GRE Analytical Writing | How to

How to Crack the GRE Analytical Writing ?

Prospective GRE test takers must be aware that the Verbal section has an Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) segment, under which they would need to write two essays. While one is called the AWA Issue assignment, the other is called the AWA Argument. In this article, we have GRE practice tips focused on helping test takers to crack the AWA Issue assignment.

Before we start off with our GRE practice tips, let’s look at the scoring of the AWA part of the Verbal section. The Verbal and Quant sections, both of which have multiple-choice questions, have scores ranging from 130–170 each, contributing to a maximum aggregate of 340. The AWA is scored separately on a scale of 0–6, with increments of 0.5. In other words, you can score 0.5, 1, 1.5, and so on. To get into a good school, you would need an average score of 4.5.

What is the Analytical Writing Issue Assignment?

In the AWA Issue assignment, a test taker is required to write an essay on a given topic, usually a contentious issue. A test taker must necessarily take a stand on the stated Issue; he/she cannot be neutral. For instance, the topic of the essay could be, “Should Mobile Phones be Banned on College Campuses?” The test taker must either agree or choose to disagree. He/she must justify a ban on mobile phones on college campuses or try to persuade the reader that such a ban is not justifiable.

The Structure of the GRE Essay

As you are planning to write about 400 words (see the frequently asked question, below, about the ideal length of the essay), five paragraphs would suffice. These could comprise of an introduction followed by three body paragraphs and a conclusion.


You must state your stand in the introduction. However, do not begin the essay with a statement such as, “I agree with the view that mobile phones should be banned on college campuses.” That can come later. Write a couple of lines to lead up to the statement. For instance, you could start off with the line, “We live in the age of communication technology. And nothing exemplifies communication technology, as well as the smartphone, does.”

As we are going to be talking about college campuses and young people on those campuses, you could add, “Virtually everyone owns a smartphone. Nobody leaves home without it. This is especially true of young people who seem obsessed with the new toy whose novelty shows no sign of wearing, in the foreseeable future.”

With the above lines, we have set the stage for your stand, ‘However, I believe that mobile phones should be banned on college campuses.”

You can observe that there are two distinct parts to the introductory paragraph. The first part is the lead-up statement. The second is the statement of your stand.

Body Paragraphs

Begin each body paragraph with a reason to justify your stand that mobile phones should be banned on college campuses. For instance, you might begin your first body paragraph with the line, “Firstly, smartphones are known to distract students from studies.”

Follow up with an example or some evidence to justify the reason. For instance, you might choose to cite an example from personal experience. You might say, “My neighbor’s son used to get high grades at school. The boy went away from his parents to live on a college campus when he got admitted to an undergraduate course in another town. The parents presented their son with a smartphone. The boy who was owning a smartphone for the first time in his life got very excited with the toy. In fact, he grew obsessed with the phone and, as things transpired, became addicted to android games. Not surprisingly, the boy’s grades fell.”

As you can see, we have provided an example of a typical body paragraph as needed in an AWA Issue essay.


Restate your stand in the concluding paragraph. However, before you do that, you should acknowledge the merits of the opposing point of view. For instance, you could say, “Some people may justifiably point out that smartphones could serve a useful purpose on campuses. For instance, parents wishing to communicate with their children at an odd hour of the day or night would surely it easy to call their children on their smartphones. Also, smartphones with their easy access to the Internet could provide students with an aid to study.”

You can now conclude by restating your stand: “However, as shown in the paragraphs above, the reasons for banning mobile phones on campuses outweigh the reasons for retaining them.”

How is the Analytical Writing Issue Essay Evaluated?

Your essay is likely to be evaluated on several parameters. An obvious one is your writing ability, including vocabulary and sentence variation. Use editing time judiciously to ensure that you haven’t made any silly grammar or spelling mistakes. Keep your sentences short, and don’t use words you are not familiar with.

Another parameter on which the examiner may evaluate your issue essay is ‘organization’. In other words, how well does your essay flow? One way you can ensure the good organization is by using transitional words or phrases. Begin your body paragraphs with words such as firstly, secondly, finally. Even a casual reader will know when he/she reaches your concluding paragraph if you begin the paragraph with such words as ‘in conclusion,’ ‘to conclude,’ or ‘in sum.’ A well-organized essay is easy to read. GRE examiners have little time, and they might reward you if you made your essay easier to read with proper organization.

Surely, the most important parameter that could earn you a high score is the quality of examples/evidence you use to justify your stand. Look at a possible list of sources in the following paragraph. (Note: Ensure that the example used in each body paragraph is from a different source.)

Sources of Examples/Evidence

Test takers may experience writers’ block when they set out to write the AWA Issue essay. Considering that you have only 30 minutes to write the essay in, you would want to get started as soon as possible. Ideally, you should divide the given time of 30 minutes into three segments: 5 minutes for preparation, 20 minutes for the actual writing, and 5 minutes for editing. So, how do you combat writers’ block? The answer is simpler than you might imagine — focus on the most important part of the essay from the evaluators’ point of view. As you have already read, the quality of examples/evidence could determine how persuasive your essay is.

To make things easier for the test taker, I have devised an acronym (S-P-L-A-S-H) that should help the test taker on his journey without any loss of time. The acronym is easy to remember, and as you will see in the following paragraphs, you will find it equally easy to remember each component of the acronym:

S for Science

Science is an excellent source for examples/evidence. But this source would work for you only if you are clear about all the facts you wish to quote. For instance, in trying to justify the banning of mobile phones on campuses, you may wish to quote a scientific study that shows how excessive use of smartphones could prove harmful to health. Beware of the temptation to invent statistics. (See the paragraph below listing frequently asked questions.) Any fact you cite must be a fact. Do not write about something you are not sure of.

P for Personal Experience

The personal experience could be a useful source of examples for virtually anything. There is no harm inventing some experience to highlight your point of view if your invention is credible.

L for Literature

A reading habit is very useful, especially as you might find a relevant example to suit your need from one of the thousands of books you have probably read. However, when you cite an example from literature, ensure that the book you refer to is widely known. For instance, a reference to George Orwell’s 1984 or Animal Farm would prove more recognizable to a reader than a reference to a book by an obscure, little-known writer.

A for Art

If you are an art buff, you are fortunate to have access to another brilliant source of examples. Fortunately for most people who don’t know much about opera and the like, cinema is also an art form. You might find it easy to cite an example from a movie you have watched. As in the case of books, you might get more readers to relate to your example if you mentioned a movie that many have seen.

S for Stories

Stories about famous people abound. And readers can relate easily when you cite something that’s common knowledge. For instance, almost everyone has heard about Florence Nightingale and her accomplishments during the Prussian War. Similarly, almost everyone has heard the story about how Mahatma Gandhi got thrown off a train in apartheid-hit South Africa and how the incident motivated him to join the struggle for freedom from British-rule in India.

H for History

Events of history are etched on everyone’s mind. For instance, the world wars are public knowledge, and any story from the wars would be easy for readers to relate to. History is probably the biggest source that could provide you examples/evidence for virtually any argument. However, ensure that any citation you make is relevant to your argument.

Frequently Asked Questions

Many prospective GRE test takers might want to know whether they can adopt a neutral stand with respect to the stated issue. The answer to that is a firm “no.” For instance, in the topic that we have discussed in the above paragraphs, you must try to persuade the reader that mobile phones must either be banned on college campuses or allowed to be used.

In fact, we have encountered GRE test-takers who wondered, “will the examiner penalize me if he/she doesn’t hold the same opinion as mine?” There is no such thing as a right opinion or a wrong opinion. The examiner will judge you on your ability to persuade the reader with cogent arguments backed by solid evidence/examples.

Some test takers might want to know the ideal length of an GRE Issue essay. While there is no ideal length for the essay, you should be happy if you manage to put down about 400 words.

Some test takers wonder if they can invent statistics when they quote scientific evidence to support their stand in the Issue essay. (Ironically), in the age of the smartphone, the examiner will be able to fact-check your essay very easily. So, stick with facts.


Restrict your essay to 400 words within five paragraphs. Provide variety by using examples/evidence from different sources. Organize the essay with transitional words/phrases. State your stand in the introductory paragraph and restate it in the conclusion.

These GRE practice tips are meant to help you crack the AWA Issue assignment. But the best tip we can give you is to ask you to solve as many GRE practice tests as you can. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect.