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”.)

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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!

52 Responses to AWA Issue Sample Topic: Setting Up Pro and Con Points

  1. T.D. August 11, 2019 at 10:57 am #

    Hey Magoosh,

    I feel very late to the table with my question but here goes- Is it okay for me to back up my support for a topic (or disagreement with it) with real life examples? For instance, If I’ve chosen to support the topic “To understand the most important characteristics of a society, one must understand it’s major cities,” can I state my support with examples of real life cities such as NYC and Lisbon, Portugal or should i steer clear of specifics and try to speak more generally.


    • David Recine
      David Recine August 13, 2019 at 9:23 am #

      Real life examples are definitely OK for these kinds of essays, and using your own experience can make it easier for you to come up with good ideas and supporting details. So go for it! 🙂

  2. Benjamin October 31, 2017 at 7:54 am #

    Hi, Magoosh

    I would like to know the link between these two Issue prompts:

    ”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.” and

    ”Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim. In developing and supporting your position,
    be sure to address the most compelling reasons and/or examples that could be used to challenge your position.”
    Please, also, how do I go about each one of them?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 31, 2017 at 12:23 pm #

      Hi Benjamin,

      There are six different instructions that you will see in the Issue essay, but they are all basically asking you to do the same thing! Your task in the Issue Essay is to take a position and craft a strong argument in favor of that position. You should also make sure to acknowledge the other side of the argument in a short concession point paragraph, which shows that you thought about the problem from multiple angles. While the instructions are slight different, you’ll notice that they are essentially asking you the same thing! The only difference between them might be in the way you talk about your evidence. For example, in your first example, you might discuss different “considerations” while for the second one you might talk about “reasons.” Your language should mirror the language in the prompt, but otherwise you approach all Issue essays in exactly the same way, regardless of directions!

      • Maria July 2, 2019 at 12:54 am #

        Hello Chris ! Please if you are for the motion how do you talk against it too. Do you talk for the motion throughout and talk against it at the latter or do both simultaneously?

        • David Recine
          David Recine July 8, 2019 at 12:34 pm #

          I can take this one! 🙂 If you are in favor of something in a pro/con AWA essay, it’s best to focus on why you’re for the motion in most of the essay. The best place to bring up points against what you’re in favor of would be in the second-to-last paragraph, right before the conclusion. This second-to-last paragraph can focus on your counter-argument– the cos of what you are “pro” for. Remember, though, if you bring up a counter-argument, you should also explain why the counter-argument isn’t significant enough to sway your opinion. Be sure to explain that part at the end of your counter-argument paragraph. Does that make sense? 🙂

  3. Pranavi August 8, 2016 at 3:32 am #

    Can we agree to both views in the issue task “Governments should focus more on solving the immediate problems of today rather than trying to solve the anticipated problems of the future.”

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 8, 2016 at 9:09 pm #

      Hi Pranavi,

      The golden rule of the Issue essay is to always take ONE side and stick to it! It doesn’t matter which side you choose, but the graders want to see that you are thinking critically and able to effectively argue a point. You should have a ‘concession point paragraph’ where you show that you have considered the other side, but even here you need to clearly show why your argument is superior.

  4. Yvonne July 22, 2016 at 1:59 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    My arguments for this topic were completely different from yours. Am I reading the issue topic wrong? My argument was that the demographics, culture, and value of a major city may be extreme different from the rest of the country due to immigration, tourism, and a different economic focus. Therefore, one cannot only study a country’s major cities to understand their society.

    Thank you!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 24, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

      The cons you just listed would also work. There are many different approaches someone can take to constructing an AWA argument, and there is no one right approach to this question– or to other AWA questions.

  5. Robin July 29, 2015 at 2:43 am #

    Hi there

    Is there any website that lists the most-frequent topics for the issues and argument sections?


  6. Michelle December 10, 2014 at 4:39 am #

    Hello Chris,
    I´m curious…Can I make up an example – like invent an ancient city to support my position?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele December 10, 2014 at 10:54 am #


      Hmm…this is fine on the SAT, but I’m not sure how that flies on the GRE. True, the computer won’t know the difference. The human grader, technically, should be looking for logical structure, persuasiveness and general syntactical pizzazz. Still…subjectivity may just creep in there. I’d play it safe, but you might very well be able to get a perfect ‘6’ by talking about Floramia, the most architectural advance pre-Sumerian civilization 🙂

  7. Jazzy September 22, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

    Hi Magoosh,

    Can we use personalized examples in awa issue ?
    Like something from my personal life but still relevant to the topic given ?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele September 24, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

      Hi Jazzy,

      You can, to some extent. I would just be careful not to base your entire essay of the example or get too caught up in summarizing the example. As long as there is analysis and you relate it to the issue and even to the other examples. That is, there should be a sentence or two in which you mention the general significance of your example.

      Hope that helps!

  8. Eva July 17, 2014 at 12:33 am #

    Can I question the question itself? The concept of “most important characteristics“ is very vague and can be determined solely by interpretation. If we define education as one important characteristics, then we must study cities. If we say that only agriculture is vital, then we need to study the villages. Can I write these points in the essay?

  9. ramesh July 3, 2014 at 10:23 am #

    i am struggling with initiating the paragraph with first sentence ,what should i do to overcome this problem.

  10. Jeeva April 23, 2014 at 12:06 am #

    HI Mr.Chris,
    I have started preparing for my GRE exam. I am extremely worried about the analytical writing section. While writing an essay, I take a lot of time to plan and jot down the points.I get frustrated that I am not able to complete the essays in 30 minutes. Even after taking down the points, I am not able to write a free-flowing essay as I tend to get stuck often. Until now, I practiced about 4 essays and each took me more than an hour to complete. Please help me.

  11. Divya March 16, 2014 at 2:05 am #

    This approach does make the task easier and I thank you for it. But even so, I had recently asked my friends to grade a couple of essays I had written and they’ve all been averaging 3.5. They say I use unrelated words and that my grammar isn’t very good. I understand that those reasons would impact my score but could you tell me to what degree they would? I do provide examples related to the topic and write enough text to support my stand.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele March 17, 2014 at 10:26 am #

      Hi Divya,

      I think it’s very tough for friends–or someone who isn’t familiar with what GRE essays get which scores–to grade these essays. What typically happens is said friends will look at the score guidelines (for what merits anything from a ‘0’ to a ‘6’) and then use their interpretation of the info. to come up with a score. One user on the forums was so adamant that an essay deserved a ‘1’ because according to him, his scoring was consistent with how he interpreted the scoring.

      What someone needs to do is actually look at essays that have score a 1, 2, etc. to get a sense of what the GRE considers a 1, 2, etc. If your friends are willing to put in the time to get a better sense of this, then you could use their feedback. For now, I’d question it.

      One quick piece of advice: don’t just say you agree or disagree with the prompt and then use a few examples that clearly show your stance. You have take a stance somewhere in the middle. Doing so shows that you accept that the answer to the question is anything but black and white but depends on some variables. Address these “depends” and showing how they influence your position is the type of analytical thinking the GRE is looking for–don’t just rattle of tidy examples.

      Hope that helps!

      • Divya April 16, 2014 at 9:20 pm #

        Hey, thanks for the advice against taking a concrete stand and not acknowledging the opposing view. I used to make that mistake up until that point but I soon changed my approach and focused on an analytic reasoning of both sides of the topic.
        I got 5.5 on the AWA on test day and being a non-native speaker, I’m very thrilled.
        Thanks again. =)

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele April 18, 2014 at 11:37 am #

          Great! That’s awesome to hear 🙂

  12. Mahda November 22, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    Thanks for your awesome tips. Their simply great.
    Is the issue and argument going to be one of the topics included in the ETS ‘s issue/argument pool. Thanks

  13. Su October 15, 2013 at 1:02 am #

    Hello Chris,

    I wanted to ask that in the issue essay, after we have jotted the points for both the sides of the issue(pros and cons) and its time to choose a side, is it necessary to choose a side?
    Or we can elucidate/support both the positions in our essay?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 15, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

      Hi Su,

      Actually, do not choose just one side. You can choose a side for a couple of paragraphs but then you should show how the position doesn’t hold up in some cases. You should address those cases, using relevant examples. The whole point of the Issue is they give you a black and white statement and they want you to elucidate the shades of gray. Ultimately, you don’t want to choose a side but show that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

      Hope that helps!

      • Su October 16, 2013 at 7:22 am #

        Yeah, I understand it better now.
        Anyways thank you for all the awesome tips you provide here. Great job! 🙂

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele October 17, 2013 at 11:48 am #

          Thanks 🙂

      • Ramya October 7, 2015 at 12:30 am #

        But *then ?

        • Jessica Wan
          Jessica Wan October 7, 2015 at 11:21 am #

          Thanks for catching that typo! 😉

  14. Taiwo June 4, 2013 at 8:50 am #

    Hi Chris,

    My problem stems from getting the pros and cons. i’m usually stuck there 🙁 . How can i improve this aspect of my writing?.


  15. Benjamin September 6, 2012 at 6:09 am #

    Hi, I was wondering how we should go about tackling the issues with prompts that state a Claim and Reason. For e.g.

    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.

    Do we have to spend our whole essay dissecting the reason, arguing for and against the cruelty of using funds to support the arts when people are starving, or can we address the claim more generally, giving other reasons such as government funding for the arts is an insignificant portion of overall funding for the arts? I hope it is the latter, for it does not seem like an easy task to come up with many argument for only one reason.


    • Chris Lele
      Chris September 6, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

      Hi Benjamin,

      I don’t think ETS really has an official stance on how the best approach the question. As long as you combine an analysis of the claim and the reason, you should be fine. Meaning, focus on the claim, if you feel it is easier to do so, but do not ignore the reason. Likewise, do not focus only on the reasoning, attacking it the same way you would a typical issue question, without addressing the claim on which it is based.

      Hope that made sense :).

      • Sou July 13, 2013 at 10:12 am #

        So do you think it would be all right if if you argument states that the claim is right but the reason is not applicable to the claim?

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele July 15, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

          Hi Sou,

          I’m not sure if I understand the last part of your question…in general, though, don’t completely agree with the issue. The issue is there for you to analyze. Indeed, the issue is stated in such a black and white manner so that you can step in and say, in essence, “Actually, it’s not that straightforward.”

  16. Nikhil August 25, 2012 at 6:13 am #

    My strategy is similar to what is listed here. I took about 7 minutes to brainstorm and draw up a pro and cons column. Also, I had examples for both positions and at the end of brain storming, I decided which side of the essay prompt I was going to adopt. Then after clearly elucidating my arguments for my adopted position, I also considered the opposing view, so as to give the essay a balanced analysis.

    I received a 4.5/6 on the AWA.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris August 27, 2012 at 11:59 am #

      Hi Nikhil,

      Without actually seeing your essay it is hard to determine why you received a 4.5 and not a ‘5’ or higher. The truth is structure is only one ingredient to your essay. ETS will also look to see how cogent your examples are, how varied your sentence structure, and how sophisticated your prose is. I can confidently say that if you followed the structure above that doing so should not have detracted from your score.

      My best guess is cogency of examples. Some of my students have off days, and though everything else is tidy about their essays, their examples fail to cohere and they get a point or so off.

      Hope that helps shed some insight :).

  17. Oluwunmi July 28, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Thanks Chris, I began practice for AWA two days back. I hope my writings improves to earn at least a 4.5 on my test date (Early September). Also, Do we have a magoosh team that can help score practice AWA essay. At no cost o!


    • Chris Lele
      Chris August 27, 2012 at 11:55 am #

      Hi Oluwunmi,

      Unfortunately, we don’t offer an essay review service! If you have any general questions about approaches to writing or structuring essays, feel free to let us know through the Help tab in Magoosh and we’d be happy to help.

  18. esra July 25, 2012 at 9:39 am #


    I’m going to retake the gre and am wondering how much a score higher on the essays like from 4 to 5 will affect my quantitative grade as well. I just need five grades higher on the quantitative and am wondering how many points I can get by studying for and raising my essay as well? I mean is it worth the time or should I stick to the maths, I don’t really have much time left.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 27, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

      Hi Esra,

      Your essay score is totally unrelated to your quant score. So in order to raise you quant score you will have to improve on the math. I’d say don’t give up so easily. A 5-point increase in math is attainable :).

      • esra July 27, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

        oh I wish I’d known that a bit earlier. this just made me realize- so if I need a quantitative grade of 149 to apply for my masters, then I can even totally skip the verbal and essay sections to the maths?? (I mean ım not sure ıll actually do this, but then it means it won’t affect my maths at all?)
        and one last question- Im not sure if it may be silly but I had a 145 in my last exam and need a 149, about how many more questions will I have to do right this time?.. I wish the gre scores were given in more detail (to me and not the school or wherever).

        thanks a lot!

        • Chris Lele
          Chris July 30, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

          Hi Esra,

          Yes, I know the score bit is confusing. I’m guessing a 3+ correct answers should get you there.

          As for skipping the AWA, you can definitely do so without in any way affecting your verbal score.

          Good luck!

  19. Oluwunmi July 12, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    Hey Chris, I’ve signed on to Magoosh for a year and had written GRE earlier this year (303 awa 2). i intend to take GRE once again and the AWA scares me. Not that I cant read nor right, I just have this problem starting and developing the thoughts to my satisfaction. Is there a section for AWA on magoosh ?

    • Mahantesh July 13, 2012 at 9:22 am #

      I had a different problem. My verbal score was 146 and AWA 4.0. However, I am seeing mostly people with having far better verbal score than mine but their AWA score less than 4.0. Still perplexed with my predicament of this type.

      • Chris Lele
        Chris July 13, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

        How did you go about studying for the verbal? I’d love to help you dramatically improve upon your score :).

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 13, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

      Hi Oluwunmi,

      Yes, we do have a special section for the AWA. Hopefully, it will help get the thoughts flowing. In the meantime, I recommend using the prompts from the ets bank to practice coming up with pros and cons.

      Good luck!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 27, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

      Yes, we have an AWA section on Magoosh :). Indeed it talks about a few strategies to help generate thoughts. Let me know if you find it helpful :).

  20. Lizzy July 11, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    You mentioned that one should avoid being too neutral in an issue essay, and yet in the example topic, you concede with the point that small cities can offer insight into a society. At what point is an essay deemed “too neutral?” I often find myself having appealing pro and con examples for my essays, yet too few of substantial examples to firmly decide on what side of the issue I should write on.

    Also, do you have any tips for generating examples on the fly? I often find myself stuck trying to generate insightful examples and ultimately result to insipid “personal experience” ones.


    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 11, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

      Hi Lizzy,

      Good question! I think there is an important difference between a concession point and a neutral thesis. A concession point shows that you are able to consider the other side of the issue and show that, in some cases or situations, your point does not hold true.

      Being neutral, on the other hand, would involve not taking a side at all. Consider the following thesis: Studying cities can sometimes yield important characteristics of a society.

      That’s a very wishy-washy argument, one that really doesn’t amount to much of a stance.

      Hope that clears things up :).

  21. Shubham July 9, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

    Thanks! Very helpful points.

    Could you please give main points(For and Against) for a few more difficult issue topics.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 11, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

      Hi Shubham,

      I will work to do so in the near future. Glad you are enjoying the posts :).

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