GRE Essays - Issue and Argument

For the GRE General Test, you must write an issue and an argument essay. The two essays are quite different.

  • The Issue Writing Task: You are presented with a topic -- often a controversial one. You are asked to present your perspective on the issue, using examples to support your claim. You have 30 minutes to plan and compose a response.
  • The Argument Writing Task: You are given a single topic, which often includes a snippet of an argument or a snippet of an editorial. In writing the argument essay, your goal is not to agree or disagree, but instead you must critically analyze how well reasoned you find the provided statement. You have 30 minutes to plan and compose the argument essay.

To achieve a top score, you'll need to demonstrate that you can write clearly and effectively. To that extent you'll need to accomplish the following:

  • Clearly and effectively articulate complex ideas
  • examine claims and discuss accompanying evidence
  • provide examples to help support your claims
  • sustain a well-focused discussion
  • control the elements of standard written English.

Your score on the essay section of the GRE exam is used by graduate schools to evaluate your writing and analytical skills. Two separate trained readers will read your essays. They will score each essay based on many factors, and the scores will be combined and averaged. Scores are given on a range from zero to six, in half-point increments. The ETS website provides an overview for both the issue and argument writing tasks, as well as a Score Level Descriptions page.

Test Tip!

There are no RIGHT "answers" to the essays, so you can be creative, just as long as you follow a few simple rules and demonstrate a coherent writing style. ETS has made available the complete set of possible essay topics that you can expect to see on the GRE.

Writing Well

Contrary to common belief, writing an essay is not something that happens spontaneously. Luckily, you can improve your writing, and there are several "rules" that you should be aware of to help you compose an essay that is concise, poignant, and easy to understand.

Writing a successful essay requires planning, organization, and practice. The purpose for writing an essay in every instance is to convey a specific meaning to your audience. Developing the message and keeping to a common pattern will help your audience follow along as you make your claims. Your writing should, above all, be your own. It should stay true to your own voice and it should clearly reflect what it is about you that is important for the world to know.

From the choices on the left, select that tutorial that you want to access. The first section, GRE Issue & Argument Essays, explains each of the two essays that you must write when taking the GRE, and how you might plan, structure, and compose them. In the Essay Organization section, you'll find a general review of how to nicely and effectively structure an essay. In the Grammar, Style, & Brevity section, you'll find a review of basic grammar and style.