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Writing Center: Tips for GRE Essay Writing

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

Tips for Writing GRE Essays

General 

  • Write multiple practice essays under test-like conditions for the Analyze an Issue essay and Analyze an Argument essay
    • Just like you would during the exam, follow the 30-minute guideline, avoid pausing your timer, and write in an area similar to the area you will take the exam
    • Try to only use official practice prompts as these prompts are the most similar to the exam prompts you will receive on test day
    • Write your essay prompts as part of full-length practice tests to ensure that you’re preparing for the full test
  • Avoid writing in first person
    • Statements such as “I believe” and “In my opinion” lessen the strength of the writing
  • Pay careful attention to the instructions
    • These instructions include questions that you need to answer in your essay 
    • Although most instructions will start out in a similar manner, different questions will be asked further on in the instructions
  • Create an outline for your time before you enter the exam. A useful outline could be: 
    • 2 minutes to read through the instructions and prompt
    • 3 minutes to select a thesis statement and brainstorm an outline for the essay 
    • 20 minutes to write the essay, beginning with the body paragraphs and ending with an introduction or conclusion with the remaining time
    • 2 minutes to fix small mistakes, such as spelling and grammatical errors
    • 3 minutes to make any last-minute changes as necessary  
  • Ensure that you write a sufficient amount 
    • Essays can lose points when not enough information is included 
  • Focus on writing the main body paragraphs of your essay first
    • Write an introduction and conclusion after you have developed your body paragraphs
    • Your body paragraphs factor more into your scoring than the introduction and conclusion 
    • If you run out of time, cut out your conclusion paragraph or include a 1-3 sentence conclusion. The conclusion does not include new information and, as such, is the least important part of the essay
  • Remember that the GRE does not require you to have previous knowledge of a topic
    • Your analytical thinking and logical reasoning is being assessed, not your knowledge base
  • Ensure that your essay is structured well and follows a clear logical progression
  • Adhere to traditional essay writing conventions, such as a strong thesis statement, clear evidence, and transition sentences
  • Make strong, declarative statements in your writing 
    • The clarity in which you convey your argument will be evaluated 
  • Attempt to leave at least a small amount of time to edit and revise your work 
    • Final adjustments to tone and clarity will ensure that your essay is well-written 

Analyze an Issue essay 

  • Ensure that your thesis statement is clear and strong 
    • Your thesis statement will be the backbone of your essay. The rest of your paragraphs, arguments, and evidence will be used to support your thesis
    • Graders will not be able to evaluate how well you defended your position if they cannot identify your thesis statement 
  • Review effective responses to GRE prompts from other applicants to learn the type of writing that receives high scores
  • Focus on creating and effectively defending an argument about the topic 
    • The strength in which you defend your argument is the main purpose of the essay
  •  Avoid changing your argument or position as you write
    • Ensure that you effectively choose a position, instead of taking the middle-of-the-road approach
    • The manner in which you defend your position matters
  • When you’re attempting to select your position, create a pon/con list 
    • Consider the multiple perspectives that can be taken on the issue
    • Write down support for a position and arguments against the position to help you pick the side with the best support
      • You can use one of the arguments from the side you didn’t select as a counterargument that you refute in your essay
  • Preplan your opinions on common topics that are included in the essay prompts, such as opinions on the role of government and education 
    • By developing ideas on these common essay topics, you’ll be able to develop your opinion on the issue more quickly  
  • Ensure that your examples are relevant to your topic and position 
    • All of your examples should be related back to your thesis statement
  • Refute the opposing argument
    • This will reinforce your argument and strengthen your position
  • Include specific, real-world examples to defend your position 
    • Hypothetical situations can easily be refuted by stating that those situations would never happen

Analyze an Argument essay 

  • Since your task is to critically analyze the argument in the prompt, ensure that you read this argument carefully
    • Read the argument multiple times and take notes about areas of the argument you want to address in your writing 
  • When reading the argument, pay close attention to: 
    • The evidence, support, and reasoning used to support the position 
    • The claims and conclusions that are explicitly stated 
    • The claims or conclusions that are assumed without any justification
    • The claims that are implied
    • The structure of the argument 
    • The manner in which the argument forms a line of reasoning
    • The connections the author is attempting to make
      • Look for transition words, such as “however,” “thus,” and “hence”
  • Avoid simply agreeing with the argument 
    • The purpose of this essay task is to evaluate the argument and you can best evaluate the argument by refuting the logic in the argument
  • Avoid expressing your own views on whether you support the position or believe the statements are accurate 
    • Focus on analyzing the logic of the argument, not discussing your opinions about the argument
  • Remember the argument will always contain flaws that you can address
    • No flaw is too “obvious” to point out and the more obvious flaws are often easier to analyze within the time limit
  • Common flaws in arguments include: 
    • Weak evidence
    • Lack of evidence to support an assumption or argument
    • A weak analogy between ideas
    • Assuming the characteristics of one group applies to other people or groups
    • Vague language
    • Using biased or limited statistics and data 
    • Assuming that a certain condition is necessary for a certain outcome
  • Anticipate counterarguments to your position and address these counterarguments in your essay
  • Focus on a few of the major points about the argument 
    • Since you only have 30 minutes to complete the task, you don’t need to evaluate every part of the argument 
  • Avoid making assumptions about the argument that are not stated or implied
  • Use specific examples in your argument
    • Ensure that each of these examples is relevant to the topic
    • These examples can be from the prompt and real-life examples