Writers' Center

Eastern Washington University

GRE Writing

Preparing for the writing portion of the GRE.

GRE Writing Overview

If you are taking the GRE to get into grad school, you will have to write two short essays of at least four paragraphs to show your ability to communicate effectively in writing. The Analytical Writing section consists of two 30-minute analytical writing tasks: Analyze an Issue and Analyze an Argument.

What They’re Looking for...

  • Adherence to the prompt’s instructions

  • Consideration of the issue/argument’s complexities

  • Logical organization and good development of ideas

  • Relevant examples

  • Use of effective writing conventions

  • Length (Though not part of the scoring criteria, length influences GRE scorers. They are more likely to give a longer essay a higher score. However, carefully develop your points with in-depth examples rather than simply rambling or tacking on extra examples.)

What They’re NOT Looking for…

  • Specific content knowledge or expertise on the topics

  • A straightforward “I agree and here’s why” approach

  • Perfect grammar and spelling (ETS readers ignore minor spelling and grammar errors, but having too many errors gives the impression that you did not proofread.)

Types of Essays

  1. Analyze an Issue Essay: State your position on an issue (for/against, pro/con, advantages/disadvantages) and support it with clear reasons and details.

Example Prompt: “Government funding should never support art that the majority of the population finds objectionable.” Write an essay in which you take a position on the statement above. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider whether the above statement is always true or whether there are exceptions to it.

  1. Analyze an Argument Essay: Evaluate an argument described in the prompt. Give reasons why the argument or assumptions behind it may not be valid, logical, or convincing (your critique). Offer alternatives to the argument or describe how it could be more convincing.

Example Prompt: “The market for luxury goods is declining. Recent reports show that a higher unemployment rate, coupled with consumer fears, has decreased the amount of money the average household spends on nonessential items. Since luxury goods are nonessential, this market will be the first to decrease in the present economic climate, and luxury retailers should refocus their attention to lower-priced markets.” Write a response in which you examine the argument’s unstated assumptions, making sure to explain how the argument depends on the assumptions and what the implications are if the assumptions prove unwarranted.

Planning Your Response (Prewriting)

Prewriting is crucial to writing a good GRE essay. If you don’t plan well and get stuck halfway through writing, you will not have time to go back and make significant changes to the essay. Spend 7-9 minutes of your allotted time planning each essay.

Prewriting steps:

  1. Analyze the prompt.
    • Look for key words. Make sure you understand what the prompt is asking.
    • Consider all sides of the argument.
  2. Brainstorm.
    • Issue essay: List pros and cons of each side of the argument and come up with a few specific examples. Choose the side with the best examples.
    • Argument essay: Identify the given argument’s conclusion and premises; list assumptions and flaws underlying the argument.
  3. Write a thesis statement.
    • Issue essay sample thesis: “I believe that government funding should [state your argument] support art that people find objectionable because [give reason] it supports individuals’ freedom of expression.”
    • Argument essay sample thesis: “The argument that [restate the given argument] luxury retailers should focus their attention to lower priced markets is not logical because [give reason the argument is flawed] it ignores important assumptions about consumers.”
  4. Outline.
Paragraphs Issue Essay Argument Essay


(4-5 sentences)

1. Establish the topic and context.

  1. Ask a rhetorical question, give an anecdote, give a fact or generalization, define a term

2. Address both sides: Preview the issue pros & cons.

3. State the thesis.

1. Summarize the main ideas and situation for the argument.

2.  Introduce assumptions or conclusions for the argument.

3. State the thesis.

2-4 Body Paragraphs

(5 or more sentences each)

1. Introduce each reason with a topic sentence (one reason/example per paragraph).

2. Support the reason with examples.

*Address possible counter-arguments

Method A: In each paragraph, discuss one flaw or critique of the argument (why the assumption or conclusion may not be logical), what evidence may be missing and how the flaw or problem could be improved.

Method B: Write one paragraph about what evidence or explanation for the argument may be missing. Write one paragraph about several flaws or critiques of the argument, such as why the assumptions or conclusions are not logical. Write one paragraph about how the critiques or flaws could be improved.

*Address possible counter-arguments

Conclusion Paragraph

(4-5 sentences)

1. Restate your position and summarize your main points.

2. Briefly consider the importance of your thesis statement.

Summarize the critiques or flaws with the argument and state how the argument could be stronger.

After you’ve put together an outline, you’re ready to start writing! Plan on taking about 18-20 minutes to actually write each essay.

Writing Strategies

Use transitions and connecting words to link ideas and show logical order.

To show reasons, causes, and effects

  • Examples: because, as a result, therefore, since, consequently

To signal contrasting or opposing views

  • Examples: while, even though, although, however, but, actually

To signal the purpose of the essay

  • Examples: effect, impact, premise, assumption, logic

Proofread for spelling and grammar (2-3 minutes).


1. Read sample essay responses on the ETS website to understand why they succeeded (or didn’t).

2. Practice writing essays with essay topic/prompts from the ETS website. Once you’re familiar with the process of writing each essay, practice with a timer set for 30 minutes.

Side note: The ETS website has a complete list of all the essay topics you could potentially get on the GRE!

3. Make an appointment with a Writers’ Center Responder to practice writing a timed essay or to get feedback on your practice essays.


Cracking the GRE, The Princeton Review, 2019

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