GRE Issue Essay: Strategies + 8 Real Student Essays with Scores

When you sit down at the computer on test day, the very first thing that you’ll encounter is the GRE Issue essay, which is part of GRE Analytical Writing. For a lot of test-takers, this is the point at which they freeze. But not you! In this article, Magoosh’s experts will guide you through the most important steps in writing the GRE AWA Issue essay. In addition, we’ll take a look at student examples of the GRE “Analyze an Issue” task so that you can understand what gets a high score—and what doesn’t—on the official exam.

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Table of Contents

An Overview of the GRE Issue Essay

First things first: what do you need to do for the GRE AWA Issue essay? It’s different than the Argument essay. Your goal here is to read through the prompt, then agree or disagree with the premise—and explain the extent to which you agree or disagree. Think you can’t prepare in advance? You’d be wrong! There are two main things you can do to get ready for the first part of the Analytical Writing section.

Review the Topic Pool

First, because the prompts are drawn from a GRE topic pool, you can have some idea of what the Issue task will look like before test day. Don’t memorize all of them! But do take a look to see what types of topics you’ll come across, and think generally about how to approach them (tip: see below!). It’s also a good idea to take a peek at the ETS GRE analytical writing sample essay responses to get a broad sense of the scoring—though we’ll get more into this below.

Plan of Attack

Second, come up with a plan for approaching the GRE “analyze an issue” task. Not sure where to start? We can help! Here’s an example of an overall process you can use to address any Issue task in a high-scoring way:

  1. Read the directions carefully
  2. Brainstorm and outline pros and cons
  3. Choose a side
  4. Choose reasons and examples to support those reasons (especially important for claim and reason prompts)
  5. Select a concession point
  6. Go ahead and write!
  7. Don’t forget to leave around two minutes for proofreading and editing

magoosh-lesson-video-iconWant a closer look? Magoosh’s experts walk you through the process in more detail in our GRE Issue essay lesson video!


Top 5 AWA Issue Strategies

Now that you have the basics down, let’s take a look at some more detailed strategies you can use to maximize your score on the GRE Issue essay.

1. Be Organized

Even an impassioned, cogent response falls apart if it is not bundled into essay form: the introduction, a few body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

The Intro should not be needlessly long as you try to stuff in everything you want to say (remember, you only have 30 minutes!). The Intro should serve only to introduce the topic. Most importantly, the Intro must have a clearly defined thesis statement and explain your stance clearly. This should be ONE of the many points of view about the topic, not more than one. Often it is easiest for the writer—and the reader—if the last sentence in the Intro is the thesis.

The body paragraphs should develop your thesis. Finally, the conclusion should recap what’ve you said (don’t try to add any new information).

2. Focus Your Paragraphs

Stay focused on analyzing the issue. Make sure your sentences link together, and be sure to develop an example, so that by the end of the paragraph you can persuasively—and clearly—show how your example supports your thesis. In other words, explain how these considerations make your point true.

3. Keep It Engaging

Repetitive sentence structure makes for repetitive reading. Vary up the way you write—don’t be afraid to use a colon (or a dash), drop in a semi-colon, and vary up the syntax. Noun followed by verb followed by adjective implies that you are a hesitant writer. Regardless of your analysis and organization, the overall impression your essay leaves on the graders is a resounding meh.

4. Be Specific

Hypotheticals are fine, if you can use them to convincingly back up your point. However, that’s the tough part; “some people,” “mankind,” or “you” are dull, vague abstractions. If you trying to show that knowledge can sometimes be used for destructive ends, “Oppenheimer’s knowledge of nuclear fusion allowed him to create the most destructive weapon the world had ever known” is far more impactful than, “scientists can sometimes use knowledge to hurt us.”

5. Stay On Topic

Perhaps the most important (lest you wonder why you received a ‘1’ on your essay) is to keep your essay on topic. Imagine you had to write on the mock prompt on knowledge I used above. If you begin talking about how technology is destructive because smartphones cause us to become insular… you have totally forgotten to answer the question, “Knowledge can sometimes be used for destructive ends.” Address the most compelling examples, yes—but the most compelling examples that relate directly to your topic!


Student GRE Issue Essay Analysis: Prompts, Essays, and Grading Samples

So now you know what the GRE AWA Issue tasks should do, it’s time to take a look at how sample essays meet (or fail to meet) these criteria—and how this affected their scores. All of the following essays were written in response to the GRE Issue prompts, so check them out if you haven’t already, and then come back to analyze some examples!

Note: We’ve formatted the essays so that you can see the prompt and instructions first, then try writing your own response (this is great practice!). Once you’ve done that, click on the “essay and analysis” arrows to view examples of graded student essays and see how yours compare.

GRE Issue Essay Prompt 1: University Requirements


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.


5.5 Essay and Analysis

Student Essay

Some people believe that universities should put stringent policies in place that require students to take courses only within a chosen field of study, thus harshly limiting the breadth of knowledge that they are able to study. Concentrating on only one field is important in terms of developing expert knowledge and specialization, but it is also crucial that the student hone a well rounded knowledge of the nature of the world so that their field of specialization is accented with courses from outside disciplines as well. It is for this reason that I believe that students should focus their study on a specific field yet also be allowed and encouraged to accent and expand their specialized knowledge by sampling courses from other areas of specialty as well.

Our current globalizing world contains diversity of knowledge, culture and creed that is increasing at a rapid pace and in order to succeed in a world such as this, it is necessary to hone a diverse skill set of knowledge and expertise. Therefore, university policies should encourage students to accent their study of a specific discipline with outside courses that will enhance the breadth of their knowledge about the nature of the world. A student studying medicine, for example, clearly needs to focus the majority of their time on understanding the inner workings of the human body on a scientific level. However, it is also crucial for them to have a more general knowledge of the way in which humans function on an individual or cultural scale (i.e. psychology and anthropology), because effective doctors are not simply capable of diagnosing diseases, but can also interact effectively, with individual and cultural sensitivies, with their patients in order to provide the most well-rounded care. A mathematician who knows only about math and knows nothing about the ancient civilizations whose cultures discovered geography will be ill-suited to make math interesting to his future students or to understand the real world implications of the equations he slaves over daily. A one-dimensional course of study will only serve to foster bias and an uncritical approach to life in such students. Thus, because we live in a world that is multi-faceted, it is important for every specialist to learn a bit about specialities outside of their main discipline in order to augment their understanding of the world at large.

When universities provide a structure of encouragement for their students to augment their specified studies by selecting some courses from outside their discipline, there are some possible consequences, such as the potential for students to change their mind about what they want to focus on. Some may say this is an inefficient use of time and that it will confuse students. However, I would argue that it will foster a wider breadth of knowledge that is ultimately beneficial for any student; a student that started studying biology but then switched to psychology, for example, will always appreciate and pay heed to the importance of our life sciences and will not neglect to consider how the functions of the body may affect someone’s mental health. The existence of knowledge in a wider range of disciplines will only provide the student with more information with which to take charge in a world that is highly complex and rapidly changing all the time, and so allowing them to experiment a little and change their mind once or twice is to their benefit rather than to their detriment.

In conclusion, I disagree that universities should require students to take courses only within their specific, chosen field of study. When students are able to focus their study on one specific topic but then augment it by sampling courses from other disciplines, their knowledge becomes more wide ranging and interdisciplinary, thus providing a better foundation for them to succeed in a rapidly globalizing world. While they may change their minds as to their preferred topic of study one or two times, they will ultimately succeed by having a wide breadth of knowledge that will teach them to approach the world without a subject specific bias. Overall, it is best that universities allow their students to take courses outside of their chosen course of study in order to diversify their pallate of knowledge.

Issue Essay Analysis

Score: 5.5

This GRE Issue essay starts off with a strong intro that clearly articulates the author’s position.
The essay is also very long, and the body paragraphs well developed. In terms of ideas this is a strong—though if slightly limited—essay. It makes a compelling case for interdisciplinary learning. A physician studying anthropology will be more culturally sensitive; a psychologist who studied biology will have a great appreciation for the biological underpinnings of the psyche. The writer justifies this well-roundedness in terms of relevancy: a one-dimensional person will struggle in our complex, globalized world.
As well thought out and supported as these points, they are far too similar, and this essay would have benefited from picking another example that argues in favor of allowing students to take courses outside of their majors. Another flaw is the essay doesn’t directly addresses the directions: “should consider the possible consequences of implementing the policy.” Is a world of well-rounded, complex individuals the consequence of allowing students to choose subjects outside of their majors?

Stylistically this essay is not perfect, and I have some minor grumblings.

I like the first use of “accent” but after the third time the use of the word is not nearly as fresh. In this case, other words could do: supplement, etc. Some of the sentences are heavy-handed and overloaded with clauses (“When universities provide a structure of encouragement for their students to augment their specified studies by selecting some courses from outside their discipline, there are some possible consequences, such as the potential for students to change their mind about what they want to focus on”). Other examples of where too many nouns compromise the effectiveness of writing is the first sentence of the body paragraph (can “creed” “increase at a rapid pace”).
All in all, this essay is a strong essay but the narrow scope and the overly oblique focus on the directions prevents it from getting a ‘6.’

5.0 Essay and Analysis

Student Essay

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The ongoing debate about whether a university should require students to take courses only within their fields of study or take extra classes to fulfill graduation requirements is an interesting one. There any many valid arguments to each side and it is not a simple black or white choice when deciding who is right. However, by requiring students to only take courses within their major, it allows for students focus on taking classes that are only applicable to their future careers and allows them to save money in a time where saving money is equally important to a college degree.

In many situations, students will finish high school and go on to college with an idea of what they want to do with their life. For students who are in majors such as engineering or the a science field such as chemistry or biology, it is important to for them to stay on top of all of their course work because of the higher number of courses that they must take in order to fulfill the university requirements for a degree. Many of these students knew before they entered college that this would be the case and gladly accepted that challenge, however by requiring students to take extra general education classes to fulfill their diploma requirements seems counter intuitive to a level of education where students are beginning to focus and narrow in on their future career goals. By forcing say a engineering student to take music theory or British literature just simply to fulfill a general education requirement and having that class conflict with a engineering major course seems to prevent these students from coming to college and fully obtaining their goal as quickly as possible.

The other aspect to consider is the financial aspect. In many of these situations, the students are under pressure to finish their degree as soon as possible because of many state budget cuts to education which limit the number of classes offered with in their major. Not only does this mean extra classes that students must take and thus more money they have to spend because tuition is usually based on a per unit fee, forcing these extra classes upon can have a longer impact if they are forced to stay longer in college than they originally assumed they would. College already charges an extremely large amount to attend and that already does not take into account the other expenses that students have to pay (such as room and board, food, and books), but adding on extra semester, quarters, or even years because a student had to take general education classes instead of strictly major classes is an unfair system to put a student through.

As with any situation though, there are always exceptions to the rule. For one not every student enters college with the same career focus and direction as their peers. Many students will come into college unsure of the direction they want to take and many students who think they know what direction they want to go, end up changing their minds (sometimes multiple times). By requiring students to take classes from a broad range of spectrums, Universities can help students narrow down what career path they may want to follow. Many times students may have a preconceived notion of what a subject may be about and not want to try it, yet by requiring it, they may be able to find themselves in a new class with something they may choose to pursue in the future, something they perhaps never would have considered. There is also something to be said about being able to take higher education classes simply for the benefit of wanting to learn about something that interests you. College allows you to do that and by making it a requirement, it allows students a bigger chance to do that.

Overall though, universities that force students to take upwards of 10-12 general education classes just to fulfill a requirement for their diploma seems unfair. When a student comes into college with a specific end game in site, the universities should not hinder their goals by overloading them with extra requirements and instead focus on helping hem obtain their goals as quickly as possible. The time and financial benefits that could be reaped by not requiring students to take these classes could have a direct impact on the success of all students as well as the future communities they intend to help.

Issue Essay Analysis

Score: 5.0
This essay covers most of the bases: it offers analysis on both sides of the issue, it throws in a few sentences that address the specific instructions, and it, for the most part, clearly articulates a position. The essay does not wow with thorough analysis, great sentence variety (or indeed any stylistic flourishes). In other words, it gets the job done without making too many missteps.

While I award this essay a ‘5’, there are moments when that score seems shaky. This is not mainly due to the ideas (though the generalizations don’t help: “As with any situation though, there are always exceptions to the rule”); at times the sentences become overloaded and tend to digress.

Word choice could have also been a little more dynamic. “Large”, “bigger”, etc. could be spiced up a little more: “astronomical”, “excessive”, etc.

In addition to making the sentence more readable, and varying up the syntax a little, the essay could have been improved with a little more analysis. I would have like to say more than taking more courses is expensive. Sure, that is a totally valid point, but to spend an entire paragraph on it the overly long first paragraph about students who are not engineers as well.

Additionally, the last body paragraph is confusing: “There is also something to be said about being able to take higher education classes simply for the benefit of wanting to learn about something that interests you. College allows you to do that and by making it a requirement,it allows students a bigger chance to do that.” Is the author implying that colleges shouldn’t require students to take only course in their field (which would go against the main point of the essay)? And by saying that colleges make “it a requirement” that college require students to take courses outside their field?

Had this paragraph been a little clearer and had the writer expanded the scope of the financial issue, this essay—along with a little more dynamic writing and sentence variety—could get at least a definitive ‘5’, if not a ‘5.5’.

Check out this post for another example of a 5.0 GRE student essay!

4.5 Essay and Analysis

Student Essay

Liberal arts colleges and professional schools often debate whether they are required to develop well-rounded individuals. The primary purpose of universities is to establish the ground work for future field experts and specialists, meaning the developing into other fields would detract from the development of specialization. A basic understanding of how to delve into other fields is all that’s necessary.

A college degree in a field suggests that a graduate has the basic understanding of a specialized field, and they may continue to develop into a true expert. At every level of the collegiate process, students have further expansion into their speciality. For instance, science majors start with basic fundamentals that are required for latter learning. They soon go off into their own fields, isolated from the humanities and, often, other science majors. Because students usually have only four years to achieve a set requirement of tested standards in a particular field, universities must push students into their fields quickly. There simply isn’t enough time to truly explore all the possible fields of study at the university level. Exploratory learning shouldn’t be required as it doesn’t serve any purpose when the student won’t continue to explore in those extracurricular fields.

If a student were to only hole themselves away into the fields of physics, they may never truly understand how their physical knowledge relates to society and the social world. Universities tend to have to weigh this “roundedness” against the need to produce future field experts. The outcome is introductory classes that relate to your field, but intertwine with other fields of study, and push students to explore on their own time. These initial exploratory classes would be necessary for any field of study anyway, as creativity and individual pursuit is essential for any expert to further their field’s knowledge.

These exploratory classes are necessary for students to apply their growing expertise, but leaving their fields of study should be done on their own because they can only expand into the elementary levels of other fields within their time restraints at the university level. In this way, students aren’t led by the hand through fields they aren’t interested in, but they would still have the capability to explore their fields if they truly were intrigued. Allowing students to create their own directions, intertwining their interests, creates dynamic individuals who are happier with their degrees and more productive to the world through their specialization.

Universities are meant to develop future experts and specialists in particular fields of study. They should lay the groundwork for students to be able to explore of fields, but not in a way that detracts from their field’s work. At a moment when their time is so precious, students can’t afford to be left behind in their fields as they are forced by curriculum to explore unwanted alternatives.

Issue Essay Analysis

Score: 4.5

There are some things about the essay that I like: it brings up interesting ideas relating to the prompt. Do specialists with “roundedness”contribute more to their fields than those specialists who focus only on their fields? The sentence variety makes things flow along nicely, until the middle of the essay, where the author becomes vague. Indeed, at times I’m not sure which side of the prompt the author is arguing.

For example, at the end of the second paragraph he states: “Exploratory learning shouldn’t be required as it doesn’t serve any purpose when the student won’t continue to explore in those extracurricular fields.”

The very next sentence—the first sentence of the third paragraph—says the exact opposite: “If a student were to only hole themselves away into the fields of physics, they may never truly understand how their physical knowledge relates to society and the social world.” Suddenly,the paragraph is arguing against what the previous paragraph stated.

The second to last paragraph is weighed down in abstractions, without a useful specific example to clear things up. Consider the topic sentence: “These exploratory classes are necessary for students to apply their growing expertise, but leaving their fields of study should be done on their own because they can only expand into the elementary levels of other fields within their time restraints at the university level.” There is a lot going on here, and I really had to reread the sentence several times to get what the author was saying. The ETS graders won’t take this much time. And given that the essay has already pulled an about-face in the previous paragraphs, makes this sentence even more obfuscatory.

The conclusion is much clearer than the rest of the essays, and allows me to understand what the essay was trying to say alone.Compare the clarity of this sentence to the one I mentioned in the previous paragraph: “They should lay the ground work for students to be able to explore of fields, but not in a way that detracts from their field’s work.”

So how to grade an essay like this? Strong analytical skills, sophisticated writing, and solid organization….yet, a contradictory—and at times muddled (the clause in the intro, “….meaning the developing into other fields) leads to a confusing essay.

Clarity and meaning are huge. And an essay that leaves the grader scratching his or her head is not a good thing. This doesn’t sabotage the essay completely, but merits a 4.5.

4.0 Essay and Analysis

Student 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.

Issue Essay 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).

3.0 Essay and Analysis

Student Essay

I do not agree with the stated policy to allow students to only take course within their chosen fields of study. Instead I feel that students should should have the opportunity to take course outside of their major for the following reasons.

First, I feel that taken course outside ones major gives students variety, and exposure to experiences or interactions they may not have considered previously. Take for example Lisa, an engineering student who spends countless hours studying. Realizing that she needed a change of place an outlet of some sorts decides to take a modern dance course just for fun. What ultimatly was that Lisa learned to relax which interned helped her study more effectively and perform better in her engineering course.

Then take Monique, a political science major who doesn’t know how to swim. decided to take a swimming course and not only learned to over come her fear, but gained confidence in other other aspects of o her live.

Thirdly, lets consider Jason, a physics major who only took courses in his major. He became such an expert in his field us study, but became increasing socially award because of his inability to converse or relate to his peers.

In the even both Lisa and Monique were not able to take course outside of their major, I fear that they would have succumb to the pressure that sometimes too often over takes students adjusting to university lift. By deviating from their mandatory set of course they found a renew focus and inner strength that they may have never know before. Jason however, didn’t fair as well due to his strict focus in University

University is about diversity and gaining new experience for growth and development. Not being allowed to explore this diversity limits the over experience and potential stunts the education growth and perspective of students

Issue Essay Analysis

Score: 3.0

Grammatical errors and spelling mistakes mar the effectiveness of this essay. Specifically, commas are misused (or not used at all), incorrect words are used (“interned”, “award” vs. “awkward”). I think many of these mistakes can be remedied if the student spends some time editing.The point in editing isn’t to catch the nitpicky errors but the glaring ones (of which this essay has many).

Next, the essay has very predictable development: take one-side of the prompt, and then come up with three hypothetical examples to support the point. There is zero analysis. This essay could have been improved and gotten within striking range of a ‘4’, or at least a ‘3.5’, had it simply addressed the instructions: “consider the possible consequences of implementing….” Of course, addressing the grammatical and spelling errors would have helped the essay.

As it stands the grammatical errors are so distracting that they make reading the essay difficult. Sure, clarity isn’t sacrificed, as the essay is mostly clear. But the simple structure, the lack of addressing the instruction, and the glaring sentence mechanics issues, lands this essay a ‘3’.


Prompt 2: Lasting Legacy


Those who see their ideas through, regardless of doubts or criticism others may express, are the ones who tend to leave a lasting legacy.


Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.


4.0 Essay and Analysis

Student Essay

A famous author once remarked that “Winners never quit and quitters never win”. People who see their ideas through, however unpragmatic it may be considered by others are the ones who have truly made a difference.

History is replete with examples of people who were perceived as crazy, illogical and even insane by laymen, yet when their ideas were sedulously worked upon, by the creator , day after day, combined with long hours of toil, the result was nothing, short of marvelous.

Lets’s take the example of the Indian freedom struggle fought by Gandhiji on the basis of Satyagraha. It was very difficult for the Britishers to assume that India would be freed one day under the leadership of a loin cloth covered ordinary looking man without the use of weapons or bloodshed. The reason that Indian freedom could be achieved was the unflagging determination of Gandhiji and the uncommon methodology used of winning freedom by peace and not bloodshed.

Looking not far, I can recall the example of Galileo who was reviled and persecuted by the Church authorities for challenging the existing norms that pervaded the society that time. Galileo’s fierce determination , not to give up on his ideas even during harsh criticism paved the way for modern space research.

Another convincing example is of the Wright Brothers. Who would have ever imagined that it is indeed possible to fly like a bird and traverse different parts of the globe. I am sure that the Wright brothers were reviled when they first came up with this idea of developing an aeroplane. But, again today their invention has become a legacy.

Though there are several examples of people winning through odds because of their determination and unflagging spirit and creating noteworthy inventions, there could be times when this may be the cause of much trouble. Consider the doggedness of Hitler.though he was criticised for his heinous atrocitities on the Jews, he still did not stop the atrocities. These are few examples when people with strong determination can create an ill legacy instead of a legacy.

Issue Essay Analysis

Score: 4.0

The writing in this essay has a lot of punch and makes reading it easy. However, there is little to no analysis. Like many essays on this prompt, the essay takes an extreme position, and beyond a vague, jumbled mention of Hitler, does not address the instructions: “…you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true.”

As an SAT essay goes—basically you can take a relatively strong position—this is a good essay. Even then, some of the examples lack persuasiveness: “I am sure the Wright brothers were reviled.” Maybe they weren’t (they actually were, somewhat), but to say “you think” vs. “many notable scientists mocked the Wright Brothers notion of human flight” makes the essay far more tentative than it should be.

Also, the examples are very sparse, especially Galileo. Some more development would have perhaps bumped this essay to a ‘4.5’. But without any analysis, and by failing to take into account the other side, this essay gets only a ‘4.’

Finally, the language is sometimes fluffy and orotund (“I can recall the example of Galileo”, “nothing short of marvelous.”). By saying that “another convincing example” makes your readers wary, and likely to challenge the convincing-ness of the example. (As noted earlier, the example isn’t convincing).

3.0 Essay and Analysis

Student Essay

Although, doubts and criticism expressed regarding a particular by others seem valid at the particular time of inception of time, if the person follows through his idea or well cherished dream, then he may become success in his endeavor and leave a lasting legacy. So, people who see their ideas through, regardless of doubts or criticism others may express, are the ones who tend to leave a lasting legacy.

New ideas takes time to be accepted by general public, and during the time from the inception till the acceptance, the person who invented or discovered that idea, may be criticized or oppressed. Galileo was put into house arrest for his entire life for his heliocentric model of the solar system, because it came in direct conflict with the church’s geocentric model which regarded Galileo’s theory as heresy. Later, Galileo’s model was readily accepted. So, it’s really important that the people should see their ideas through criticism and doubts of others and shouldn’t be daunted, since other people are not connected to the idea or dream or feel the strength of idea in the same way as the person who invented that idea.

If a person doesn’t

Issue Essay Analysis

Score: 3.0

This essay struggles from a lack of clarity. The first two sentences are overloaded with words, and so it is difficult for a reader to figure out what the writer is trying to say. Since the essay graders do not have time to figure out what you are trying to say, you will be penalized. Luckily, the thesis is clear—though it is an almost exact rewording of the prompt.

The Galileo example—while expressed in language that is clearer than that found in the intro—isn’t that developed. We learn that he was arrested and confined for heresy. The essay automatically assumes that this is the same as criticism. I would say the church’s actions against Galileo are a little stronger than mere criticism.

What saves this essay from a sub-3.0 is the final sentence, which discriminates between the person with the idea and those who only have an inkling of that idea. However, this idea is not explored in more depth (and doesn’t really connect to the Galileo example). Indeed the essay ends there.

I sense that the writer spent time agonizing over the wording of the first few sentences (which led to the tortuous syntax and obscured meaning). My advice: the writer should work on the examples before working on the intro. Finally, the examples should connect a little more clearly with the prompt. In this case, if the prompt is focusing on criticism, the writer shouldn’t shift the focus to persecution, as he did with Galileo and the church.


Prompt 3: Risky Action


People should undertake risky action only after they have carefully considered its consequences.


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.

4.0 Essay and Analysis

Student Essay

People should undertake risky action only after they have carefully considered its consequences.

People should not let their fears prevent them from taking important risks in life. Taking risks is what allows us humans to achieve success, joy and ultimate fulfillment. However, prior to taking any risky action, it is essential that people should carefully consider the consequences.

For example, there are some risky actions that are life-threatening such as skydiving. Of course, before you can begin to skydive, you must learn the basics of this sport. Additionally, by also studying what can go wrong during a skydive, and learning how to react to that scenario, that person will have the knowledge and ability to stay calm and hopefully make better decisions that will allow them to get out of a bad situation rather than falling into a panic.

This also pertains to decisions about money and business. Everyday people are making decisions that are ‘make or break’. For those who really understand the consequences of their actions, they are able to make a wiser decision that may have less of an impact on them if the business or investment deal goes awry. However, but not educating oneself, the consequences of one’s action are likely to be more severe.

Sometimes, knowing the consequences of an action causes fear that will stops us from taking any risky actions. As a result we miss out on potential successes and most of all “joy”. Therefore, by understanding the consequences, one can eliminate feat, learn how to react in a smarter fashion and lead a much more enriching life than if they had never taken those risks at all.

Issue Essay Analysis

Score: 4.0

This is a decent skeleton of an essay. But that’s the problem—it is only a skeleton and the ideas need a lot more fleshing out if this essay is to get at least a ‘5’. For instance, in the skydiving example, the writer barely scratches the surface. What are some things that a skydiver could possibly learn to help them make this risky endeavor less risky? How much less risky would they make sky diving? Is there a point where something is so risky that even if we take measures to prevent disaster from happening that something bad could still happen ( skydiving in bad weather, or bungee jumping in a country that offers low prices—and also low quality equipment). In calculating risk, shouldn’t we also weigh the payoff. For the skydiving example, is the thrill worth the danger, even if one has taken the necessary precautions and learned proper technique.

None of this deeper analysis is introduced in the essay, including the paragraph on financial risk. Notice that, while the passage is free of grammatical issues and scores well for logical flow, that it keeps things at a very general (“however, by not educating oneself, the consequences of one’s action are likely to be more severe”), much as a skydiver, upon preparing to jump from the plane, surveys the ground below him but can only make out the vague contours of the land.


For more analyses of student Issue essays, check out this post.

A Final Word

Now that you’ve reviewed student samples from across the spectrum of GRE Issue task grades, you’ll have a better sense of what you need to do to get those high scores! More than anything, practice will help you get the score you want on test day. So take a look at the Issue pool, pull up a blank document, and get practicing! Best of luck on test day as you master the GRE Issue essay.

P.S. Ready to improve your GRE score? Get started today.

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45 Responses to GRE Issue Essay: Strategies + 8 Real Student Essays with Scores

  1. Bayenah Al-shami March 19, 2021 at 8:58 am #

    Firstly, thank you for this wonderful article. I have a question which is: How can I say a concession point without making any contradictions to previous paragraphs?
    I hope that my question is clear.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 26, 2021 at 5:34 am #

      Hi there! Thank you, we’re glad you found it helpful. 🙂 I’d recommend reading over the example essays in this blog post to see how they handle the concession point. In addition, be sure to check out our blog article 12 Tips to Ace GRE Writing as well.

  2. Joe Bouzide November 17, 2019 at 4:20 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I have a question regarding where to include the concession point in my essay. Does it receive its own paragraph within the body of the essay, or does each supporting idea have a concession point paired with it? And do you include the concession point in the intro and conclusion as well?


    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert December 7, 2019 at 2:58 pm #

      Hi Joe! You can add a third body paragraph that discusses your concession if you have time, but you can also just make a quick concession point, say at the end of your second body paragraph. Just remember that the goal is to use the concession to prove your point. The most common mistake is to spend too much time on the concession, so it can be safer to do less than more. I would not recommend bringing up a concession in the introduction or conclusion. It’s possible, but it’s just too risky. Use your concession to say, “While it may seem that people are distracted by their cell phones, they are actually socializing while looking at their screens. Therefore, technology brings people together.” Something like that is a strong, quick concession, whereas if you spend a paragraph going on and on about how people never talk anymore, you run the risk of arguing for the other side! Hope that helps 🙂

  3. Mursal Rabb October 10, 2019 at 1:44 am #

    It is OK to write issue essay from first person perspective?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 25, 2019 at 1:06 pm #

      There is no specific prohibition of the first person and some people do well on the essay and use the first person. But I tend to recommend avoiding first person language, especially “I think” and “in my opinion.” Both of these phrases tend to be redundant because you usually can take these phrases out of the sentence and your sentence will still maintain its meaning and grammar. You can completely avoid the first person and your writing will likely end up with a more sophisticated tone.

      If you do use the first person, I’d recommend that you use it once in the introduction paragraph for your thesis, and that is it.

      I recommend taking a look at some of the sample essays written on some topics. These are released by ETS, the testmakers, and will give you an excellent idea of what a great, good, and poor essay will look like. You’ll notice that the essays rated 5 and 6 do not have first person language but the other, lower scored essays do.

  4. Avinash August 26, 2016 at 3:35 am #

    Hi Chris,

    I guess I am a lot of thoughts to put on, but facing trouble to make my writing more persuasive. Can you please suggest how i can make my writing more persuasive as to better reflect my thoughts.


    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 26, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

      In the AWA issue Essay, being persuasive is all about using evidence. Anytime you make a claim, think of the reasons people might doubt that claim. Address all of those most obvious doubts. Also think about any questions people might ask you to get a better idea about what you’re saying in your essay, and why you’re saying it. Always put forth a very complete set of supporting details and argumentative evidence.If you think you won’t have the time or space to complete your argument within the time and pace limits of AWA, then choose a different argument, or find a way to simplify your argument.

  5. Meredith August 6, 2016 at 10:01 pm #

    One set of directions states to “discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement…” I’m confused by “extent.” Does this mean that ETS simply wants us to take a side either in agreement or disagreement and explain why? Or by “extent” do they mean that it is okay to strongly disagree, or to somewhat agree, etc.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 7, 2016 at 1:22 pm #

      Hi Meredith,

      The second option is more accurate–another way to think about “extent” is “degree.” So not only do your agree or disagree, but what are the limitations of that opinion? I hope that helps! 🙂

  6. Lid June 19, 2016 at 1:13 pm #

    Can you write in first person on either GRE essays?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 20, 2016 at 9:20 am #

      Hi Lid,

      There is no specific prohibition of first person and some people do well on the essay and use the first person. But I tend to recommend avoiding first person, especially “I think” and “in my opinion.” Both of these phrases tend to be redundant. You usually can take these phrases out of the sentence and your sentence will still maintain its meaning and grammar. So, you can completely avoid first person and writing in a more sophisticated tone.

      If you do use first person, I’d recommend that you use it once in the introduction paragraph for your thesis. And that is it.

      I recommend taking a look at some of the sample essays written on some topics. These are released by ETS, the testmakers, and will give you an excellent idea of what a great, good, and poor essay will look like. You’ll notice that a 5 and 6 do not have first person but the other lower scored essays do.

      I hope that helps! 🙂

  7. Alyssa May 22, 2016 at 11:06 am #

    Hi Chris!
    I have a questions about the intro paragraph/thesis statement. Do you have to include the points you plan on discussing in your body paragraphs in your intro/thesis?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert May 23, 2016 at 11:31 am #

      Hi Alyssa,

      It’s not necessary to state your points verbatim in your intro — in fact, it will probably save you time not to do so 🙂

  8. Davut January 11, 2016 at 5:36 am #


    My exam is on 13th February and I have about 1 month from now on. I tried to focus on verbal and math section more until now and did not spend enough time on AW section of the GRE. Would you recommend writing one essay per day to gain acceleration on practicing ?

    Any suggestion would be appreciated.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 1, 2016 at 6:15 am #

      Hi Davut,

      I am so sorry this didn’t get answered quickly, but hopefully our advice can help! I’d suggest that you first take a look at these ETS topic pools:

      List of AWA Issue Prompts
      List of AWA Argument Prompts

      Familiarize yourself with these topics, and then write several practice essays of your own using these ETS topics as a way to familiarize yourself with the questions and expectations. If you are careful to answer the actual question posed by the AWA tasks and you prepare yourself by knowing what will be expected of you on that day, you won’t have any trouble getting a good score. 🙂

  9. Laura January 1, 2016 at 10:11 am #

    Oppenheimer used nuclear fission, not fusion. 🙂 The GRE grader do not care if your facts are correct, though.

  10. Alex September 5, 2014 at 12:20 am #

    Dear Chris,

    Firstly, thanks for keeping up with the blog. It’s been a great help.

    Secondly, I was wondering if there is any way to insert special characters on the Gre essay software during the exam – such as those required in ‘vis-a-vis’ or ‘blase’ or ‘cliche’. If not, should these phrases/words be avoided? I’m from India and keyboards here don’t have these characters on them by default.

    Thanks 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele September 5, 2014 at 10:25 am #

      Hi Alex,

      That is a good question. I have no idea of the keyboards here allow you to do so. Regardless, I don’t think ETS will hold that against you. Of course, there is a computer grader, but maybe it has been programmed not to dock. Still, I can’t image ETS being so picayune as to do you for not having the proper diacritic.

      Hope that helps!

  11. Cornelia September 1, 2014 at 5:08 am #

    Dear Chris,

    One thing that concerns me when writing my essays in the issue part is that a lot of the examples that come to my mind are not that well-known in the Anglosphere. I’m German, and I often think of something German scientists or politicians did or said, events that happened in Germany or things taught in German high school. The example essays that I compare my essays to usually score high by drawing on a wide range of examples that are well-known in the US. Stating my examples, that the examiner has possibly never heart of, either requires a longer explanation, for which I don’t have time, or googling on part of the examiner.

    What would you suggest? In theory, the GRE should not be culturally biased. But I am afraid if I simply drop unknown German examples, the examiners might be confused.

    Thank you for your advice,


    PS: To know what I mean, I thought of some examples for you. Let’s say the issue is about privacy and I refer to the surge in users of the email client, a Berlin-based start-up whose unique selling point is that they protect their clients’ privacy as much as possible. Or in an essay about rebellion I could refer to the way the German authorities dealt with house occupiers in Dresden in contrast to those in Berlin after the fall of the Berlin wall – the occupiers in Dresden were given proper rent contracts while those in Berlin were forcefully evicted, causing violent clashes with the police. Or when writing about technology, I might want to cite the website where people sell self-crafted goods. I know that there exists a similar format in the US – etsy – but I am not that familiar with it and would not feel comfortable writing about it and would prefer the German example. This issue comes up for me with almost every essay I write at least once!

    • Holing September 16, 2015 at 4:13 pm #

      I am on the same boat and would love to see this question answered!

      • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
        Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 1, 2016 at 7:40 am #

        Hi Holing and Cornelia!

        I know this is a late reply, but hopefully it can help others in your positions. 🙂

        It is perfectly fine to use non-US examples for the GRE essays, but you want to make sure you give relevant context and information on the events so that the reader doesn’t have to guess whether or not your example really applies to the point you are trying to make. If you can do that, then any examples from your own country should be fine. 🙂

  12. Karishma May 22, 2014 at 5:17 am #

    I have read in most sites that practicing essays is the best way to go for AW. But writing a full length AW issue essay or argument essay takes 30 mins each for a time limited atmosphere. So my question is while practicing from the ets pool of topics, do we need to write full length essays for every topic or just structuring and brainstorming on the topic and writing mock essays 3-4 times will be enough?

    • Margarette Jung
      Margarette May 22, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

      Hi, Karishma

      30 minutes for each essay can definitely be tough to fit into your schedule! Doing quick structuring/brainstorming is a good alternative when you don’t have a lot of time. However, especially as you near your exam date, make sure to sit down and do a few full-length essays (not all in a row, but maybe one every few days) just so you can feel comfortable with the experience. I hope that helps! 🙂


      • Karishma May 23, 2014 at 1:26 am #

        Thanks Margarette!!

  13. Hashim April 24, 2014 at 11:37 pm #

    Hello people of Magoosh,

    I have a question about writing a thesis for an issue task. I noticed that in the video lesson, the thesis contained a statement indicating choosing a side. However, there’s no mention of the main points covered in the body paragraphs. Is that a good practice? Don’t you think that a reader ought to know what to expect in the body paragraphs just from reading the thesis statement?

    Referred thesis: “a college curriculum should be designed around the career a student will pursue upon graduation”


    • Kevin Rocci
      Kevin April 25, 2014 at 9:57 am #

      Hi Hashim!

      Excellent question! In a typical, untimed essay you definitely would want to let the reader know what is coming. The intro and thesis should give the reader some idea of where the discussion is headed and what will be discussed. This is a common practice in American essay writing.

      But with the GRE, our strategies are a little different. Since we have such a limited amount of time to write an essay, we recommend spending as little time as possible writing the introduction and conclusion. The bulk of your time should be spent crafting the body paragraphs. As such, we only recommend stating your opinion or stance on the topic and not worry about prefacing your examples and reasons.

      This isn’t to say that you can’t do this. If you are a quick writer and have the time, then you can definitely indicate what the main points of your body paragraph will be. 🙂

      Happy Studying!

  14. Lara March 27, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

    I just started practicing the AWA and am following the 90-day study plan for beginners. I’m trying my best to follow the outlined time structure you suggested in the videos, but in my first two essays I’ve always run out of time and always seem to produce mediocre work. Would you recommend that I practice writing without a time limit for now? Or should I just keep working with the time limit and would I gradually improve with more practice?

    • Kevin Rocci
      Kevin April 2, 2014 at 9:33 am #

      Hi Lara, Happy to help!

      First, I recommend to keep practicing. Writing the essays on the GRE is a particular type of skill that needs lots of practice. So keep your head down and keep at it.

      Second, if you feel like you need extra practice, try writing an essay more often. Instead an essay a week, write two. This will give you more opportunities for improvement.

      Third, I recommend that you keep timing yourself. It doesn’t help to be good at writing an essay in an hour. We need to be good at writing an essay in half an hour.

      One thing that I have done with my students in the past is have them write only an introduction or only an introduction and body paragraph in a set amount of time. So give yourself a time limit of 8 minutes and see if you can complete an introduction and body paragraph. This allows you to practice writing under time constraints and you can take baby steps towards completing an essay in 30 minutes.

      I hope that this helps! Best of luck in your studies! 🙂

  15. Marcel February 13, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

    Hi Chris!

    I just started reading the book you recommended: On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. Although I would love read all of it, I don’t have much time to spare. Could you suggest what chapters would most benefit us for the GRE AWA ?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele February 14, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

      Hi Marcel,

      Good question! I think the grammar-related passages are important. As are the chapters that relate to crafting sentences and creating paragraphs.

      Good luck!

  16. Asma Maladwala October 20, 2013 at 11:20 am #

    Hi Chris,
    Do you know if there are any sites where I can find high scoring sample essays? I’ve been practicing but feel as though I’m in a void as I have no point of comparison. Getting feedback from family and friends is helpful, but I’d just feel so much better if I could compare my essays to actual GRE essays. I could only find one sample set on the ets website…


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 21, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

      Hi Asma,

      It seems that only offers example essays. Just google “example GRE essays” and it should be the second hit.

      Besides that there aren’t too many others I can think of that are online. Writing higher scoring essays, ‘5.5-6’ for blog posts is something I plan to do soon though :).

  17. Veronica August 1, 2013 at 7:53 am #

    Hello! I would enormously appreciate if you can clarify me this. Which link are you referring to in the following sentence?:

    ” For practical advice on practicing: the link below provides access to hundreds of essay prompts by ETS”.

    I cannot find it anywhere and it would be of invaluable help for me to have these essay prompts in order to practice.

    Thank you very much!

  18. J September 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    So I just found out ETS has started employing their e-rater technology. Thoughts?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris September 5, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

      Thanks for reporting that! Well, I hope it is better than the GMATs, which apparently counts number of words, a couple of transition sentences, etc. I guess time will tell.

      • emma March 1, 2013 at 11:27 am #

        whats e-rater technology, mentioned by J, Chris??

  19. Muhammad Usama Khan March 30, 2012 at 4:22 am #

    Sometime it seems that we cannot write enough in the issue task.

    If we practice one essay per day, who will rectify this and will tell us how to improve our score in analytic. So that we can BUT ALL feel confident to write essay with positive tone.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 30, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

      Yes, that is true, and indeed I need to write another post on generating ideas.

      As for somebody to give you feedback, find a trusted family member or friend. Of course, that person would not want to read everyone of your essays, but as long as you get feedback every once in awhile that will help :).

  20. Bhavin Parikh
    Bhavin March 25, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

    This sentence is dead-on, “If you think you did poorly on the essays, that knowledge could very well affect your performance on the rest of the test.”

    I recently talked with a student who was consistently scoring in the 80th percentile on math and verbal in practice. But he wasn’t prepared for the writing section on test day and it affected his concentration throughout the rest of the exam. He scored in the 60th percentile. Doing well on writing can definitely set a positive tone for the rest of the exam.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 26, 2012 at 11:44 am #

      Hi Bhavin,

      Yes, I am happy to hear that student’s experience echo my thoughts. Really, “Doing well on writing can definitely set a positive tone for the rest of the exam” is perhaps the greatest GRE tip that nobody has ever heard of.

  21. typeR March 18, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    Did u mean non-native below??
    “Two of the preeminent prose stylists of the English-language novel were both native-English speakers.”

    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 19, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

      Ha! Yes, I definitely did. Thanks for catching that :).

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