Top 10 Tips for a Higher GRE Essay Score

The GRE currently requires two essays, the Issue and the Argument, both of which must be completed before the Quantitative and Verbal sections are attempted. These essays are not graded simply on content alone. Structure is important as well. The layout of the essay must be cogent and easy to follow. If you can demonstrate impressive writing skills as well as a strong ability to organize, you’ll be well on your way to a perfect score on the AWA!

5 Organizational Tips for a Better Score

  • Avoid filler.

    Always be direct, not wordy. “Filler” are the unnecessary words and phrases that will bloat your paragraphs. No one wants to read a body paragraph that is 10 sentences long. You should be able to get across your points in 4-7 sentences. Meandering sentence structure is the death of emphasis. Ultimately, your argument and organization is what will impress, not your vocabulary and length.

  • Place your thesis at the bottom of your intro paragraph.

    Remember that the GRE is graded “holistically” and readers are only spending a couple minutes on each essay. Put your thesis where it’s easiest to spot. This is the #1 GRE organizational rule!

  • Save 1-2 minutes to Proofread.

    If you proofread, look for the “flow” of your essay? Is your organization clear? You can quickly retype transitions and add to paragraphs to improve the structure, but without even a cursory look at the entire “big picture” of the essay, you risk it not fully coming together organizationally. Also check for spelling and grammar. You won’t be marked down for each spelling or grammar error, but an essay that has five or six glaring errors could be marked down as much as 1 point if it significantly affects the reader’s overall impression of you as a writer.

  • Avoid slang and clichés.

    Make sure not to use words like “you know”, “awesome”, and “cool” in your essay. This is a formal essay. First-person pronouns should ONLY appear in a body paragraph if you are using personal experience as an example, and telling a story from your own life to support your thesis. Never use “I think” or “I believe.”

  • Make sure each paragraph serves a purpose.

    Your first paragraph should introduce the issue/argument, while each body paragraph should introduce a supporting point and explain how it fully supports your thesis. The final paragraph is used to summarize and restate your main idea. You may include other paragraphs (for example, one that describes how the argument could be strengthened), but be sure to properly use transitions in the topic sentence so the reader is always aware of how each paragraph develops the thesis and fits within the larger structure.

5 Tips for an Extra Point

The GRE Issue and Argument essays don’t have to be laborious. It’s relatively easy to achieve a high score with good time management, a solid template, and a little hard practice. Looking to add .5 to 1 extra point on top of your score? Follow these 5 easy tips to take your GRE essays to the next level!
  • Be forceful.

    Avoid any kind of wishy-washy qualifying language in your Issue and Argument essays. Your tone needs to be forceful, confident, like an expert’s. Remove words like “could be”, “might be”, “perhaps”, “maybe”, etc. from your essay when you proofread. Go through scholarly business articles and/or other students’ successful GRE AWA essays, and highlight phrases that particularly stand out to you as impressive, well-wrought, and cogent. Make a list of your favorites and try to incorporate them when appropriate in your own essays. Don’t shoehorn them in if the essay really doesn’t call for it, but the act of even researching and putting together such a list will really get you headed in the right direction!

  • Keep it in third-person.

    There’s no easier way to sound less self-assured than to pepper your essays with “I think”’s and “I believe”’s. Of course you believe it, you’re the one writing the essay! Referring to yourself does not add anything to the essay and distracts the reader from your argument. Keep the focus on the points you are trying to make. If you would like to use an example incident from your own life, then by all means.

  • Use strong transitions.

    You will need to steer the reader from paragraph to paragraph while always holding the thread of your argument together. The best way to do this is to use good transition words and phrases. Try to beef up these words and avoid common clichés. If you are just beginning to practice, it’s better to be clear and use words like “firstly…” and “secondly…” when you set up a transition rather than have no transitions at all, but as you get better at GRE AWA, try to mix it up.

  • Control your sentence structure.

    Sometimes longer just isn’t better. Be wary of your sentence structure meandering out of your control and getting wordy, redundant, or just plain pedantic. Especially if English is your second language, it will behoove you to keep your sentences on the shorter side. Don’t get so lost in the description of your example that you forget to clarify how it supports your position. It’s better to be succinct and forceful than prove you have an extensive vocabulary but lose sight of your argument.

  • Stay away from rhetorical questions.

    Don’t be tempted to start your essay with a question. It’s cliché and is often overused. Rhetorical questions just never sound as good on paper as they do in speech, and can give the impression that you don’t really know what you are talking about. Especially avoid this in your introduction and conclusion.