GRE Analytical Writing: Definition, Question Types, and Practice Questions

The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) measures the test taker’s critical thinking and analytical writing skills along with the control of grammar and the essence of writing. It evaluates one’s ability to clearly explain complex ideas, evaluate claims and arguments, and maintain a consistent and systematic discussion.

Read More: GRE Test Structure

What are the parts of the GRE Analytical Writing Measure?

Analyze an Issue Task and Analyze an Argument Task are the parts of the Analytical Writing measure.

1. Analyze an Issue Task

The Analyze an Issue task requires a test taker to present his or her own personal opinions on an issue which is followed by instructions on how to respond to that issue. One is tasked to evaluate the issue, think about its difficulties, and turn an argument with causes and examples to support his views.

Sample Analytical Writing Essay Response with Rater Commentary [1]

The essay below is a sample of a good response in the GRE Analytical Writing Assessment – Analyze an Issue Task. This response received a score of 6, which is the highest for this section.

Essay Response — Score 6

The statement linking technology negatively with free thinking plays on recent human experience over the past century. Surely there has been no time in history where the lived lives of people have changed more dramatically. A quick reflection on a typical day reveals how technology has revolutionized the world. Most people commute to work in an automobile that runs on an internal combustion engine. During the workday, chances are high that the employee will interact with a computer that processes information on silicon bridges that are .09 microns wide. Upon leaving home, family members will be reached through wireless networks that utilize satellites orbiting the earth. Each of these common occurrences could have been inconceivable at the turn of the 19th century.

The statement attempts to bridge these dramatic changes to a reduction in the ability for humans to think for themselves. The assumption is that an increased reliance on technology negates the need for people to think creatively to solve previous quandaries. Looking back at the introduction, one could argue that without a car, computer, or mobile phone, the hypothetical worker would need to find alternate methods of transport, information processing and communication. Technology short circuits this thinking by making the problems obsolete.

However, this reliance on technology does not necessarily preclude the creativity that marks the human species. The prior examples reveal that technology allows for convenience. The car, computer and phone all release additional time for people to live more efficiently. This efficiency does not preclude the need for humans to think for themselves. In fact, technology frees humanity to not only tackle new problems, but may itself create new issues that did not exist without technology. For example, the proliferation of automobiles has introduced a need for fuel conservation on a global scale. With increasing energy demands from emerging markets, global warming becomes a concern inconceivable to the horse-and-buggy generation. Likewise dependence on oil has created nation-states that are not dependent on taxation, allowing ruling parties to oppress minority groups such as women. Solutions to these complex problems require the unfettered imaginations of maverick scientists and politicians.

In contrast to the statement, we can even see how technology frees the human imagination. Consider how the digital revolution and the advent of the internet has allowed for an unprecedented exchange of ideas. WebMD, a popular internet portal for medical information, permits patients to self research symptoms for a more informed doctor visit. This exercise opens pathways of thinking that were previously closed off to the medical layman. With increased interdisciplinary interactions, inspiration can arrive from the most surprising corners. Jeffrey Sachs, one of the architects of the UN Millenium Development Goals, based his ideas on emergency care triage techniques. The unlikely marriage of economics and medicine has healed tense, hyperinflation environments from South America to Eastern Europe.

This last example provides the most hope in how technology actually provides hope to the future of humanity. By increasing our reliance on technology, impossible goals can now be achieved. Consider how the late 20th century witnessed the complete elimination of smallpox. This disease had ravaged the human race since prehistoric days, and yet with the technology of vaccines, free thinking humans dared to imagine a world free of smallpox. Using technology, battle plans were drawn out, and smallpox was systematically targeted and eradicated.

Technology will always mark the human experience, from the discovery of fire to the implementation of nanotechnology. Given the history of the human race, there will be no limit to the number of problems, both new and old, for us to tackle. There is no need to retreat to a Luddite attitude to new things, but rather embrace a hopeful posture to the possibilities that technology provides for new avenues of human imagination.

Rater Commentary for Essay Response — Score 6

The author of this essay stakes out a clear and insightful position on the issue and follows the specific instructions by presenting reasons to support that position. The essay cogently argues that technology does not decrease our ability to think for ourselves, but merely provides “additional time for people to live more efficiently.” In fact, the problems that have developed alongside the growth of technology (pollution, political unrest in oil-producing nations) actually call for more creative thinking, not less.

In further examples, the essay shows how technology allows for the linking of ideas that may never have been connected in the past (like medicine and economic models), pushing people to think in new ways. Examples are persuasive and fully developed; reasoning is logically sound and well supported.

Ideas in the essay are connected logically, with effective transitions used both between paragraphs (“However” or “In contrast to the statement”) and within paragraphs. Sentence structure is varied and complex and the essay clearly demonstrates facility with the “conventions of standard written English (i.e., grammar, usage and mechanics),” with only minor errors appearing. Thus, this essay meets all the requirements for receiving a top score, a 6.

Analyze an Issue Task’s Topic Pool [2]

The topics listed below are sample Issue topics for the Analytical Writing section of the GRE General Test. Some topics may be reworded in the test and be slightly different from what is presented in this list.

1. In business, education, and government, it is always appropriate to remain skeptical of new leaders until those leaders show that they are worthy of trust.

Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim. In developing and supporting your position, be sure to address the most compelling reasons and/or examples that could be used to challenge your position.

2. Some people believe that success in creative fields, such as painting, fiction writing, and filmmaking, primarily requires hard work and perseverance. Others believe that such success mainly requires innate talents that cannot be learned.

Write a response in which you discuss which view more closely aligns with your own position and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should address both of the views presented.

3. Universities should require every student to take a variety of courses outside the student’s field of study.

Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim. In developing and supporting your position, be sure to address the most compelling reasons and/or examples that could be used to challenge your position.

Read More: GRE Analytical Writing Topic

2. Analyze an Argument Task

The Analyze an Argument task requires a test taker to assess a specified argument according to instructions. Test takers must consider the logical soundness of the argument rather than having to take sides on whether they agree with the position it shows.

Sample Analytical Writing Essay Response with Rater Commentary [3]

The essay below is a sample of a good response in the GRE Analytical Writing Assessment – Analyze an Argument Task. This response received a score of 6, which is the highest for this section.

Essay Response — Score 6

While it may be true that the Mason City government ought to devote more money to riverside recreational facilities, this author’s argument does not make a cogent case for increased resources based on river use. It is easy to understand why city residents would want a cleaner river, but this argument is rife with holes and assumptions, and thus, not strong enough to lead to increased funding.

Citing surveys of city residents, the author reports city resident’s love of water sports. It is not clear, however, the scope and validity of that survey. For example, the survey could have asked residents if they prefer using the river for water sports or would like to see a hydroelectric dam built, which may have swayed residents toward river sports. The sample may not have been representative of city residents, asking only those residents who live upon the river. The survey may have been 10 pages long, with 2 questions dedicated to river sports. We just do not know. Unless the survey is fully representative, valid, and reliable, it can not be used to effectively back the author’s argument.

Additionally, the author implies that residents do not use the river for swimming, boating, and fishing, despite their professed interest, because the water is polluted and smelly. While a polluted, smelly river would likely cut down on river sports, a concrete connection between the resident’s lack of river use and the river’s current state is not effectively made. Though there have been complaints, we do not know if there have been numerous complaints from a wide range of people, or perhaps from one or two individuals who made numerous complaints. To strengthen his/her argument, the author would benefit from implementing a normed survey asking a wide range of residents why they do not currently use the river.

Building upon the implication that residents do not use the river due to the quality of the river’s water and the smell, the author suggests that a river clean up will result in increased river usage. If the river’s water quality and smell result from problems which can be cleaned, this may be true. For example, if the decreased water quality and aroma is caused by pollution by factories along the river, this conceivably could be remedied. But if the quality and aroma results from the natural mineral deposits in the water or surrounding rock, this may not be true. There are some bodies of water which emit a strong smell of sulphur due to the geography of the area. This is not something likely to be afffected by a clean-up. Consequently, a river clean up may have no impact upon river usage. Regardless of whether the river’s quality is able to be improved or not, the author does not effectively show a connection between water quality and river usage.

A clean, beautiful, safe river often adds to a city’s property values, leads to increased tourism and revenue from those who come to take advantage of the river, and a better overall quality of life for residents. For these reasons, city government may decide to invest in improving riverside recreational facilities. However, this author’s argument is not likely significantly persuade the city goverment to allocate increased funding.

Rater Commentary for Essay Response — Score 6

This insightful response identifies important assumptions and thoroughly examines their implications. The essay shows that the proposal to spend more on riverside recreational facilities rests on three questionable assumptions, namely:

  • that the survey provides a reliable basis for budget planning
  • that the river’s pollution and odor are the only reasons for its limited recreational use
  • that efforts to clean the water and remove the odor will be successful

By showing that each assumption is highly suspect, this essay demonstrates the weakness of the entire argument. For example, paragraph 2 points out that the survey might not have used a representative sample, might have offered limited choices, and might have contained very few questions on water sports.

Paragraph 3 examines the tenuous connection between complaints and limited use of the river for recreation. Complaints about water quality and odor may be coming from only a few people and, even if such complaints are numerous, other completely different factors may be much more significant in reducing river usage. Finally, paragraph 4 explains that certain geologic features may prevent effective river clean-up. Details such as these provide compelling support.

In addition, careful organization ensures that each new point builds upon the previous ones. For example, note the clear transitions at the beginning of paragraphs 3 and 4, as well as the logical sequence of sentences within paragraphs (specifically paragraph 4).

Although this essay does contain minor errors, it still conveys ideas fluently. Note the effective word choices (e.g., “rife with . . . assumptions” and “may have swayed residents”). In addition, sentences are not merely varied; they also display skillful embedding of subordinate elements.

Since this response offers cogent examination of the argument and conveys meaning skillfully, it earns a score of 6.

Analyze an Argument Task’s Topic Pool [4]

The topics listed below are sample Argument topics for the Analytical Writing section of the GRE General Test. Some topics may be reworded in the test and be slightly different from what is presented in this list.

1. The following report appeared in the newsletter of the West Meria Public Health Council.

“An innovative treatment has come to our attention that promises to significantly reduce absenteeism in our schools and workplaces. A study reports that in nearby East Meria, where fish consumption is very high, people visit the doctor only once or twice per year for the treatment of colds. Clearly, eating a substantial amount of fish can prevent colds. Since colds represent the most frequently given reason for absences from school and work, we recommend the daily use of Ichthaid — a nutritional supplement derived from fish oil — as a good way to prevent colds and lower absenteeism.”

Write a response in which you discuss what specific evidence is needed to evaluate the argument and explain how the evidence would weaken or strengthen the argument.

2. A recent sales study indicates that consumption of seafood dishes in Bay City restaurants has increased by 30 percent during the past five years. Yet there are no currently operating city restaurants whose specialty is seafood. Moreover, the majority of families in Bay City are two-income families, and a nationwide study has shown that such families eat significantly fewer home-cooked meals than they did a decade ago but at the same time express more concern about healthful eating. Therefore, the new Captain Seafood restaurant that specializes in seafood should be quite popular and profitable.

Write a response in which you discuss what specific evidence is needed to evaluate the argument and explain how the evidence would weaken or strengthen the argument.

3. The council of Maple County, concerned about the county’s becoming overdeveloped, is debating a proposed measure that would prevent the development of existing farmland in the county. But the council is also concerned that such a restriction, by limiting the supply of new housing, could lead to significant increases in the price of housing in the county. Proponents of the measure note that Chestnut County established a similar measure ten years ago, and its housing prices have increased only modestly since. However, opponents of the measure note that Pine County adopted restrictions on the development of new residential housing fifteen years ago, and its housing prices have since more than doubled. The council currently predicts that the proposed measure, if passed, will result in a significant increase in housing prices in Maple County.

Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the prediction and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the prediction.

Read More: GRE Analytical Writing Topic Pool

How long does the GRE Analytical Writing take?

1 hour is given to test takers to accomplish the GRE Analytical Writing tasks. The argument and issue analytical tasks are separately timed for 30 minutes.

What is a good GRE Analytical Writing score?

A score between 3.5 to 6.0 is a good GRE Analytical Writing score.

How is the Analytical Writing Measure scored?

A 6-point scale for each response task is used to score the GRE Analytical Writing section. GRE Readers, also called as raters, assign scores based on the overall quality of the test taker’s response and not into component parts or criterion. Scores for both tasks are then averaged to get the final score. Though the Analytical Writing section has two tasks, a single mean score is declared because it is more reliable than a single score for each task.

Analyze an Issue Task Scoring Guide [5]

The 6 categories which act as scoring guide for the Issue Task are listed in the table below.

Issues Task Scoring Guide

Score

Score Analysis

Score 6

Outstanding

This score means that the test taker was able to convey the specific task directions. He/she was able to show a well-articulated analysis of the issue and address the meaning well.

Score 5

Strong

A 5 response means that the test taker was able to convey a contemplative, well-developed analysis of the issue and the meaning was clearly conveyed.

Score 4

Adequate

A score of 4 means that the test taker wrote a sufficient analysis of the issue and presents meaning with justifiable clarity.

Score 3

Limited

This score means that in tackling the specific task directions, the examinee displays some competence in analyzing the issue, but is flawed and might need some improvements.

Score 2

Seriously Flawed

A test taker who received a score of 2 shows serious weakness in analytical writing by disregarding the specific task direction given.

Score 1

Fundamentally Deficient

A score of 1 indicates that the examinee has basic deficiencies in analytical writing.

Score 0

A score of 0 demonstrates that the output was illegible or nonverbal. This happens when an examinee fails to tackle the assigned topic, is off topic, in a foreign language, or just copies of the topic.

Score NS

The response is blank.

The scores for the Analytical Writing – Analyze an Issue Task can range from 0 to 6 with 6 being the highest. The table above shows the guide raters use in scoring essays. This also serves as a rubric or criteria which will help examinees in constructing their passages.

Analyze an Argument Task Scoring Guide [6]

The 6 categories which act as scoring guide for the Argument Task are listed in the table below.

Argument Task Scoring Guide

Score

Score Analysis

Score 6 (Outstanding)

This score means that the test taker was able to convey the specific task directions. He/she was able to show a well-articulated examination of the argument and address the meaning well.

Score 5 (Strong)

A 5 response means that the test taker was able to convey a contemplative, well-developed examination of the argument and the meaning was clearly conveyed.

Score 4 (Adequate)

A score of 4 means that the test taker wrote a sufficient examination of the argument and presents meaning with justifiable clarity.

Score 3 (Limited)

This score means that in tackling the specific task directions, the examinee displays some competence in examining the argument, but is flawed and might need some improvements.

Score 2 (Seriously Flawed)

A test taker who received a score of 2 shows serious weakness in analytical writing by disregarding the specific task direction given.

Score 1 (Fundamentally Deficient)

A score of 1 indicates that the examinee has basic deficiencies in analytical writing.

Score 0

A score of 0 demonstrates that the output was illegible or nonverbal. This happens when an examinee fails to tackle the assigned topic, is off topic, in a foreign language, or just copies of the topic.

Score NS

The response is blank.

The scores for the Analytical Writing – Analyze an Argument Task can range from 0 to 6 with 6 being the highest. The table above shows the guide raters use in scoring essays. This also serves as a rubric or criteria which will help examinees in constructing their passages.

What is the meaning of GRE Analytical Writing scores? [7]

The final reported score for Analytical Writing ranges from 0 to 6, in half increments. The score levels are described in the following table.

ANALYTICAL WRITING SCORE LEVEL DESCRIPTIONS

SCORE

DESCRIPTION

5.5 and 6

· Sustains insightful, in-depth analysis of complex ideas

· Develops and supports main points with logically compelling reasons and/or highly persuasive examples

· Is well focused and well organized

· Skillfully uses sentence variety and precise vocabulary to convey meaning effectively

· Demonstrates superior facility with sentence structure and language usage, but may have minor errors that do not interfere with meaning.

4.5 and 5

· Provides generally thoughtful analysis of complex ideas

· Develops and supports main points with logically sound reasons and/or well-chosen examples

· Is generally focused and well organized

· Uses sentence variety and vocabulary to convey meaning clearly

· Demonstrates good control of sentence structure and language usage but may have minor errors that do not interfere with meaning

3.5 and 4

· Provides competent analysis of ideas

· Develops and supports main points with relevant reasons and/or examples

· Is adequately organized; conveys meaning with reasonable clarity

· Demonstrates satisfactory control of sentence structure and language usage but may have some errors that affect clarity

2.5 and 3

· Displays some competence in analytical writing, although the writing is flawed in at least one of the following ways: limited analysis or development

· Weak organization

· Weak control of sentence structure or language usage, with errors that often result in vagueness or lack of clarity

1.5 and 2

· Displays serious weaknesses in analytical writing

· The writing is seriously flawed in at least one of the following ways: serious lack of analysis or development.

· Lack of organization

· Serious and frequent problems in sentence structure or language usage, with errors that obscure meaning

0.5 and 1

· Displays fundamental deficiencies in analytical writing

· The writing is fundamentally flawed in at least one of the following ways: content is extremely confusing or mostly irrelevant to the assigned tasks.

· Little or no development; severe and pervasive errors that result in incoherence

0

· The examinee’s analytical writing skills cannot be evaluated because the responses do not address any part of the assigned tasks, are merely attempts to copy the assignments, are in a foreign language, or display only indecipherable text.

NS

· The examinee produced no text whatsoever.

The scores for the Analytical Writing section can range from 0 to 6 with 6 being the highest. The table above shows the guide raters use in scoring essays in this section. This also serves as a rubric or criteria which will help examinees in constructing their passages.

Other Sections

Read more: GRE Verbal Reasoning

Read more: GRE Quantitative Reasoning

References:

[1] https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/analytical_writing/issue/sample_responses

[2] https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/analytical_writing/issue/pool

[3] https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/analytical_writing/argument/sample_responses

[4] https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/analytical_writing/argument/pool

[5] https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/analytical_writing/issue/scoring_guide

[6] https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/analytical_writing/argument/scoring_guide

[7] https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/analytical_writing/score_level_descriptions/