Last Updated On: November 19th, 2020

The GRE Analytical Writing is one of three sections of the GRE General Test. If you are preparing an application for a graduate or professional school, you may be preparing to take this exam. If you are concerned about the Analytical Writing assessment in particular, or if you want to make certain that you are as prepared as possible for this important exam, read on!

General Information

The Analytical essay section of the GRE test contains two parts: Analyze an Issue and Analyze an Argument. Each of these parts is presented and timed separately, but one score will be given for the entire section. To best prep for this section, test takers will want to maximize their performance on both essays.

The written responses will be timed at 30 minutes each (without time accommodations), so you do not have a lot of time to prepare your analysis or to edit your work. To work well within this time restriction, you will want to be able to streamline these two aspects of your composition so that you can spend the majority of your time productively writing out your analysis. These are vital parts of your essay though, so do not be tempted to skip them! You can, however, plan in advance of test day so that these sections are more effective and require minimal time.

To shorten your planning time, you will want to practice prewriting all the essay prompts that you can access in both sections. With practice, you will find that the prewrite process for each section becomes easier due to the similarity of essay topics within a section. Remember though to review the prompt each time that you start an essay. The prompts are similar but will contain specific aspects that need to be addressed.

To shorten your editing time on test day, you will want to review and practice any grammar and composition concepts that may have gotten rusty since you last used them in high school or beyond. If you make fewer mistakes initially, you will not need to make as many edits, and the edits that you need to make will stand out for you more, making them easier to correct.
This entire section is graded on a scale of 0-6. Regardless of what goal score you have adopted, you will want to be aware of the test’s grading ideals. The ETS has published the following description of characteristics of top scoring writing (Scores 6 and 5.5): “Sustains insightful, in-depth analysis of complex ideas; develops and supports main points with logically compelling reasons and/or highly persuasive examples; is well focused and well organized; skillfully uses sentence variety and precise vocabulary to convey meaning effectively; demonstrates superior facility with sentence structure and language usage, but may have minor errors that do not interfere with meaning.“ Rubric descriptions for other scores are available at the Score Level Descriptions for the Analytical Writing Measure page.

From this statement, we can identify the priorities of the test for this section:

  • Organization
  • Support
  • Writing skill: Grammar and Composition Skills

To maximize organization in your essays, prewriting is vital. You need to know what you are writing about from the beginning of your composition to present it clearly to your audience. Stream of consciousness writing might be quicker, but this style would cause a deduction in points. Therefore, it is in your best interest to practice prewriting each type of essay until the organization process is nearly automatic. In addition to an efficient prewrite, your essay’s introduction will lay out your organizational strategy for your reader. A clear introduction, containing your thesis and the order of your essay’s supporting line of reasoning, will prepare your reader for your analysis and get them interested to read the details of your essay. You might consider including a paraphrase of your prompt in the introduction as well.

A format that can show up in both essay types is the Claim/Reason prompt. In this case, you might agree with both, agree with the claim, but not the reason, or agree with neither. You might also agree with the reason, but not with the claim. Remember that you do not have time to think too long on the prewrite, so you will want to pick the best option that you can come up with quickly and to clearly state the opinion that you have chosen in your introductory paragraph.

For a well-supported analysis, you will want to focus your essay on the how and why of your analysis; continue to tie your examples to your thesis and explain how and why these examples support your analysis. It is not enough to present an example and leave your reader to make the connections. Make certain to convince your reader that you understand the connection. It may help to think of the reader as someone that you know; pretend that this person is skeptical of your analysis, skeptical but convincible. During your essay, your purpose is to convince this skeptical, but interested, person to your opinion using an analytical writing style and a well-supported use of evidence and alternative explanations.

To improve your grammar and composition skills during test prep, you can review any material that you have from previous English courses. You can review books, videos, or online content for general information on all areas or specific information on topics that you know are problematic for you. You can also find a mentor or tutor to help you gain proficiency in these writing skills.

Analyze an Issue

In the Analyze an Issue essay, you will have 30 minutes to present and defend a point of view on an issue. These topics are intended to be approachable by students who are at an educational level to be successful in graduate or professional school. The issue tasks are primarily based on education or society. In addition to a statement of the topic, you will be given a prompt that will have you choose your opinion on the issue presented and will often provide additional information about what the reader will want highlighted in your essay. Remember that you only have 30 minutes to develop your analysis, so you will want to take a strong opinion for one side or the other of the issue. Do not fall into the trap of arguing both sides of the issue, or your essay will become weak, causing you to lose value in your support. This does not mean that you should be dogmatic in your argument, quite the opposite. You need to support your claim thoroughly, but make sure that you are only trying to support one claim, or you will run out of time.

A request for focus on counterexamples may come in the additional information, which often relates to considering both sides of the issue. You still want to take a strong side, but you will want to heavily incorporate the opposing viewpoints. Analytical responses to the counterarguments may include acknowledging the strength of the argument but stating that the point is not strong enough to discard your chosen thesis or presenting the alternate view and either refuting it or showing that it really supports your opinion. Regardless, although you are making a strong opinion in your analysis, you will not want to neglect your counterarguments. For support-type prompts, where the additional information does not particularly mention conflicting viewpoints, you may choose to use a counter-example as a hook in your introduction, but for defend-type prompts, where you are specifically charged with the task of addressing opposing views, you will want to integrate multiple counterarguments into the body paragraphs of your essay.

To prepare for the Analyze an Issue section, you will want to practice with each of the writing tasks thoroughly. It is a benefit that the issue tasks are provided in the Pool of Issue Topics, but to take maximum advantage of this, you will want to practice with all of the topics in both a support-type and a defend-type essay. As the site listed 149 topics in early November 2020, this will be ~300 essays. Once you have determined your test date, you can divide this number by the number of weeks that you have to prepare to find out how many essays you will want to do each week. To simulate the uncertainty of the test, you can assign each prompt a number and randomly select one each time until you have done them all and then repeat that process to write the reverse essay type. If you are testing in a shorter amount of time, you may need to choose to prewrite each prompt but to only write as many as you can.

Analyze an Argument

In the Analyze an Argument essay, you will be given 30 minutes to compose an essay that is a critique of the argument that is presented to you in the form of a persuasive statement. In this essay you are focusing on the premises used in the persuasive excerpt that you are given. You must analyze the writing sample to decide what the given argument is and how it is being defended. Knowledge of rhetorical strategies for persuasion will help you, so if you are not familiar with the terms associated with these strategies, find a resource to help you review them.

The argument tasks for the Analysis of an Argument section are available at the Pool of Argument Topics webpage for you to practice. As of 11/9/2020, this pool contained 175 prompts, so you can divide this value by the number of weeks that you have to prepare for the GRE Analytical Writing assessment to determine how many practice essays of this type that you will want to compose each week. Again, you can assign each prompt a number and randomly select an argument essay task each time until you have done them all. If you are testing in a shorter amount of time, you may still need to choose to prewrite each prompt but to only write as many as you can.

When you are prewriting your essay, in addition to identifying the major argument, you will want to be questioning the method of support for the argument.

  • What is the basis of support used, and what are the factors on which that basis relies?
  • What are the assumptions made, and are they valid?
  • What additional considerations might factor in the decision but are not mentioned?
  • What considerations would strengthen or weaken the argument made?
  • What would you want to know if you were making this decision or were in charge of this project?

The answers to these questions will form the basis of your analysis. Remember to address the obvious points. Do not let the readers wonder if you missed the obvious while you address only smaller details for fear of being generic. You can develop a deeply analytical response that includes multiple layers of evaluation and critical thinking.

Preparation is key for your performance and comfort on the Analytical Writing section of the GRE General Test. Putting in the time for preparation in advance will make the essay writing experience easier when it counts, on test day, and you will see the results of that ease and acquired skill in your GRE score report!

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