For many GRE test-takers, the most intimidating portion is the Analytical Writing or Essay Section. You also have to write two essays in which you explain and defend your answers, with only 30 minutes for each. There’s a lot to consider: How long should your GRE essay be? How should it be formatted? And how do you answer?
To help you prepare for the test, we are sharing valuable GRE essay tips learned from our collective experience reviewing and grading thousands of student essays. You’ll be able to gain insight into the acceptable length of the essay, the structure and answer format, as well as have access to scored GRE essay examples to study and review. This will help you reach your target GRE percentiles for the Writing section.
We’ll also break this out by the two types of GRE essay prompts: the GRE issue essay and GRE argument essay. These GRE formats come with specific instructions and require distinctly different approaches. But both will test your ability to write a persuasive statement.
In our opinion, the easier essay task you’ll face on the GRE test is the Issue essay. Here, you are asked to analyze a statement then respond by either agreeing or disagreeing with it. You will have to elaborate and support your answer with data, logic, and real-world examples.
In order to score well in the GRE issue essay, you need to choose a side. There is no gray area or middle ground.
To better understand the way this test is structured and answered, here is a scored essay example with detailed tips on how to further improve the score.
People’s behavior is largely determined by forces not of their own making.
Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.
I believe that people determine their own behavior through their actions because reacting to challenging situations changes greatly depending on the person, people with similar situations such as siblings differ to great extremes and as the brain evolves making choices for oneself is a lot more probable.
First, the way in which people react to challenging situations largely depends on their own control of their emotions thus affecting their outward behavior. A study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Human Development by Professors John Krakour and Diana Arnold analyzed people’s reactions to a challenging situation through a controlled experiment. A group of fifty participants was randomly selected consisting of people with similar socio-economic backgrounds, racial identities and age and gender to reduce the number of external variables. Each person was asked to order a cup of coffee from the same local establishment; the baristas were instructed to stall that person’s order and eventually get it wrong. Professor Krakour and Arnold observed the study participants’ reactions to this unfavorable situation and found no patterns in their data sets. They concluded based on this data that people’s reactions are largely determined by their own control of their behavior and the same situation will provoke different behaviors even from people with similar backgrounds creating evidence that people’s behaviors are not determined by forces outside of their control.
The previous paragraph described how people react and behave differently to the same situation, another persuasive argument is that siblings whose nurture, home and family situations and genetic makeup are extremely similar to each other behave differently providing evidence that forces outside of own’s control are not very prominent in determining behavior. Researchers Joanna Goldstein and Andrea Schmid conducted a study at Stanford University evaluating 25 sets of siblings and their behavior patterns in different situations. Their experiment consisted of controlled interviews with each of the siblings individually and asking them a series of questions about how they would behave given a certain situation. Their evidence presented large ambiguities between sibling responses and displayed little correlation between responses. Goldstein and Schmid concluded that behavioral actions are dependent on the individual rather than forces outside of their control such as genetic make-up or home environment.
In addition to the previous stated arguments, there is sufficient evidence that as the brain evolves, behavioral actions become more of a choice and within a person’s control. A study at the University of San Francisco examined behavioral control of a group of 30 people aged five, 30 people aged twenty-five and 30 people aged fifty finding sufficient evidence that with age behavioral actions become more contained and conformed to society’s standards.
In conclusion, my belief that people largely determine their own actions rather than outside factors and forces out of their control is supported by a variety of studies examining different aspects of behavior and manipulating a variety of variables.
Score: 4.0 (55th percentile)
▪ Write more. This submission is around 480 words. Ideally, students should aim to produce nearly twice as much content within the time limit. Incorporating free-write exercises into their prep can help students tone down the internal censor that blocks the liberal flow of content.
▪ Cite a fake study. You need evidence to back up your position, and you’re probably not an expert on whatever you’re writing about, so just fake it! The trick is to concisely present your supporting information and make it plausible by sprinkling in specifics. You can follow the DRI template that we teach over at Achievable GRE to breeze through this part. Remember – a robot grades this, not a human.
▪ Provide some orienting context before offering one’s opinion on the matter. This helps ensure the autograder detects your thesis and concluding sentences. Including more fluff in both the intro and the outro will improve readability while also increasing word count.
For the GRE Argument Essay, you are not asked to agree or disagree. Instead, you are being asked to look at an argument and assess its logical soundness. You will need to critically examine the line of reasoning and evidence presented by the author.
Remember this: your response should be able to point out the weakness of the statement and find the flaws in the argument.
The following appeared in an article written by Dr. Karp, an anthropologist.
“Twenty years ago, Dr. Field, a noted anthropologist, visited the island of Tertia and concluded from his observations that children in Tertia were reared by an entire village rather than by their own biological parents. However, my recent interviews with children living in the group of islands that includes Tertia show that these children spend much more time talking about their biological parents than about other adults in the village. This research of mine proves that Dr. Field’s conclusion about Tertian village culture is invalid and thus that the observation-centered approach to studying cultures is invalid as well. The interview-centered method that my team of graduate students is currently using in Tertia will establish a much more accurate understanding of child-rearing traditions there and in other island cultures.”
Write a response in which you discuss what specific evidence is needed to evaluate the argument and explain how the evidence would weaken or strengthen the argument.
Dr. Field is exploring the difference between to methods of studying the rearing behaviour of the children of Tarsis. Dr. Feild compares her study process to Dr. Karp’s process; however, comes to an unsupported conclusion that her process by using interviews is more accurate than the observation centered process of Dr. Field. This conclusion is in accurate because Dr Karp makes inappropriate assumptions, correlates two behaviors that are not related and provides insufficient information.
One of the primary falicies that Dr. Karp makes an inappropriate assumption about the relatioship between children raised in Tarsis and parental influence. For instance, Dr Karp assumes that becase the children of Tarsis speak more about thier parents during interviews than other adults in the village. From the interview, Dr Karp assumes that the children must not have been reared by the village. This is an inappropriate assumption to make, because there is no proof that the two are correlated. Without the total number of children studied and data that supports the asumption it is difficult to understand if the interview indeed we telling about the population. Dr. Karp could solve this by speaking to all adults in the village and understand if they indeed had raised more children than their own. This missing information from the parents in the village would help determine the percentage of children that had been influenced by other people in the village.
The second falicy of the argument made by Dr. Karp is that she confused the correlation between childrens rearing behariour and their speaking about thier parents. For example if a child gets a ride home from school every day by the same person from the village, they should be considered to be raised at least partially by members of the village. However, that same student may talk about his/her biological parents during that trip. Because kids talk more about their parents does not prove that the observation approach to studying characteristics is in correct. The Interview process does not account for the actions and interactions that a child has with the people of the village. Without identifying how often a child of Tarsis interacts with other people of the village the study is in accurate. Dr. Karp could solve this correlation confusion by asking – during interviews, about their intereactions with other people from the village. Knowing the information would weaken Dr Karps argument by confirming if the children indeed interact and are indflunced by people in their village. To strengthen Dr. Karp’s argument, she could be using her interview process to confirm that children are more influenced by their biological parents than others in the village.
The last fallicie that is made by Dr karp is that in order to make the conclusion that the interview process of studying a culture is supirior to the observation method additional information and data is needed. For example, the interview process does not account for the behaviours of the children. This is a concern and does not prove Dr. Karps point because she does not have suffient data on regarding the childrens actions and interaction with the others of the village. To solve this, Dr. Karp should interview the families to understand what percentage of children from the village spend time with other people from the village. It should be understood what activies the childre learn outside the home with their biological parents.
In conclusion, Dr. Karps argument that the interview process is superior to the observation process can not be concluded as there is incorrect collelations made, insuffiecient evidence and inappropraite assumptions.
Score: 4.0 (55th percentile)
▪ Spell check! This response is filled with spelling and grammar issues. We recommend you move fast and ignore spelling mistakes at first in order to get more words on the page, but you should make a second pass over your essay to clean up any obvious errors. Your spelling and grammar doesn’t need to be perfect, but it can’t be so poor that it sounds an alarm.
▪ Open with a non-judgmental summary of the presented argument. This boosts word count and helps to make the submission internally consistent. This response is a little shy of 600 words, and ideally, students should strive to write several hundred additional words within the time limit. So it doesn’t hurt to repeat part of the prompt.
▪ Explicitly describe how the additional information could both strengthen and weaken the presented argument. Doing both is an easy way to increase word count (while improving compliance with the instructions of the prompt). Achievable GRE teaches you an easy-to-follow 7-step body paragraph rubric.
▪ Differentiate your arguments. Though three fallacies are listed in the thesis statement in the introduction (which is good), the subsequent body paragraphs tend to restate the same problem. Rather: strive to identify three distinct problems with the presented argument. Remember to grab the low-hanging fruit!
We know that the Analytical Writing section of the GRE test can be daunting especially for the unprepared. But we do hope that our GRE sample essays have given you some helpful context for how we approach this section of the GRE exam.
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