How To Do Well in GRE Analytical Writing?

Posted by on February 2, 2014 in GRE | 4 comments

Majority of the students preparing for the GRE do not take the analytical writing section (AWA) too seriously since it is not included in the 260 – 340 score range. Moreover a lot of graduate programs do not look at your AWA scores while making admission decision. However a low writing score can hurt your chances of getting into a good graduate program as it will question your analytical ability.

SEE ALSO: Average GRE Scores of Top US Graduate Schools

A lot of students have a misconception that by using flowery language and arcane vocabulary they can score well on the GRE analytical writing topics. In reality, the GRE examiners are not looking at how “beautifully” you write your essay or how complex your structure is – it actually measures your critical thinking and analytical skills. The AWA section for the GRE is composed of two parts:

• a 30-minute ‘Analyze an issue’ task
• a 30-minute ‘Analyze an argument’ task

Issue topic

On the issue essay you are given a general topic of interest pertaining to anything from education to politics or culture. You are simply required to evaluate the topic, and reason your argument with good examples. The better the supporting example is, the more points you will get. So rather than focusing on the vocabulary or language, you should spend more time on writing good genuine examples to support your argument.

A lot of students are concerned with the type of topic they will have to write on for the AWA. They are mistaken that the topic will determine if they will do well on the GRE AWA i.e. they may have deep knowledge about a certain topic or they may not have any knowledge about it. This concept is wrong – you will not be given any topic for which you need specific or specialized knowledge – topics are very general in nature for which you don’t need subject knowledge.

Argument topic

The Argument task, by contrast, asks you to dissect the logic behind some one else’s argument on an issue. Argument essay complements the issue essay i.e. an issue essay wants you to construct your own argument on an issue, whereas the argument topic requires you to analyze and evaluate another writers stance on a topic. In an argument essay you need to consider the logical soundness of argument rather than simply putting your own stance on the topic.

What should be the length of your essay?

This is the first and foremost question that students ask – “how many words should we write for the GRE AWA essay”? In short, words don’t matter – substance does. But I would like to point out that a good essay that completely captures all aspects of the topic would entail a minimum of 500 words.

Moreover, you should look for a five-paragraph essay to the least containing an intro, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Paragraph length matters too. Paragraph should contain the stuff that logically flows from your chosen stance. Too small or too long paragraphs must be avoided.

How to Score High on the Analytical Writing?

Even the most practiced and confidant of writers should spend some time preparing for the analytical writing before arriving at the test center. As GRE test takers, we tend to under prepare for the AWA thinking that we can tackle it easily on the test day. However lack of practice and typing over 500 words in 30 minutes can be daunting. So do spend a few hours writing and practicing a range of topics.

Generally, following strategies and tips will help you do well in AWA.

Don’t Repeat Your Ideas

Repeating the same ideas over and over again is the biggest mistake students make. They tend to do this because they think that word limit is important – however it is not. Do not take 500 words as the minimum word limit; its just the average number of words you need to write on all aspects of the topic.

In an attempt to hit the 500 word mark, students start reiterating the same ideas, in case they lack the skill to tackle the topic. Such a strategy will adversely hurt your essay since it becomes frustrating for the examiner to see the same thoughts multiple times. Therefore avoid repetition – if you don’t have much to write on then stop rather than repeating. Stopping will gain you more marks than repeating ideas.

Read Quality Sample Essays Frequently

By reading sample essays, you will get a deep understanding of what ETS is looking for. You will be able to evaluate your own essays. You can start off with a sample ‘3’ essay and move progressively to a perfect ‘6’ score essay. ETS has provided a few AWA graded sample essay’s along with the examiner’s critique.

Write on 5-8 Topics at least

There is no alternative to practice. By constant writing, you’ll be able to write with more fluency and command. You’ll find it easier to express your submerged ideas. Moreover you will be able to tackle the time pressure as well – writing on a challenging issue or argument in less than 30 minutes is difficult. Therefore practice AWA as much as you can before the test day.

Get Your Essays Reviewed by Someone

Asking someone on reading & editing your practice essays will apprise you of your mistakes. Since you won’t have any time on editing and reviewing your essay on the test day, it is better to correct your common mistakes while you are preparing for the GRE AWA. It is always a good idea to ask someone (preferably an expert GRE tutor) to review and critique your essays. Asking an amateur to do that for you may result in no improvement at all if not even worse performance.

Improve your Grammar, Spellings & Punctuation

ETS explicitly states that they are looking for quality and clarity of thought and not grammar. Even though readers are not meticulously looking for grammar, as soon as you make the tiniest mistake, they will notice and it can take your score down. You can get a perfect score with an error or two, but minor grammatical errors (faulty pronouns, subject/verb agreement) can mar the quality of your essay. So do focus on your grammar & spellings. A well reasoned essay that is riddled will such basic errors will not portray a good impression of your hard work. Hence work on these minute aspects of your essays.

Finally, just remember that the AWA game may not be the interesting sections of the GRE, but doing good in it can make a big difference in how your GRE scores are interpreted.


  1. Avatar

    Thanks for the useful and informative hints up there…

    Wish me luck for my GRE tomorrow.


  2. Avatar

    AOA SIR,
    Kindly tell me about GRE Marks distribution, in each portion as well as whole ? Also, what is a good GRE score to get admission?
    Thank you

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