Mock AWA Issue Essay

Three students next to a pile of books, holding pencils and looking at a sheet of paper representing a mock AWA issue essay - image by Magoosh

Today, we’ll be looking at a mock AWA Issue essay.

In a previous post, where I brainstormed ideas on a sample topic, I mentioned I would write a mock essay using those ideas. The prompt we’re going to look at is the 7th one from the ETS pool of issue topics (which begins with “In any field of”). And here is the essay.


While many accomplishments build on existing knowledge, many significant breakthroughs result from those who have completely broken with tradition. Clearly then, significant breakthroughs do not always build upon existing knowledge.

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By the mid-20th Century, Abstract art was at its acme. At the same time, many critics felt that the artists had all but exhausted themselves in terms of innovation. To be unique one had to be random and chaotic—silly even. It was little surprise that many crowed about the imminent demise of Abstract art. Into this intellectual milieu, the artist Jackson Pollock came to prominence. Seemingly random and chaotic—though anything but silly—his work had no clear precedent. He would throw paint at a canvas on the ground or propped up against the wall. Though many dismissed him as a madman and a crank, eventually his work was hailed as that of a genius, and that work did much to reinvigorate the movement of Abstract Art. Had Pollock tried to simply build off of the existing art he very well may have fallen victim to the prophecy that the Abstract art movement had become effete and moribund.

Whereas Jackson Pollock created seminal work by totally breaking with tradition, Copernicus questioned tradition, specifically the assumptions underlying the Ptolemaic version of the universe. At the time, the geocentric model of the universe was considered gospel: both the church and the scientific community (at that time the two were heavily interrelated) endorsed this view because it put man at the center of the universe. Even then, it had the stamp of scientific legitimacy in Ptolemy, who had centuries earlier “proven” that the Sun revolved around the Earth. Using advanced math and his observation skills, Copernicus was able to determine that the earth revolved around the Sun. Just as importantly, he was able to challenge the orthodox view, and instead of building off of it, exposed the shoddy foundations upon which this view was built.

Of course both Jackson Pollock and Copernicus are not the typical in the sweep of human endeavors. It is true that many breakthroughs result from somebody building off of or simply improving the way in which something is done. Henry Ford, with his use of the assembly line, made the process of manufacturing goods far more effective. Then there is our modern day visionary, Steve Jobs, who took existing technology and simply made it easier to use (and prettier to look at).

Yet, as Pollock and Copernicus show, there are certain instances in which thinkers are able to completely break with tradition. Therefore, not all significant breakthroughs result from those who build upon previous knowledge. But in those instances in which a thinker has challenged age old wisdom, or come up with a radical form of art, the world surely takes notice.


This is by no means a perfect essay. But it effectively develops the point: It is not impossible to come up with a breakthrough that doesn’t build off previous knowledge. This is an example-heavy essay, building its position off of Jackson Pollock and Copernicus. Now I am no Art History major, and I can’t profess that this is example is 100% correct. The thing is the GRE won’t dock your grade if you fudge slight facts. For instance, if I said Copernicus was a 17th Century astronomer, instead of 15th Century one, that would not be too catastrophic. If I place him as a contemporary of Jackson Pollock, then I am in trouble. So again, you have a little leeway in facts.

It is by no means a bad idea to make an essay an example-driven one. At the same time, I don’t think there was too much analysis of the prompt. Perhaps had the essay delved more into what it means to make a significant contribution to a field that would have been helpful. For instance, Copernicus didn’t just come up with his heliocentric view out of the blue, uninfluenced by other thinkers. After all he did employ math and observations gleaned from new technology. Had he not applied the math and used a telescope he would have not made his discovery. So was this application building off previous knowledge?

I will give the essay kudos for including the second to last paragraph, which does a fair bit of analysis. The author could have included another example to prove her point (something most students writing GRE essays do). But including yet another support shows zero analysis and would have likely dropped this essay to a ‘4’. Instead, the author concedes a limitation in her own point of view, but in the final paragraph shows that her thesis is still valid (“the world surely takes notice”).

And one other kudos for the polished writing. There is also some nice variety to the sentences. Still, the essay would probably have gotten a ‘5’, since it doesn’t provide the complex level of analysis the graders are looking for.



This essay is just one possible iteration of a ‘5’. To get a sense of more ‘5’s and ‘4’s, and even ‘6’, you can find sample essays on the site. My advice is to understand the difference between a ‘4’ and a ‘5’, do your best to identify where you are scoring and, when applicable, try to get to a ‘4’ by identifying your weaknesses, or a ‘5’, or, for some, a ‘6.’


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23 Responses to Mock AWA Issue Essay

  1. krishna October 31, 2018 at 6:56 am #

    Nice essay. But it is not “off of”. “off” alone suffices, that is what most grammar books say. will i lose points for British grammar?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 1, 2018 at 9:43 am #

      Hi Krishna,

      You are absolutely correct that “off” is more grammatically correct than “off of.” However, since “off of” is commonly used colloquially in English, this is not the sort of glaring grammar error that will cost you points on the AWA. The AWA is not a test of grammar or spelling, and spelling/grammar mistakes will only cost you points if they affect the readability and comprehensibility of your argument.

      It is perfectly fine to use British spelling and grammar on the essay, but you should be consistent about it. The graders are trained to read both American and British english 🙂

  2. Samreen Rizvi March 8, 2018 at 4:35 pm #

    Hello.. this essay just scared me! You need to have so much prior knowledge for attempting the essay sections? Whoever wrote this is taking names of people I have never heard of! Would a generalized argument be acceptable too?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 10, 2018 at 1:19 pm #

      Hi Samreen,

      This is meant to be a model essay that you can aspire to, but it takes time and practice to be able to master an essay like this! There’s a reason that Chris Lele is our verbal and AWA master at Magoosh; don’t be discouraged by this essay, but rather think about all of the things that you can learn from it!

      Nobody will write exactly the same essay for the same prompt.There are many different examples that you can use to answer a question like this. It’s certainly possible to get a decent essay score using a generalized response, but keep in mind that specific examples really help to improve your essay. It’s useful to review general essay topics (see here for general topics) and have some go-to examples ready. You don’t have to be a master in every subject, but you should think about ways to expand your knowledge on those essay topics and have some examples that work for you! It takes time to learn how to brainstorm for the AWA and write a good essay, but with time and practice you will improve 😀

  3. Angeline Nies-Berger September 15, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

    Hello there!
    I took the test just today, and I am worried about my Issue task. I wrote only two body paragraphs. Is the 3-body essay generally necessary to get over 4.5?
    I saw this article
    and I think my essay was similar: long intro and conclusion and 2 paragraphs. What d’ya think?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 17, 2016 at 4:29 pm #

      Hi Angeline,

      Without seeing your essay, it’s very difficult to say! But you should know that we give advice on the essay based on our experience and correlations that we have seen between essays and scores. That is, ETS does not require three body paragraphs and a certain word count. As long as your writing is clear and your argument is strong, there is no reason that you will get a lower score just because you wrote two body paragraphs instead of one. I know that it’s nerve-wracking to wait for that score, but I hope this helps 🙂

      • Angeline September 18, 2016 at 5:28 am #

        Thanks, Magoosh expert! I do feel a little better now. ?

        • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
          Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 18, 2016 at 10:12 am #

          You’re very welcome 🙂

  4. 2^1024 September 4, 2016 at 3:45 am #

    Hello Chris,

    Is it a good idea to inject some humor in your essay?

    And thanks for this wonderful post.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 5, 2016 at 11:06 am #

      Hello! 🙂 Humor can be a good thing to inject if and only if you are already writing at a high level without grammatical or spelling errors–if you try to make a joke but the humor is unclear due to other mistakes in the writing, it will detract from your score. Also, keep in mind that the erater doesn’t understand humor, no matter how good. 🙂

  5. sweety March 6, 2016 at 4:16 am #

    hey chriss , could you please evaluate the sample issue essay written by me on

    “The true test of the greatness of a work of art is its ability to be understood by the masses”.

    Art is one of the medium to express our feelings to people.Art helps us to fetch our talent to the outside world. An art is identified by everyone,only when masses are able to understand it. According to Indian mythology arts are subdivided into 64 categories known as “Lalitha Kalalu” ,which comprises of music, dance , painting etc.

    Firstly, everyone has some or the other hidden in them but the actual recognition comes only when we are able to express it and convey easily to our fellow beings .Consider, popular singer Shreya Goshal , she has a huge number of fans because she has succeeded in expresses her talent in a better way. Similarly M.F.Hussain one of the worlds best painter as his work of art is understood by the masses.

    Secondly, no art gets its reconition in a single night person has to try harder and harder to become master in a specific art. Now consider a tourist place Hampi in vijayanagaram previously the foreign invaders couldnt understand its greatness and destroyed all the statues . Later the government has recognised its greatness and started protecting it.

    To sum it all , our art is given an identity only when it is recognised and understood by the people. So one must try and try till he succeeds to make it famous.Lastly the true test for greatness of work is recognition.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 7, 2016 at 10:34 am #

      Hi Sweety,

      We’d love to be able to grade student essays, but I’m afraid we don’t offer any kind of an essay review service. We’re a really small team so we wouldn’t be able to grade essays for ALL of our students.

      We do have some resources to help you, though. You can find a lot of advice about writing for the GRE on our site. You should check out our blog for plenty of content on writing and the GRE AWA section. If you’d like to get your essays graded (but not by us), this post will help with that:

      How to Get Your AWA Practice Essays Graded

  6. Sarah March 8, 2015 at 10:55 am #

    Sorry, but PollOck. Jeez.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele March 9, 2015 at 11:29 am #

      Sorry, that is an unforgivable typo! Will clean that up 🙂

  7. koushik October 20, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    Hi chris,
    Looking again @ the prompt it says “without FIRST being strongly influenced” so is it not possible that jackson and others were initially influenced and later overcame the dogma and established their geniuses.?
    Will the readers consider this and find the logic flawed or am I sounding too absurd? Thanks and BTW i find your blogs and flash cards immensely helpful.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 21, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

      Hi Koushik,

      I totally agree with you :). That could be very well have been the case, and a ‘6’ essay would have probably anticipated that objection, with something like: “True, no thinker or artist lives in a vacuum–each are influenced by some school of thought. Yet Pollock so completely subverted the genre–his violent explosions of paint upon canvas was unlike anything previously seen–that he did not build upon any existing school of thought but created one that was sui generis.”

      You’ll notice that the essay above is only getting a ‘5’. It’s a solid essay but one that could delve a little deeper into possible objections such as the one you pointed above. I think it favors example over analysis. But it is still good and can get a ‘5’. If you are already writing around a ‘5’, then this essay is probably not as illuminating :).

      Hope that helps!

  8. Ari August 1, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    I’m a bit nervous about the AWA section since I’m going to be applying to writing programs. With about 2 weeks to go for my GRE, I was wondering if you had any specific advice about tackling this section (I’ve mainly been focusing on verbal until now). Also, if one cannot think of real world examples while writing the essay, how badly would that reflect? I get pretty stressed out under time pressure so any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks

  9. Abhijeet Gautam July 14, 2013 at 5:21 am #

    Hi Chris,

    I have broken down the direction or the problem statement into 4 points.This is in an attempt to visualize how successfully this sample essay covers the aspects required by the direction so that the test takers (including me as well) emulate the same and gain on in their gre scores.

    Write a response in which
    1. You discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement.

    Covered in the essay:
    By the thesis statement “clearly then, significant breakthroughs do not always build upon existing knowledge.” clearly covers the degree of agreement/disagreement

    2. explain your reasoning for the position you take.

    Covered in the essay:
    By the concluding paragraph – “Yet, as Pollack and Copernicus show, there are certain instances in which thinkers are able to completely break with tradition. Therefore, not all significant breakthroughs result from those who build upon previous knowledge. But in those instances in which a thinker has challenged age old wisdom, or come up with a radical form of art, the world surely takes notice.”

    3. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true.

    Covered in the essay:
    By the first 2 paragraphs in the body of the essay indicating the ways in which the statement doesn’t hold true.
    By the concession point , indicating the ways in which the statement does hold true.

    4. And explain how these considerations shape your position.

    Covered in the essay:
    By the body and the first line of the concluding paragraph : “Yet, as Pollack and Copernicus show, there are certain instances in which thinkers are able to completely break with tradition.”

    I request you to please let me know, if this is how we should cover every aspect of a GRE AWA Issue task? Also, Is this essay lacking a bit to answer the 4th point of the question.


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 15, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

      Hi Abhijeet,

      That is an accurate dissection of the essay! For the fourth point, I agree it needs more development. In fact, there really isn’t much analysis. Again, this is a ‘5’ essay, and not a ‘5.5’ or a ‘6.0’ essay, which would have been both longer and would have spent more time analyzing the prompt.

  10. David Zeglen June 7, 2013 at 7:25 am #


    I am very thankful for the Magoosh GRE service, and I think all of you are doing an excellent job. I am writing to ask if there is a blog forum on your webpage where I can post my essay so that anyone who is inclined could provide me with some feedback. Thanks in advance!


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 7, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

      Hi David,

      One option is, which is a GRE forum. Oftentimes, some charitable souls will provide feedback.

      The good news is right now we are currently accepting sample essays right now, as part of an AWA post I will write. You can send yours over to It might make the cut, in which case I’ll give you a score as well as feedback.

      Update 7/30/13: We are no longer accepting/grading any sample essays! We’ll write a new announcement post if we try it out again. Thanks for all of the essays, everyone :).

  11. Julia Campos June 2, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    If there was not knowledge of sun revolving around the earth, could not happen a theory of the opposite. So, there was a creation based on previous knowledge. Even if it was opposite. Without the previous knowledge cannot be the opposite either, my point, from nothing, nothing can be created, everything is transformed from previous something.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 4, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

      Yes, you are correct. In that sense one can dig into an example. Few example are full-proof and this is by no means a perfect essay. Your analysis of course would help inform your own essay on the subject. As it stands the essay does a decent job of backing up its point. Again, the analysis is not too deep, as the essay is more an example drive one.

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