Cracking the GRE: Analytical Writing

The Analytical Writing section of the GRE is designed to assess critical thinking and analytical writing skills, including the ability to express complex ideas clearly and effectively while sustaining a coherent and focused discussion. The test does not evaluate specific content knowledge.

Question Types

This section of the GRE consists of two separately timed essays. For each essay, you will be given 30 minutes to address a specified general topic. You will be provided with a set of instructions on the approach to take. It’s important to carefully read and follow the instructions in order to satisfy the test requirements.

The two Analytical Writing essays are categorized as follows:

• Analyze an Issue: This section assesses your ability to think critically about a general interest topic and express your thoughts about it in writing. You will be given an issue statement that makes a claim that can be viewed from several different angles. In your essay, you are expected to explain and defend your position on the issue.

• Analyze an Argument: This section assesses your ability to understand, analyze, and evaluate arguments related to an event or course of action. The arguments will be presented in a brief passage that puts forth the author’s case. You must determine if this case is logically sound and explain your evaluation in writing.

Note that the first essay requires you to state your position and provide evidence to support it while the second essay requires you to analyze and evaluate someone else’s position. As you write your essays, remember that you will be assessed based on how you use critical thinking and analysis to fully address the specified topic and how well you can express yourself in writing.

Topic Examples

Educational Testing Service (ETS) provides examples of the type of topics that are included in the Analytical Writing section. For the Analyze an Issue essay, you may be asked to agree or disagree with the claim that the widespread use of technology is causing deterioration in people’s ability to think for themselves. Another example is agreeing or disagreeing with a recommendation that all elementary and secondary school students should study the same national curriculum.

An example passage provided by ETS for the Analyze and Argument section describes a city that has a polluted river running through it. The state has made a commitment to clean up the river. Therefore, the city should set aside money in this year’s budget for recreational facilities along the river. Is this a logically sound argument?


It’s critically important to budget your time during the test. Within the 30-minute time limit for each essay, you’ll need to read the instructions, analyze the issue or argument, decide on your response, and compose your essay. You also need to save time to proofread your essay after you’ve finished writing. GRE readers may overlook minor grammatical errors due to the time constraints of the test, but serious errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics will significantly lower your test score.

For the Analyze an Issue essay, you need to discuss how much you agree or disagree with the issue statement. Remember that there is no “right” or “wrong” response. You will be scored on the reasoning you use to support your point of view and the relevant examples you provide. Avoid using examples that are too broad or lists of examples with no supporting detail.

For the Analyze an Argument essay, begin by breaking down the line of reasoning in the argument text. Identify the separate steps in the thinking process and determine if progression from one step to the next is logically sound. For this essay, remember that you are not being asked whether you agree with the argument. Instead, focus on the author’s success in providing evidence that supports his or her position.

How to Prepare

The audience for both your essays will be college and university faculty who are trained as GRE readers. Your writing should demonstrate a level of critical thinking and clarity that positively reflects your academic background.

ETS recommends that everyone prepare for the Analytical Writing test, even confident and practiced writers. Review the score level descriptions and other materials provided in the Analytical Writing section of the GRE website. To help examinees prepare, ETS has provided the complete pools of issue and argument topics. You will be presented with one topic from each pool when you take the test.

ETS has provided an invaluable preparation tool in the form of scored sample essays in the Analytical Writing Introduction. Going over the scored sample essays will provide insight into what GRE readers expect to see in a high scoring essay and what will cause them to give a low score. ETS also provides a sample test; completing this test under test conditions and having it evaluated by an instructor or peer will provide one more advantage when you sit down to take the actual test.

Quick Tips for GRE Analytical Writing Prep

Study sample essays The GRE Analytical Writing test includes two types of essays: Analyze an Issue and Analyze an Argument. Visit the Education Testing Service (ETS) website at to see descriptions and samples of each type of essay.
Learn how GRE essays are scored: According to ETS, even the most practiced writers need to become familiar with the skills being measured and the scoring criteria. Review scoring guides and sample scored essays on the ETS website.
Complete sample essays: ETS Powerprep II Software provides sample tests that include both Analyze an Issue and Analyze an Argument essays. Download a free copy at
Practice, practice, practice: The more you write, the easier it will become. Avoid GRE writer’s block and complete several test essays within the 30-minute time limit. Ask instructors or knowledgeable friends to proofread and critique your essays and then work to correct the problems they find.
Get expert help: If writing is one of your weaker academic areas, investigate online GRE prep courses and tutoring services.

For more information on the GRE please see our post on GRE preparationGRE Verbal Reasoning and GRE Quantitative Reasoning.