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Writing Center: GRE Essay Writing FAQ

A guide to information to help you research and write more effectively.

FAQs of GRE Essay Writing

What does the GRE mean? 

GRE stands for Graduate Record Examination. 

What is the GRE?

The GRE is a standardized test that many admissions committees for graduate schools require for admission in the United States, Canada, and a few other countries. 

How many versions of the GRE exist? 

Two versions of the GRE test exist. The GRE General test measures an individual’s skills in analytical reasoning, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning. The GRE Subject tests measure an individual’s skills in a particular field of study. Subject tests are offered for mathematics, chemistry, physics, and psychology. 

How many essays are included in the GRE? 

The GRE includes two essay questions in the analytical writing section. The Analyze an Issue essay task requires the applicant to analyze an issue. The Analyze an Argument essay task requires the applicant to analyze an argument. 

What is the Analyze an Issue essay task? 

In an “Analyze an Issue” prompt, a claim is stated that can be supported or defended from multiple perspectives. Test takers read about this issue, select their position regarding the issue, and support this position with evidence and reasoning. Since the topic can be approached from multiple perspectives, the test taker must make a compelling case about their position on the topic. No position is “right” or “wrong.” The purpose of this essay is to assess the test taker’s ability to critically engage with a topic and express their ideas, opinions, and thoughts about this topic. 

What is the Analyze an Argument essay task?  

In an Analyze the Argument prompt, the author states their position for a course of action or interpretation of events using statements, evidence, and reasoning. The test taker must read this argument, evaluate the argument, and determine whether the argument is reasonable and/or logically sound. The test taker must critically engage with the author’s reasoning, position, and evidence. The purpose of this essay is to assess the test taker’s ability to understand, analyze, and evaluate an argument and to properly explain their evaluation in writing. 

How many minutes are provided for writing GRE essays? 

Test takers are given 30 minutes to complete each essay. The entire essay position takes 60 minutes to complete. 

Why is the GRE essay section important? 

The GRE essay section demonstrates an applicant’s skill level in various areas that are important for succeeding in graduate school. Scores on the GRE essay section demonstrate an applicant’s writing ability, critical reasoning, and analytical skills. 

How are the GRE essays scored? 

Each of the two GRE essays is first scored on a 0-6 scale in half-point increments by a human grader. This scale is scored on a holistic level, which means the overall quality of the essay is evaluated and points are not taken off for the number of errors. After the human has graded the essays, each of the essays is sent to an e-rater. The e-rater grades essays on quantifiable metrics, such as sentence structure and length of the essay. Once the e-rater produces a score, the human grader’s scores and e-rater’s scores for each essay are compared. If the human grader and e-rater have similar scores, the average of their scores is provided as the final score on the essays. If the two scores are not similar, a second human grader evaluates the essay and the average of the two human graders’ scores are used as the final score for the essays. Upon finding these average scores, the overall GRE Writing Score is calculated by averaging the final scores for the Analyze an Issue essay and the Analyze an Argument essay task. The final GRE Writing score is on a scale of 0-6 with half-point increments.