The Issue Essay - How to Crack the Analytical Writing Section - Cracking the GRE Premium (2015) 

Cracking the GRE Premium (2015)

Part IV How to Crack the Analytical Writing Section

Chapter 15 The Issue Essay

The Issue essay of the GRE requires you to present your opinion on the provided topic. This chapter will show you the steps to take in order to write a clear, coherent essay in the limited time provided. You’ll learn exactly what sort of things the ETS graders are looking for when they evaluate your essay so you’ll know just what to do on test day.

THREE BASIC STEPS

Because you don’t have a lot of time to write the essays, you’ll need to have a pretty good idea of how you’re going to attack them as soon as you sit down at the computer on test day. Our approach to the essays involves three steps:

1.    Think. Before you start writing, take a moment to brainstorm some thoughts about the topic.

2.    Organize. Take the ideas you’ve come up with and fit them into the assignment for the prompt.

3.    Write. Once you’ve completed the first two steps, the final step should be a snap.

Thirty minutes is not a lot of time to write an essay, so you have to get it right the first time out. While ETS advises you to leave enough time to proofread and edit your essay, it simply isn’t feasible to expect to make any significant changes to your essay during the final minutes of the section. Furthermore, if you get halfway through your essay and realize you’re stuck or you’re not saying what you need to say, you’ll be hard pressed to fix your essay in the time you have left.

You have to know what
you want your essay to
say before you can
start writing.

It is essential, therefore, to make sure you spend time planning your essay before you start writing. You have to figure out what it is you want to say before you begin; otherwise, you run the risk of writing an incoherent, rambling essay. The first two steps are actually more important to a successful GRE essay than the final step; by spending a little time planning your essay, the actual writing part should be relatively painless.

The keys to the essay: Think, Organize, Write

Let’s start our discussion of the Issue essay by looking at a typical prompt.

The Prompt

“True beauty is found not in the exceptional but in the commonplace.”

Write an essay in which you take a position on the statement above. In developing and supporting your essay, consider instances in which the statement does and does not hold true.

The prompts are supposed to get you thinking about areas of “general interest,” whatever that means. A better way of thinking about the prompt is to look at it as an agree/disagree or pro/con statement. Your task in the essay will be to look at both sides of the issue, the pro and the con side, and take a position on the statement. Let’s look at how to do that.

STEP 1: THINK

“Think” is a pretty broad command, so we need to clarify this step in order to make it more useful. Specifically, we want you to think about three things:

1.    Key Terms. What are the key words or phrases in the prompt? Do the terms need clarifying before you can properly deal with them in the essay?

2.    Opposite Side. What would the converse of the statement be?

3.    Examples. What are some examples that would support the statement? What are some examples that would support the opposite statement?

Let’s work through these steps with our sample prompt.

Key Terms

When preparing your essay, first look more closely at the key terms in the prompt. Do they need to be clarified? Are there multiple ways of interpreting the words? In order to make your essay as focused as possible, you might need to limit the key terms to a specific definition or interpretation. If the key terms in the prompt seem pretty straightforward, you still want to note them. By repeatedly returning to these terms in your essay, you’ll convey the impression that your essay is strongly organized and on topic.

Write down the key terms.

For this prompt, the key terms are beauty, true, exceptional, and commonplace. We need to think about how we’re going to use these terms in our essay. For example, what is true beauty? Do we want that to mean just natural beauty or can we consider man-made objects? As for the wordbeauty, do we want to limit our discussion to artistic beauty such as paintings and sculptures, or should we consider poems and literature as well? Should we discuss only natural beauty, such as stars and flowers, or should we consider personal beauty as well, such as models and GRE instructors? As you can see, we could write a lot on this topic, if we had the time. But we don’t, so it’s important to focus. By defining our key terms, we make the essay a lot more manageable and easier to write in a short amount of time. For this essay, let’s include both natural objects and man-made artistic feats, but leave out personal beauty.

Using key terms from the
prompt throughout your
essay contributes to its
overall coherency.

Opposite Side

In order to score well on the Issue essay, you’ll have to consider both sides of the prompt. ETS is looking for more than a straightforward “I agree and here’s why” or “I disagree and here’s why” essay. Rather, the graders want to see you consider both sides of the issue and then defend your position. Take a brief moment to look at the sample prompt again, and then write down the converse of the statement.

“True beauty is found not in the exceptional but in the commonplace.”

For this prompt, the opposite side of the argument would be something along the lines of “True beauty is found not in the commonplace, but in the exceptional.” Note that ETS doesn’t have a preference for the pro or con side. So if you find the opposite of the statement more convincing, that’s fine. As long as you can support your position with some relevant examples, it doesn’t matter what position you take on the prompt. This brings us to the final part of step one—brainstorming examples.

Examples

In many ways, the examples will be the most important part of your essay. Without strong, relevant examples you cannot expect to achieve a high score on the Issue essay. As the instructions state, you should support your position with examples drawn from your reading, experience, observation, and academic studies. In general, the more specific your examples are, the better your essay score. And examples from history, literature, or current events are better than personal observations or experiences. Imagine yourself as an ETS grader (a terrible thought, we know). Which sentence would you respond more favorably to?

“Few observers would doubt the awesome beauty of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, a work of art produced by the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo.”

“Few observers would doubt the awesome beauty of the various paintings they see in museums, works of art produced by great artists.”

Both sentences essentially say the same thing and use practically the same words. But the first sentence would be graded more favorably by an ETS grader because of the specificity of the example.

Take a moment to jot down some examples for the previous prompt. Make sure you come up with examples for both the original statement and its opposite.

Now take a moment to look over your examples. Are they specific? Are they relevant to the topic? Do they support a position on the topic? The strength of your examples will determine the strength of your argument. It’s hard to write a convincing paper with weak examples. Here are some examples that might work for our sample topic, both weaker and stronger:

Okay Example

Better Example

paintings, artwork

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa

buildings, churches

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

flowers, natural wonders

Niagara Falls

Good examples are relevant to the topic and contain specific details.

Avoid hypothetical
examples—the more
specific your example is,
the better.

In each case, the better example is the more specific, more detailed example. Also note that we’ve avoided any personal examples. While you certainly may feel that your boyfriend or girlfriend is the most beautiful person in the world, that sort of personal example won’t resonate with an ETS grader nearly as well as a more academic or global example. Use personal examples only when specifically instructed to by the prompt or as a last resort.

STEP 2: ORGANIZE

Once you’ve identified the key terms, considered the opposite side of the issue, and generated some examples, it’s time to organize your thoughts. Basically, you’ll want to do the following:

1.    Separate Your Examples. How many of your examples support the pro side and how many support the con side? Divide your examples up and see which side has more support.

2.    Write Your Thesis Statement. After evaluating the strength of your examples, decide what position you will take in your essay, and then write your thesis. Your thesis is the main point that you want your essay to express.

Let’s continue the process on the sample prompt.

Separate Your Examples

Do this before you decide on your thesis statement. Even though you might have a strong preference for one position on the issue, you might notice that the examples you brainstormed tend to support the other side of the issue. Don’t expend more time trying to think of examples to support your preconceptions; just write your essay supporting the other side! There is no right or wrong response. All that matters is being able to write a strong, coherent essay in a very limited time. Your personal views or beliefs are unimportant to the ETS graders. If we continue with the examples we used earlier, they would probably break down like this:

Pro

Con

natural wonders

Mona Lisa
Notre Dame

Based on some of the examples we’ve come up with, it looks like we’d be better off supporting the idea that “True beauty is found not in the commonplace, but in the exceptional.” While natural wonders like sunsets and flowers are pretty commonplace, we’ve come up with a lot more exceptional examples. And it looks like we could even argue that it is the exceptional natural wonders, such as Niagara Falls, that are truly beautiful.

It doesn’t matter what
side of the issue you
take on the GRE.

Write Your Thesis Statement

Now comes the culmination of all of our work. What point do we want to make about the topic?

Our thesis should probably be something along the lines of this: “While certain commonplace natural objects are examples of beauty, true beauty is most often found in rare, exceptional cases.”

Now that we have figured out what we want to say, we can focus on proving why we believe it. But remember: Only after working through these steps are we truly ready to write!

Practice: Steps 1 and 2

Work through steps one and two on the following Issue essay prompts below.

PROMPT 1

“Government funding should never be used to support art that the majority of the population finds distasteful or objectionable.”

Write an essay in which you take a position on the statement above. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider whether the above statement is always true or whether there are exceptions to it.

On your scratch paper, write the (1) Key Terms, (2) Opposite Side, (3) Examples, and (4) Thesis.


PROMPT 2

“Oftentimes, the results of a particular action are not of consequence; rather, it is the way we go about the action that matters most.”

Write an essay in which you take a position on the statement above. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider situations in which the ways matter most as well as situations in which the results matter most.

On your scratch paper, write the (1) Key Terms, (2) Opposite Side, (3) Examples, and (4) Thesis.


Practice: Sample Responses

Obviously, your examples and thesis statements will differ from those given below, but these sample responses will give you a good indication of what ETS is looking for.

Prompt 1

Key Terms: What does support mean? Is that just giving money to the artist, or does the government have to commission the work or promote it? What population are we using to judge—the general population, the population of artists, or some other population? What do we mean when we say art is “objectionable” or “distasteful?” What standards are we using to determine that?

Opposite Side: “Government funding should be used to support art, even if the majority of the population finds the art distasteful.”

Examples: Robert Mapplethorpe controversy; National Endowment for the Arts; Supreme Court rulings on obscenity; Government censorship

Thesis: “While artists have the right to create whatever objectionable art they wish, taxpayers should not have to pay for art they find offensive or obscene.”

Prompt 2

Key Terms: What do we mean by consequence? Does this term refer to the results of the action, or the effects the action has on the person doing the action? Similarly, when we say the way we go about something “matters most,” what criteria are we using?

Opposite Side: “The way we go about a certain action is not of consequence; the results we get are what matter most.”

Examples: Rosa Parks, whose actions helped further the Civil Rights movement; Gandhi, whose methods of nonviolent resistance played a part in Indian independence; Revolutionary War, whose violent methods eventually led to independence for the United States

Thesis: “While people do note the ways in which people go about certain actions, it is usually the ultimate result that matters.”

STEP 3: WRITE

Now that we know how to prepare for our Issue essay, we can write it. In this section, we’ll discuss various templates for essays and show you how you can pre-construct certain portions of your essay. Before we do that though, let’s revisit what the readers are looking for from your writing.

What the Readers Want to See

The essay readers will be looking for four characteristics as they skim your Analysis of an Issue essay (at the speed of light). According to ETS, an outstanding essay

·        considers the complexities of the issue

·        supports the position with relevant examples

·        is clearly well organized

·        demonstrates superior facility with the conventions of standard written English, but still with minor flaws

To put it more simply, the readers are looking for good organization, good supporting examples for whatever position you’ve taken, and reasonably good use of the English language. We’ve hopefully taken care of the first two parts, so now we’ll deal with the next two.

Essay Essentials

As you learned in sixth-grade composition class, a basic essay has three parts: an introduction, some body paragraphs, and a conclusion. These three things are exactly what ETS wants to see in your Analysis of an Issue essay. Each of these parts has a specific role to play.

1.    The Introduction should introduce the topic of the essay, discuss the issues surrounding it, and present the essay’s thesis.

2.    The Body Paragraphs should use examples to support the thesis of the essay.

3.    The Conclusion should summarize the major points of the issue, reiterate the thesis, and perhaps consider its implications.

The basics of an essay
are an introduction,
body paragraphs, and
a conclusion.

Basically, if you try to think of each paragraph as having a specific job to do, you can pretty much preconstruct each type of paragraph and then fill in the specific details on test day.

Preconstruction: The Introduction

For the Issue essay, a good introduction accomplishes the following tasks:

A good introduction

1.    Clearly establishes the topic of the paper

2.    Previews both sides of the issue at hand

3.    Presents a clear thesis

Let’s look at each of these tasks in detail and discuss different ways to accomplish the goals of the introductory paragraph.

Establish the Topic

We want the reader to know what issue the essay is going to talk about. Even though the grader will see the prompt you’re writing about, he or she should be able to figure out the prompt just from reading the introduction of your essay. There are a few different ways you can quickly establish the topic, so let’s return to our original prompt and preconstruct some approaches.

Don’t just restate the
prompt! Come up with
a strong “hook” for the
beginning of your essay.

Here, once again, is our prompt:

“True beauty is found not in the exceptional but in the commonplace.”

Write an essay in which you take a position on the statement above. In developing and supporting your essay, consider instances in which the statement does and does not hold true.

One of the worst ways of establishing the topic is to merely quote the prompt. ETS graders look upon this tactic with disdain, so let’s find other ways of starting our essay.

Approach 1: Rhetorical Questions

This approach is a tried-and-true way of introducing your topic. Instead of simply quoting or paraphrasing the prompt, turn it into a rhetorical question. Here are a few samples:

Where does true beauty lie, in the exceptional or in the commonplace?

Do we find the exceptional more beautiful or the commonplace?

Can we find beauty only in rare, exceptional instances or does it truly lie all around us?

It is immediately clear what topic the essay will explore, from each of these examples of introductory sentences. See if you can come up with a rhetorical question for either this topic or one from the previous drill.

Approach 2: Famous Quotations

Another classic approach to beginning an essay is to use either a well-known saying or a famous quote from someone. Many of the GRE topics are fairly bland, so even if you can’t think of a famous quote, there are usually some classic aphorisms you use. Here’s what we mean:

“Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty,” or so said the romantic poet John Keats.

A common saying is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Obviously, this type of introduction can be tough to do if something doesn’t pop into your head right away. Try to come up with a quote or common saying for this topic or one from the drill.

Approach 3: Anecdote

An anecdote is a brief story. Oftentimes you can grab your reader’s attention and introduce the topic with a good anecdote. Consider this example:

It is said that Cézanne, the famed French painter, was so concerned with the beauty of his paintings that he would destroy any of his works that he felt was flawed.

The Romantic poet John Keats was so struck by the beauty of Chapman’s translation of Homer’s work that he wrote a poem about it.

A good opening line is
great to have, but if you’re
stuck, don’t spend an
excessive amount of time
trying to come up with
something clever.

When using an anecdote you might have to write a sentence or two explaining the relevance of your story. Try out an anecdote for this topic or one of the drill topics.

Approach 4: Fact/Statistic

For some topics, it might be appropriate to start your essay by stating a fact or statistic. ETS graders aren’t allowed to penalize you for factual mistakes and they certainly aren’t going to fact-check your essay. So don’t be afraid if your fact isn’t 100 percent accurate. Here’s an illustration:

A recent scientific study showed that the faces that people find the most beautiful are those that are the most symmetrical.

Psychologists have demonstrated that people’s responses to certain phenomena are based on certain innate mechanisms in the brain.

Give this approach a shot, using this topic or one from the drill.

Approach 5: Definition

One way you may wish to start your essay is by defining one of the key terms from the prompt:

Beauty, by definition, is that which moves us or impacts us significantly.

The “exceptional” typically refers to those things that stand out, which is also a plausible definition for beauty.

The advantage to this approach is that you already spent some time thinking along these lines when you were planning your essay. Come up with a sample introductory sentence for this topic or one of the drill topics.

Preview the Issue

Once you’ve told the reader what the topic is, your next task is to inform the reader of the issues at hand. You want to briefly touch on both sides of the debate, explaining the pros and cons of the prompt. A good way to accomplish this is to make use of strong trigger words—words like but, despite, while, and although. Here are some examples.

While some people can find beauty in the most common of places, true beauty is found only in the exceptional.

Some would argue that beauty is found everywhere, from the flowers to the stars, but others would state that true beauty is found only in rare, special instances.

Despite the assertions of many that beauty is everywhere, true beauty is found only in exceptional cases.

Although one might argue that many commonplace things are beautiful, it is the exceptional things that possess true beauty.

There can be no doubt that some of the world’s most common things are beautiful. And yet, it is often the exceptional objects that possess true beauty.

Practice writing sentences that address both sides of the issue. Use the sample topic or one from the drill.

Present the Thesis

Your final task in the introduction is to present the thesis. Some writers prefer to avoid the first person, refusing to use sentences such as “I believe …” or “I feel …” However, GRE graders will not penalize you for use of the first person. A more important consideration when writing your thesis is giving the reader some indication why you hold your particular position. ETS graders want to see that you’ve thought about and analyzed the issue. Here are some examples of thesis statements.

A good thesis tells the
reader exactly what your
position is and why.

I believe that beauty is truly found in the exceptional, not in the commonplace, because if common things were beautiful, the very word would lose its meaning.

In my view, beauty is found in the exceptional, not in the commonplace, because only exceptional things really stand out as special in our minds.

It is clear that true beauty is not to be found in the commonplace but in the exceptional. On closer inspection, even so-called common objects that people consider beautiful are actually exceptional.

After weighing the evidence, it is certain that beauty is the province of the exceptional, not the commonplace. People find true beauty in things that they rarely experience, not the things they experience every day.

For each thesis, you can see that the author is also giving some justification for the viewpoint. This justification will be of course explored more thoroughly in the body paragraphs, but it’s good to give the reader a preview of how your essay will take shape. Try writing thesis statements for some of the sample prompts.

Preconstruction: Body Paragraphs

A body paragraph should do the following:

Good body paragraphs

1.    Use a good transition/topic sentence

2.    Present an example

3.    Explain how the example supports the thesis

Body paragraphs are a little harder to preconstruct because they are the most specific part of the essay. Still, there are some handy tips for creating body paragraphs that an ETS grader will love.

Transition/Topic Sentence

ETS graders love organized essays that flow well. The best way to write an essay like this is to use strong topic sentences and good transitions for each of your body paragraphs. Your topic sentence should serve as a gentle reminder to the reader of what the thesis of the essay is. Here’s an example:

One example of beauty found in the exceptional is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

A second instance in which true beauty lies not in the commonplace but in the exceptional is Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Of course, you might want to avoid using simple transitions like “the first example,” and “the second example.” You can make your writing stronger by leading with the example and making the transition a little more subtle, like so:

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is surely one of the most exceptional, and beautiful, paintings ever created.

Consider the beauty of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, a building that is in no way commonplace.

Or to get even fancier, refer to the previous example in your transition sentence:

Like da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is an exceptional, and exceptionally beautiful, object.

The important point is that each sentence introduces the example and reminds the reader of the purpose of the example, which in this case is to support the notion of beauty as exceptional. In the next few sentences, you’ll provide details about your example. It’s important that you remember to link the example to your thesis.

Explain How Your Example Supports Your Thesis

On the GRE essays, don’t get so caught up in providing details for your example that you forget to explain to the reader how or why your example helps your thesis. The purpose of the Issue essay is not to just list some examples; the purpose is to develop and support a position on the issue. Here’s an example of a body paragraph that doesn’t quite fulfill that goal:

Like da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is an exceptional, and exceptionally beautiful, object. Notre Dame is a stunning example of gothic architecture, famous for the flying buttresses that adorn the sides of the building. The cathedral also has rows and rows of beautiful sculptures recessed into the walls, as well as a gorgeous central stained-glass window. These features make Notre Dame one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world.

Don’t just tell the grader
about the example; tell the
grader why the example is
relevant to your thesis.

The writer here did a good job of providing specific details about the example, which ETS graders love. However, the reader failed to explain why Notre Dame supports the view that true beauty is exceptional, not commonplace. Let’s fix that:

Like da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is an exceptional, and exceptionally beautiful, object. Churches and cathedrals line the streets of most major cities in Western Europe, but few possess the renown of Notre Dame. Notre Dame is a stunning example of gothic architecture, famous for the flying buttresses that adorn the sides of the building. The cathedral also has rows and rows of beautiful sculptures recessed into the walls, as well as a gorgeous central stained-glass window. These features make Notre Dame one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. Compared to a common church or cathedral, Notre Dame is truly awe-inspiring; Victor Hugo used the building as the backdrop for his magnificent book The Hunchback of Notre Dame and thousands of tourists travel untold miles to view the cathedral. That sort of beauty is not possessed by just any church on the corner.

This is a stronger body paragraph because it is more explicit in its discussion of the thesis. The author notes that churches and cathedrals are fairly common, but then argues that Notre Dame stands out as an exceptional cathedral. The author concludes the paragraph by showing how Notre Dame is more beautiful than any typical church. Just as a reader should be able to figure out what the topic of the paper is from the introduction, a reader should be able to figure out the thesis from each paragraph.

Write a body paragraph for one of the examples for this sample topic, or one of your examples from the practice. Make sure you have a good topic/transition sentence, specific details for the example, and an explanation of how or why the example is relevant to the thesis.

Preconstruction: Conclusion Paragraphs

Your essay should always have a conclusion, for two reasons. First, a conclusion paragraph is evidence of good organization. It shows the reader that you knew exactly what points you wanted to make, you made them, and now you’re ending the essay. And second, an essay that lacks a conclusion seems incomplete, almost as if your writing abruptly ends before it should. This can give the grader a negative impression of your essay. Fortunately, conclusion paragraphs are easy to write.

Make sure your essay
has a conclusion.

A good conclusion

1.    Alerts the reader that the essay is ending

2.    Summarizes the main points of the essay

Some test takers even prefer to write their introduction and conclusion first and then fill in the body paragraphs. This strategy has the advantage of making your essay seem complete even if you happen to run out of time writing the body paragraphs.

Alert the Reader

Conclusion paragraphs have their own topic/transition sentences, which generally should contain a word or phrase that tells the reader he or she is reaching the end. Here are some examples:

In conclusion, it’s clear that true beauty is found not in the commonplace, but in the exceptional.

Ultimately, beauty lies in the exceptional, not in the commonplace.

As the bulk of the evidence shows, the exceptional, not the commonplace, possesses true beauty.

Clearly, true beauty is found in exceptional things, not in commonplace ones.

The examples above all support the idea that we find true beauty in exceptional cases, not in commonplace ones.

Write some conclusion sentences for this topic or a sample topic from the sample prompts.

Summarize Main Points

Your conclusion should also summarize the main points of the essay, meaning that it should mention the thesis and how the examples support it. Additionally, you can briefly consider the implications of the thesis. Here are some sample conclusions:

In conclusion, it’s clear that true beauty is found not in the commonplace, but in the exceptional. The Mona Lisa and Notre Dame Cathedral are both exceptional examples of fairly commonplace things and it is these exceptions that are noted as truly beautiful. If anything, the commonplace serves only as a contrast to what true beauty really is.

Ultimately, beauty lies in the exceptional, not the commonplace. While paintings and churches are fairly commonplace, only a small few of them, such as the Mona Lisa or Notre Dame, truly reach the heights of beauty. It is in these exceptions that we find real beauty.

The examples above all support the idea that we find true beauty in exceptional cases, not in commonplace ones. Common things may seem at first glance to be beautiful, but once we compare these commonplace examples to the truly exceptional ones, we see that the exceptional ones are truly beautiful.

Try your hand at constructing a conclusion paragraph, once again using this topic or one from the sample prompts.

Putting It All Together

Read through this sample essay that’s based on the basic five-paragraph model. Then you’ll have the chance to try writing a similar essay for a different prompt.

“True beauty is found not in the exceptional but in the commonplace.”

Write an essay in which you take a position on the statement above. In developing and supporting your essay, consider instances in which the statement does and does not hold true.

Beauty, by definition, is that which moves us or impacts us significantly. Some would argue that beauty is found everywhere, from the flowers to the stars. But others would state that true beauty is found only in rare, special instances. After weighing the evidence, it is certain that beauty is the province of the exceptional, not the commonplace. People are moved most by things that they rarely experience, not the things they experience every day.

Those who would argue that true beauty is everywhere might point to the beauty of a flower, or the starlit night. These experiences are certainly common, but do they show that true beauty is commonplace? Flowers might be considered beautiful, but how often does a person stop to look at or appreciate every flower? Flowers are so common that in many cases, they are ignored or viewed as nothing special. However, on those rare occasions—exceptional occasions, one might say—when we want to commemorate an event or express emotion, we notice the beauty of flowers. Thus, it is not the commonplace flower that strikes us as beautiful, but the exceptional situations themselves that move us to appreciate the flower.

Now consider the exceptional. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is surely one of the most exceptional, and beautiful, paintings ever created. Few people who view the painting are not moved by the sheer beauty of it, and the Mona Lisa is instantly recognized as a masterpiece of art. And yet, there have been literally millions of paintings produced in human history. Is every single one of them beautiful? Does every one of those paintings have the impact that da Vinci’s does? Of course not. In order to find beauty, we must separate the exceptional cases from the common ones. True beauty is such because it stands out from the masses of the average and pedestrian.

Like da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is an exceptional, and exceptionally beautiful, object. Churches and cathedrals line the streets of most major cities in Western Europe, but few possess the renown of Notre Dame, one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. Compared to a common church or cathedral, Notre Dame is truly awe-inspiring; Victor Hugo used the building as the backdrop for his magnificent book The Hunchback of Notre Dame and thousands of tourists travel untold miles to view the cathedral. That sort of beauty is not possessed by just any church on the corner.

In conclusion, it’s clear that true beauty is found not in the commonplace, but in the exceptional. The Mona Lisa and Notre Dame Cathedral are both exceptional examples of fairly commonplace things and it is these exceptions that are noted as truly beautiful. If anything, the commonplace serves only as a contrast so that we can understand what true beauty really is.

Your Turn

Try writing a similar essay for the prompt that follows this paragraph. Make sure you consider the opposing side of the argument. Devote a paragraph to looking at an example for the other side of the issue, but make sure you indicate to the reader that there is a flaw in the example or that the example is less than convincing. Set a timer for 30 minutes to practice GRE time constraints.

“People most respect the powerful not when they exercise their power, but when they refrain from exercising it.”

Write an essay in which you develop and support a position on the statement above. In writing your essay, you should consider both when the statement may be true and when it may be false.

How to Score Your Essay

Now it’s time to put on your essay-scoring hat and prepare to grade your own essay. If you’re lucky enough to have a friend who is also preparing for the GRE, you could switch essays and grade each other’s like you used to do in sixth grade. You’ll need to be objective during this process. Remember: The only way to improve is to honestly assess your weaknesses and systematically eliminate them.

Set a timer for 2 minutes. Read the essay carefully but quickly, so that you do not exceed the 2 minutes on the timer.

Now ask yourself the following questions about the essay:

1.    Overall, did it make sense?

2.    Did you address the topic directly?

3.    Did you address the topic thoroughly?

4.    Did your introduction paragraph repeat the issue to establish the topic of the essay?

5.    Did you consider both sides of the issue?

6.    Did your examples make sense?

7.    Did you flesh out your examples with details?

8.    Did you explain how your examples supported your thesis?

9.    Did your essay have a strong concluding paragraph?

10.Was your essay well organized, using transitions and topic sentences?

11.Did you use language that made the organization of the essay obvious?

12.Did you use correct grammar, spelling, and language, for the most part?

If you could answer “yes” to all or almost all of these questions, congratulations! Your essay would probably receive a score in the 5–6 range. If you continue to practice, and write an essay of similar quality on the real Analysis of an Issue section of the real test, you should score very well.

If you answered “yes” to fewer than 12 of the questions, you have room for improvement. Fortunately, you also know which areas you need to strengthen as you continue to practice.

If you answered “yes” to fewer than 6 of the questions, your essay would probably not score very well on a real GRE. An essay of this quality would not help you in the admissions process and could raise some red flags in the minds of the admissions people. You need to continue to practice, focusing on the areas of weakness that you discovered during this scoring process.

Another Sample Response

Take a look at a high scoring response to the prompt you just practiced on. Your essay might look different and that’s fine. This is just one of many ways to successfully complete the Issue essay assignment.

“The powerful are most respected not when they exercise their power, but when they refrain from exercising it.”

Write an essay in which you develop and support a position on the statement above. In writing your essay, you should consider both when the statement may be true and when it may be false.

What aspect of power engenders the greatest respect? Some would argue that power inspires respect only by its ability to change things or bring about results. This camp respects the powerful only when they demonstrate their power by raising a massive army or bestowing charity on the less fortunate. Others believe that the true measure of power lies not in what it is used for, but in how it is restrained. These people believe that people most respect the powerful when they choose not to use their power, such as granting clemency to a criminal on death row or allowing critics of the government to speak out.

Consider first the respect people hold for the exercise of power. One of the mightiest displays of power is the ability to protect and safeguard people and property and this aspect of government is what many people respect. Indeed, in Hobbes’s Leviathan, he argued that one of the reasons people sacrifice themselves for the good of the state is to preserve the power of the state to protect its members from outside attacks. And one of the stated goals of the United States massive military buildup was so that other countries would either “love us or fear us.” Thus, it is clear that people have respect for displays of power. Similarly, the ability of the powerful to bestow gifts of charity on the less fortunate is also well respected. The names of philanthropists like Carnegie and Rockefeller are held in high esteem because they used their power to help those less fortunate than themselves.

On the other hand, the ability to show restraint can also engender respect. Recently, the governor of Illinois decided to commute the death sentences of all the prisoners on death row. Such an act of clemency brought high praise from human rights proponents around the world. Furthermore, the fact that democratic governments allow dissent when they could in many cases censor or squash unfavorable opinions also lends credence to the view that restraint of power is what people respect. For example, the arbitrary arrest and sentencing of political dissidents in Russia has brought much international criticism of the Kremlin, while countries that support freedom of speech and the press are widely respected in the world.

Ultimately, after considering both sides of the issue, it must be concluded that the exercise of power is most respected. This is because even in cases of restraint, the entity in power is still exercising its power. Granting clemency is possible only because the state holds the power of life and death. Allowing dissent is exceptional only because the government has the power to crush it. Thus, it is not the restraint of power that people most respect, it is the exercise of it.

FINAL THOUGHTS: WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR TIME

Now that you know how to construct your essay, you have to practice writing essays in a mere 30 minutes. Here’s a guideline for how to use your time:

·        Find key terms, state the opposite side, brainstorm examples: 5–7 minutes

·        Formulate a thesis: 2 minutes

·        Write the essay: 18–20 minutes

·        Proofread: 1–2 minutes

Your essay doesn’t have to
be perfect. Focus on the
big picture.

Notice that not a lot of time is allotted for proofreading. Remember that it’s okay to have minor spelling and grammatical errors. Your time is better spent making sure you consider both sides of the issue completely and write an effective essay. For tons more practice, you can go towww.ets.org/gre for the complete list of essay topics.

Summary

·        Follow the three simple steps to essay success: Think, Organize, Write.

·        One of the keys to high scoring essays is good examples. Make sure your examples are relevant to the topic and as specific as possible.

·        Try to use examples drawn from your readings, current events, literature, and history. Avoid personal examples.

·        Spice up your writing by employing an interesting “hook” to get your readers’ attention. Consider using such hooks as rhetorical questions, quotes, anecdotes, facts and statistics, and other attention-getting devices.

·        A good GRE essay presents a smooth flow of ideas and examples. Make sure you use transitions to help your reader follow the progression of ideas in your essay.

·        Templates can be effective ways of organizing your essay, but don’t feel restricted to them. Come up with your own template or modify the existing templates as you see fit.