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GRE Essay Topics

The GRE essay topics on the Issue task come such from such wide a variety of fields that there seems to be no discernible pattern in the GRE writing prompts we’ve seen. There are angry mayors decrying pollution in their cities; woven baskets along a mythical river; and rhesus monkeys and stimulation. Despite such a colorful array, there are several “buckets”, or categories, into which the GRE Issue Essays fall.

Below, you can see that I’ve come up with seven main GRE essay topic categories and sorted the actual issue questions from the ETS website into them. Remember, the Issue Essay you will see test day will be drawn from this question bank.

It’s very important to remember that one of the argument prompts found on the GRE site will come up test day. That’s right: you can get a head start by doing mock essays from the prompts on the official site.

Though, I should mention that there are nearly 200 argument prompts on the site. Before you despair, keep in mind that some of these prompts are very similar and by practicing an essay prompt or two from each of the buckets below, you’ll prepare yourself for test day. And who knows? You might get lucky, the argument prompt you get test day being one that you already wrote a mock essay for.

Meet the 7 categories of GRE essay topics

GRE essay topics and GRE writing prompts

1. Education

These GRE writing prompts will ask you something about the aims and objectives of essay writing. The emphasis is typically on college–choosing majors, tuition, curriculum–though you might get a prompt relating to education at large.

“All college and university students would benefit from spending at least one semester studying in a foreign country.”

“Educational institutions have a responsibility to dissuade students from pursuing fields of study in which they are unlikely to succeed.”

“Educational institutions should actively encourage their students to choose fields of study that will prepare them for lucrative careers.”

“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.”

“Claim: Universities should require every student to take a variety of courses outside the student’s major field of study.

Reason: Acquiring knowledge of various academic disciplines is the best way to become truly educated.”

“Formal education tends to restrain our minds and spirits rather than set them free.”

You’ll notice these prompts are all very similar. For instance, there are two prompts–the ones beginning with “educational institutions”–that are almost identical. Though this list is not exhaustive, in terms of education prompts that could pop up, it is highly representative, as are the prompts for the categories below. So if you practice with just a few prompts per category, you should be ready.

Unsurprisingly, given that the GRE is a test for graduate school, the education prompt tends to come up more often than any other. I would recommend writing one of these essays on a prompt that specifically mentions college and another that doesn’t (“Formal education tends…free” is a good one because it is probably the least related to the others).

2. 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 primary goal of technological advancement should be to increase people’s efficiency so that they have more leisure time.”

“The increasingly rapid pace of life today causes more problems than it solves.”

“Although innovations such as video, computers, and the Internet seem to offer schools improved methods for instructing students, these technologies all too often distract from real learning.” (this ones a hybrid with the education “bucket”–cool!)

“Some people believe that our ever-increasing use of technology significantly reduces our opportunities for human interaction. Other people believe that technology provides us with new and better ways to communicate and connect with one another.”

“The human mind will always be superior to machines because machines are only tools of human minds.”

3. Cities

(I know this is a pretty random bucket – but it’s what ETS decrees)

“To understand the most important characteristics of a society, one must study its major cities.”

“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.”

“It is primarily in cities that a nation’s cultural traditions are generated and preserved.”

“When old buildings stand on ground that modern planners feel could be better used for modern purposes, modern development should be given precedence over the preservation of historic buildings.”

“The best way to solve environmental problems caused by consumer-generated waste is for towns and cities to impose strict limits on the amount of trash they will accept from each household.”

4. Arts

“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.”

“Claim: Nations should suspend government funding for the arts when significant numbers of their citizens are hungry or unemployed.

Reason: It is inappropriate—and, perhaps, even cruel—to use public resources to fund the arts when people’s basic needs are not being met.”

“Nations should suspend government funding for the arts when significant numbers of their citizens are hungry or unemployed.”

5. 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.”

“Some people believe that government officials must carry out the will of the people they serve. Others believe that officials should base their decisions on their own judgment.”

“Some people believe that in order to thrive, a society must put its own overall success before the well-being of its individual citizens. Others believe that the well-being of a society can only be measured by the general welfare of all its people.”

“Governments should not fund any scientific research whose consequences are unclear.”

“Some people believe it is often necessary, even desirable, for political leaders to withhold information from the public. Others believe that the public has a right to be fully informed.”

6. Intellectual Endeavors

“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.”

7. 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.”

“People who are the most deeply committed to an idea or policy are also the most critical of it.”

“Many important discoveries or creations are accidental: it is usually while seeking the answer to one question that we come across the answer to another.”

“Claim: It is no longer possible for a society to regard any living man or woman as a hero.

Reason: The reputation of anyone who is subjected to media scrutiny will eventually be diminished.”

How to practice using GRE writing prompts

There are a few more “buckets”, but the seven categories above cover about 95% of the spectrum. The takeaway from all this is that you should find the category you are weakest in and work at becoming more comfortable with and knowledgable about that 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).

GRE essay Monet vs Manet

Before you just start scribbling (or typing) a GRE essay, an important word on organization:

The point here is to know what you are going to write before writing it. The other way around, while tempting, can get you into trouble with the clock. Sure, you’ll generate some smart words right off the bat, but you’ll very likely write yourself into a hole where you are repeating yourself. This kind of desperation — in which you don’t have anything to say but are doing your best to rephrase what you already said a sentence or two earlier — is not lost on the graders.

The first step is to brainstorm, taking a few minutes to first come up with a position that is nuanced, instead of producing an unequivocal ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the issue question.

Next, you want to consider some possible counterarguments to your position. In acknowledging them, you are not weakening your position, as long as you show how they are lacking. This kind of analysis will only strengthen your position — and it is the exact kind of analysis the graders usually associate with ‘5’ score and higher. Doing this will help you avoid one of the biggest mistakes you can make on the Issue Essay — failing to provide support for your examples.

The good news is, coming up with arguments and counterexamples for these GRE essay topics won’t entail getting a degree in art history, in the case of those prompts. 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.

A few study tactics for using the GRE Issue prompts

If establishing a nuanced position and coming up with counterexamples to that position is difficult for you, don’t worry! Doing this is difficult for many, unless they’ve had practice.

So instead of writing your entire essay, first sit down with a prompt and practice coming up with a position and counterexamples. To give yourself a little structure, start the timer at 5 minutes. At first it’ll be difficult, but stick with it. Doing three prompts each morning for a week or so will make the process easier.

You can also go back to your notes after the five minutes are up and think of ways they could have been improved. Again, being patient and practicing daily will help make this process much more natural. At that point, you can start writing full length practice essays. And don’t worry — with almost 200 prompts, you are not going to run out of practice material!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April, 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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.

51 Responses to GRE Essay Topics

  1. pooja September 14, 2016 at 9:43 pm #

    Hi Chris

    The above issue essay topics you have shortlisted, are you sure that in the exam it will be one of them for Revised GRE???

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 17, 2016 at 5:49 am #

      Hi Pooja,

      Yes! Check out the information from the test makers themselves here! Hope this helps!

  2. PARTH KAUSHIK September 7, 2016 at 10:42 pm #

    Hii chris

    I am a great fan of u the way you taught is simply amazing i have completed your all free verbal videos on youtube and excited to write gre next month hope for the best .

  3. Amber bartle August 30, 2016 at 11:46 am #

    Hello,

    What if we do not know about a certain topic like government and power type topics? What is the best way to prepare for that? I feel like I would struggle with brainstorming if I do not understand the basis of the topic itself.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 31, 2016 at 8:00 pm #

      Hi Amber,

      Great question! We recommend that you create a little ‘arsenal’ of examples that would be applicable to a wide variety of subjects. Think of some subjects that interest you, such as science or art or history or philosophy, and come up with the names of important people, events, documents, discoveries, etc. For example, say I love history. So, before test day I’d make a list of several important historical figures, events, documents, etc, and have these examples in my arsenal. Isaac Newton–inventive! Julia Child–a pioneering woman! The Emancipation Proclamation–groundbreaking! Now that I have these examples at the ready, I can adapt them for use in a wide variety of topics.

      And now that you have identified the “government and power” bucket as a potential challenge for you, you can take the opportunity to do some research and find a few good examples that you could use in these essays! You can think of important historical figures (George Washington!), groundbreaking events (The Magna Carta!) and take the opportunity to learn a little bit about different systems of government. I also suggest that you read international news sites daily for a few weeks before the test–you never know when a current event might be used as an example 🙂

  4. Raghav Mahajan August 28, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    This is a great post. Thanks for putting it up here. Towards the end of the post you mentioned that there are few more buckets ; could you please list them as well ? if possible!!

    Thanks

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 30, 2016 at 9:21 am #

      Hi Raghav,

      Glad that this post was helpful for you! The ‘other’ buckets aren’t really buckets, but rather prompts that don’t quite fit into these categories. We created these categories by looking at the Issue prompts and identifying major themes–this isn’t an official ETS list 🙂 For example, this prompt doesn’t quite fit perfectly into any of the categories, but there aren’t enough similar prompts to make another entire ‘bucket’: “Society should make efforts to save endangered species only if the potential extinction of those species is the result of human activities.” It’s kind of science, kind of society, and kind of philosophy. I encourage you to look through the pool of Issue topics I linked above to find other topics that don’t fit neatly into one category. If you can think of any more general themes to group them, please let us know 🙂

  5. Rizpah Bellard August 26, 2016 at 7:26 pm #

    What’s a good strategy for starting the essay? I always tend to find myself restating the claim/issue/prompt and I don’t really have any authenticity in it.

    This drab intro is followed by my body paragraphs starting with “Firstly….Second….Last….In conclusion…” Is there a better way to start the body paragraphs or should I even worry about this?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 27, 2016 at 8:47 am #

      Hi Rizpah,

      While I can understand this feeling, the GRE essays are never going to be exciting or unique. Thousands and thousands of students write essays on the same topics, so there is not as much room for originality as there is in general academic writing. I would not worry about spicing it up and just focus on clear organization and argumentation. 🙂

  6. Liz August 16, 2016 at 8:35 pm #

    Hi everyone and Chris,

    I am really afraid that some things I said in the GRE issue essay will be considered plagiarism. I wrote about a previous boss, the CEO of a well-known organization (mentioned in essay). I mentioned some of his past achievements in my own words. Is this a problem? Please help! I just realized this may be construed as plagiarism because it’s not common knowledge and I’m freaking out.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 21, 2016 at 8:52 am #

      Hi Liz,

      Without reading your essay it is hard to tell, but as long as you didn’t claim the achievements as your own, it is probably fine. Writing about something that isn’t common knowledge isn’t plagiarism, and the GRE readers are really looking for things like the quality of your argument and writing. As long as you explained the example and clearly connected it to the prompt, you will likely be fine 🙂

      • Liz August 21, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

        Thank you so much! I feel 10x better

  7. mihir modi August 15, 2016 at 4:39 am #

    Can you provide examples for argument essays also?

  8. Mohi July 5, 2016 at 5:20 am #

    Hi Chris

    does the AWA samples known as “Complete Pool of AWA_GRE writing of Kaplan” contain

    perfect essays? i mean do they deserve a 6 full score in GRE AWA??

    thanks for your response in advance

    the aforementioned AWA samples’ link is

    http://web.mit.edu/ehliu/Public/GRE/GRE%20writing%20of%20Kaplan.pdf

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 12, 2016 at 8:35 am #

      Hi Mohi,

      I only read the first issue and found quite a few errors in it (grammar, spelling, and argumentation). I would not rate that first essay over a 4. You can definitely read them for ideas and inspiration, but they are not all worth a 6 for sure. You might want to look at this official samples (not all the essays): https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/analytical_writing/argument/sample_responses.

      I hope that helps! 🙂

  9. Pronay J Panikkan December 16, 2014 at 11:50 am #

    Is there someway I can get essays to ALL the topics mentioned in the ETS pool of topics. It seems there are more than 200 of them ! I don’t intend to mug them all up. But I think it would be a great help just to know at least some of the ‘for’ and ‘against’ points related to the topics. I have been searching for a while now. There are sample essay responses to some of the topics, but I have found only a few so far.

  10. srijana December 6, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

    thanks so much. i reallyneeded this.

  11. aravind December 3, 2014 at 11:33 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    I have wriiten one issue essay from the given question.please evaluate it and correct me if i did any wrong…

    “Educational institutions have a responsibility to dissuade students from pursuing fields of study in which they are unlikely to succeed.”

    In today’s world, Education is essential for everyone because it educate the people to gain knowledge.Without education there is nothing.
    However,there is some sort of students who are unlikely to succeed in their education..At these circumstances educational institutions are the responsibility
    of preventing the students from studies where they are unlikely to succeed.

    Some students doesn’t know how education is important to them.There will be diferent views between educators and non educators.For an example
    if there is a rainbow in the sky,the uneducated adults looks like as magic saying that how could it be so much colours on that sky etc..But educated adults

    knew that the rainbow is produced by rhe process of reflection,refraction,water droplets in atmosphere etc..The educators are learned by an erudite

    professors.if there is any antipathy of studies from some students then the institution is mainly responsible to change their attitude and to make them perfect by

    giving essesntial and interest to studies.

    Most of the students showing interest in movies,playing rather than studies.This spoils their entire life.I doesn’t meant by saying only studies will glow
    in their life.Every one must be educated to gain their knowledge and basic things about their surroundings.Even one shows interst in playing he should also be

    educated because some of the institution gives sustains to only bright students.So the dull students fails to achieve in their life.This was happened in my

    school days. There was one student who is die hard for playing cricket.He doesn’t show interest in studies,so the institution doesn’t care about that

    student.After 10 years the student felt sorry for not educated because when he bacame good cricketer he couldn’t able to speak to and understand from

    others who are all educated.

    Therefore,Educational Institution are the responsibility for each and every student to be educated though they are unlikely to succeed.And also student must
    know the essential of studies.Students must put some efforts in their education beacuse there will be only 50 percent of efforts from educational instituition
    and remaining should be student’s efforts.If at all there is some efforts from studentsand their institution then there is no place of failure.

  12. Tanushree September 23, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    Thank you so much Chris. I have GRE on 1st oct. and I am left with AWA only. These categories will now help me to organize my practice…. 🙂

  13. Sarvesh August 30, 2014 at 2:12 am #

    Hey Chris,
    First things first , Thank you for creating and maintaining this website !! its just awesome !! I have my GRE exam on Sept 3rd !! I was totally freaking out with this AWA section. everything was falling apart before i found this pool of issue topics on your website. Its helping me a lot to get over this section!! I just have a question for you . After looking up on your issue essay topics, I checked the ETS website for the pool of issue essay topics and i found out that there was over 100 topics given in that website !! With just 20 topics given in your website ,should i be worried ? please help me out here . Thanks in advance .

    • Mohammad September 28, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

      did you get your issue essay from any of those mentioned in question bank?

  14. bharath July 2, 2014 at 10:56 am #

    Hi Chris

    Thank you for your work. I had a week left for my exam. I started preparing for AWA today. I am just going through issue topics and found your blog. I want to make sure most probably issue topic will come from the topics you mentioned above , so that it would be very helpful for me from going through pile of essays.

    Thanks in advance

  15. Romy July 2, 2014 at 1:29 am #

    Thank you for all the material that has been made available for the students who are attempting the GRE like me
    Is there any site of yours with the complete pool of frequent essays and their solutions????

  16. Mohammad June 25, 2014 at 7:56 am #

    Thanks for the information Chris

    The Essays you have shortlisted, are you sure that in the exam it will be one of them for Revised GRE?

    Any guidance for Argument Essays will be appreciated?

  17. Faisal April 14, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

    Mr Chris,

    I am so glad to find this material on the website. it is really useful.
    thank you,

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 15, 2014 at 11:16 am #

      You are welcome!

  18. Avais February 24, 2014 at 6:55 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    thank,s for these useful topics. can u provide the same for Argument essay?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele February 25, 2014 at 11:18 am #

      Hi Avais,

      The argument topics aren’t quite as categorizable. However, in a future post I’ll try to do just that–showing the overarching themes in the argument essay bank.

  19. shweta February 13, 2014 at 2:33 am #

    Hi Chris,

    The information is really useful & helpful!!!! 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele February 13, 2014 at 10:58 am #

      Great! I’m glad it helped 🙂

  20. khushbu September 20, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    This is really helpful ..thanks 😉

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele September 23, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

      You are welcome!

  21. Sudeshna August 9, 2013 at 5:33 am #

    Thank you so much…. This was really helpful.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele August 12, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

      You are welcome!

  22. Joy July 30, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

    This was exactly what I was looking for! Thanks Chris. 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 31, 2013 at 10:53 am #

      I’m glad you found it :)!

  23. Divya July 15, 2013 at 8:02 am #

    Thank you SO MUCH for this post, Chris! It saves us so much time! Personally, I am freaking out over this section, cuz I’m applying for a Creative Writing degree. I wish you guys would consider starting the service of grading practice essays and giving feedback. You could charge separately for that. I know I’d be willing to pay.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 15, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

      Hi Divya,

      I’m glad you found it helpful! Unfortunately, we don’t have any plans for an essay grading service. You could try posting it on urch.com or the thegradcafe.com.

      Meanwhile, there are a bunch of AWA related posts on the Magoosh blog to help you out. Interestingly, I’m not sure how much a Creative Writing program would stress the GRE Writing. It’s such a different form of writing that they would more likely look at your portfolio of stories/poems.

      Good luck!

      • Divya July 17, 2013 at 7:57 am #

        Thanks Chris. I know my writing samples are much more important than my GRE score, but am still trying to get a really good score, so I’m nervous!! 🙂 I have been through all your AW blog posts as well as your tutorial videos as I’ve signed up for your premium service and am finding everything on this site SO helpful. I think what really comes through most and sets you guys apart is that you seem to really love what you do.

        Thank you from a highly satisfied customer! 🙂

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele July 17, 2013 at 11:57 am #

          Thanks Divya for the positive words! We here at Magoosh definitely love what we do :). I’m happy that you’ve found the tutorials/blog helpful!

          • Divya August 5, 2013 at 7:32 am #

            Hi Chris,

            I had a question. In the Issue task, is it okay to give examples from our own country or is it safer to stick to examples from the US? For eg, in the essay about having the same national school curriculums, is it okay to talk about how curriculums are designed in my country, India, and its diversity, or is it more advisable to talk about the US? Also, can I use politicians from my country who might not be known the world over as examples or is it better to stick to leaders that are known internationally?

            Thanks a lot.

            • Chris Lele
              Chris Lele August 5, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

              Hi Divya,

              That is a great question! As long as you can write compellingly about an example, it doesn’t matter which country it comes from. Sure, you probably have more work if you choose the Indian example. Meaning, that writers are unfamiliar with the person/history and will need a little more elaboration (which, you might forget to do–since the example is so well-known in India).

              Nonetheless, I would stick to writing what you know about (India).
              However, if the prompt is specifically about national curriculum, you might want to focus on the US. The GRE can afford to be ethnocentric about this one point, since the GRE is for admissions in the U.S. and thus it behooves any taking the GRE to be well-versed in the education situation in the U.S. This is just my hypothesis, but I think it is better to be safe and stick to the U.S. on issue prompts relating to education.

              Hope that helps!

              • Divya August 8, 2013 at 12:17 am #

                Thank you for the detailed reply, Chris. That helps a lot! 🙂

                • Chris Lele
                  Chris Lele August 8, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

                  You’re welcome :)!

                  • Sambit Pattnaik August 29, 2014 at 6:24 am #

                    Hi Chris,

                    I too had the same question, its now totally limpid to me. To top that up, I would like to profusely thank you for the work you are doing at Moogosh, I have my exam on 5th of Sept and I can’t explain what my situation would have been, if it had not been for Magoosh. The help you guys have extended is inexplicable, exhorting and bolstering my confidence every moment. I have never seen someone who would reply to every comment on their blog, its something incredible!!!

                    A zillion thanks again for the superb work and love you guys. I wish you all the success in future. Magoosh would go a really long way, as if it hasn’t yet 😉

                    • Chris Lele
                      Chris Lele August 29, 2014 at 10:11 am #

                      Thanks Sambit so much for those awesome words! We strive to make sure students are happy and do well on their GRE.

                      Best of luck on the 5th 🙂

      • RAVITEJApallapallapolu May 8, 2016 at 10:55 am #

        HI CHRIS LELE,

        Thank you for providing ISSUE TOPICS. I am requesting you to provide some ARGUMENT topics. l am expecting positive reply from you

        • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
          Magoosh Test Prep Expert May 9, 2016 at 12:18 am #

          Hi there 🙂 You can find the entire pool of topics for the argument task on the ETS website:

          * Pool of Argument Topics

          Each topic presents an argument that is based on logical fallacies and your goal through your essay is to highlight these flaws and explain how they weaken the argument. As Chris mentions in this blog post, regardless of the topic you receive, you should never agree with part of the original argument but rather explain the unwarranted assumptions that make up the argument.

          I hope this helps!


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