The analytical writing section consists of two different essays, an “Analysis of Issue” task and an “Analysis of Argument” task. The writing section is graded on a scale of 0-6, in half-point increments. The essays are written on a computer using a word processing program specifically designed by ETS. The program allows only basic computer functions and does not contain a spell-checker or other advanced features. Each essay is scored by at least two readers on a six-point holistic scale. If the two scores are within one point, the average of the scores is taken.
If the two scores differ by more than a point, a third reader examines the response.
The Analytical Writing section of the GRE General Test measures your ability to:
- articulate complex ideas clearly and effectively
- examine claims and accompanying evidence
- support an argument with relevant reasons and examples
- sustain a well-focused, coherent discussion
- control the elements of standard written English (this factor plays a role only to the extent that poor writing skills impede readers’ understanding of the argument)
The Analytical Writing section consists of two analytical writing tasks: a 45-minute “Present Your Perspective on an Issue” task and 30-minute “Analyze an Argument” task.
- The “Issue” task states an opinion on an issue of general interest and asks you to address the issue from any perspective(s) you wish, as long as you provide relevant reasons and examples to explain and support your views.
- The “Argument” task presents a different challenge — it requires you to critique an argument by discussing how well-reasoned you find it. You are asked to consider the logical soundness of the argument rather than to agree or disagree with the position it presents.
- The “Issue” and “Argument” tasks are complementary in that the “issue” requires you to construct a personal argument about an issue, and the “argument” requires you to critique someone else’s argument by assessing its claims.
Overview of the Analytical Writing Section
The analytical writing section is a new section of the GRE General Test introduced beginning in October 2002 that tests your critical thinking and analytical writing skills. It assesses your ability to articulate and support complex ideas, analyze an argument, and sustain a focused and coherent discussion. It does not assess specific content knowledge.
The analytical writing section consists of two separately-timed analytical writing tasks:
- a 45-minute “Present Your Perspective on an Issue” task
- a 30-minute “Analyze an Argument” task
You will be given a choice between two Issue topics. Each states an opinion on an issue of broad interest and asks you to discuss the issue from any perspective(s) you wish, so long as you provide relevant reasons and examples to explain and support your views. You will not have a choice of Argument topics. The Argument task presents a different challenge from that of the Issue task: it requires you to critique a given argument by discussing how well reasoned you find it. You will need to consider the logical soundness of the argument rather than to agree or disagree with the position it presents.
The two tasks are complementary in that one requires you to construct your own argument by taking a position and providing evidence supporting your views on the issue, whereas the other requires you to critique someone else’s argument by assessing its claims and evaluating the evidence it provides.
Test-Taking Strategies for the Analytical Writing Section
It is important to budget your time. Within the 45-minute time limit for the Issue task, you will need to allow sufficient time to choose one of the two topics, think about the issue you’ve chosen, plan a response, and compose your essay. Within the 30-minute time limit for the Argument task, you will need to allow sufficient time to analyze the argument, plan a critique, and compose your response. Although GRE readers understand the time constraints under which you write and will consider your response a “first draft,” you still want it to be the best possible example of your writing that you can produce under the testing circumstances.
Save a few minutes at the end of each timed task to check for obvious errors. Although an occasional spelling or grammatical error will not affect your score, severe and persistent errors will detract from the overall effectiveness of your writing and thus lower your score.
Following the analytical writing section, you will have the opportunity to take a 10-minute break. There is a one-minute break between the other test sections. You might want to replenish your supply of scratch paper during each scheduled break.
How the Analytical Writing Section is Scored
Each response is holistically scored on a 6-point scale according to the criteria published in the GRE analytical writing scoring guides (see pages 27 and 28). Holistic scoring means that each response is judged as a whole: readers do not separate the response into component parts and award a certain number of points for a particular criterion or element such as ideas, organization, sentence structure, or language. Instead, readers assign scores based on the overall quality of the response, considering all of its characteristics in an integrated way. Excellent organization or poor organization, for example, will be part of the readers’ overall impression of the response and will therefore contribute to the score, but organization, as a distinct feature, has no specific weight.
In general, GRE readers are college and university faculty experienced in teaching courses in which writing and critical thinking skills are important. All GRE readers have undergone careful training, passed stringent GRE qualifying tests, and demonstrated that they are able to maintain scoring accuracy.
To ensure fairness and objectivity in scoring
- responses are randomly distributed to the readers
- all identifying information about the test takers is concealed from the readers
- each response is scored by two readers
- readers do not know what other scores a response may have received
- the scoring procedure requires that each response receive identical or adjacent scores from two readers; any other score combination is adjudicated by a third GRE reader
The scores given for the two tasks are then averaged for a final reported score. The score level descriptions, presented on page 29, provide information on how to interpret the total score on the analytical writing section. The primary emphasis in scoring the analytical writing section is on critical thinking and analytical writing skills.
Your essay responses on the analytical writing section will be reviewed by ETS essay-similarity-detection software and by experienced essay readers during the scoring process. In light of the high value placed on independent intellectual activity within United States graduate schools and universities, ETS reserves the right to cancel test scores of any test taker when there is substantial evidence that an essay response includes, but is not limited to, any of the following:
- text that is substantially similar to that found in one or more other GRE essay responses;
- quoting or paraphrasing, without attribution, language or ideas that appear in published or unpublished sources;
- unacknowledged use of work that has been produced through collaboration with others without citation of the contribution of others;
- essays that are submitted as work of the examinee when the ideas or words have, in fact, been borrowed from elsewhere or prepared by another person.
When one or more of the above circumstances occurs, your essay text, in ETS’s professional judgement, does not reflect the independent, analytical writing skills that this test seeks to measure. Therefore, ETS must cancel the essay score as invalid and cannot report the GRE General Test scores of which the essay score is an indispensable part. Test takers whose scores are cancelled will forfeit their test fees and must pay to take the entire GRE General Test again at a future administration. No record of the score cancellations, or the reason for cancellation, will appear on their future score reports sent to colleges and universities.