GRE Essay Advice: Get to the Point
June 9, 2015
In an earlier post we shared with you some powerful GRE essay advice from a ninth grade English teacher. Unfortunately, not everything that English teachers teach us is useful on the analytical writing section of the GRE.
Avoid the GRE essay funnel
One particularly unhelpful thing you may have learned in grade school English is what’s called the “Funnel Approach.” It works like this: instead of just coming straight out with your thesis in the first paragraph of your GRE essay, you begin with generalities that either provide context or hook the reader and then eventually narrow things down to the point of your essay. First you talk about the universe. Then you talk about the galaxy. Then you bring up our solar system. Finally, you introduce the main point—planet Earth.
Let’s say for example that you’re writing a GRE essay to argue that Monopoly is a terrible board game. The Funnel Approach would produce a clunker of an opening paragraph like this one:
In today’s modern world, people who crave entertainment have many things to choose from. They can watch movies, play video games, enjoy the great outdoors, or even learn how to dance. Another beloved pastime of many people is playing board games, and there are many of these to choose from as well: Risk, Clue, Cranium, and countless others. One of the most popular board games ever made, though, is Monopoly. Few are the families in the United States who don’t own a copy or two of Monopoly in their house. And that’s sad, because Monopoly is a bad board game.
This example may seem silly, but we’ve seen many student essays fall into this trap in their analytical writing—meandering pointlessly before getting to the point. If you have a habit of rambling in your introductory paragraphs, here’s what you should do instead: be concise.
Analytical writing starts with a strong thesis
Get to your thesis right off the bat when writing your GRE essay. You want to structure your argument around a persuasive and natural progression of ideas, not excessive descriptions and irrelevant context. The paragraph above should instead begin like this:
Monopoly is a terrible board game.
After getting to the point immediately, each sentence of your GRE essay should fit together like an interlocking puzzle piece, establishing continuity between ideas and supporting the big picture.
Remember, the GRE essay graders don’t care how poetically you set the context for your thesis. They’re looking for a logical essay, not a creative one, and extraneous words won’t gain you any points. So, save the flowery exposition for the novel you’re writing and ask whether you’ve successfully communicated your thesis in the first sentence or two.
Are you hoping to improve your analytical writing skills and master the GRE essay on Test Day? Get a free countdown to grad school checklist to help you stay on course.