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: 8 Ways to Earn an Extra Point on the GRE Issue Essay

Learnist_8WaysGREEach Issue topic on the GRE AWA section consists of an issue statement — on which you must form an opinion and write an essay in support of it in 30 minutes. Here’s how to take your GRE Issue Essay from “good” to “great”!

This Introduction to the Issue Essay video from Greenlight Test Prep covers the basics you need to know: timing, instructions, and basic strategy advice.

As the video wisely points out, there’s no “right” side — so brainstorm for BOTH before you choose the one you’d like to support. Choose the position that is the easiest to defend (i.e. the one for which you can come up with the strongest logical arguments and most specific, relevant supporting examples).

Practice makes perfect! You can best 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 on the official GRE website!

Make sure you write then on the computer — a simple program like WordPad or Microsoft Word will help you mimic the test-like conditions.

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!

This article also does a great job outlining the possible types of support you can include in your body paragraphs:

  • Examples
  • Statistics
  • Expert opinions
  • Anecdotes
  • Observations
  • Precedence
  • Consequence

You’ll probably use examples, unless you happen to already be familiar with the issue. But, remember, statistics alone won’t impress — it’s your argument skills and ability to explain how each piece of support bolsters your conclusion that will really take your GRE Issue Essay to the next level!