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GRE Essay Writing Tasks: How to Use the 30 Minutes

By Manhattan Review

Updated March 2, 2021 Updated March 2, 2021

The GRE's Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) measures your analytical writing and critical thinking skills, both of which are crucial to success in almost any graduate degree program. The Analytical Writing Assessment gauges your ability to understand complex ideas and rhetorical techniques and to express that understanding in written form. It does not test your knowledge of any specific academic discipline. It is also not an assessment of talent in creative writing, and even the most gifted writer will falter if s/he fails to focus on meeting the criteria required for a high score.

The Analytical Writing Assessment section of the GRE consists of two separately timed tasks:

  • 30-minute "Analyze an Issue" task
  • 30-minute "Analyze an Argument" task

GRE assessors consider analysis, supporting points, clarity of meaning, variety in sentence structure, vocabulary, and conventions of usage to arrive at their scoring decisions, and successful GRE essays make effective use of all of these devices. The best approach to GRE essay writing is therefore a structured plan that devotes a small block of time to each component of the writing process.

The following outline will be easy to remember with the mnemonic “RITE”, and can be applied to each 30-minute AWA writing task:

  • 2 minutes: Read 

Read the passage and essay prompt carefully, and be sure to pay special attention to how the prompt asks you to address the issues discussed in the reading passage itself. This will warm up your cognitive faculties, help you focus on the task at hand, and reduce any testing anxiety you may experience. Read the prompt at least twice to ensure that you understand all of its nuances, which you can exploit in your essay. For the Argument Task, deconstruct the reading passage to separate the main conclusion from the supporting premises. For the Issue Task, clearly identify the cause-and-effect relationship in the statement. You will then be prepared for the next part of your GRE essay writing plan.

  • 5 minutes: Ideate

In this segment, you will brainstorm and generate ideas for your essay. Start by thinking about the main focus of your essay, whether it's your position on an issue or analysis of a given argument. Try to find a single sentence that will summarize your essay. After your thesis has been clarified, start developing points that support your position and create a rough mental outline. Think in terms of a four-paragraph structure: a thesis/introduction, two supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion. Mentally organizing your thoughts in this fashion will help you type your essay more quickly.

  • 20 minutes: Type

Commit your mental outline to print in this section. You may wish to start by typing the first sentence of each paragraph, which should summarize that paragraph. You will then have the option of filling in each paragraph either in succession or according to difficulty level (many writers prefer to compose the conclusion first and the introduction last). Make every effort to vary your sentence structure and vocabulary, but if you find yourself affected by writer’s block, don’t obsess over a word or phrase (you can always come back to it later). Fill in the internal paragraphs with the points that occurred to you during the ideation phase, using as coherent a rhetorical structure as possible (such as least important to most important). When time expires on this segment, you should have a draft of your essay. A 500-word essay can be built from four paragraphs of 125 words each or 30-35 sentences of 15-20 words each (it is not necessarily wrong to have paragraphs of uneven length, but there should be some balance). With sufficient practice, your GRE essays will reach the target length, but do not waste time counting words (counting lines is much more efficient).

  • 3 minutes: Edit

This stage should emphasize final editing and proofreading, and you should resist the temptation to add any new content to your essay. Be sure to read your essay at least twice, and correct any grammar and spelling mistakes as you read. Do your best to ensure that proper transition words have been used as you move from one point to the next. Don't try to use erudite words, quotes or expressions unless you are completely sure of their meaning. Stick to formal English and keep the language clear, precise, and relevant.

A perfect Analytical Writing Assessment score of 6.0 is the result of choice, not chance. You don't have to be the next Hemingway to write a great GRE essay, but you do have to understand the essay tasks, produce content that accomplishes those tasks, and demonstrate sound construction in written communication. All of these skills can be acquired with professional instruction and sufficient practice. If you work both hard and smart on your GRE essay writing, a 6.0 AWA score is eminently possible.

Manhattan Review GRE Prep is part of the multi-national test prep firm Manhattan Review. Founded in 1999 by Dr Joern Meissner, an internationally renowned business school professor, the firm helps students gain entrance to their desired degree programs by working to improve their admission test scores. Headquartered in New York City, Manhattan Review operates in many cities in the United States and in selected major cities around the world.

This article was originally published in August 2016 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Manhattan Review, providers of Manhattan Review GMAT Prep, was founded by Dr Joern Meissner (pictured), an internationally renowned business school professor, in 1999. Headquartered in New York City, Manhattan Review operates in many cities in the United States and in selected major cities around the world. It helps students gain entrance to their desired degree programs by working to improve their admission test scores.

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