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Student Issue Essay Analysis Part I

As part of a new series for AWA, I’ll be posting a prompt our Premium students have responded to over at the Magoosh product (under real exam conditions) and giving my analysis of the essay. If you want, have a look at the prompt first and try your hand at the essay, and see how yours stacks up.


Universities should require students to take courses only within those fields they are interested in studying.

Write a response in which you discuss your views on the policy and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider the possible consequences of implementing the policy and explain how these consequences shape your position.

Student’s essay

The author states that students should only take classes within their realm of study. Although, students may gain more of a grasp on what they are studying, this requirement fails to take in what students can learn outside of their required classes. To say that students can only take classes within their concentration is occluding them to knowledge that they may learn in other fields of study.

For example, universities typically require students to pick their major, as well as a minor. Some programs may also require students to select a few elective classes as well, so students can establish themselves as more rounded individuals.

Also, taking classes outside of a student’s field of study may help boost the student’s overall GPA. For example, if a student has an in major GPA of 2.5 and an out of major GPA of 3.2, then the overall GPA will increase. However, it could be vice versa as well. If someone isn’t doing that great in their elective classes, it could bring their overall GPA down.

If this policy is implemented, the consequences may be severe. One consequence could be that a student may not be able to graduate on time because they may not have enough credits. Or they may not meet the GPA requirements to graduate because they failed a few classes within their major.

If the university decides that students can only take courses within his or her chosen field of study, then the university may not produce well rounded individuals.

My analysis

Score: 4.0
This essay is an example of a 4.0—just barely—that is undeveloped and thus on the short side. It is not an example of a longer, totally one-sided ‘4’ that ignores the directions (notice how the final body paragraph addresses the “consequences” mentioned in the instructions).

What the author has written is an intelligent response to the prompt. She doesn’t simply agree with the prompt, but takes the opposing side, providing support (“To say that students can only take classes within their concentration is occluding them to knowledge that they may learning other fields of study.”). In passing, I should mention that “occlude” is used incorrectly. This is not a major problem, but remember that, if you use GRE words, make sure you know how to use them correctly.

What could have easily made this essay much stronger is more. More words, more examples. In coming up with examples, the writer should avoid the wishy-washiness apparent in the third paragraph (“It could be vice versa as well.”). While such missteps might point at a 3.5, the essay is never unclear (the grammar and word usage—besides “occlude”—are accurate).

A note about essay grading

While I’d love to grade everyone’s practice essays, that’s simply not possible. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to grade new essays, as students’ essays have been chosen in advance. Instead, if you’re wondering how to get feedback on getting your practice AWA essays graded, check out this page:

How to Get Your AWA Practice Essays Graded?

If you have any questions about my analysis, let me know in the comments below!

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.

5 Responses to Student Issue Essay Analysis Part I

  1. Lalit August 8, 2016 at 7:32 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I looked up this essay prompt on the “Issue Essay pool” link that you provided on another blog and found the same prompt with different directions. I was curious if the different directions generally mean the same thing and is mainly their to confuse students or would the directions differ in meaning?

    For example, for the same prompt that you mentioned: “Universities should require students to take courses only within those fields they are interested in studying”, I found four or five different set of directions. Here are two of them:

    “Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim. In developing and supporting your position, be sure to address the most compelling reasons and/or examples that could be used to challenge your position.”

    “Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the recommendation and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, describe specific circumstances in which adopting the recommendation would or would not be advantageous and explain how these examples shape your position.”

    What’s the different between these two questions? Personally, after looking over at the prompt and the example of the student’s response, I find that all of these directions still match the response. However, if there’s a difference, I simply cannot determine what it is.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 8, 2016 at 9:26 pm #

      Hi Lalit,

      You are absolutely correct that the instructions for the essay prompts are essentially the same, and that it doesn’t change the fundamental character of the essay you write. You might try to mirror the specific language that is used in the prompt just to showt hat you are paying attention (i.e. talk about ‘compelling reasons’ in the first case and ‘advantageous circumstances’ in the second), but the different instructions will not change the way you structure your essay or arguments.

  2. Hristina July 20, 2016 at 9:58 am #

    Hi Chris,
    I wanted to ask you whether it is appropriate to share one’s experience in the essay if relevant to the topic. After reading this one, I thought of my own experience first since I chose to go to a liberal arts institution in my home country (naturally, I strongly disagree with the statement) so you can say I have my fair share of experience with it. Yet, is it appropriate to share it or should it be written like an observation instead?

    Thank you!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 21, 2016 at 12:33 pm #

      Personal experience is definitely OK on the GRE Issue essay. And if you have truly relevant personal experience, using it in the essay can help you get a good score.

  3. rachael November 4, 2013 at 2:01 am #

    Hi Chris,

    I have a question relating to spelling in the AWA section of the GRE. Specifically, I am from the UK and so use British English spelling rather than American English spelling (colour rather than color etc.). Given that this section of the GRE is marked in the US (at least this is my impression of it), am I expected to adapt my spelling to American English, or rather consistently use British English?

    Any advice would be much appreciated.


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