GRE study guide: Analytical Writing section

The GRE’s Analytical Writing section requires you to write two essays in one hour — one Issue essay and one Argument essay. You’ll be scored based on your ability to formulate a thesis statement and how well you argue your statement in the following paragraphs. While writing two essays in one hour sounds intimidating, it’s doable with the right planning and practice. Here are some tips for getting started.

Become familiar with sample topics. Educational Testing Services (ETS) — the creators of the GRE — publishes the entire pool of Issues and Argument topics on their website. The topics that you’ll see on your test will be taken from those pools, so becoming familiar and practicing with the topics listed will be an extremely helpful resource. ETS also has sample scored Issue and Argument essay responses available so you can see the difference between writing quality and scores.

Practice with GRE essay prompts. Like most subject matter, the best way to get better at writing and formulating an argument is to keep practicing. Here are some helpful tips for practicing writing an essay: 

  • ETS has 328 published GRE essay topics, any of which can appear on the Analytical Writing section.
  • Grade yourself with the official standards set by GRE rubrics. If you don’t think you can be objective enough, find a friend to score it for you.  
  • Keep within the 30-minute time limit. 
  • If you are taking the computer-based GRE, practice writing your essay using POWERPREP Online or another word processor. 
  • Leave time to edit your essay. 

Outline your essay before writing. Outlining your arguments before putting them into words will help you organize your thoughts and construct a cohesive argument. Begin by determining your thesis, then briefly outline your two to four examples or points of analysis that you will go into your body paragraphs. Complete your outline with a few bullet points under each of your points of analysis that explain how each supports your thesis. 

How to organize your essay 

Issue essays. The Issue essay section will provide you with an issue statement followed by a specific task that will tell you how to respond to the issue. Consider using this sample template for your essay: 

  1. Introduction. Start your introduction with a sentence that restates the issue followed by your thesis statement, or your main argument. In the following sentences, introduce your specific reasons and evidence you will provide in the following body paragraphs. A good rule of thumb is to have one sentence for each of the following body paragraphs.
  2. Body paragraphs (2–4). Your body paragraphs should introduce a main piece of evidence, provide an explanation on how the evidence relates to the topic, and demonstrate how your evidence supports your thesis
  3. Conclusion. Briefly summarize the points you’ve made in a way that slightly mirrors your introduction. 

Argument essays. The Argument essay section will provide you with an argument and asks you to analyze it based on logic. Consider using this sample template for your essay: 

  1. Introduction. Your introduction should restate the author’s opinion, summarize the facts provided to you that led to the author’s opinion or conclusion, and state your thesis in the final sentence on your view of the opinion based on evidence. 
  2. Body paragraphs (2–4). Your body paragraphs should introduce a flaw in the argument or an example of insufficient evidence, explain why that example is flawed, and offer alternative evidence such as alternate possibilities that the author did not include.
  3. Conclusion. Briefly summarize your thesis again and possibly provide some suggestions for changes that would strengthen the argument.