offers hundreds of practice questions and video explanations. Go there now.
Sign up or log in to Magoosh GRE Prep.

AWA: Introduction to the Analytical Writing Assessment Section

Meet the AWA

Many people give the AWA short shrift – after all, it is not included in the 260 – 340 score range. However, a very low writing score could hurt your chances of getting accepted to many graduate programs. So, it is important, even if you have to take a little time out from your busy GRE prep schedule, to practice just enough.

Just Enough?

The AWA is scored on a scale from 0.0 to 6.0, in 0.5 increments. While very few people are able to get a perfect 6, most graduate programs aren’t too concerned about your score, as long as you are able to get a 4.0 and above. Of course, you know best whether your graduate program falls into that range. Are you looking to go to journalism school? Well, then anything less than a 5.0 is problematic. Looking to do computer science or engineering? For most programs, a 4.0 should be sufficient.

A 4.0 translates to roughly the 50% mark. Basically, you are able to write two essays, 30-minutes each, better than half of the essay applicants. To get to this level should be your goal. If you program requires at least a 4.5, which some do, you will then be only 0.5 off.

Two Essays?

Yes, the AWA is not just one long, taxing essay but two, relatively long, taxing essays. For the first essay, you will have to take a side on a complex issue and craft a 4 – 6 paragraph essay, offering supporting examples and logic to support your position. This is the Issue statement, and, for most, is usually the more difficult of the two essays.

The next essay is called the Argument. Instead of having to argue your own position, the way you must do on the Issue task, you must criticize someone else’s argument. This someone else happens to be the GRE test-writers. But don’t worry – they are not going to ask you to challenge an essay written on Marxist theory. The arguments are always based on real-world, straightforward examples. Better yet, the arguments are usually filled with gaping logical holes that make it relatively easy for you to take apart the argument (don’t worry, the logical skills you employ on the critical reasoning questions in the Verbal section are far more nuanced).

So what does it take to get a 4.0? Well, for both the Issue and the Argument task, you will want to write an essay that is each of the following:

  • Well-structured: The essay should have an Intro, Body Paragraphs and Conclusion. Your intro should end with a clearly defined thesis, so the person reading your essay knows what you are trying to prove.
  • Well-reasoned: For the Issue paragraphs, your body paragraphs should contain examples, either actual or hypothetical, that cogently defend your position. For the Argument task, you convincingly show why the argument is weak.
  • Well-Expressed: The GRE wants to get a sense of how well you write. And by write, I mean, do you use relatively sophisticated speech? Do you vary up your sentences? Do grammar issues interfere with your expression?

Together, the three points will give the GRE reader an overall impression (what they call a holistic approach) of your writing ability. Again, this score will be based on a scale from 0.0 – 6.0.


So, those were the high-level basics. But don’t worry – there is a lot more to come. We are going to take a look at the Issue and Argument independently. I will show you the difference between a 4.0 and a 6.0 (and just as importantly, a 3.0 and a 4.0). I will also show you how to improve your writing by focusing on concision, clarity and logical flow.


By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

39 Responses to AWA: Introduction to the Analytical Writing Assessment Section

  1. Dev September 15, 2016 at 8:16 am #


    I have a 331 in GRE with 3.5 in AWA.

    I want to pursue an MS degree in data science or data analytics.

    I’m not sure if the AWA score is good enough and will it make it difficult to get into the top US colleges (looking at the top 5).

    I have had good acads, good extra curricular, and have 3 years of work ex in a popular technology MNC.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 17, 2016 at 6:28 am #


      As we’ve mentioned in other responses, we at Magoosh don’t have as much expertise in grad school admissions as we do in test prep itself. So, unfortunately, we can’t give much insight in terms of your question. I would recommend exploring forums such as The Grad Cafe or contacting your target schools.

  2. sparsh999 August 16, 2016 at 3:46 am #

    hi chris!
    i just wanted to know if u can help me out in getting a good score in awa, im getting very confused. I often practice them, but i cannot grade myself. so could u pls help me out with this

  3. Dhiraj August 13, 2016 at 8:00 pm #

    Hi sir, scored 315(165q +150v). But AWA score of just 3. Do you have any idea about rescore? Can I give it for rescore? Even 3.5 then, would be great!
    The 2nd option is retaking gre, as 3 is unacceptable.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 13, 2016 at 10:23 pm #

      GRE rescores cost $55– about a third of the test itself. And your score will usually only change if mistakes or errors in judgement were made on the first scoring. Even then, your score isn’t guaranteed to go up on a rescore– it could go down if the GRE reviewers decide you should have received a lower score. If you’re reasonably sure that you were mistakenly given a low score, and a rescore will get you a higher AWA score, a rescore may be worth it. But if your’e not sure a rescore will help you– or if you think you might only get a half-point boost to a 3.5— I’d recommend doing a retake. With enough time to study and possibly a few hours with a tutor (similar cost to a rescore), there’s a good chance you can boost your AWA score to something better than 3 or 3.5

      • Dhiraj August 17, 2016 at 10:46 am #

        Thanks alot for the advice!!

  4. Halley August 4, 2016 at 11:09 am #

    Hi Chris!

    I took the GRE today and got 143/147 but am nervous about my writing score since my programs only indicate a specific score (at least a 3.5). I wrote 11 practice essays and 3 of which were graded using the ETS E-grader made solid 5s on those.

    My question is, do you know if the ETS e-grader is accurate?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 7, 2016 at 11:31 am #

      Hi Halley,

      Congrats on taking the GRE! I know it’s nerve-wracking to have to wait for that AWA score. Here’s what ETS says about the accuracy of the e-reader system they use:

      “For tasks that are appropriate for the e-rater engine (essay-length writing tasks that are scored for writing quality rather than correctness of claims made in the response), agreement with human raters can be very strong. As Attali, Bridgeman & Trapani found in 2010, the e-rater engine’s agreement with a human rater on the TOEFL® Independent and GRE® Issue tasks was higher than the agreement between two independent human raters.”

      If you have scored a 5 consistently using the e-reader and wrote a similar quality essay on test day, then that is a good sign 🙂


  5. Jeet July 31, 2016 at 4:46 am #

    Hi Chris…,
    I have exam coming in next week, Aug 9, so i wanted to know that, ‘In exam for AWA can I use idioms and quotes?’
    As I have hobby of collecting quotes I have few quotes which i can use in Issue and Argument.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 2, 2016 at 10:57 am #

      Quotes are definitely OK, provided they are relevant and not too long. (You don’t want someone else’s words edging out your own original thoughts in the essay.) Idioms can also be OK in an AWA essay. But bear in mind that some idioms are mostly found in informal speech, while other idioms are common in more formal academic writing. Make sure the idioms you use have an appropriate scholarly tone.

  6. maliheh June 26, 2016 at 2:38 am #

    Hi Chris
    I have a GRE exam on 24 august. I dont take a toefl exam before that.
    I am worry about AW. I dont have any idea for writing. I cant write very well. what is your suggestion? what can I start at first?

    Thank you

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 29, 2016 at 6:57 am #

      Hi Mileheh 🙂

      First, I’d suggest that you first take a look at these ETS topic pools:

      * List of AWA Issue Prompts
      * List of AWA Argument Prompts

      This is a list of ALL of the topics from the exam, so you WILL see one of these topics on your test.

      Familiarize yourself with these topics, and then write several practice essays of your own (using these topics of course!). Once you’ve written your own essays, you can read the scored sample essays on the ETS website here:

      * List of AWA Issue Sample Responses
      * List of AWA Argument Sample Responses

      It also seems like one challenge for you may be brainstorming. Here are some ideas on how to improve:

      1. Try to relax 🙂 Your anxiety about the essays may be preventing you from tapping into your store of ideas!

      2. I’d recommend doing a few essays without giving yourself a time constraint–if it takes you two hours, then that’s okay. Give yourself as much time as you need to brainstorm, plan the structure of your essay, write it out, and give it quick proofread. Once you’ve done this a few times and feel comfortable with the process, then start timing yourself so you can get used to a quicker version of this process when you’re under pressure. Do several timed essays in this way, so that on the day of the exam, you’re completely familiar with the approach of writing these essays, and it feels like just another practice essay you wrote at home.

      3. Coming up with examples on the spot is definitely hard to do! What I like to do to combat this is have several topics on hand. By this, I mean that you should do a general brainstorm to come up with several topics you can easily write about—topics that you are an “expert” on, if you will.

      I hope these tips and resources help! Happy writing 🙂

  7. nikhil vajrapu June 24, 2016 at 9:13 pm #

    what is the minimum points for AWA ?…. I got 2.5 ?…. will it be usefull ?…..will it be rounded up to 3?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 25, 2016 at 1:25 pm #

      Hi Nikhil,

      The reported score ranges from 0 to 6, in half-point increments. There is no rounding–your 2.5 will be regarded as a 2.5 by anyone who gets your scores. While sometimes the AWA score doesn’t matter, many schools use it as a cutoff score to judge writing ability, so you will need to be careful to research the entry requirements. Feel free to contact admissions departments if the information is not clearly stated on their websites, too! 🙂

  8. MAHA February 2, 2016 at 5:58 am #

    Hi Chris. I need to know what topics should i go through for this section?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 7, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

      Good question, Maha! 🙂

      To improve your essay writing skills, I’d suggest that you first take a look at these ETS topic pools: List of AWA Issue Prompts and List of AWA Argument Prompts. These are ALL of the topics from the exam, so you WILL see one of these topics on your test.

      Familiarize yourself with these topics, and then write several practice essays of your own (using these topics of course!). Once you’ve written your own essays, you can read the scored sample essays on the ETS website here: AWA Issue Sample Responses and AWA Argument Sample Responses.

      Once you’ve gone through those resources, browse through this blog for some sample essays written by Chris! In general, too, the writing section of the blog is helpful. 🙂

  9. ujaan November 4, 2014 at 7:12 am #

    are there any site where i can practice analytical writing and get a correct assessment of my score on the GRE?

  10. Suchin October 21, 2014 at 3:58 am #

    I would like to thank Magoosh and it’s blog for the excellent resources available, specially for the AWA section of the GRE and the TOEFL prep posts. I managed to get a score of 5.5 in AWA (and a score of 328 – 158V, 170Q) even though I am certain I went off-topic in multiple counts in the Issue topic and had repetitive arguments in the Argument topic.

    I did manage to extend both to a good length of ~600 words each, since I generally type pretty fast ~ 70 wpm. What I felt is that, your essays should have minimal spelling errors, grammar should be proper and I do not have a good vocab wordlist that I can use at will in an essay. Most of my writing works are in pretty simple English and I also tend to get repetitive with words quite often since I can never seem to think of a suitable replacement.

  11. Suchith July 31, 2014 at 7:29 am #

    Hi Chris,

    Since i haven’t come across any issue analyse and argument analyse after my school days, i am feeling very difficult now.
    I have some query in AWA section.

    1) while writing a response is there anything like we need to provide only supposition? or coming up with an event that have occurred already?, is it acceptable if i provide real world example or my own experience as an example and how it will effect my score.

    2) What is the best way to learn this section from the scratch so the i don’t get into trouble during examination. I have 2 months for my exam.

    Thanks in advance 🙂

  12. karthik July 3, 2014 at 7:58 am #

    How to write an introductory paragraph for an issue task? I am highly confused..Could you please give me sample essays

  13. molliflower20 June 23, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I took the GRE today and scored within my target range on the V and Q sections.

    My concern is the AW. I had practiced the AW essays multiple times before test day, but didn’t manage my time well today and didn’t finish either essay. I had 2-3 more sentences left to write on the Issue essay, and was cut off mid-sentence on the Argument essay. I am wondering how much this will hurt my score, and if this is sufficient reason to take the test again? I am thinking that it’s not worth it, but need affirmation.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 24, 2014 at 11:49 am #

      Hi Molliflower,

      That’s a good question! I think the test scorers aren’t going to totally ding you for a couple of sentences, as long as the rest of your essay is solid. If you felt that the 2-3 sentences you omitted would have been crucial to your essay, then your score might suffer a lot. For now, you could still get ‘5’, which, unless you are entering a writing-intensive program, should be fine.

      Hopefully that provides some affirmation 🙂

      • Nika Gagliardi October 28, 2015 at 12:33 am #

        I have a similar question. If my essay was complete, except for one sentence–in which the time cut me off in the middle (I had about three more words to write)–how badly do you think my grade will be affected? Would I lose a full point for not finishing the sentence :(?

      • Ollie July 2, 2016 at 8:54 am #

        For anyone who stumbles on this thread, I found some interesting though possibly outdated information from ETS: ““In addition, GRE readers are trained not to penalize an essay merely because it is not quite finished; an unfinished essay that is otherwise very well developed, well organized, and well written can earn the highest score.”

    • marie11 November 16, 2015 at 4:04 pm #

      I was cut off mid-sentence as well. Did this really hurt your writing score? Would it still be possible for me to make a 4?

  14. Joe November 20, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    Hi Chris, I have a question. Often times I see people citing their own experience or real live events as arguments and examples in their GRE essay. My question is, is it okay to just make up examples that makes sense? Or should I consider only real examples?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele November 21, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

      Hi Joe,

      It’s really a question of persuasiveness–after all, you are writing a persuasive essay. So you can use personal examples, though they just won’t lend your essay the same weight as examples drawn from history, technology, business, etc. The same goes for made-up, or hypothetical examples, like people are often X so therefore Y. These are just wishy-washy examples that lack the heft of something more specific.

      Hope that helps!

  15. aneela October 29, 2013 at 7:37 am #

    for each essay how many words should be written please tell me

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 29, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

      Hi Aneela,

      There is no exact required number. In general, the higher scoring essays tend to write more (a perfect ‘6’ may write over 600 words). Lower scoring essays, say a 3.5, might write as few as 250 words. And remember–your essay grade is about the quality of your essay. Don’t just write a bunch of words, hoping for a high score. Conversely, don’t think that a couple of excellent paragraphs a high score do make.

      Hope that helps!

  16. Shu-Yi October 16, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    Hi Chris,

    How are you? Could you provide any information if there’re exemplars or a list of issues which we can practice writing on our own. Many thanks.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 17, 2013 at 11:50 am #

      Hi Shuyi,

      The site has a list of all the different issues you can see test day. You will literally see one of these prompts test day.

      Hope that helps!

      • navyasree March 3, 2014 at 6:25 am #

        Thanks shu-yi for your comment and thanks a ton to Chris – lele for sharing the link..

        i was following the site since long but i couldn’t get to that link… i needed that a lot…

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele March 3, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

          Hope it helps! Good luck 🙂

  17. Deepthi April 4, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    The last time I did my AWA, I scored a 3.0. I did not practice much for it. In the post above you mentioned that you will differentiate between a 3.0 and 4.0. Did I miss that post? Also, is it an uphill task if I aim to get a 4.5 on my next GRE – which by the way I intend to take in June (end)? Could you suggest some tips?

    Thank You.

    • Deepthi April 15, 2013 at 9:10 am #

      Hey Chris,

      Could you direct me to the post that differentiates between a 3 and a 4 on the AWA. Thank You


  18. Chris Lele
    Chris January 16, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    Hi Nandu,

    That’s going to be tough – if possible be aware of the words you struggle with, i.e. necessary, accommodate, etc. Make sure you learn the correct spelling. If for any reason you are unsure during the test, try to find another word that has a similar meaning to the one you can’t spell.

  19. NANDU January 15, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    i started my preparation for GRE one week back… i have a serious problem with spelling
    what should i do to get good score in AWA

Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will only approve comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! 😄 Due to the high volume of comments across all of our blogs, we cannot promise that all comments will receive responses from our instructors.

We highly encourage students to help each other out and respond to other students' comments if you can!

If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service from our instructors, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!

Leave a Reply