A Perfect GRE Issue Essay: Tips, Structure & More


The GRE tests the skills of the students in three areas: Verbal reasoning, Quantitative reasoning, and Analytical writing skills. The first section on the test is always the Analytical Writing Assessment. In this section, the student has to write two essays – analysis of an Issue and analysis of an Argument. These essays are then graded on a scale of 0-6.

While the students strive to achieve good scores on the GRE Quantitative Reasoning and GRE Verbal Reasoning sections, the GRE Analytical Writing Assessment is often ignored. The GRE analytical scores from this section too are relevant for the admission process.


What are the Skills that Get Tested in the AWA Section?

The AWA section tests the students’ skill to articulate and support complex ideas, and construct and evaluate arguments. While the GRE issue essay requires the student to express his opinion about a topic, the argument essay requires the student to evaluate the point of view made by someone. These two tasks are complementary.


7 Tips for the Perfect GRE Issue Essay

A perfect score on the GRE’s Issue Essay (a 6) can significantly improve your chances of admission to graduate school! The best schools value students who are clear, competent writers as well as those who have high verbal and quantitative scores.

Many students have excellent transcripts and perform well on tests, but not all can demonstrate impressive writing skills! Here are 7 Tips for writing GRE Issue Essay to help you get a perfect score of 6.


Write a Minimum of Three Practice Essays

Perfect practice makes perfect! You can prepare for the GRE by researching AWA prompts and practicing writing several of them within the 30-minute time limit. Setting up test-like conditions and getting to work is the only way to become comfortable with time constraints.

If you’re a strong writer, you might be tempted to skip the GRE essay section. That’s not a good idea—the issue essay is a different type of essay than you’ve probably had to write in school, and if you don’t practice, you might miss the mark. You’re not writing literary criticism or rhetorical analysis in the issue essay, but rather something akin to a very direct, concise email to a very busy boss or professor.

Get in the habit of thinking that the issue essay isn’t about how well you make things flow or how pretty it sounds; it’s about how clearly you can communicate information.


Waffle Not

On the GRE issue essay, you don’t have time to argue both sides of an issue. Even if you don’t believe in the side you choose, you’ll only have time to effectively argue one side. You won’t sound as confident or clear if you take a middle-of-the-road approach. Remember that “readers are evaluating your skill with which you address the specific instructions and articulate and develop an argument to support your evaluation of the issue,” according to ETS. It is less important which side you choose to defend than how you defend it!


Select Extremely Specific Real-World Examples

Don’t be too broad! Theoretical arguments are easily debunked. The simple counter to any “what if” argument is to question whether the hypothetical scenario would ever occur. Use specific examples instead: Concrete examples include Mitt Romney, the War of 1812, Keynesian economic theory, an anecdote about your Uncle Ralph the compulsive gambler, and so on.


Ensure that Your Examples are Related to the Topic

You can choose from a wide range of topics, such as personal experience, pop culture, history, sports, literature, current events, politics, and so on. However, don’t let your examples dominate the essay.

For example, if you use a historical example, be careful not to let the majority of your essay become a summary of the event or a history paper equivalent. The purpose of the issue essay is to prove a point, so only use examples to support your argument.


Avoid Referring to Yourself in the First Person

In general, you should avoid writing the issue essay in the first person. Using phrases like “I believe” or “in my opinion” adds unnecessary words because the reader already knows the issue essay is written from your point of view. Only use first-person pronouns in a body paragraph if you are using personal experience as an example. Never use the word “I” in your introduction or conclusion.


Make Powerful, Declaratory Statements

Being direct eliminates the possibility of miscommunication or misinterpretation. One of the reasons this is so important is that one of your graders is human, while the other is a computer. If you’ve ever spoken to your GPS or Siri, you’ve probably encountered some miscommunication. On the GRE issue essay, avoid this by making strong, declarative statements.


In Your Conclusion, Refute the Opposing View

Many GRE students are unsure what to write in their conclusion. Introduce the opposing viewpoint, demonstrating that you are aware that some people do not support your position. Then, in 1-2 sentences, refute their argument and reinforce the validity of your own.


Structure of an Issue Essay

The GRE Issue Essay template is similar to that of the traditional 5-paragraph short essay. How long should GRE Essay be? You can choose between 4-6 paragraphs, but the template provided here calls for 5.

Readers of the Issue essay, according to the official GRE website, “are evaluating the skill with which you address the specific instructions and articulate and develop an argument to support your evaluation of the issue.” The reader will understand your essay better if it is well-organized.


Paragraph 1: Introduction

Make sure to pepper your analysis with words that guide the reader through the argument you’re making as you develop your points. Because, although, additionally, however, alternatively, and alternatively will draw the reader’s attention as you develop your argument.

The following is an example of how to structure each paragraph in your template (adapted from our GRE study guide):

Although the reader will have access to the prompt, your essay should stand on its own, clearly stating the assignment and your response to it. Begin your essay by restating the issue you were assigned, followed by a sentence stating your position on that assignment—your thesis. Next, introduce the specific reasons or examples you intend to provide in each of the following three paragraphs, one sentence for each.

Consider the specific task you were assigned, and ensure that the language you use in your first paragraph demonstrates that you understand the specific instructions in your assignment. For example, if your task requires you to “address the most compelling reasons and/or examples that could be used to challenge your position,” you will be required to demonstrate at least two strong reasons or examples that the opposing party can use—and then explain why those reasons or examples are incorrect.

Structure your first paragraph in this manner, and you’ll be well on your way to signaling to the reader that you understand the assignment, are organized, have considered the complexities of the issue, and can use standard written English—all of which are required for a high essay score.


Paragraph 2: Body Paragraph

Use your most powerful, specific reason first. You should back up your claim with examples and/or logical analysis. You can use examples from history, science, politics, business, entertainment, pop culture, current events, or even your own personal experience. Make it a point to explain why your examples support your reasoning and how this reasoning supports your main thesis. In your body paragraphs, you have three tasks:

  • Use your own example.
  • Explain its relevance to the topic.
  • Demonstrate that it fully supports your thesis.

The majority of your body paragraph should be spent on the third step: demonstrating how it fully supports your thesis.


Paragraph 3: Body Paragraph

Begin your second reason and supporting example with a transition phrase. Repeat the first paragraph’s procedure.


Paragraph 4: Final Body Paragraph

In the first topic sentence, use a transition phrase once more. Describe the third example and how it relates to your thesis. Make sure the reader understands how each example relates to the topic.

This paragraph is an excellent opportunity to present a strong counterargument to your thesis and then explain why the counterargument is incorrect. You are demonstrating to the reader that not only is your position correct, but the opposing position is incorrect as well.


Paragraph 5: Conclusion

Your conclusion should be a condensed version of your introduction. Remind the reader of the topic you were asked to consider and your point of view. Summarize what you said in a few sentences.

If you run out of time, it is better to include your final body paragraph and skip the conclusion paragraph, because the conclusion adds nothing new to your analysis. A well-written Issue Essay that lacks a conclusion will not be penalized.


How is the GRE Analytical Writing Scored?

The GRE essay is scored by both a human grader and a computer grader. Firstly, the essays are graded by a human using a holistic scale, which means your essay is graded on a scale of 0-6 for overall quality.

Next, the essay will be rated by the e-rater software that gauges the essay based on quantifiable aspects like vocabulary complexity, grammar usage, and the length of the essay. If the scores of both the human grader and the e-rater closely agree, the average of those scores will be your AWA score.

If the scores disagree, then a second human grader will be made to grade the essays, and the final score will be the average of the scores given by the two human graders.


What is a Good Score on the AWA Section?

If you have a score of 4.5 or above in the GRE section, you are good to go for most of the graduate programs. Another factor that decides your score is the subject of choice of the student.

While Engineering and Science-based courses require a lower score, business and art and literature-based courses require slightly higher scores. The Ph.D. programs require a higher score on AWA than the Master’s programs.


Rubrics of GRE Issue Essay Scoring

A good GRE essay should have a clear thesis statement and should be bolstered by reasons and examples. In a level 6 essay, the graders will look for “a cogent, well-articulated analysis of the issue and conveys meaning skillfully.” One has to write an essay that articulates a clear insight into the topic.

This should be accompanied by compelling reasons and persuasive examples. The essay has to be well organized and fluently and precisely convey ideas using effective vocabulary, Standard English Conventions, and variety in sentence structure.

While ETS may expect a level 4 essay to provide competent analysis of the issue, any essay in which the directions are disregarded and analytical thinking is lacking would fare a score of 2 or less. (Source ETS)

The graders evaluate the essays in the following areas: analysis, ideas, development, support, organization, vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure. The more precise the components of the essay are, the higher the score will be.


General Tips to Tackle the AWA Section

Know the Topics

The AWA GRE topics are not random. They can be from these topics: Education, Science, Arts, Cities, Philosophy, Governmental policies, leadership, and intellectual efforts.

The student will be able to go through all the Issue and Argument essay prompts from the ETS essay pool. Instead of trying to write an essay on all the topics, the student should focus on how to work with different topics in general.

Read the Instructions Carefully

The instructions appear after the prompt in the test. The student should read the instructions carefully and write the essay. Any deviation from the instructions could mean a reduced score. The different instructions may not mean a change in the entire essay structure, but the student has to tweak the examples and add a few sentences to accommodate what is given in the question.

Both these essays are to be completed in 30 minutes each. Since time is the main criterion, the student has to plan the timing in these sections. The student can split the timing this way:

  • Understanding the topic and brainstorming – 2-3 minutes
  • Organizing 3- 5 minutes
  • Developing and Typing the essay – 20- 22 minutes
  • Conclusion and proofreading – 2-3 minutes.

Write as Much as You Can

ETS doesn’t prescribe any word length for the essay but prescribes that the students use as many paragraphs as possible to explain the topic. A short essay may not be sufficient to bring out all the important points, while a too lengthy essay could mean the student cannot complete the section. With the optimum number of words, the student should frame a quality essay. The GRE vocabulary can be used when relevant.


Tips to Improve the Issue Essay Score

  1. Don’t Ramble: You will have enough time only to discuss one side of the essay. Whether you believe in the point or not, choose a side for which you have good reasons and examples. If you choose to talk about both sides, you may not make a clear stance. Remember the graders are looking for how well you establish a position and support it. It is certainly not about which side you choose.
  2. Practice a Few Essays: Pick out a few topics and write essays under test-like conditions. This will help you to get used to the time constraints. Work on the topics for which the GRE sample essays with grades are available on the ETS website. This will allow you to know where you stand.
  3. Look for Real-Life Examples: The examples that you use on the test should be universal. The graders may not be able to relate to local scenarios. The examples cannot be hypothetically describing a what-if scenario. Instead, it should talk about a real event or a person. Use names, places, and dates to make the example more specific. Avoid controversial scenarios.
  4. Use Relevant Examples: The examples can come from a wide range of topics such as science, history, literature, current affairs, politics, sports, personal experiences, etc. Make sure these examples relate to the reasons and the topic.
  5. Don’t Overuse First-Person Pronouns: You can introduce the stance in the first person. But don’t overdo it in all the paragraphs.
  6. Make Asserting Statements: The thesis statement should be very clear and leave no room for misunderstanding. The e-rater is software and needs direct statements for the analysis of your essay.
  7. Debunk the Opposite Side: Clearly mention why you are opposing the other side. You need not give examples but may quote reasons to do this.

You might have to make a concession point where you bring up the points from the side you disagree with. Don’t let this weaken your argument.

Remember to include the GRE Analytical Writing, when you are taking a GRE mock test.


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How to start a GRE issue essay?

Begin your essay by restating the issue you were assigned, followed by a sentence stating your position on that assignment—your thesis.

Next, introduce the specific reasons or examples you intend to provide in each of the following three paragraphs, one sentence for each.

How do you compose a GRE issue essay?

Given below are the 7 Tips for writing GRE Issue Essay:

  • Prepare at least three practice essays.
  • Don’t dither.
  • Select very specific real-world examples.
  • Ensure that your examples are relevant to the topic.
  • Avoid using the first person and referring to yourself.
  • Make bold, declarative statements.
  • In your conclusion, refute the opposing viewpoint.

What are the most common GRE issue essay topics?

The most common GRE essay topics are:

  • Education.
  • Technology and Society.
  • Cities.
  • Arts.
  • Government and Power.
  • Intellectual Endeavors.
  • Philosophical.

Is 300 words sufficient for a GRE Issue Essay?

Your GRE issue essay should have at least four indented paragraphs and be between 350 and 600 words long—ideally between 500 and 600.

The most important factor is quality, but in order to achieve it, you must provide a solid line of reasoning and excellent examples—both of which require length.

Do GRE essay topics come up repeatedly?

Yes! ETS does ask questions from their massive question bank again and again. This means that if some of your friends took their GRE a few days before you, you may see a few of their questions repeated on your exam.

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