale Breakdown

woman working on a desk

The essay writing section tests students’ critical thinking.

Test takers have to show the ability to present a position and express complex ideas, and control grammar and spelling.

As mentioned, scores are presented in a 0-6 range [2].

Here’s the breakdown of the six-point holistic scale for GRE essays:

  • 0 — This score happens when the assigned task is off-topic, in a foreign language, or copies the topic. The candidate’s writing skills can’t be evaluated.
  • 0.5 and 1 — Fundamentally flawed. The candidate’s writing skills are poor and confusing. There’s no development in the essay, and it contains severe errors throughout.
  • 1.5 and 2 — Seriously flawed. Writing ability is seen as weak. There’s a lack of analysis and development. The sentence structure is poor, and the meaning isn’t clear.
  • 2.5 and 3 — Limited. This raw score means that the candidate showed some competence for analytical writing, but it's flawed. Usually, there are organizational issues, weak vocabulary, and poor sentence structure, which results in a lack of clarity.
  • 3.5 and 4 — Adequate. This score shows there are certain writing skills. The main points are supported with relevant evidence, the organization is decent, and the essay is clear, although it still contains some errors.
  • 4.5 and 5 — Strong. A human score of 5 means that the essay is well-developed, focused and uses appropriate vocabulary to express the meaning clearly. There are still some minor errors.
  • 5.5 and 6 — Outstanding. This is the highest score on the GRE analytical writing section, and it shows that the essay is perfectly organized and focused. There's a variety of sentences, and adequate vocabulary is used.

How ETS Checks the Rater’s Performance?

papers in stack

ETS uses different strategies to check the rater’s performance and ensure the same standard is used.

Firstly, the raters have to score a calibration set of 10 essays which need to have 90% accuracy.

Only then is the rater allowed to assign scores.

To check GRE score accuracy, previously scored essays are included among the unscored essays.

This way, the raters' scoring accuracy is monitored.

ETS also has scoring leaders who are experienced raters.

They are in charge of monitoring the raters’ performance by checking the scores they give.

They also provide support and retraining to the raters.


Is the GRE Essay Score Important?

GRE essay score is important, but it’s less critical than verbal reasoning and quant scores.

In most cases, the essay score won’t make or break your admission.

How Will Your Essays be Scored?

Your GRE essays will be scored on a 0 to 6 scale. If the human and software scores differ, a second human score will be provided, and the final score will be the average score of the two human scores.

Make sure to practice your writing skills before the test day.

Check online materials that have an essay task, and concentrate on topics commonly given on the GRE.

Finally, study how GRE essays are evaluated to have a clear picture of what to expect in the writing section.

To improve your GRE scores check out our list of the best GRE prep courses.


  1. https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/scores/how/
  2. https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/analytical_writing/score_level_descriptions/

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