AWA Issue Sample Topic: Setting Up Pro and Con Points

AWA Issue Sample Topic - image by Magoosh

Today, I will take apart an AWA Issue sample topic from the GRE Issue task. I’ll show my brainstorm process and come up with pros and cons and specific examples to back up each side.

Click here to view the prompt (Source and instructions: ETS Pool of Issue Topics)

First of all, be sure to read not only the prompt at the link above but also the directions found in the second ETS link (and this applies to any prompt you write an essay for, of course!). You’ll then want to establish a nuanced position on the issue and provide your rationale. You do not want your position to be too neutral (defending a default position is never that compelling) but neither do you want it to be too extreme (for instance: “Unless you study the cities of a major society you will be forever doomed in trying to understand that society”.)

In determining what position you wish to take, it’s helpful to come up with statements that are either For or Against the prompt. Then, you’ll want to pick whichever side you feel has the best reasoning and support. Below, I’ll walk you through my own example reasoning for this AWA Issue sample topic.



  • All great civilizations have had a flourishing city. The government/king/queen have been here. To understand most of its people, the way in which it is ruled, we must understand the city.
  • ‘Most important characteristics’ shows that life outside of a city can still help illuminate the society, but not as much as city life can.
  • Learning centers/colleges/universities are typically in a city. Understanding the intellectual output is key to understanding a society.
  • In post-agrarian societies, most jobs are contained within cities. That is commerce is conducted in the cities.



  • Many societies have been agricultural. That society’s customs, rituals can only be understood in the context of a rural backdrop.
  • Even a modern society depends on agriculture to sustain it. Surely, to understand the important characteristics of a society, we need to understand the people who live in rural areas.
  • ‘Major cities’ is a stretch. Even smaller cities can help us understand a society, especially if the culture/values tend to be different in the smaller cities/more rural areas.


For your actual essay, your For/Against should not be so long. Find some shorthand way of expressing your thoughts (I wrote everything out because my shorthand wouldn’t look very good in a blog post).

Perhaps you’ve come up with a different list of For/Against. Regardless, the next step is to figure out where you fall on the Agree/Disagree spectrum. That is what position, based on your brainstorming, are you taking.

I’ll choose For, stating that my position was predicated on modern societies, most of which have a majority of their population living in major cities. I’ll concede at some point in the essay that even smaller cities can offer insight into a society.

To effectively support and develop these points, I would want to think of relevant examples. For the last point, I would offer up the United States. The culture between large cities and small cities can be very different. There is the Red State vs. Blue State dichotomy that can also pertain to small cities vs. large cities. To understand the religious political divide in the U.S. we would need to also study life in small cities and rural areas. This would be my concession point, which basically shows that my position is not 100% for the prompt, but is more balanced and nuanced.

I hope this breakdown of an AWA Issue sample topic was helpful to you. If you’re looking for more practice, the ETS website offers hundreds more sample essay prompts. Now if you’re not convinced and think, “Hey, I already have a book with sample essay prompts,” then consider this: on test day the prompt you get will be one of the prompts on this site. I highly recommend you use it in your GRE practice!

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  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!