AWA Issue Task Step 1: Brainstorming

For many, the Issue essay is tough. In a short 30 minutes, you are expected to come up with a persuasive essay on a topic you may know little about. And your readers aren’t your peers (who would probably be somewhat lenient in any omissions in logic). Instead, the GRE test graders are standing by, ready with their red pens.

To do a convincing job on the Issue, you must focus on how your content relates to your thesis. Or to put it another way: Are you able to develop examples that effectively back up your point of view, while showing a high degree of critical thinking? It is one thing to come up with an apt example; it is another to critically evaluate the different aspects of the issue, using examples to back up this analysis.

Okay, I may have actually scared you more than anything. So to put this theory into practice, let’s take an actual issue from the website. I am going to come up with different ways of analyzing the issue, and a few examples to back up my thoughts.

Specifically, I have provided three different examples. One is to provide scope, and to reach more blog readers in terms of the topics covered (at least a few of the people mentioned below should be familiar to you).

Secondly, I have backed up each point with a supporting example and an opposing example. For the Issue essay, you will want a concession point, so during the brainstorming exercise it is a good idea to come up with an exposing example as well.

The prompt I’ll be examining is the 7th one from the ETS pool of issue topics (which begins with “In any field of”).


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Even the most radical breakthroughs in science result from questioning—and sometimes subverting—past achievements.

Example #1a: Einstein’s space relativity

Einstein had to have a solid grasp of Newtonian physics in order to describe how Newton’s model of the universe broke down in extreme conditions.

Example #1b: (Counter) Copernicus’s heliocentric universe

For centuries the Ptolemaic conception, which postulated that the earth was the center of the universe, went unchallenged. Kepler, using his knowledge of mathematics, challenged this view. Had he been influenced by Ptolemy he would have relied on the common-sense observation that heavenly bodies appear to rotate around the world. Instead, Kepler used the scientific method to guide him.

In Art, significant breakthroughs are only possible by building on past refinements.

Example #2a: Rafael

By drawing on the perspective refined by Giotto, Rafael was able to produce some of the Renaissance’s greatest works.

Example #2b: (Counter) Pollock

There was no precedent, no influence to draw from, for Jackson Pollock to arrive at his breakthrough in Art: throwing paint, seemingly at random, at a blank canvas on the wall, effectively throwing the artistic tradition out the window.

Significant breakthroughs in business have resulted from taking influences in the past.

Example #3a: Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs did not invent the computer; he did not even come up with the desktop. He did, however, make it a whole lot better.

Example #3b: (Counter) Ford

Ford’s assembly was not derived from any other business practice, but instead was a revolutionary way to create machines. Without Ford’s breakthrough the pace of technological innovation would have been held back by decades.

The examples above are an extended brainstorm. From these examples I can craft an essay by choosing two points that support my case, and then, as a concession point, show one side that does not. Understandably none of these examples provide a sustained analysis; I will need an entire paragraph to do so. But above is the “meat and bones” of your essay.



In the next post, I will take one of these examples and turn it into a full length paragraph. I will then take a concession point and turn that into a full-length paragraph as well. In doing so, I hope to provide examples that provide a sustained analysis while cogently proving my point: Issue essay

For the Argument essay version of this post, click here.

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24 Responses to AWA Issue Task Step 1: Brainstorming

  1. Malvika January 2, 2018 at 5:05 am #

    Hi Chris,
    Thank you for the amazing work the Magoosh team is doing to mentor us. Studying GRE is less daunting and more fun with Magoosh!
    I need some help in the issue task. In one of your comments, you recommended browsing a site like Wikipedia to find examples for the issue task that will aid in doing some research on different topics and finding some solid ideas. In your blog post above, you have mentioned intriguing examples on the prompt you worked on. However, I’m perplexed as to what I should type in the search engine while I’m working on a prompt and my mind gets immobile in the whole process. For instance, a prompt on national school curriculums in the US: there is a lot to read out there. I’m planning to appear for GRE in the coming month. How should I make my research on finding examples more specific so that I can work on more prompts efficiently and save time from pondering on too much information? Could you please elaborate considering the example of national school curriculums so that I would follow a similar trail to work on other prompts?
    Thank you.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert January 4, 2018 at 11:45 am #

      Hi Malvika,

      I’m so happy to hear that you are enjoying Magoosh! Since you are a Premium student, I’m going to forward your message on to our team of tutors so that they can give you more personalized advice and support. You should hear from one of them shortly 🙂

      • Magoo Prem July 3, 2018 at 8:03 pm #

        I am facing similar issue as Malvika
        Could the same be shared with me as well?

        I am one of your Premium Subscriber too.

  2. Tung May 30, 2017 at 12:43 am #

    Hi Chris,

    Thank you for your valuable advice.

    I’m from Vietnam and I’m preparing for GRE. I can brainstorm some specific examples about famous people in Vietnam history, but if I wrote about them, the graders would not give me high scores because they don’t know who they are. To the world history or US history, you can say that I know nothing.

    I’ve read in one of your threads that you suggested an international student to prepare to some examples and reuse them in several topics.

    Could you please give me names of some famous people/events/things in the US history or world history that you think can be good examples in the essays? (I can name president Lincoln here because he has been used in many sample essays). I will read about them to prepare for the test.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 2, 2017 at 8:06 am #

      Hi Tung,

      You are very welcome! I’m glad you find our blog helpful 🙂

      First of all, you can definitely use examples from Vietnam history or world history–the examples don’t have to be from the US! If you do use an example that the grader might not be familiar with, you should just provide a bit of explanation or background. You may have to provide some extra details in order to show that the example fits the topic, but there is no reason why you can’t use examples that you are more familiar with. Ultimately, it will be more effective for you to use topics that you are already familiar with, rather than trying to learn about completely new topics from a foreign country!

      It’s difficult to make a list of people or events that you “should know” for the essay. There is such a wide variety of potential topics, and different people feel comfortable with different topics. We generally recommend that students find some topics that they are interested in and do their own research in order to find interesting connections. It’s much more effective if you go through this process yourself! This blog post can help you group the topics together for more effective practice:

      I also recommend that you browse a site like Wikipedia to find examples. These are short readings with lots of links to other material. It can help you to do some research and find some solid ideas. Here is the post on US History in case you do want to learn about a few important events:

  3. Angeline September 9, 2016 at 1:57 pm #

    Hello, Magoosh experts!
    I am going through the Issue pool right now and given some of the prompts I was wondering if we really need to give precise, commonly known examples. For instance, the for/against a national curriculum: there are no examples (unless I did into it deeply right now to prepare beforehand) that I could use to strengthen my argumentation.

    Some of the other prompts are very abstruse and it would be impossible to prepare for them all (except if one has months of preparation ahead of them). What do you think? Are official examples mandatory?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 11, 2016 at 8:52 pm #

      Hi Angeline,

      As long as you can clearly explain the example and how it connects to the prompt and strengthens your argument, it should be fine 🙂
      You should give enough detail to show that the example clearly corresponds to the prompt, but it’s not necessary (and you don’t have time) to provide tons of background information about your specific example.

      Remember that you can also use logical reasoning to make an argument. So, even if you can’t think of a specific example of a national curriculum, you can think of a logical argument as to why it would be good (or bad). For example, you could use a paragraph to argue that a national curriculum would help to ensure that students who move during their school years don’t miss an important subject. In this case, your ‘example’ is the logic behind your argument.

      A good strategy to prepare for the AWA is to have some examples ready before you get to the test. I’d recommend thinking up examples that have to do with history, government, society, technology, education, law, and topics along these lines. Pick a few, do some brainstorming, learn about some important characters and events, and you’ll have several examples at the ready. You can see this blog post for some ideas about what you should prepare 🙂

      • Angeline Nies-Berger September 15, 2016 at 3:24 pm #

        Thank you for answering so quickly! I sort of figured out how evidence works, yes. I did brainstorm on topics beforehand, so I would have had part of the job done before the test. I took it today, I hope it went well.

  4. Sana November 12, 2015 at 5:09 am #

    Hi Chris,

    You have given some specific examples for this essay prompt. From what I understood these specific examples will mean better score instead of using just general examples, but what if I cannot think of an example relating to the issue at that moment ?

    How can I improve my essay without using up the time to try and think about a specific situation to relate to the task?

  5. Carolyn January 4, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

    While practicing with prompts from the ETS topic pool, I ran across this one: “Learning is primarily a matter of personal discipline; students cannot be motivated by school or college alone”

    Do the responses to these prompts need to be so black and white? I could argue that it’s a personal discipline that happens to be inspired more by a home setting than anything college or school could offer – but they’ve narrowed this down to personal discipline or being motivated by school/college only. Am I allowed to expound upon options like that or is the grader going to deem it tangential?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele January 6, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

      Hi Carolyn,

      The last thing you want to do is be black and white on these prompts. In fact, these prompts are written in such a way as to seem kind of ridiculous to see it is either one side or the other. Each answer should really be along the lines of “it depends on A, B, and C”. In the end, you will take a side but it will be a nuanced position, one that you justify arriving at.

      In this specific case, you can say that the question creates a false dichotomy by saying it is either one or the other. Your position can be that a variety of factors/settings create personal discipline. Again, make you are clear as to what these other factors or settings are, and how they are important to your position.

      Hope that helps!

  6. Norman December 13, 2013 at 2:50 am #

    Thanks Chris. Great article.
    One suggestion: Include in the takeaway section a link to the article that follows up this post.
    Makes life easier for the reader =)

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele December 13, 2013 at 11:45 am #

      Will do! Thanks for the feedback :).

  7. Jonathan May 29, 2013 at 6:00 am #

    Hey Chris, I’ve heard alot that for the issue essay, it’s often best to address couterarguments and/or both of the views presented. But the task instructions above seem to give an option, which says “ways in which the statement might or might not hold true”. So I was wondering if you only argue one side of issue for this specific task instruction, will the essay get a pretty low score (3 or less) for failing to follow task instructions? I know some of the other set of instructions explicitly ask for counterarguments, or addressing both views. Thanks!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele May 29, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

      Great question Jonathan! Indeed, I’m in the process of writing a post that answer this very question. In short: always stick to the instructions. The general advice of counterarguments/both sides will always be constrained by the specific instructions. And you’re right–following a pat formula that ignores the specific instructions could result in a ‘3’ or lower.

      Hope that helps :)!

      • Abhijeet Gautam July 14, 2013 at 4:53 am #

        Hi Chris,
        First of all, if you are done with the post, could you please provide a link to the post that answers the question asked by Jonathan?

        Secondly, is it sufficient to add just a single concession point and elucidate it to cater to the direction “ways in which the statement might or might not hold true” -considering one would have already elaborated his/her side of the argument.?

        Thanks and BR,

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele July 15, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

          Hi Abhijeet,

          That blog post I was talking was

          Not sure if you’ve seen it yet. Let me know afterwards if you have any questions.

          For your last question, adding a single concession is definitely sufficient, and is what most good Issue essays do. Adding more than one complicates things a little, and usually lowers the overall cogency of the essay.

          Hope that helps!

          • Abhijeet Gautam July 16, 2013 at 12:31 am #

            Hi Chris,
            Thanks once again for enlightening us.

            Br, Abhijeet

            • Chris Lele
              Chris Lele July 17, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

              You are welcome 🙂

  8. aditya March 2, 2013 at 1:07 am #

    Chris, beautiful supporting examples. I might have come up with 2 max, definitely not 6 🙂

    Extensive reading helps I suppose.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele March 5, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

      Thanks for the kudos. I wouldn’t worry about not being able to come up with too many. I was going for thoroughness more than anything. As long as you come up with two supporting examples and one counter example if you are off to a great start.

  9. Abhishek Sharma April 12, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    Hey Chris, I have been giving a cursory look at the material and also gearing up with my GRE preparation.This is a little off-topic here but want to congratulate you guys for doing a great job at Magoosh. I am a Technical Architect in India, and I understand what it means to touch the core, the root, the heart and I have definitely come to believe that Magoosh stands for something bigger, something more than a just some GRE prep material, for it understands that Flexibility,Methodology, Precision, Ease to Learn are not just mere words they are perspectives.
    Glad to be here.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 12, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

      Wow, thank you for your glowing remarks!

      At Magoosh, we’ve worked to create something that resonates, on many levels, with people across the world. While ostensibly dealing with test prep, Magoosh hopes our users not only gain an invaluable body of knowledge, but also a life long passion to learn and improve themselves.

      Thanks again :).

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