GRE Premier 2017 with 6 Practice Tests


Chapter 15. Introduction to Analytical Writing


The Analytical Writing section assesses not only how well you write but also the thought processes you employ to formulate and articulate a position. Your analytical and critical thinking skills will be tested by questions that ask you to evaluate complex arguments and form an argument of your own. The goal of the Analytical Writing section is to make the test an accurate indicator of your ability to understand and formulate an argument and to assess your analytical reasoning skills. These skills are exactly those you will need to perform well as a student at the graduate level.

In this section of the book, we’ll take you through all the Analytical Writing Essay types you’ll see on the GRE and give you the strategies you need to compose a well-written essay quickly and correctly. Also, all of the writing skills you’ll need to perform well on the test are reviewed in the Writing Foundations and Content Review chapter.

Analytical Writing Essay Types

The Analytical Writing Section of the GRE contains two different essay types. You’ll be given 30 minutes for each essay. You’ll be writing essays to address two different tasks:

·        The Issue Task will provide a brief quotation on an issue of general interest and instructions on how to respond to the issue. You can discuss the issue from any perspective, making use of your own educational and personal background, examples from current or historical events, things you’ve read, or even relevant hypothetical situations. In this task, you will be developing your own argument.

·        The Argument Task will contain a short argument that may or may not be complete and specific instructions on how to respond to the argument. You will assess the cogency of the argument, analyzing the author’s chain of reasoning and evaluating his use of evidence. In this task, you do not develop your own argument but instead critique the argument presented in the prompt.

For each task, you’ll be given one topic rather than a choice of several topics.

The Analytical Writing section will allow the graders to evaluate your ability to plan and compose a logical, well-reasoned essay under timed conditions. The essays are written on the computer, using a simple word-processing program. Only a score report is sent to the schools to which you apply.

The Analytical Writing portion of the GRE draws heavily upon your critical thinking abilities and your facility for understanding and analyzing written material. Specifically, it evaluates your ability to do the following:

·        articulate and defend a position

·        deconstruct and evaluate a complex argument

·        develop a cogent argument

·        assess the fundamental soundness of an argument

·        recognize major, minor, and irrelevant points

·        provide evidence and support for an argument

·        detect the flaws in an unsound argument

·        write articulately and effectively at a high level


You can (and should) outline your essays on scratch paper, but your final answer must be typed into the computer before the end of the timed segment for you to receive a score for your work. At the start of the first Analytical Writing section, you will be given a brief tutorial on how to use the word-processing program. Don’t worry. The GRE’s word processor is simple and easy to use; the only functions you’ll be able to use are insert textdelete textcut text, paste text, and undo. You’ll be well acquainted with these commands by the time you start writing. When practicing writing essays, turn off any auto-edit functions your word processor has. The GRE’s word processor doesn’t have these functions, so do your practice essays without them.

Pacing Strategy

You’ll have a limited amount of time to show the essay graders that you can think logically, analyze critically, and express yourself in clearly written English. Consequently, you’ll need to know ahead of time how you’re going to approach each essay. The Kaplan Method for Analytical Writing will help you plan and execute a clear, organized essay in the amount of time allotted. Note that the timing guidelines below are suggestions for how you should most effectively divide the 30 minutes you’ll have for each of the essays. Different writers go through the different steps at their own pace, so don’t feel chained to the breakdown below. As you practice, you will get a better sense of the amount of time you need to spend on each step to produce the best essay possible.


Analyze an Issue

Analyze an Argument

Number of Questions



Time per Question

30 minutes

30 minutes

1.     STEP 1
Take the Issue/Argument Apart: 2 minutes

2.     STEP 2
Select the Points You’ll Make: 4 minutes

3.     STEP 3
Organize Your Thoughts: 2 minutes

4.     STEP 4
Write Your Essay: 20 minutes

5.     STEP 5
Proofread: 2 minutes

Try to keep these estimates in mind as you prepare for the test. If you use them as you work through the practice items, you will be comfortable keeping to the same amounts of time on Test Day.


The essay scoring for the Analytical Writing sections is holistic, which means that the graders base your score on their overall impression of your essay, rather than deducting specific point values for errors. A holistic score emphasizes the interrelationship of content, organization, and syntax and denotes the unified effect of these combined elements.

The scoring scale is from 0 to 6, with 6 being the highest score. One human grader and one computer program will score each essay. If their scores differ by a certain margin, a second human grader will also score the essay, and the two human scores will be averaged.

Although the Analytical Writing section comprises two separate essays, ETS reports a single score that represents the average of your scores for the two essays, rounded to the nearest half-point.

You will receive your essay score, along with your official score report, within 10 to 15 days of your test date.


Each of the two essays requires different reasoning and presentation, so each has slightly different grading criteria. However, the following rubric will give you a general idea of the guidelines graders have in mind when they score Analytical Writing essays.

1.    6:

“Outstanding” Essay

·        Insightfully presents and convincingly supports an opinion on the issue or a critique of the argument

·        Communicates ideas clearly and is generally well organized; connections are logical

·        Demonstrates superior control of language: grammar, stylistic variety, and accepted conventions of writing; minor flaws may occur

2.    5:

“Strong” Essay

·        Presents well-chosen examples and strongly supports an opinion on the issue or a critique of the argument

·        Communicates ideas clearly and is generally well organized; connections are logical

·        Demonstrates solid control of language: grammar, stylistic variety, and accepted conventions of writing; minor flaws may occur

3.    4:

“Adequate” Essay

·        Presents and adequately supports an opinion on the issue or a critique of the argument

·        Communicates ideas fairly clearly and is adequately organized; logical connections are satisfactory

·        Demonstrates satisfactory control of language: grammar, stylistic variety, and accepted conventions of writing; some flaws may occur

4.    3:

“Limited” Essay

·        Succeeds only partially in presenting and supporting an opinion on the issue or a critique of the argument

·        Communicates ideas unclearly and is poorly organized

·        Demonstrates less than satisfactory control of language: contains significant mistakes in grammar, usage, and sentence structure

5.    2:

“Weak” Essay

·        Shows little success in presenting and supporting an opinion on the issue or a critique of the argument

·        Struggles to communicate ideas; essay shows a lack of clarity and organization

·        Meaning is impeded by many serious mistakes in grammar, usage, and sentence structure

6.    1:

“Fundamentally Deficient” Essay

·        Fails to present a coherent opinion and/or evidence on the issue or a critique of the argument

·        Fails to communicate ideas; essay is seriously unclear and disorganized

·        Lacks meaning due to widespread and severe mistakes in grammar, usage, and sentence structure

7.    0:

“Unscorable” Essay

·        Completely ignores topic

·        Attempts to copy the task

·        Written in a language other than English or contains undecipherable text

Navigating the Analytical Writing Section of This Book

The chapter immediately following this one is on Writing Foundations and Content and will review the classic writing techniques, concepts, and topics that you may encounter on the GRE. This section of the book also includes individual chapters on the Issue essay and the Argument essay questions. Each chapter includes an introduction and definition of the different tasks and a review and examples of the strategies to follow to answer those questions quickly and correctly.

Finally, at the end of this section, you’ll find the Analytical Writing Practice. This will consist of two Issue essay prompts and two Argument essay prompts. At the end will be sample essays for each of the prompts. Use the Practice Prompts to test your writing skills and pinpoint areas for more focused study. When you are finished with this section of the book, you should be thoroughly prepared for any task you might encounter on the Analytical Writing section of the GRE.