7 Tips for a Perfect GRE Issue Essay


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?

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 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.


How is the GRE Analytical Writing Scored?

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?

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

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.


Structure of an Issue Essay

Structure of an Issue Essay

Though ETS doesn’t prescribe any structure for the essays, having a predetermined structure will lead to an easy flow of thoughts. The best way is to follow the five-paragraph structure, though the student may change it to 4 or 6. The following template will work for the Issue Essay:

  1. Start with an Introduction. Though the grader may know the topic, paraphrase the issue addressed to you. This should be followed by the thesis statement. Next, the examples and reasons that will be discussed in the body paragraphs should be introduced. This paragraph should be so presented that the grader is convinced that the student understood the topic and is well organized.
  2. In the first body paragraph, the student should bring out the most compelling reason and example. The student should then show how this example relates to the reason, and how this reason supports the claim.
  3. The student should do the same thing with the remaining examples in the second and the third body paragraphs. Use transitions and topic sentences to introduce the examples.
  4. A few lines about the opposing side may be added in the end to show why it is wrong. This way the student would have discussed both sides of the issue as suggested by some of the tasks.
  5. The conclusion should mirror the introduction. The student should do a recap of the issue topic, stance, and reasons in this essay.


General Tips to Tackle the AWA Section

General Tips to Tackle the AWA Section

Know the Topics: The topics on the AWA section 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

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.
  8. 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.
  9. Remember to include the GRE Analytical Writing, when you are taking a GRE mock test.


Frequently Asked Questions


Ques.1 Can I skip the AWA on the GRE?

Though skipping the AWA may mean reducing the test time by an hour, it is not advisable. It may not go down with the admissions office because you will come across as someone who shirks away from responsibilities. The skipping of the AWA section may not reduce exam fatigue.

Ques.2 Are grammar checker and spelling checker tools available while attempting the AWA section?

No, the grammar checker and spelling checker tools are not available.

Ques.3 Will I be able to highlight important points in my AWA?

No highlighting tools are not available in the ETS software. ETS uses an elementary software that includes the following functions: inserting text, deleting text, cutting and pasting, and undoing the previous action.

Ques.4 When will I get the AWA score?

Though the student will know the Math and Verbal score immediately after the test gets over, the AWA score will be announced along with the official score nearly after two weeks after test-taking.

Ques.5 What is e-rater software?

E-rater is an automated essay scoring software developed by the ETS for grading the AWA essays on the test.

Ques.6 What is ScoreItNow!?

ScoreItNow! is an online service to measure the analytical writing skills of students. The e-rater software is used to score the Analytical Writing tasks. The service costs $20 for grading two essays.


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