How to Write the GRE Analytical Writing Essays

How to Write the GRE Essays

GRE Analytical Writing Tasks
Getty Images | Nick Veasy


When people study for the GRE exam, they often forget about the two Writing tasks, the Analyze an Issue Task and the Analyze an Argument Task, facing them on test day. That's a big mistake! No matter how great of a writer you are, it's important to practice these essay prompts before taking the exam. The GRE Writing Section is a doozy, but here's a brief how-to for writing the essays.

How to Write the GRE Issue Essay:

Remember that the Issue task will present an issue statement or statements followed by specific task instructions that tell you how to respond to the issue.

Here's an example from ETS

To understand the most important characteristics of a society, one must study its major cities.

Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.

  1. First, choose an angle. The good news about the GRE Analytical Writing scoring is that you get to write about the issue from any angle. For example, you could do any of the following or choose an approach of your own:
    • Agree with the issue
    • Disagree with the issue
    • Agree with parts of the issue and disagree with others
    • Show how the issue has inherent logical flaws
    • Demonstrate the validity of the issue with comparisons to modern society
    • Concede a few points of the issue but refute the most important part of the claim
  1. Second, choose a plan. Since you only have 30 minutes, you need to make the best use of your writing time as is possible. It would be foolish to jump into the writing without scratching out a brief outline of the details and examples you want to include to make your strongest argument
  2. Third, write it. Keeping your audience in mind (faculty members and trained GRE graders), write your essay quickly and concisely. You can go back afterward to make changes, but for now, get the essay written. You can't be scored on an empty sheet of paper.

    More Sample Issue Essays

    Write the GRE Argument Essay:

    The Argument task will present you with an argument for or against something and give you specific details about how you must respond. Here's a sample Argument task:

    The following appeared as part of an article in a business magazine.

    "A recent study rating 300 male and female Mentian advertising executives according to the average number of hours they sleep per night showed an association between the amount of sleep the executives need and the success of their firms. Of the advertising firms studied, those whose executives reported needing no more than 6 hours of sleep per night had higher profit margins and faster growth. These results suggest that if a business wants to prosper, it should hire only people who need less than 6 hours of sleep per night."

    Write a response in which you examine the stated and/or unstated assumptions of the argument. Be sure to explain how the argument depends on these assumptions and what the implications are for the argument if the assumptions prove unwarranted.

    1. First, analyze the details. What facts are considered evidence? What is the offered proof? What are the underlying assumptions? What claims are made? Which details are misleading?
    1. Second, analyze the logic. Follow the line of reasoning from sentence to sentence. Does the author make illogical assumptions? Is the movement from point A to B logically rational? Is the writer drawing valid conclusions from the facts? What is the author missing?
    2. Third, outline. Map out the biggest problems with the prompt's logic and your alternative rationale and counterexamples. Come up with as much evidence and support you can think of to support your own claims. Think outside the box here!
    3. Fourth, write it. Again, keep your audience in mind (which rationale would work best to convince a faculty member) write your response quickly. Think less about semantics, grammar, and spelling, and more about demonstrating your analytical skills to the best of your ability.

    Sample GRE Argument Essays

    The Analytical Writing Tasks in a Nutshell

    So, basically, the two writing tasks on the GRE are complementary in that you get to formulate your own argument in the issue task and critique another's argument in the argument task.

    Please be mindful of your time in each task, however, and practice ahead of time to ensure your best score possible.