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How to Write GRE® Essays
Learn what the two types of GRE essays have in common, and how to boost your score on each one.
There are two types of essays you'll be asked to write on GRE Test Day: the GRE Issue Essay and the GRE Argument Essay. Together, they make up the Analytical Writing Section of the exam.
While each type of essay should be approached differently, there are some things they have in common—and some writing guidelines that should be followed for both. Here, find out what you need to know about the essay section in general before getting detailed breakdowns for each type of essay.
While you're prepping for GRE essays, remember that all writing practice is good writing practice.
How are the GRE essays scored?
GRE essays are scored on a scale of 0 to 6 in half-point increments, with 6 being the highest. Two graders read and score each essay. If the graders' scores differ by more than one point, the essay goes to a third grader who also scores it.
The scoring for both types of essays in the GRE Analytical Writing Section is holistic, which means that graders base scores on an overall impression of your essay, rather than deducting specific points for errors.
Although the GRE Analytical Writing section includes two separate essays, the GRE testmaker, Educational Testing Service (ETS), reports a single score—the average of the two essays—rounded up to the nearest half-point. This score makes up the essay portion of your overall GRE score.
Tips for a strong Analytical Writing Section
Lots of students have excellent transcripts and are good at taking tests, but not everyone can demonstrate impressive writing skills. Try these tips to take your Analytical Writing essays to a whole new level.
Write at least three practice GRE essays
Use prompts for the two different types of essays in the Analytical Writing Section, and stick to the 30-minute time limit per essay that you’ll have on GRE Test Day. Peer reviews are especially valuable, so ask a friend or colleague for feedback after you complete each essay.
Use transition words and phrases
On both types of essays in the GRE Analytical Writing Section, it is important to use transition words and phrases to guide the grader through the argument you’re making.
Words like because, although, furthermore, however, and alternatively will serve as a roadmap throughout your essay. These terms are designed to catch the grader’s attention and demonstrate that you've thoughtfully considered your points and clearly structured your message.
Avoid first person
For the most part, first-person pronouns have no place in GRE essays—especially in intros or conclusions. The grader knows that you’re the one writing the essay.
In the Argument Essay, don't be tempted to state: "I agree," "I disagree," "I've discovered," or "I've found." In the Issue Essay, you may find that you use the occasional personal example in your body paragraph, in which case you can slip in an "I" or a "me" on occasion, but keep in mind that self-reference must be used extremely sparingly—and with a specific, justifiable purpose.
Use confident, purposeful language
Active sentences and strong modifiers are the way to write when you're crafting a GRE essay. Not only do they make your writing sound more sophisticated and concise, but they add conviction to your written voice.