GRE Analytical Writing 101

gre analytical writing

The GRE is an assessment often used by graduate schools to evaluate applicants to their programs.  The Analytical Writing Measure of the GRE tests the examinees’ ability to think critically and write analytically. The measure includes two tasks: the “Analyze an Issue” task and the “Analyze an Argument” task.

The following article offers tips for preparing for the measure and advice from the Educational Testing Service (the organization that manages the GRE) for preparing for each individual task.

How to Prepare for the GRE Writing Assessment

(1) Read the general instructions in advance. Become familiar with the assessments directions, timing, and scoring.

(2) Obtain a recent version of a GRE study guide and utilize ETS’ resources to find sample questions and texts. Use the study guide to learn advanced techniques for improving your performance in all areas of the examination.

(3) Practice; write at least one or two practice essays for each task.

(4) Review sample responses, and reviewer critiques for each essay assignment to learn about the reviewers’ expectations (Sample essays can be found on the ETS Webpage:  sample responses and commentary for the issue task and sample responses and commentary for the argument task).

(5)  Practice good writing. Review the proper structure of an academic paper, and grammatical rules to ensure the quality of your writing.  GRE writing assessment scores take into consideration organization and grammar.

(6) During your preparation be mindful of the assessments time constraints; remember, you only have 30 minutes to complete each essay.

gre analytical writing

GRE “Analytical Writing” Measure Performance Tips

The Educational Testing Service provides helpful tips for successful execution of the GRE writing assessment. Use these suggestions to help organize your thoughts as you compose your essay.

Below is an example of and Analytical Writing task:

Source: Educational Testing Service

Claim: In any field- business, politics, education, government – those in power should step down after 5 years

Reason: The surest path to success for any enterprise is revitalization through new leadership

Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim and the reason on which that claim is based

Note: There are several question formats, familiarize yourself with all possible question structures so you are prepared to answer the question you are given on test day.

To assess the claim above and formulate a response to the task the ETS recommends test takers follow these steps:

(1) Review the claim and writing instructions; make sure you fully understand the task.

(2) Take some time to think about the claim; brainstorm the ways in which it relates to your personal experiences, and overall body of knowledge. Use these references to help develop your argument.

(3) Determine your position on the claim, and formulate arguments to defend your position.

(4) Figure out the evidence you will use in your essay to support your position.

Ask yourself the following questions to help formulate your argument: 

What is the central issue in the proposed claim?

What do the instructions indicate is the purpose of the essay?

Which part(s) of the claim do I agree/disagree with? Why do I feel this way?

Does the claim make any assumptions, are they reasonable?

Does the claim require specific conditions for it to be considered true? What are these conditions?

Is it important for me to identify my interpretation of terms and concepts contained within the claim in my response?

What are the reasons for my choice in position on the issue?

Are there any specific examples I can use to support my position?

In order to add depth to your analysis, the ETS recommends you ask yourself the following questions about the position you plan to defend. Include your answers to these questions in your composition.

How would someone with the opposite point of view on the claim attack my arguments?

How do I address those arguments to strengthen my position?

As you practice working with these questions, make sure you can answer each one in detail; while the GRS won’t test you on your knowledge of the subject matter, it will score you based on your ability to write a strong argument. Incorporating the answers to the questions above in your response will contribute to the persuasiveness of your argument and the overall strength of your essay.

GRE “Analyze an Argument” Measure Performance Tips

The analyze an argument task requires the test taker to approach analysis and essay composition from a different perspective. Consider the example question below:


Source: Educational Testing Service

The following appeared in a letter from a homeowner to a friend:

“Of the two leading real estate firms in our town – Adams Realty and Fitch Realty – Adams Realty is clearly superior. Adams has 40 real estate agents; in contrast, Fitch has 25, many of whom work only part time. Moreover, Adams revenue last year was twice as high as that of Fitch and included home sales that averaged $168,000, compared to Fitch’s $144,000. Homes listed with Adams sell faster as well: ten years ago I listed my home with Fitch, and it took more than four months to sell: last year, when I sold another home, I listed it with Adams, and it took only one month. Thus, if you want to sell your home quickly and at a good price, you should use Adam’s Realty.

Write a response in which you examine the stated and/or unstated assumptions of the argument. Be sure to explain how the argument depends on these assumptions and what the implications are for the argument if the assumptions prove unwarranted.

Note: There are several question formats, familiarize yourself with all possible question structures so you are prepared to answer the question you are given on test day.

The analyze and argument measure does not require you to defend a position on a claim, rather it asks the examinee to assess the strength or weakness of the argument presented. 

As you begin the analyze an argument section of the test take some time to collect your thoughts. The ETS recommends taking the following steps:

Read and understand the instructions

Identify and evaluate the arguments claims, assumptions and conclusions

Identify and evaluate any alternative explanations for the claim or examples to disprove it.

Brainstorm specific evidence you can use to discredit the claim.

Figure out if making changes to parts of the argument would enhance the reasoning.

ETS also recommends students become familiar with the following terminology prior to completing the “Analyze an Argument” task in the GRE:




alternative explanation

a competing version of what might have caused the events in question that undercuts or qualifies the original explanation because it too can account for the observed factsa competing version of what might have caused the events in question that undercuts or qualifies the original explanation because it too can account for the observed facts


the process of breaking something (e.g., an argument) down into its component parts in order to understand how they work together to make up the whole


a claim or a set of claims with reasons and evidence offered as support; a line of reasoning meant to demonstrate the truth or falsehood of something


a belief, often unstated or unexamined, that someone must hold in order to maintain a particular position; something that is taken for granted but that must be true in order for the conclusion to be true


the end point reached by a line of reasoning, valid if the reasoning is sound; the resulting assertion


an example, real or hypothetical, that refutes or disproves a statement in the argument


an assessment of the quality of evidence and reasons in an argument and of the overall merit of an argument

Practicing your essay responses to the GRE writing section may help you formulate a sophisticated and well written response to an important section of the examination.   Take time to review; use available study materials as a guideline when you practice writing your essays. Advance preparation and familiarity with the test material will help you walk in to the testing center feeling confident in your ability to impress reviewers with you incredible writing and analytical skills.


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