What's Tested on the GRE: Analytical Writing

The GRE analytical writing measure consists of two writing essays which are timed separately.  You will write these two essays first when taking the GRE, before any quantitative or verbal sections.  The two tasks are:

  1. Analyze an Issue
  2. Analyze an Argument

Get to your thesis right off the bat when writing your GRE essay. You want to structure your argument around a persuasive and natural progression of ideas, not excessive descriptions and irrelevant context.

After getting to the point immediately, each sentence of your GRE essay should fit together like an interlocking puzzle piece, establishing continuity between ideas and supporting the big picture.

Remember, the GRE essay graders don’t care how poetically you set the context for your thesis. They’re looking for a logical essay, not a creative one, and extraneous words won’t gain you any points. So, save the flowery exposition for the novel you’re writing and ask whether you’ve successfully communicated your thesis in the first sentence or two.


You will be given 30 minutes to complete each analytical writing essay, which includes any time spent brainstorming, outlining, or revising.  With such a limited amount of time to compose your best possible work, background knowledge of the tasks and practice writing the essays are crucial.


For the issue task, you will be given a statement (a sentence or short paragraph), followed by a prompt that asks you to explain whether you agree or disagree with the statement and the reasoning behind that perspective.  There are six different sets of instructions that might appear after the issue.  Pay attention to the wording of these instructions.
Get Sample GRE Issue Essay Prompts for Practice ]
For the argument task, you will usually be given a longer paragraph before the prompt than in the issue task.  In this case, you will be presented with an argument for one side of a hypothetical issue.  There are eight possible sets of instructions which you might receive, all of which will ask you to evaluate the argument in some way.  Don’t ignore the specific instructions!  They provide clues as to what the test graders are looking for in your evaluation of the argument.
Get Sample GRE Argument Essay Prompts for Practice ]
There is no one essay format that test graders are looking for.  They will mainly be evaluating your analytical skills and clarity of writing.  Read over sample essays to get a feel for a 6 essay and those scoring lower.  It is also helpful to read over the rubric used to grade the essays.


ETS publishes the entire pool of topics they choose from for the tests online, although a task on the actual GRE might be worded slightly differently.  There are hundreds of these listed on the website, so don’t waste your time trying to memorize all of them.  However, the pool is a great resource for prompts to practice with.  The more tasks you complete from the pool, the more familiar you will become with the types of topics ETS likes to use.
[ NEXT: How to Structure the Issue Essay ]