The GRE essay topics on the Issue task seem to come such a variety of different fields that there seems to be little discernible. There are, however, several “buckets”, or categories, that the GRE Issue essay tends to fall into.
Below I’ve come up with these categories and also cut and pasted the actual issue question from the ETS website. Remember, the Issue essay you will see test day will be drawn from this question bank.
Education (with a great degree of emphasis on college)
“Educational institutions have a responsibility to dissuade students from pursuing fields of study in which they are unlikely to succeed.”
“A nation should require all of its students to study the same national curriculum until they enter college.”
“Governments should offer a free university education to any student who has been admitted to a university but who cannot afford the tuition.”
“Universities should require every student to take a variety of courses outside the student’s field of study.”
I should also note that this seems to be ETS’s favorite category. Can’t say the topic is irrelevant.
Technology and society
“As people rely more and more on technology to solve problems, the ability of humans to think for themselves will surely deteriorate.”
“The increasingly rapid pace of life today causes more problems than it solves.”
Cities (I know this is a pretty random bucket – but it’s what ETS decrees)
“Claim: Governments must ensure that their major cities receive the financial support they need in order to thrive.
Reason: It is primarily in cities that a nation’s cultural traditions are preserved and generated.”
“Some people believe that government funding of the arts is necessary to ensure that the arts can flourish and be available to all people. Others believe that government funding of the arts threatens the integrity of the arts.”
“In order for any work of art—for example, a film, a novel, a poem, or a song—to have merit, it must be understandable to most people.”
Government and Power
“The well-being of a society is enhanced when many of its people question authority.”
“Claim: In any field—business, politics, education, government—those in power should step down after five years.
Reason: The surest path to success for any enterprise is revitalization through new leadership.”
“In any field of inquiry, the beginner is more likely than the expert to make important contributions.”
“The best ideas arise from a passionate interest in commonplace things.”
Philosophical (for a lack of a better name – though I guess “Deep Thoughts by ETS” would work)
“As we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible, but more complex and mysterious.”
“The greatness of individuals can be decided only by those who live after them, not by their contemporaries.”
So now what?
There are a few more “buckets”, but the above covers about 95% of the spectrum. The takeaway from all this is that you should find the category you are weakest at and work at becoming more comfortable and knowledgable with the topic. For instance, many dread the art category, painfully aware that they cannot tell the difference between a Monet and a Manet (besides the ‘o’ and the ‘a’, of course).
The good news is coming up with arguments and counterexamples for these GRE essay topics won’t entail getting a degree in art history. You only have to be able to be comfortable with a few examples, and make sure you can effectively relate them to your analysis. After all, the GRE Issue is not a test of knowledge as much as it is a test of how you can use knowledge–however limited–to back your position.