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Format of the Analytical Writing Section

The analytical writing section is 60 minutes long and requires you to respond to two essay questions. The Present Your Perspective on an Issue essay comes first and is 30 minutes long. Then the Analyze an Argument essay is presented and is 30 minutes long.



Present Your Perspective on an Issue
Analyze an Argument.

The Analytical Writing Section requires you to respond to two essay questions within 60 minutes. The first section, Present Your Perspective on an Issue, asks that you discuss the complexities of an issue and take a position on the problem. The second section, Analyze an Argument, asks that you evaluate an argument or critique a line of reasoning. You are not required to agree or disagree with the argument, but you must clearly point out the strengths and weaknesses in the argument.


ETS has an official Web site, www.gre.org, where you can view the pool of topic questions from which the questions on your test will be randomly drawn. It is helpful to review this list of questions, but do not try to write a sample essay for each topic because the list of topics is much too extensive. Moreover, the wording of the question on the test may be altered, so it is best just to become familiar with the kind of topics and arguments you will be required to address. The more familiar you are with the material that will be on the test, the more prepared and confident you’ll be on test day.


You will type your essay on a computer using a very basic word processor.The Analytical Writing Section starts with a tutorial that shows how the word processor works. You may write your essay on the computer or on paper supplied at the center. However, handwritten essays can take up to six weeks to be scored. After completing the Issue section, you may move on to the Argument section. There is no break between sections, and, once you exit either section, you cannot return, even if you finish with time remaining.

How to Get a “Top-Half” Score

Writing essays for standardized exams can raise anxieties in people who are poised when answering other kinds of test questions. Perhaps this is because critical and creative skills are being tested and evaluated in a more subjective manner than they are within the objective multiple-choice format. Performance anxiety can lead to a host of problems, from having a difficult time understanding exactly what is being asked to having debilitating uncertainties about how to begin an answer.


The best way to reduce such anxieties, and therefore increase your chance of obtaining a top-half score, is through rehearsal, which encompasses four activities that need to take place before taking the test:

  1. Understanding the two writing tasks and how they differ
  2. Knowing what the evaluators expect to find in top-half essays
  3. Anticipating an organizational scheme for each of the two essays
  4. Writing out at least one answer for each of the two question types

Having completed these four steps, you will be in an excellent position to approach the Analytical Writing Test with confidence and competency.

Scoring the Analytical Writing Section

Your Issue and Argument scores are combined into one average score that is reported to the colleges. Although you can view your math and verbal scores at the test center shortly after the test, your analytical writing score will not be available until 10–15 days after the test.

Each of your two essays will be graded holistically, receiving a score between 0 and 6. With the holistic grading method, papers are read quickly and a score is assigned based on the general impact of the writing on the reader. Papers awarded 6's are considered to be outstanding, 5's are strong, 4's are adequate, 3's are limited, 2's are seriously flawed, and 1's are fundamentally deficient. Notice that papers graded with “top-half” scores—4, 5, or 6—are described as having positive attributes, whereas papers receiving “bottom-half” scores—1, 2, or 3—are described as being problematic. 


Before we begin studying particular essays, we need to review some fundamentals of sentence structure and punctuation. No matter how inspired an essay is, its score may be hurt by punctuation errors that make the essay difficult to read or inadvertently change its intended meaning.

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