A lot of us dread writing, especially when it comes to writing for an exam. But worry not, because the GRE Analytical Writing can be aced with a few tips and strategies up your sleeve.
GRE Analytical Writing section:
Apart from the Verbal and Quantitative skills, the GRE also tests your ability to critically think about and analyze a given topic. They do not test content knowledge–for example, how much you know about the issue at hand. The topics are such that they are of general interest or issue to the public, such as education, healthcare, a philosophical view, etc.
They basically want to assess how well you can analyze a certain argument, evaluate and articulate your views, and sustain a coherent essay consisting of an introduction, body, and conclusion.
There are two tasks within the Analytical Writing section:
- Analyze an Argument
- Analyze an Issue
Time and Word Limit:
For each of the two tasks, you will be given 30 minutes. The GRE scorers consider the short time limit and assess your essay as a first draft. Nevertheless, you have to make sure that there are no persistent errors related to grammar, punctuation, or spelling. Occasional typos are okay and will not result in negative marking. However, always budget your time such that you have at least five minutes to go over any surface-level errors and typos.
Always spend the first 5-7 minutes planning your essay. Believe me, it will save you time later on. Moreover, it will make your essay more structurally sound and cohesive. Develop a rough structure of the essay on the spare sheets given to you during the exam. Also, remember you can always ask for more whenever you need it.
You will be given a ballpark word limit for each of your essays. Still, remember while practicing writing that ideal GRE essays (scored the highest by ETS) fall between a range of 600-750. So practice keeping a minimum of 600 as your word limit. And never exceed 1000.
Each of these writing tasks is scored within a range of 0-6, 6 being the highest score. More details on exactly what they put under each score are available on the ETS website: https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/analytical_writing/issue/scoring_guide
Analyze an Argument:
This 30-minute task will have specific instructions you will have to follow. Basic guidelines are NOT to agree or disagree with a viewpoint, but critically assess the logic and soundness of the argument presented. Moreover, you are not to claim whether the arguments are true or not.
Below are some tips that will help you score high in your Analytical Writing section:
- In this task, you will be assessing someone else’s argument, so make sure that you do not focus on what or how you feel about the issue at hand.
- Form your essay keeping the standard format in mind: start with an introduction, write separate arguments in each body paragraph, and finally, end with a conclusion paragraph.
- Use transition words and phrases to link your essay together. These words are, however, in addition to, to begin with, in conclusion, etc. This signals to your scorer that you are capable of forming connections and articulating structured thoughts.
- Even though the essay primarily evaluates critical thinking, grammar and punctuation are equally important. So make sure you proofread your essay at least once after writing it.
- Do not start writing immediately after reading the essay prompt. Plan your essay before you begin writing. It saves time and results in fewer structural errors.
Analyze an Issue:
Analyze an Issue is the second 30-minute task in the Analytical Writing section. In this task, you will be presented with an issue and asked about your viewpoints on the issue. This task generally tests how well you are able to critically think about a particular issue, and from how many perspectives.
The issues the task presents are of general interest to the public and can be thought about and applied to various situations and subjects. For example, your views on how technology is helping solve problems thereby reducing human effort.
Now, remember that the ETS scorers do not have a “correct” answer in mind. This means that there is no YES or NO answer to the above prompt that will get you higher scores. In fact, the GRE scorers believe that there is no correct answer to these issues. They want to assess if you are also able to grasp the complexity of the topic and articulate it in your writing.
Here are some of the tips and strategies to ace the Analyze an Issue task:
- Consider the issue presented to you to be complex–therefore, no simple answer such as YES or NO can suffice. Thus, plan your answer to showcase that complexity.
- Do not begin writing immediately after reading the prompt. Brainstorm the arguments related to the issue and then begin writing.
- For an issue essay, consider all the agreements and disagreements, or advantages or disadvantages (depending upon the instructions) to arrive at your stance or viewpoint.
- Use linking words such as however, nevertheless, although, moreover, etc.
- Use transition words such as firstly, furthermore, to conclude, etc.
- Remember the standard essay format when writing: begin with a general introduction to the issue with a thesis statement. This thesis statement explains your stance on the issue.
For example, if your issue is about discussing if technology has a harmful effect on the human mind, your thesis statement can say:
Even though technology helps solve problems quicker, it is making the human mind slow down.
Having a thesis statement towards the end of your introductory paragraph explains to the reader your viewpoint in the very beginning. Thus, your essay looks structured and is easier to follow.
- Dedicate one paragraph to each argument. Do not lump multiple arguments together in the same paragraph.
- Write a conclusion paragraph reiterating your arguments and your final viewpoint.
More than right or wrong argument, this task assesses your ability to think in complex ways and articulate them in a cohesive manner. So don’t worry about using the “incorrect” stance as long as you can explain your thought process in a logical manner.
Now that you have these tips and tricks for the GRE Analytical Writing, it is time to practice some! There is an excellent pool of issue and argument topics on the ETS website itself that you can use to practice your writing.
You can find these here:
Analyze an Argument: https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/analytical_writing/issue/pool
Finally, remember while preparing to read a lot of articles–this will help both in comprehension (which is good for the Verbal section) as well as in the Analytical Writing section.
And do not worry about not knowing about a certain issue or topic–they are not testing you on that. Use these tips and you will be ready to roll!