GRE Tips – Tackling the Issue and Argument essays

Analytical writing

According to the GRE Board, analytical writing measures your ability to do the following,


  • articulate complex ideas clearly and effectively,
  • examine claims and accompanying evidence,
  • support ideas with relevant reasons and examples,
  • sustain a well-focused, coherent discussion [and]
  • control the elements of standard written English.

There are two sections in the analytical section of the GRE. The first is the issue essay and the second is the argument essay.

(1) Issue Essay

The issue essay requires you to present your perspective on an issue. For this you will be given two essay topics, usually a sentence or paragraph detailing a topic or an argument on a particular subject. You will then be required to take one of these topics and use them as the basis of your writing. You will have 45 minutes to come up with a compelling argument essay which details your own views on the topic presented to you. Realize that you do not have to agree with the provided statement but you will be judged based on how well you support your selected view with statements and relevant examples.

Examples of statements that would be provided to you:

  • The invention of gun powder was the single most destructive achievement in history
  • The main purpose of a college education should be to prepare oneself for a specific career
  • The drawbacks to the use of nuclear power mean that it is not a long-term solution to the problem of meeting ever-increasing energy needs.

(2) Argument essay

The second part of the analytical essay is the argument essay which requires you to argue a certain point. Here you will be provided with a statement and you will have 30 minutes to write an essay which  analyzes the argument’s reasoning.

Both essay questions are scored in a similar fashion through holistic scoring, whereby your essays will be assigned a single number between 0 and 6 by two human scorers. Your final score will be the average of the two scores. Holistic scoring emphasizes the interrelation of various thinking and writing qualities in an essay, such as content organization and syntax.

Tips on how to tackle the analytical writing section

  1. Before you start writing, analyze and take the argument apart by identifying the topic, scope, assumptions, facts and the conclusions brought forward.
  2. Write down the points you will be making. For the issue essay, it might be a good idea to write down the pros and cons and go with whichever ones that carry the most weight.
  3. Organize your Essay – Figure out what your opening, mid and conclusion sections will include. This provides you with an opportunity to come up with clever transitions to your arguments. Remember to always lead with your best arguments.
  4. Write your essay – Remember that you will be graded on the quality of your writing and how well you portray your understanding of the argument.
  5. Proof read – It is usually a good idea to make sure that you allocate some time to proof reading your work. Go through your essay to make sure that your syntax, grammar and vocabulary is properly used and in the right context.  This is also a good time to recheck the spelling and the placement of colons, hyphens and commas.

Most Useful Study Guides and Materials

Kaplan New GRE Vocabulary Flashcards The Official Guide to the GRE revised General Test GRE The Official Guide to the Revised General Test with CD-ROM, Second Edition GRE For Dummies, Premier 7th Edition, with CD

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