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How Long Should a GRE Essay Be?
Everything You Need to Know

Last Updated On: April 19, 2021

Students taking the GRE test usually have the same question: What's the ideal length for GRE essays?

The ETS hasn't defined the word count, making it hard for test-takers to know what works. Thankfully, we can get some answers from thousands of previously rated GRE essays. Read on to see what they imply.

The GRE Essay Section

Writing an essay

The GRE essay is often called AWA, which stands for the GRE Analytical Writing Assessment.

The name already tells us that the GRE essay tests two things: analytical writing and critical thinking skills.

In total, you have 60 minutes to write your essay. The time is split between two analytical writing tasks that are a part of the GRE essay section:

  • #1 - “Analyze the Issue” - 30 minutes
  • #2 - “Analyze an Argument” - 30 minutes

What’s the Issue Task?

This part of AWA mainly evaluates your critical thinking skills.

You’ll be given a prompt, i.e. a statement, that you need to agree or disagree with and explain your stance on the issue throughout the length of your essay.[1]

To successfully solve the task, you must convince the reader that your stance is valid by presenting evidence and examples. It would help if you also offered an alternative perspective on the issue that resonates with your outlook.

What’s the Argument Task?

Students writing in a classroom

The second part of AWA mainly evaluates your analytical writing skills, i.e. your ability to interpret, analyze, and evaluate arguments.

You’ll get a short written passage that presents an argument you need to evaluate. [1]

To give a satisfying response, focus on how the writer supports his opinion, hypothesis, and implications. In this part of the essay section, you're not supposed to express your opinion or whether you agree or disagree with the claims.

What's the Ideal GRE Essay Length?

Research shows that GRE essays with 500-600 words get the highest points [1], indicating there is some correlation between the length of an essay and the score.

Many students write really long GRE papers because they think a high word count will get them a better score. But it might not be that simple. First, other things matter more—like grammar, sentence structure, your essay's overall structure, and clarity of your main points.

500-600 word count makes sense from a practical standpoint too. Longer papers give you more room to justify your arguments and create better content overall. On the other hand, writing even longer papers and maintaining cohesiveness isn’t possible due to time restrictions.

The GRE Essay Scoring Process

A woman reading essays

Two graders initially score the GRE essay. You're first given points by one human grader and a computerized program developed by the ETS, the e-rater.

You can score from 0 to 6 points in half-point increments. Your paper won’t be scored based on how long it is at all.

Even though you have to write two essays to cover both tasks, the ETS reports only one score, which is the average of the two scores.

The e-rater may sometimes give more points to more extended essays, whether an essay is off-topic or if the content is overall poorly written.

However, if the human rater’s score is too different from the score given to you by the e-rater, a second human grader will be brought in to reassess the quality of your essay and give it a new score.

Your final score will then be the average of the two scores assigned to you by human raters.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education”

 

Martin Luther King

Here’s what the highest scores for both sections of the GRE essay entail:

Section Score Level 6 (description)
The Issue Essay A student’s essay:

  • Presents a clear position on the issue
  • Supports the position with a relevant example, fact, and/or reason
  • Impeccable grammar, structure, and sentence variety
The Argument Essay A student’s essay:

  • Clearly identifies relevant aspects of the argument
  • Ideas are organized and connected logically throughout the essay
  • Impeccable grammar, structure, and sentence variety

4 Steps on How to Divide Your Time

Practice writing essays

To make the most of your time on the test day, plan your essay writing in advance. We’ll walk you through the 4 steps that ensure you’ll produce killer essays and help you decide how much time you need per each step.

1. Read (3 minutes)

Students often make the mistake of skimming through the paragraph and the prompt, thinking this will save them more time for the writing part. Though this may be true, you risk misunderstanding your assignment and writing an off-topic essay.

Instead, read the paragraph and instructions at least two times. You already know what you’ll be asked to examine and present in both tasks, so you could immediately look for those specific things while reading.

2. Think (3 minutes)

Before you get to writing, know what you’re writing about. Brainstorm and come up with your essay thesis. Jot it down. This will help you stay on topic throughout your essay.

Now that you’ve developed your main point, think of examples and facts that will help you support it.

Finally, craft an outline for your essay that includes at least four paragraphs in total:

  1. Introductory paragraph
  2. Two body paragraphs
  3. Conclusion paragraph

3. Write (20 minutes)

After your quick test prep, you’re finally ready to write. Make sure you use a comprehensive and varied vocabulary and pay attention to grammar throughout your essay.

By the time you’re done writing, you should have at least four paragraphs and a 500-word long essay. Each paragraph should help you support your thesis and reasoning, and every sentence should serve a specific purpose rather than serve as filler content.

4. Edit (4 minutes)

In this segment, check if you’ve included the most important points and examples in your GRE essay. Also, quickly check the length of your essay. Instead of counting words, try counting lines—usually, 500 words are equal to about 30 lines of text.

Lastly, check other ways you can make your essay better. Here’s a brief checklist of 5 questions to answer:

  • Have you been using the same words excessively?
  • Can you replace them with synonyms?
  • Are your paragraphs divided in a way that makes sense?
  • Are you being wordy to make your essay longer?
  • Have you supported your main point well enough?

10 GRE Test Prep and Writing Tips

Students studying together
  1. Include essays in your test prep. Many students focus only on studying for the test during their GRE prep. But, if you want to ensure you’ll be able to write a solid, 500-word long essay in just half an hour, you have to prepare at home. Use examples of previous essays as your prompts and start your practice.
  2. Know your weaknesses. During your test prep, you should get a pretty good idea of where you could improve. Are you struggling with grammar or dividing your content into paragraphs in a way that makes sense? Whatever it is, take note of your weaknesses and focus on improving them with targeted practice.
  3. Read essays written by others. Previous GRE essays with high scores can serve as great examples of what the raters want to see when scoring your essay. Use them as your guidelines for a high score during the test.
  4. Learn new words and quotes. It might seem silly, but learning new words and quotes for essay writing should be a part of your test prep when you’re supposed to write such a long essay and showcase your ability to write varied sentences.
  5. Logically organize your essay. You should have at least 4 separate paragraphs for an essay of this length: one introductory paragraph, two body paragraphs, and one conclusion paragraph. It's also essential you divide them in a sensical way. Make sure each section brings something new to the table, like a unique point or specific examples.
  6. Learn how to support your arguments. The longer the essay, the more room for filler and irrelevant content that undermines your score. To make sure you’ll use only relevant examples and evidence to support your point on the GRE, practice logical reasoning and supporting your arguments during your test prep.
  7. Avoid first-person. Don’t use first-person pronouns like “I” or “we” in your essay. Also, avoid phrases that hint at human subjectivity like “I believe” or “in my opinion.”
  8. Take a clear stance. Pick only one side of the argument you’ll support in your essay. It’s important to clearly refute the opposing opinion in your conclusion as well.
  9. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t use several sentences or words when one will do. Even though your job is to write a long essay, you don’t want to sacrifice quality for length. Raters want to see straightforward responses free of filler words.
  10. Tackle objections early on. Instead of pretending your thesis is perfect, address possible complaints your readers might have in your essay and explain why you’re still taking the stance you chose.

Recommended Article: Best GRE Test Day Tips

The GRE Example Prompt

Practice might not always make perfect, but it could help you create better, longer essays and get a higher average score. Before the test day, take at least a couple of practice essay prompts and get to work.

You can find samples of the argument essay prompt and the issue essay prompt on the ETS website. Besides that, they also gave you examples of sample responses and the scores they got. [1]

Wrapping Up

Many students think their final grade depends on how well they write. Though your writing skills might help you get a better grade, your score will ultimately depend on how well you’ve prepared for the essay.

The best prep strategy is to take previous essays. This will help you know what to expect in advance.

Lastly, keep in mind that length is only one of the aspects of your essay, and definitely not the most important one. If you have well-developed arguments, varied sentences, and no grammatical errors, the length may not matter that much.

Reference:

  1. https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/analytical_writing/argument/sample_task

About the author

Aria Miller

Aria Miller

Aria had a keen eye for details since she was a small child. It comes as no surprise that she’s chosen to pursue a career as a professional editor. She is very passionate about helping others achieve their full potential, which is one more reason she enjoys helping young people prepare for their exams.

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