GRE Analytical Writing: Solutions to the Real Essay Topics – Book Review

Given that so few GRE books exist that actually contain GRE example essays, both guides from Vibrant Publishing are welcome. These guides aren’t perfect, but using them isn’t going to hurt you. The thing is these guides also might not help you much, depending on how you use them.
Review of:
GRE Analytical Writing: Solutions to the Real Essay Topics
GRE Analytical Writing: Solutions to the Real Essay Topics – Book 2.

The Pros

There is a decently crafted essay response to a number of GRE essays. The author breaks down his approach in a quasi-outline structure. You’ll get to see how to think on both sides of the issues, and in doing so get a better sense of how to actually formulate an essay around such ideas.

The Cons

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It seems that only one person wrote these essays. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the style does get monotonous. Speaking of style, the GRE does offer style points. The writing here is very matter-of-fact and dry—dare I say boring. Indeed, style is not at all mentioned.

Come to think of it, the book doesn’t spend any time talking about the different scores and what the scorers are looking for. It just offers one possible response, and I don’t even think the essay graders would give the essay a ‘6’. Sure, the essays are very, very long—and the computer grader might be impressed—but a lot of the writing isn’t that sophisticated and a lot of analysis of a ‘6’ isn’t quite there (some of the essays are just thick with detailed examples—and tedious personal examples—but very little insight). To get a sense of what I’m talking about compare the ‘6’ essay found online to one of the purported ‘6’s in this book.

Had the essay used different writers—those with different styles—and shown essays at the ‘3’ and ‘4’ level, with ways to improve them, the guide would have been more helpful. Had it focused less on summarizing examples, and focused more on how to incorporate analysis, this guide would have been more helpful.

I concede that it is much harder to teach style and analysis than it is to teach structure, which this book does relatively well. So, yes, by following the essay format in this book you will write decent, example-heavy essays. Though you might be putting a cap of a ‘5’ on your essay, which, for many, is all they are looking for anyhow. So if you are writing ‘3’ and ‘4’ essays this book might be helpful. But if you are looking to confidently crack a ‘5’/’5+’, you might not get much from this book.

Finally, I should not that the essays lack a little verisimilitude. They are too polished and too long. 800+ words, error free, in 30 minutes is a feat few can achieve—not that the test writers expect you to do so, anyhow. So don’t be discouraged by the length or by the polish.


The two books should be used to get a sense of how one writer creates a ‘5’-ish essay. The notes at the beginning of the essay will also give you an idea of how to think about the essay before diving in. However, the essay scorers are looking for more than what this book discusses. So sub-5 scorers might want to use this book a supplementary source for example essays, but make sure you get a more comprehensive take on the essay from any one of the many other resources out there.

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3 Responses to GRE Analytical Writing: Solutions to the Real Essay Topics – Book Review

  1. Omar April 29, 2016 at 7:38 am #

    Dear Chris
    I intend to do GRE exam next August, but I have serious problems with Analytical writing as a student whose English as second Language what is the best book in GRE writing, also I always struggle to write longer essay in 30 mins , in other word I can’t write more than 300 words for both type essays is that OK, I mean Can I get high marks within 300 words as non native English language?
    I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon
    Best Regards

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert May 6, 2016 at 1:11 am #

      Hi Omar 🙂

      As Chris mentions, there aren’t many AWA-focused test prep books out there. Instead, I’d suggest focusing on the resources provided by ETS. First take a look at these ETS topic pools:

      * List of AWA Issue Prompts
      * List of AWA Argument Prompts

      This is a list of ALL of the topics from the exam, so you WILL see one of these topics on your test. It’s a good idea to become familiar with these topics and then to write several practice essays of your own (using these topics of course!). Once you’ve written your own essays, you can read the scored sample essays on the ETS website here:

      * List of AWA Issue Sample Responses
      * List of AWA Argument Sample Responses

      You can also find a lot of other great AWA resources in the writing section of our GRE Blog 😀

      While reviewing these resources, you’ll see that the length of your essay isn’t the most important factor but rather that you present your argument clearly and support it with quality examples. Regardless of how many words your essay is, you should work towards writing at least a 5-paragraph essay that includes a brief introduction (with your thesis statement!), three body paragraphs (the bulk of your essay), and a brief conclusion.

      With practice and dedication you can definitely improve your writing skills for your exam in August! I hope these resources help 🙂

      Happy writing 😀

  2. Ting August 28, 2015 at 8:35 am #

    Hi Chris,
    I wish I had read this before I took the GRE! I took it last September, and I got a 4 on my writing. I would like to get into a top program in neuroscience, so I studied really hard for verbal. Magoosh helped a lot! I have 167V/170M, but I didn’t have time to prepare for writing at all. Do you think I need to retake it? My GPA is pretty good, and I have some research experience. I was told not to worry about my low writing score, but now that I’m actually applying, I’m not so sure about this anymore. Also, English is not my first language 🙁

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