7 Tips for a Perfect GRE Issue Essay

If you get a perfect score on the GRE’s Issue Essay (a 6), it can really boost your graduate school admissions chances! The best schools want good Verbal and Quantitative scores, but also students who are clear, competent writers. Lots of students have excellent transcripts and are good at taking tests – but not everyone can demonstrate impressive writing skills! Here are 7 tips to take your Issue essay to that perfect 6!

1. Write at least three practice essays. Practice makes perfect! You can study for the GRE online by looking up the AWA prompts and practicing writing several of them within the 30 minute guideline. The only way to get comfortable with the time constraints is to practice them, so set up test-like conditions and get to work. You can see the Issue essay prompts here: http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/analytical_writing/issue/pool

2. Don’t waffle. Choose one side of the issue only, and don’t try to “have it both ways.” Even if you don’t believe in the side you choose, you’ll only have time to argue one side effectively. If you take a middle-of-the-road approach you won’t sound as confident or clear. Remember, according to ETS, the “readers are evaluating the skill with which you address the specific instructions and articulate and develop an argument to support your evaluation of the issue.” What exactly you say (what side you choose to defend) is less important than how you defend it!

3. Choose very specific real-world examples. Don’t be general! Every reader would like to see more specific examples: Mitt Romney, the War of 1812, Keynesian economic theory, the mating rituals of octopii, an anecdote about your Uncle Ralph the compulsive gambler, etc. You can have some fun with it, and your examples don’t have to be the most scholarly. What are you an expert on?

4. BUT, make sure your examples are relevant to the topic. You can absolutely choose examples from a wide range of subjects: personal experience, pop culture, history, sports, literature, current events, politics, etc. But make sure you explain HOW your example clearly supports your thesis.

5. Avoid first-person and self-reference. “I think” or “I believe” are obvious. You are the person writing this essay! First-person pronouns should ONLY appear in a body paragraph if you are using personal experience as an example, and telling a story from your own life to support your thesis. Never use “I” in your introductory or concluding paragraph.

6. Make strong, declarative statements. Look for ways to add charged adjectives, adverbs and “because” clauses to make your sentences sound more confident. EX: “The president shouldn’t allow Congress to pass the law.” Or, “It is unacceptable for the president to permit Congress to pass the law because it unconstitutionally overextends Congress’ powers.”

7. Refute the opposing view in your conclusion. Many GRE students wonder what to do in their conclusion. Try introducing the opposing viewpoint, showing that you recognize that in fact some people do not support your position. Then refute their argument in 1-2 sentences, and reinforce the validity of your own thesis.

Learnist: How to Write a Perfect GRE Argument Essay

The GRE’s Argument essay is remarkably straightforward: all you have to do is rephrase, criticize, and suggest improvements for the given argument. Here’s how to earn a perfect 6!

Focus more on conveying your argument succinctly and forcefully than on sounding scholarly. Don’t include long winding sentences that go nowhere in the hopes of sounding more impressive. Simple, clear transitions work well to help you organize your thoughts. Above all, you want the reader to be convinced that the argument is flawed, and they will only be convinced if they can follow and easily understand your points! This video reviews some other style tips, such as avoiding passive voice and wordiness.

Fun fact: ALL of the Argument Essay topics are available for FREE on ETS’ website. You will see one of these official prompts on Test Day, so it’s a good idea to not only read through all of them, but sketch some possible outlines for essays for a number of them.

There’s about 150 topics here, so unfortunately it’s not possible to pre-write an essay for EVERY topic, but you can definitely see common flaws between these topics.

This pdf file from Kaplan describes the basic 6-scale rubric used to score the Argument Essay. Kaplan uses an adjective to describe each “level”:

6 – Outstanding
5 – Strong
4 – Adequate
3 – Limited
2 – Weak
1 – Deficient
0 – Unscorable

An essay would only be considered “unscorable” if it was written using symbols or in a foreign language. Page 46 of this file shows a sample essay, so you can start to get an idea of what a “6” looks like!

Remember that you already know your thesis for ANY possible prompt you’ll see. No matter what the prompt, your thesis is essentially, “the argument is flawed.” There are many ways to say that in a thesis, but that is essentially what the GRE Argument essay boils down to; all you have to do is show why. This blog article reviews a template you can use for any Argument prompt. Just make sure you practice writing at least 3 full practice essays with it so it becomes second nature!

Get more tips on how to write a perfect GRE Argument essay on Learnist!