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13 Actionable Tips for GRE Analytical Writing

William Cohen
Published by William Cohen
Last Updated On: July 9, 2021

If you're looking to get into grad school, the GRE is one of your first hurdles.

The GRE is a standardized test that many graduate schools require before admitting you into their program. In order to get the best possible GRE score, it's important to know what you're up against and how the test works.

I have been in the test prep industry for more than ten years and I know the ins and outs of how to prepare for the GRE. Here is my best information, tips, and tricks on how to get ready.

What is the GRE analytical writing section?

Close up image of hand writing

Within the GRE tests, there is a timed written essay section that requires you to read and then write two essays about two separate prompts.

You are given a time limit of 30 minutes to plan, organize, write, and revise each essay.

On this part of the GRE exam, they want students to address relevant issues.

You should use your unique perspective and bring in current events during the course of your discussion.

One prompt will have you analyze an issue, while the other one will ask you to analyze an argument. Read the specific instructions and carefully address the matter raised in the issue task or argument task.

GRE Issue Essay

For the issue essay, you'll be asked to express your opinions on a topic of general interest.

You must evaluate the issue, understand its complexities, and develop a convincing argument supported by strong reasoning and concrete examples.

You will agree or disagree with the main point of the issue.

GRE Argument Essay

To complete the argument essay, you will have to analyze a given argument. Instead of agreeing or disagreeing with the argument, you will assess whether it is logically sound.

Your examples should provide a clear explanation of your points and discuss the claims of the argument.

Neither the issue task nor argument task requires research or outside knowledge of the topic, so your ability to answer with reasonable responses and defend your suggestions will affect your quantitative scores.

Both an automated grading machine and a human rater score these GRE essays. This ensures fairness and reliability in the grading [1].

5 Tips on How to get a good GRE score on the writing section

Top view of someone writing on a notebook

1. State your position early

The GRE expects you to have an opinion on the issue or argument and develop that position throughout the essay. You won't be able to do this if you don't state your view at the very beginning of your response.

Recognize that there is no "right" answer the grader is looking for. Instead, they want to see a clear, logical progression of thoughts that go from point to point in a well-organized and coherent essay.

They want to see your critical thinking and how you construct your argument step by step. Thus, you need to use your analytical skills to argue forcefully for your position, eliminate logical fallacies, and focus on analysis.

It's not enough just to make strong points; the grader wants to see what those points are made of in both the GRE issue essay and the argument one.

2. Use a standard pattern

A person writing a long paragraph

Although the evaluators are focused on the content of your issue or argument essay, you do not want them distracted by your essay organization.

When writing, it is wise to use a standard five-paragraph essay format as your general structure:

  • the first paragraph is an introduction where you state your thesis
  • the last one is a conclusion
  • the middle three paragraphs have information to support your premise

Each supporting paragraph should start with a topic sentence, end with a clinching sentence, and have a number of supporting sentences in the middle.

There are a number of opinions on how to organize your supporting paragraphs for the issue essay.

Some people suggest putting the weakest argument in the first section and ending with your strongest supporting point.

Others believe you should put the strongest supporting paragraph first and the second strongest last, leaving the middle for the weakest argument.

Of course, you should go with what makes the most sense for your prompts.

Related Article: GRE Analytical Writing Template

3. Paragraph content

When creating supporting paragraphs, you want them to be filled with various types of support content.

You should incorporate a variety of the following:

  • facts and statistics that support your thesis (the best support)
  • authoritative opinions or advice from experts in the field
  • relevant personal experience or opinion on an issue (with evidence)
  • an anecdote or specific examples to illustrate the idea or important point you are making

By doing so, each point will create the strongest position to support your presented argument in every body paragraph. This makes for a good GRE essay that will achieve a high score.

4. Writing tone

Handwritten essay

Much like you do not want your essay's organization to be jarring to the reader, you want the tone of your writing to go unnoticed.

In order to do so, you need to choose a tone that matches what you are trying to convey.

It is better to be well-reasoned than emotional and more professional than personal in the issue essay.

Speaking in the third person is generally considered the most professional approach in an essay, while speaking in the first person is usually considered too informal for graduate students.

However, there is nothing wrong with using the first person when stating your opinion.

5. Dress it up

Although you want to keep your writing tone smooth and professional, you should not be afraid to liven things up. Your goal is to make your writing readable and enjoyable without being too flowery or overdone.

You might want to consider starting your introductory section with a solid attention grabber. This will catch the reader's imagination and quickly bring them into the flow of your work.

You want to use varied sentence structure to change up the pace and intensity of your writing. A combination of short, choppy sentences with longer ones can create a good effect for readers.

In addition to sentence form, for a good essay you also want to be sure that you use some variety in your phrases.

Do not fall into the habit of using one word over and over again. Instead, find a synonym, pick the most suitable words and use them properly for the right effect.

3 GRE writing tips for the essay question

A student writing a long sentence on a notebook

1. Restate the question

The first thing you should do when thinking about your essay is to restate the question in your head. This will help you solidify the topic of the task in your mind and clarify what is being sought.

2. Outline

It is worth taking a few of your 30 minutes to come up with a plan before you write your first sentence. This ensures you stay on track and cover all your points as you write.

In order to do so, create an outline that contains the following sections:

  • purpose of the essay and thesis statement
  • main points (supporting evidence) for each paragraph
  • concluding remark about what you feel is most important in this topic

3. Argue both sides

As you think about the main issues for your supporting paragraphs, it is a good idea to analyze the prompt and come up with examples for both sides of the question.

For example, on a topic about cats and dogs, you might begin to argue that cats are better pets because they don't shed or bark (supporting evidence).

You might also counter-argue and explain that dogs provide more companionship than cats do (a different supporting statement).

This gives you the opportunity to choose the side you feel is most convincing. However, by incorporating both points of view and pointing out the objections, you demonstrate to the grader that you have fully evaluated the issue or argument.

When you present this type of response, it is most likely to result in a good score.

5 GRE essay tips and tricks for scoring higher

1. Don’t repeat yourself

Person writing on a notebook

You only have 30 minutes to write your essay, so do not waste time or effort by repeating yourself.

The graders are intelligent people and do not need you to use other words to repeat a point already made.

A good way to avoid repeating yourself is by using transitions such as "on the other hand" or "however."

These phrases will help you guide your reader through your essay and keep you on track.

2. Read lots of high quality sample essays

A 2 pages long quality essay

As part of your preparation, reading over sample essays on the GRE website and other GRE prep pages is a great way to get into the "GRE mindset."

Pay attention to what types of arguments work best and how your GRE essay should be structured.

You can also use these essays as prompts for future writing, giving you hours of practice before test day.

These sample topics are helpful for building your confidence, practicing your writing, and learning how best to explain assumptions and refute flawed arguments.

There are many free resources on the internet that will allow you to choose examples of a response from a good writer.

3. Practice, practice, practice

Nothing is going to prepare you better for the analytical writing portion of the GRE than practice essays [2].

More writing leads to better writing, improving your content, grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure, and punctuation.

“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.”

 

Gustave Flaubert, writer 

Make sure you do this writing under conditions as close to testing as possible. This will give you a sense of what it's like to be under time pressure and will help you work on your time management skills.

The more essays you write, the better prepared you will be for the test, so you should write on at least 6-8 prompts before ever taking the test. Official practice tests are a great way to work on your issue and argument essays.

4. Let someone review your essays

A woman reading an essay

If possible, get some feedback from people who are not familiar with the essay before you take the GRE so that they can catch small mistakes in grammar or logic for you.

Make sure you give your essays to someone who will provide you honest and critical feedback.

This is no time for sugar-coating - you want a thorough look at your work.

As you get more input, look for patterns in the feedback from people looking at them to see what mistakes or issues seem common.

5. Work on spelling and grammar

Proofreading an essay

Again, the GRE grader is analyzing your essays in order to understand your thought processes.

But since one of them is human, they will be taken aback by poor grammar and spelling.

Because of this, it's important to do your best to eliminate minor errors.

Keep in mind that if the grader has to reread a sentence because you have confused them, they are less likely to focus on what you're trying to say and will subconsciously be more judgmental about your content.

Important things to keep in mind when taking your GRE

Notes on a table

Here are a few other things to consider on test day as you work to get that perfect score:

  • Carefully read the prompt and take a few minutes to plan the essay
  • Practice time management with a timer
  • Read the prompt twice and brainstorm your ideas
  • Save a little time at the end to proofread for spelling and grammar
  • Break down the argument into its basic components: premise (the author’s position), evidence (facts that support this position), and reasoning (logical sequence of ideas used by the author)
  • Provide supporting details from both sides of the issue under consideration for a better score
  • Make sure that your essay is well-organized, with a strong introduction, body paragraphs, and a solid conclusion
  • Write concise sentences; don't use five words when one will do. This makes it easier for readers to understand what you're trying to say (and also saves time)
  • Avoid using cliches and overused expressions such as “the best” or “most important”
  • Stay away from vague speech like “many,” “some people say,” or “sometimes it seems that’’. These are all too general and don't help you develop a good argument in your essay

Should You Improve Your GRE Analytical Writing Skills?

Putting the time into GRE prep will allow test takers to do their best on the exam.

Writers who expect a good grade will have to demonstrate a well-written evaluation of the topic, arguing with clarity and detail as they respond to the statements in the prompts.

Practicing this art will lead to better scores on the GRE. Writing critical essays that refute assumptions, back up claims with solid statements, and challenge weaknesses will improve your analytical writing effectively.

Do not be tempted to skip over this practice. Instead, strengthen your skills so that you get better as an essay writer.

References:

  1. https://www.ets.org/gre/institutions/advising/student_workshops/module_b/preparing-for-the-analytical-writing-measure-transcript
  2. https://newswatchtv.com/2019/04/24/essay-writing-can-benefit-intellectual-development/

About the author

William Cohen

William Cohen

William is an electrical engineer whose great passion is helping promising students achieve their goals and dreams. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and expertise with aspiring learners from all over the world.

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