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The GRE Issue Essay provides a brief quotation on an issue of general interest and asks you to evaluate the issue according to specific instructions. You must then support one side of the issue and develop an argument to support your side.

Yes, you will be making an argument in this essay, but don't confuse it with the GRE Argument Essay, in which you'll poke holes in another author's argument. Here, the focus is on supporting the issue. Think of it like this: In the GRE Issue Essay, you'll develop your own argument with respect to one side of an issue.

Or, as GRE testmaker Educational Testing Service (ETS) puts it, you'll be "required to evaluate the issue, consider its complexities, and develop an argument with reasons and examples to support your views.”

However you choose to look at it, one thing is certain: the better organized your essay, the clearer it will be to the grader, and the higher it will score.

How to structure the GRE Issue Essay

The GRE Issue Essay is similar in structure to the classic five-paragraph short essay. You may opt for four to six paragraphs, but the template we walk you through plans for the classic five.

Here's how to put it to use.

Introduction

Although the grader will have access to the specific assignment you received, your essay should stand on its own, making clear the assignment you were given and your response to it.

Start with a sentence that clearly restates the issue you were assigned, followed by a sentence with your position on that assignment—your thesis. Next, introduce the specific reasons or examples you plan to provide in each of the next three paragraphs: one sentence for each of the forthcoming paragraphs.

It is key that you consider exactly what's being asked of you in the assignment, and make sure the language you use in your intro paragraph demonstrates that you understand the specific instructions for that assignment. For instance, if the task tells you to “address the most compelling reasons and/or examples that could be used to challenge your position,” you will need to show at least two strong reasons or examples that the opposing side could use—and then explain why those reasons or examples are incorrect.

Structure your first paragraph in this way, and you’re well on your way to effectively indicating that you understand the assignment, are organized, have considered the complexities of the issue, and can effectively use standard written English—all components of a strong essay that's destined for a great score.

Body

Each of your body paragraphs should do three things:

  • introduce one of your examples
  • explain how that example relates to the topic
  • show how the example fully supports your thesis

You should spend the majority of each body paragraph on the third step: showing how it fully supports your thesis.

1

Body paragraph 1

Use your strongest, most specific reason first, and then support that reason with examples and/or logical analysis. Your examples can be from history, science, politics, business, entertainment, pop culture, current events, or even from personal experience. Make sure you explain clearly why your examples support your reason, and why this reason supports your main thesis.

2

Body paragraph 2

Use a transition word or phrase, and then launch into your second reason and supporting example. Repeat the same process you used to construct the first paragraph.

3

Body paragraph 3

Use a transition phrase again in the first topic sentence. Describe the third example, and explain how it supports your thesis. Make sure to clearly relate the example to the topic. This paragraph is a good place to raise a possible strong counterargument to your thesis, and then explain clearly why the counterargument is incorrect. This shows the grader that, not only is your position right, but the opposite position is also wrong.

Conclusion

Your conclusion should be a brief mirror of your introductory paragraph. Remind the grader what topic you were asked to consider and what your position is. Briefly summarize the points you made.

If you find you are running out of time, it is better to include your final body paragraph and eliminate the conclusion paragraph, because the conclusion doesn’t add new information to your analysis. An otherwise well-developed Issue Essay that lacks a conclusion will not be penalized.

Tips for a strong GRE Issue Essay

Keep these specific pointers in mind while writing your practice Issue Essays—as well as the real thing on Test Day.

  • Choose a side … and stick to it! It doesn’t matter which one—just know that trying to have it both ways will come across as waffling.
  • Be specific and relevant. Whether your examples are about Mitt Romney, the mating rituals of octopii, or your Uncle Ralph the compulsive gambler, keep them specific and relevant to the real world. You can have some fun, as long as everything you write supports your argument—and you show how it does.
  • Make strong, declarative statements. Charged modifiers, active language, and cause-effect sentences add confidence and distinction. “It is unacceptable for the president to permit Congress to pass the law because it unconstitutionally overextends Congress’ powers...” beats “The president shouldn’t allow Congress to pass the law...” any day.
  • Refute the other position. Try introducing the opposing viewpoint in your conclusion—then refute it in one to two sentences, reinforcing your own thesis and ending on a strong point.

GRE Issue Essay sample

Try this sample GRE Issue Essay prompt for practice. Remember that you’ll have 30 minutes to complete it on GRE Test Day. There are various questions you might be asked to answer on the Issue Essay, so it's best to practice a few different prompts.

The emergence of the online “blogosphere” and social media has significantly weakened the quality of political discourse in the United States. Reason: When anyone can publish political opinions easily, standards for covering news and political topics will inevitably decline.

Write a response in which you examine your own position on the statement. Explore the extent to which you either agree or disagree with it, and support your reasoning with evidence and/or examples. Be sure to reflect on ways in which the statement might or might not be true, and how this informs your thinking on the subject.

Now that you have everything you need to write a winning GRE Issue Essay, get the same info about the GRE Argument Essay—and don't forget to check out general writing tips for the GRE.

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