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Thursday, July 27, 2006

GRE Analylitical Writing Section (Essay)

GRE sets two writing tasks (analysis of an issue, and analysis of an argument), collectively called the Analytical Writing Section. The tasks are designed to test critical thinking and analytical writing skills. The essays come first on the test - 45 minutes for the issue and 30 minutes for the argument.

The first task on the GRE CAT is the discussion of an issue. The topic is intentionally open to interpretation, so that you can marshal your arguments in support of a position. It is rather like a debate. A good essay of this type will give highly specific reasons for a point of view, and back up its thesis with suitable examples. Minor errors in spelling punctuation or grammar will not prevent your getting a good mark - poor logical flow and vagueness will.

The second task on the GRE CAT is the analysis of an argument, which tests your ability to find flaws in apparently logical arguments. It does help if you have a basic familiarity with the terms of logic, so that you can successfully identify the premises and assumptions on which a conclusion rests. Here the mark you obtain is directly linked to the number of problems that you identify in the logic, and sensible suggestions you make to evaluate the conclusion. With a little training and practice, this task is actually easier than the issue.

* You have to type your response. Obviously there is no spell-check or grammar check available.
* The essays a marked by one human reader and one computer program (e-rater)
* Scores range from 1-6 (see the ETS scoring guidelines)
* Topics come from the pool of issue and argument topics on the official GRE website

Analysis of an issue

Follow our guidelines and use our format for a stress-free approach to writing a good essay.


  • You are expected to explain your position on an issue. You must state and justify your opinion of the topic under discussion.
    1. All the issue topics will have two sides.
    2. There is no "right" side: You have to decide your position on the topic after consideration of the pros and cons.
    3. Your position will usually be 80 or 90% in favor of one side.
  • Always spend about 5 minutes thinking and planning. (Draw up a table of points before deciding which side will make the most persuasive essay.)
  • Always use specific examples to support your point of view.

Format of your essay:

Part I - introduction

Write an introduction explaining in your own words what the issue is about. Try to generate interest in the topic under discussion, and make it clear why the topic is controversial. End your paragraph with a thesis statement. (A thesis statement is a clear summation of your point of view.)

Part II – the body of the essay

Write 2-3 paragraphs to support your thesis. Each paragraph should introduce one point. Explain the point and give a specific example wherever possible. You can also give reasons why the point is important or relevant. Be sure to give connecting words and phrases (links) at the beginning of each paragraph to give a sense of logical flow.

Part III – qualification

Since the issue is never entirely black or white, you do not want to sound too dogmatic, and so you ‘qualify’ (moderate) your position (i.e. you usually explain that under certain circumstances the other side of the issue might be correct). This may involve a sentence beginning with "but" or "however"...

Part IV – conclusion

You cannot leave the essay without reinforcing your thesis. If you have introduced a qualification into your argument, you will need to draw the essay back to your thesis. Try to avoid simply repeating what you have said; find something general to say that makes it clear that you have finished.
Note the following:
  • The introduction and the conclusion can be very general, but the body of the essay must be specific.
  • Do not give a long list of examples all illustrating the same point. Stick to the one point-one example method.
  • The examples can be from your own experience or from your reading or knowledge of current affairs, history etc.
  • Good vocabulary is an asset, but don’t use long words if you are not sure of the meaning.
Analysis of an argument

Follow our guidelines and use our format for a stress-free approach to writing a good essay.


* You are expected to analyze the logic of the argument. You must not start giving your opinion of the subject matter of the argument.
(For example, if the argument claims that a certain newspaper is not selling well because it has recently increased its price, you are not expected to give views on what makes a good newspaper, or on marketing strategies. You simply have to discuss whether the evidence provided warrants that conclusion.)
* All the arguments will be seriously flawed. You will lose marks if you do not identify the major faults. The main categories of logical error that you should be able to spot are:
1. Generalizations
2. Problems with surveys and statistics
3. False causes
4. False analogies
5. Hidden assumptions
6. Inadequate authority

Format of your essay:

Part I - introduction

Write an introduction explaining in your own words what the argument claims.
End your paragraph with a statement such as:
However, this conclusion seems unwarranted, or
However, the information provided does not justify this conclusion or
This conclusion is not well supported / fails to convince/ is flawed etc.

Part II – the body of the essay

Write 2-3 paragraphs to identify and explain the faults that you have found in the argument.
For example, in the case of the ‘false cause’ you can explain what alternative reasons or other causes might need to be considered. In the case of inadequate surveys you can explain what is omitted in the methodology. In the case of misleading statistics and figures you can discuss what is wrong with the information.

Part III – what else is needed?

The final paragraph is the place to cover what else you would need to know before you are able to decide whether the conclusion is actually valid. This ‘what else’ paragraph obviates the necessity for a formal conclusion. Useful statements are along the lines of:
In order to decide whether, indeed, ABC is actually the case, it would be useful to have access to XYZ.
XYZ might include one or other of: Expert opinion (e.g. business consultant) / statistics / surveys / research data etc..


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