One of the Biggest Mistakes You Can Make on the GRE Essay

GRE Essay Mistake - image by Magoosh

At one time, I was inclined to think that the biggest mistake students made on the GRE was failing to back up their responses with concrete examples. Mere hypothetical scenarios were the only ballast these weak Analyze an Argument essays had. So I advised students to think of concrete examples to help support their points.

The ‘Concrete Examples’ Trap

What I’ve come to realize is that almost every test prep outfit recommends including specific examples, but that’s often where both they and the students stop, in terms of providing support. So what we have are essays with vivid examples but little to no analysis of the question.

Nowhere was this tendency clearer than when we had a little promotion offering free essay grading service. At least half of the essays had specific examples, instead of vague hypotheticals. Of these, many had examples that were extremely lacking, and felt tacked on, at best. The other half that had fleshed out examples may have seemed paragons of great writing, or at least what the GRE is apparently looking for, which is the coveted ‘6’. Yet, none of these essays received that score (based on our grading); some even scored much less.

The reason is the GRE wants to see how you analyze a complex issue. It chooses prompts that it wants you to explore, before arriving at a nuanced position, one that is not a simple “yes” or “no”, followed by three examples that, while heavy on details, are devoid of analysis.

Let’s Look at Sample Essays

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Below are two essays. Each has an intro and one body paragraph written in response to an official prompt, which you can find here.

As you read, I want you to make some judgments on the essay, the style, etc. Also, pay attention to the logical structure of the paragraph and how the writer develops (or doesn’t develop) their position.

Essay 1

Technology is becoming a bigger part of our lives each day. People are always on their cellphones or in front of a computer. This is not good for our ability to think clearly. Therefore, humans will not be able to think for themselves as time goes on.

People spend lots of time on social media sites, like Facebook. They “talk” to friends, but they really aren’t spending quality time. Many reports indicate that people also feel sad and depressed when they are on Facebook and other social media sites. They have difficulty focusing and thinking, being social human beings. This is what is deteriorating. If it continues like this, humans ability to think will lessen.

Essay 2

From the mundane—virtual calendars that have each minute of each day planned out for the next three months—to the profound—diagnostic tools that allow physicians to capture cancer in its earliest stages—technology is greatly shaping the way we live, and think. With this increased reliance, some argue, surely our ability to think for ourselves becomes diminished. After all, many of us are unable to recall our home phone number, or those of any of our close friends, since everything is stored on an electronic device. While it is tempting to think that such dependence portends an apocalypse in thinking skills, much of the technology we use today actually allows us to function more efficiently, and focus our attention on thinking about those things that matter most.

Nowhere are information and the ability to use that information more critical to our lives than in medicine. Doctors inundated with patients and the record keeping this entails are more prone to making errors. Some of these errors might seem venial—thinking an allergy is a cold. Other oversights, however, can be downright lethal. Fortunately, in the last decade, technology has played a far greater role in both informing and guiding the decisions of physicians. Patient histories that were previously lost if the patients entered another provider can now be easily accessed via electronic devices. Timely and redundant procedures can now be dispensed with, as a doctor, with a quick flick of the wrist, can use an iPad to access a patient’s history—one that has sedulously been stored in a database. Doctors can now focus on those fields in which technology has yet to catch up with the human intellect—the diagnosis, the ability to read an X-ray. Indeed, they will have more time to hone such skills, to augment their thinking, as much of the minutiae of medicine can be “outsourced” to technology. That is not to say that technology has become a panacea, as it were, for the medical profession; human error can pop up in anything from transfer of records, to a doctor becoming overly reliant on the Internet to determent of her clinical skills. Yet those very oversights technology itself will be able to redress, as doctors become better at documenting any oversights and making such discoveries available, via technology, to a wider audience. In sum, as technology becomes a greater part of the medical profession, physicians will better be able to focus and refine their uniquely human thinking abilities.


In the second part of this blog post series (coming soon!), I will analyze each essay, citing its merits and its flaws.

Before you read that post:

  • List two to three things you think the essay does well and two or three things you think it doesn’t do so well. (Remember what I mentioned at the beginning of the post: the goal is to not simply answer yes or no, but to take a relatively nuanced position.)
  •  Give the essays a score, keeping in mind that you can only judge the first two paragraphs of each essay. Feel free to share your thoughts as a comment.

Remember that the makers of the GRE provide all of their possible essay prompts on With 200+ possible options, though, it’s impossible to practice them all. The solution? Break the main post topics into categories and practice GRE essay topics from each category.


P.S. Ready to improve your GRE score? Get started today.

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87 Responses to One of the Biggest Mistakes You Can Make on the GRE Essay

  1. Hannah September 3, 2020 at 6:28 am #

    Looking for the part 2 of this post?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 6, 2020 at 1:28 pm #

      Hi Hannah!

      Hi Ankita,

      It looks like Chris still has yet to get around to writing the second part of this post, I’m sorry about that! Rita Kreig noted that “I added a (coming soon!) note to the post, and will update when Part II goes live.”

      So for now, there is still no second part to the post. I’ll reach out to our blog team to remind them 🙂

  2. John Scully September 14, 2019 at 12:14 pm #

    Does GRE AWA expect usage of fancy/really uncommon words in the exam? That is, is it expected to use the words from Magoosh GRE app to be used in the writing?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert December 6, 2019 at 7:22 pm #

      Great question, John! Thankfully not. The writing tests your ability to organize and develop an essay. Use only words you’re comfortable with. There are no extra points for fancy vocab words. That said, you will be scored on grammar and style, so make sure your writing is clear and flows well, and use whatever words help you do that. Definitely don’t try for the vocab words if it’s not the sort of thing you don’t usually say. Write in your own voice for the best result 🙂

  3. Pranav January 22, 2019 at 7:34 am #

    Is it a good idea to include a quote from a famous/influential figure in the essay?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert January 25, 2019 at 7:15 am #

      Hi Pranav,

      If you know a quote that is applicable to the essay and will help you to make your argument, then you can certainly add it in! You won’t necessarily get extra points for adding in quotes, however. Don’t try to force a quote into your essay just to include one!

  4. Dhruva July 26, 2018 at 12:42 am #

    Hi Chris,

    While writing issue essays, can I use rhetorical questions such as, ‘But is this really true?’ or ‘Can humans absorb this kind of magnus (Can I use Latin words?) information?’

    Is this pattern of asking questions in the first paragraph, the introducing paragraph helpful?

    Also, can I use the same pattern in argument essays?

    Moreover, can I use hypothetical examples like ‘Consider a boy who is form a poor/affluent family….he has to do xyz… ‘ is this allowed in GRE AWA or only concrete real example are necessary to score marks?

    My current length of essays are approx 400 words with 4-5 paragraphs. Is this enough or shall I try harder?

    My GRE exam is just 15 days away! Need your assistance.

    Kindly help! 🙂


    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 26, 2018 at 8:23 pm #

      Hi Dhruva,

      Great questions! Yes, rhetorical questions can be powerful tools in both the Issue and Argument task. They can highlight gaps in the argument and help you to emphasize important points. You would probably only want to use a few of these questions in your essays, though–you don’t want to rely on them too much!

      You can also use hypothetical examples in the Issue essay as long as you are building a logical point. You should aim to be as specific as possible, and come up with an example. However, you can certainly use logical hypothetical arguments to make a point!

      There is no “minimum” or “maximum” number of words for the essays—you should simply write enough to build a cohesive argument. Most of the high scoring essays in Official ETS material are around 500 words, but you should not sacrifice clarity and conciseness just to write more words! Focus on using your time to create a strong argument, and you will be fine 🙂

  5. Samreen Rizvi March 8, 2018 at 2:58 pm #

    Hi Chris.. I know that everyone says that ETS does not expect prior knowledge for any specific field by prompts such as the one below make me think otherwise!

    The following appeared as part of a letter to the editor of a scientific journal.

    “A recent study of eighteen rhesus monkeys provides clues as to the effects of birth order on an individual’s levels of stimulation. The study showed that in stimulating situations (such as an encounter with an unfamiliar monkey), firstborn infant monkeys produce up to twice as much of the hormone cortisol, which primes the body for increased activity levels, as do their younger siblings. Firstborn humans also produce relatively high levels of cortisol in stimulating situations (such as the return of a parent after an absence). The study also found that during pregnancy, first-time mother monkeys had higher levels of cortisol than did those who had had several offspring.”

    Write a response in which you discuss one or more alternative explanations that could rival the proposed explanation and explain how your explanation(s) can plausibly account for the facts presented in the argument.

    … I usually do pretty well at poking holes in the argument, but in this case I am completely stumped! Any ideas on how to approach this topic?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 10, 2018 at 12:51 pm #

      Hi Samreen,

      This is a common question that we get here at Magoosh–this prompt in particular seems to be very difficult for students 😀

      To be clear: writing an argument essay in response to this prompt does NOT require outside knowledge. We apply the same process of critical thinking to find the argument and then pull it apart. I think this one is difficult because of how foreign the topic seems at first glance–I don’t know much about rhesus monkeys, so this whole argument seems pretty logical to me!

      But, we can use the same methods to pick apart this argument. First, let’s consider the facts (premises) of this argument:
      -There was a study of 18 rhesus monkeys
      -In stimulating situations (such as an encounter with an unfamiliar monkey), firstborn infant monkeys produce up to twice as much of the hormone cortisol, which primes the body for increased activity levels, as do their younger siblings.
      -Firstborn humans produce relatively high levels of cortisol in stimulating situations
      -During pregnancy, first-time mother monkeys had higher levels of cortisol than did those who had had several offspring.

      The second step is to identify the conclusion. The conclusion here is that birth order affects an individual’s level of stimulation. This is mentioned in the first paragraph and could easily be mistaken as another ‘fact’ in the argument, which is why it’s useful to isolate it.

      Now that we have identified these parts, we can think about the assumptions that this argument rests on are:
      -The level of cortisol is the only factor that affects stimulation levels.
      -The relationship between the mother’s cortisol level and the child’s is direct (the paragraph doesn’t state whether a 2nd-born child has a lower cortisol level simply because mothers having their 2nd child have lower levels of cortisol).
      -First-time human mothers also produce higher levels of cortisol that non-first-time human mothers do.
      -Rhesus monkeys are comparable to humans (how do we know that this information on rhesus monkeys applies to humans, and vice versa?)
      – 18 rhesus monkeys is a high enough number to get a good data set.

      The final bullet point is a particularly interesting one to note. This is an assumption that can be used for many different Argument prompts, and you should think about this whenever you see an argument that mentions a sample size. In fact, once we lay it out like this, many of the ‘holes’ in the argument become more familiar. Some of the classic argument flaws in these essays include issues with sample size, comparison between groups, and cause-and-effect relationships. Even if you just thought about those three issues in this argument, you can write a strong essay.

  6. Tarang October 7, 2017 at 8:13 pm #

    It is so very nice of you for giving such generous replies…
    My question to you i,s, weather my AWA will make a lot big difference to the GRE score, if I expect my verbal and quant to be a blast in terms of score next year when I am planning to give GRE for Masters in Electrical Engineering?…

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 9, 2017 at 10:26 am #

      Hi Tarang,

      The AWA score is not part of your 260-340 score, and the AWA will only matter for your if your chosen school cares about it. Have you figured out if they have AWA requirements? That’s the best way to make these choices! 🙂

  7. Ido September 30, 2017 at 12:30 am #

    How about that follow-up post?

  8. Anas Patankar July 11, 2017 at 7:12 am #

    Hey I am giving the gre next month . I have not started with my AWA .I wanted to know whether there is a minimum score that a student needs, to get their score accepted. I want to pursue my Masters in Science

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 11, 2017 at 5:49 pm #

      Masters in Science degrees generally place less importance on the AWA, compared to other grad degree programs. However, this can vary a good deal, depending on what you’re getting an MS in. For example, MS Economics programs tend to have higher AWA requirements than MS Engineering programs.

      This can be a bit unpredictable though, so I recommend checking with the admissions offices of programs you want to apply for. Ask them what their AWA requirement is. And if they don’t have a specific, fixed, AWA standard, ask them what the average AWA score is for students who get accepted.

      Based on that, you can get an idea of how much you need to focus on AWA in the coming month. Good luck!

  9. Anup June 21, 2017 at 1:21 am #

    I’ve been finding it real hard to start an issue task! Can you provide me with some suggestions?
    Another question I have is whether I can stay undecided between agreeing or disagreeing with an issue while analysing it.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 23, 2017 at 5:30 am #

      Hi Anup!

      Happy to help 🙂

      First, I recommend that you read through this post on brainstorming for the issue task. And here are some general tips:

      1. Try to relax 🙂 Your anxiety about the essays may be preventing you from tapping into your store of ideas!
      2. Write a few essays without giving yourself a time constraint, giving yourself as much time as you need to brainstorm, plan the structure of your essay, write it out, and give it quick proofread. Once you’ve done this a few times and feel comfortable with the process, then start timing yourself so you can get used to a quicker version of this process when you’re under pressure.
      3. Do a general brainstorm session to come up with several topics you can easily write about so that you don’t have to come up with examples on the spot.

      Now, if it’s the worst case scenario and you go blank on test day, I recommend first, closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. This will help you refocus your energy. From there, choose a position. This is key to being able to write your essay. There’s no right or wrong position. So, just choose one side or the other. Write your thesis statement. A simple statement that responds to the prompt is perfect–there’s no need to be fancy.

      For the issue task, you do need to choose a side to support and explain why you support that side in the body paragraphs of your essay. As you will see if you read through the various sets of instructions that you could receive on test day, you’ll find that you are most often asked to discuss “the extent to which you agree or disagree” with the issue. This means that you do not have to entirely agree with the side you choose, but you must choose a side! After developing your argument, you can use the last body paragraph to discuss a concession point that helps explain why you do not fully agree or disagree with the issue or side. 🙂

      I hope that post and these ideas help! Happy writing 🙂

  10. Dell November 15, 2016 at 1:34 am #

    Do the pool of issues and arguments change every year?

  11. Vadim September 29, 2016 at 9:58 am #


    I would like to ask how should I answer to the question when I can’t come up with analysis or reasoning for the questions. For example, take this promt:


    “Some people believe that scientific discoveries have given us a much better understanding of the world around us. Others believe that science has revealed to us that the world is infinitely more complex than we ever realized.”

    Write a response in which you discuss which view more closely aligns with your own position and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should address both of the views presented.


    How can you possible analyze this taking the supporting position? Surely, we can give an example of all types about science fields, medicine and technological progress but I can’t come up with a single “reasoning” why is it true. It is simply true because of examples!

    Sorry, if it were already adressed somewhere else. Thank you!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 30, 2016 at 5:33 pm #

      Hi Vladim,

      This is certainly one of the more unique topics you might get for the Issue task. In this case, there are two views that are not exactly opposing but rather have a different take on the same issue. Here, the prompt is asking about how far science has taken us. Have we really gained a deeper understanding of the world, or has scientific inquiry just revealed many more questions? You have to choose which statement you want to defend. In this case, I think it is perfectly OK that the examples you choose to write about will be your argument. The logical reasoning component will come through your examples. For example, if you decide to choose the second view, you can talk about a scientific discovery in any field that produced more questions and talk about how the scientific process is all about constantly generating questions and new hypotheses to test, so each new discovery opens up new doors to other scientific lines of inquiry. So, the example becomes your ‘logical argument.’ Does that make sense?

      This blog post might also help you in this regard:

  12. Victoria F July 25, 2016 at 8:23 pm #

    Chris, I have been scoring GRE exams for ETS for 6 years. Concrete examples are not a problem. In fact, our upper-third essays (scores 5 and 6) are expected to have strong reasoning AND well-analyzed concrete examples. This is especially true for Issue.

    • Rachel September 13, 2016 at 10:31 am #


      Any other tips for the issue essay? I’m really struggling

      • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
        Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 13, 2016 at 4:41 pm #

        It’ll be interesting to see if Victoria is able to weigh in. In the meantime, Rachel, can you tell us a little bit more about how you’re struggling? If you give a few specifics, I know that I can give you some answers, and maybe Victoria can as well.

    • Max October 31, 2016 at 9:44 am #

      I think that Chris was attempting to make the point that without strong reasoning concrete examples fall flat.

  13. suji July 13, 2016 at 11:07 am #

    can i use first person in my essay when explaining personal experiences?
    eg: In my observation and experience

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 13, 2016 at 12:06 pm #

      You can use first person in the GRE Issue AWA, but if you do so, be very careful. Limit use of first person to describing specific personal experiences; you shouldn’t use it for general statements of opinion. In other words, it’s OK to say “as evidence for this, I can tell you that I have experienced (XYZ).” But you shouldn’t say “I think (XYZ) is true” or “I feel (XYZ) is true.” Instead say something like “(XYZ) is true because,” or “It appears XYZ is true” because…

      In general though, I advise students to avoid first person entirely if possible on the GRE Analyze an Issue task. there isn’t a strict rule against first person, but using first person gives you many more chances to make mistakes or accidentally take a tone that is not scholarly enough for the GRE. Use first person only if you are very confident you know how to use it well. Does this make sense?

  14. Abhishek SP July 3, 2016 at 7:45 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    i was wondering whether the examples and facts we state need to be 100% true or accurate?

    Something like the year when some company was found.


    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 12, 2016 at 8:55 am #

      Hi Abhishek,

      Good question! 🙂 While you can slightly fudge some details or not have perfect facts, I do not recommend making things up entirely. I can’t imagine that knowing an exact year of a company’s founding would be critical to the AWA prompt, so it would be better to simply say as much as you know and build your point elsewhere. 🙂

  15. Alyssa June 25, 2016 at 2:35 pm #

    Hi Chris!
    I’m taking my GRE this Monday so I’m hoping to hear back from you before then, but I realize it is the weekend so I may not have caught you in time. I have a few quick questions about the analytical writing section. I like to use dashes instead of commas sometimes, but when I put the 2 dashes next to each other in hopes of forming the longer dash, it doesn’t work. On Microsoft word is connect the dashes to form a longer dash. Should I just put one short dash instead (-) so that it doesn’t look like this (–)? I don’t want the computer grader to take away points for something like this…
    Also, is it okay to write numbers or percents (ex: 1,000 or 5%) or should I write them out (one thousand or five percent)?

    I know this might be trivial, but not knowing makes me a bit anxious. Thank you 🙂

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 26, 2016 at 4:20 am #

      Hi Alyssa 🙂

      Firstly, good luck on your exam! Now, for the AWA section, you want to focus on clearly stating your position and supporting that position in a organized way. 🙂 In terms of your questions, you can use two dashes (–) or commas instead of the em dash (the longer dash); either option is perfectly fine 🙂 And regarding percents, generally percents are written as numbers with the symbol (e.g. 1000%, 5%) in sentences. However, if you are beginning a sentence with the percent, then you will want to write out the number and the word “percent” (e.g. One thousand percent, Five percent).

      I hope this helps 🙂 And good luck tomorrow 😀

  16. Monika Shrestha May 8, 2016 at 8:50 am #

    I do not know if its the correct place to ask the question. I am giving my GRE exam from Germany and I wanted to know if I get the American keyboard or a German keyboard. The layout of the German keyboard is different and I want to make up my mind before I appear for the test. I would really be thankful for the reply.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert May 9, 2016 at 12:29 am #

      Hi Monika!

      Former students in Europe have told us that they were provided with a standard QWERTY keyboard at the testing center. However, I would contact the testing center where you will take the test to make sure!

  17. Ankita Kalra March 14, 2016 at 8:39 am #

    I cannot find the second part of the post. Please paste the link in comments.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 15, 2016 at 10:17 am #

      Hi Ankita,

      It looks like Chris still has yet to get around to writing the second part of this post. Rita Kreig noted that “I added a (coming soon!) note to the post, and will update when Part II goes live.”

      So for now, there is still no second part to the post. Sorry about that!

      • Shruti Yadav N October 27, 2016 at 9:44 pm #

        Is the second part of the post still not out? If it is, could you please post the link here?

        • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
          Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 29, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

          Hi Shruti,

          It looks like this hasn’t been written yet! I will remind our blogging team about this and maybe they can answer it 🙂 Sorry about this!

  18. Charles Gain February 13, 2016 at 11:36 pm #

    Hello Chris,

    Here it goes on the homework you assigned.

    The first answer was defiently picking sides, that technology is bad. Technology is the reason why people don’t socialize. Probably if the writer added examples how technology has kept communication a live, then his or her argument stronger. In other words, explain the good things about technology.

    The second answer is nice and long is missing an introduction paragraph. I feel the examples are not straight forward. The writer seems to attempt to argue the likes and dislikes, but they jump around in their stance. Probably the writer can correct it by adding an introduction, 2nd paragraph on the dislikes, 3rd paragraph on the likes.

    Both of these answers look like something I wrote.

  19. Assel February 12, 2016 at 1:19 am #

    I have a question about writing. When I will do the Official GRE writing, can I use some genereal sentences or phrases (that I remembered) from samples that read(from gre official website’s writing samples or other resources and books)?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 12, 2016 at 3:56 am #

      Hi Assel,

      Happy to help! 🙂

      While it is, of course, ideal to come up with your own words throughout, many students use phrases and structures that they have learned through study programs or from other students. This is okay, as long as these resources are just a way to give your overall work structure and you don’t just rely on someone else’s plan for your essay. 🙂

      • Cass April 13, 2016 at 2:04 pm #

        If I’ve done research on a topic can I put this information in my Issues Task? One of the prompts asks if the government should protect the wilderness even if there are economical gains in cutting it down. I’ve done extensive research on the positive effect green space has on an individual’s mental health. Can I state this in my argument?

        • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
          Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 14, 2016 at 12:49 am #

          Hi Cass,

          Interesting question! 🙂

          While having extensive background knowledge on a topic can only help you, keep in mind that you are not writing a researched paper on the topic but rather demonstrating your ability to engage with the issue or argument. If you want to bring in some of your background knowledge, that’s definitely okay, but take care to also fully answer the actual question presented to you as part of your AWA task.

          I hope that makes sense!

  20. Ankur February 2, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

    I wrote an issue essay for this prompt and want someone professional to rate it so I know if it is good/bad and what I need to improve on. I am not sure if I am allowed to post it here as a reply. If i cannot, what is a good place to post it? It took me like 4 times as much times to write it. Is there some way to improve the timing part, other than practicing to write it faster every essay?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 4, 2016 at 3:54 am #

      Hi Ankur 🙂

      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. If you’d like to get your essays graded (but not by us), this blog post will help with that: How to Get Your AWA Practice Essays Graded?. You can also score your own essay with the help of the writing rubrics we’ve developed here at Magoosh: “Score Your GRE Essay”.

      In terms of pacing on the essay section, there are definitely ways to improve 🙂 Being familiar with the structure of the essays is helpful. At the same time, if brainstorming or coming up with ideas is giving you trouble, here are a couple of things you can do:

      1. Try to relax 🙂 Your anxiety about the essays may be preventing you from tapping into your store of ideas!

      2. Write a couple of essays without giving yourself a time constraint (like you’ve done for this prompt). Give yourself as much time as you need to brainstorm, plan the structure of your essay, write it out, and give it quick proofread. Once you’ve done this a few times and feel comfortable with the process, then start timing yourself so you can get used to a quicker version of this process when you’re under pressure. Do several timed essays in this way, so that on the day of the exam, you’re completely familiar with the approach of writing these essays, and it feels like just another practice essay you wrote at home.

      3. Coming up with examples on the spot is definitely hard to do! What I like to do to combat this is have several topics on hand. By this, I mean that you should do a general brainstorm to come up with several topics you can easily write about—topics that you are an “expert” on, if you will. That way, you will have these ideas “prepared” for your essays on test day, which can save you time in the brainstorming process 🙂

      For even more strategies about pacing on the AWA section, definitely check out our blog post “AWA Time Saving Tips”.

      I hope this helps!

  21. Kazi Masel Ullah January 19, 2016 at 1:08 pm #


    In the issue tasks there are 6 categories of instructions according to the ETS official book. They instructed that answers should follow the specific instruction. But, it seems to me all the categories of instructions are similar. Then, how can I answer differently according to the variations of instructions?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Wizard January 20, 2016 at 4:57 pm #

      Hi Kazi,

      This is a great question! You’re absolutely right that the 6 categories of instructions are very similar; no matter what the wording of the requirement is, it will always be asking you to present an opinion, develop it with examples, and show that you have considered opposing arguments. I’ll refer to this as “the standard” from here on out 😀

      Since every prompt is some variation on the standard, you don’t need to change your writing style depending on the requirement, but you may need to vary your structure. Let’s look at some examples and see how this might be the case:

      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.

      While in some essays you might just briefly address the concession point, the wording in this requirement lets you know that you probably want to emphasize these potential counter-arguments even more.

      Write a response in which you discuss which view more closely aligns with your own position and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should address both of the views presented.

      Here, instead of considering opposing arguments that you’ve thought up on your own, as in the standard, you’re going to consider the other view provided that does not align as closely with your position.

      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.

      This is just the standard.

      Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim and the reason on which that claim is based.

      This doesn’t specifically ask you to consider opposing arguments, but you should still do the standard 🙂

      Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the recommendation and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, describe specific circumstances in which adopting the recommendation would or would not be advantageous and explain how these examples shape your position.

      This is the standard, but rather than presenting theoretical arguments, you want to make sure you present specific, real-world circumstances to support your argument.

      I hope this helps you see how you can modify the structure of your essay to address the different sets of instructions!

  22. Sue October 23, 2015 at 1:19 pm #

    Hey! I was wondering if you knew whether the keyboards provided are standardised world-wide? I am currently studying abroad in France and am going to take my GRE in Paris in about a week. I am a little concerned that they gonna surprise me with a French AZERTY layout instead of the regular QWERTY…
    Would be great if someone could help me!

  23. Mudit Kakkar October 20, 2015 at 9:56 am #

    I am a Magoosh premium customer. By saying “followed by three examples that, while heavy on details, are devoid of analysis.”, Chris, are you suggesting that we should flesh out examples without really analysing them?

    • Dani Lichliter
      Dani Lichliter October 20, 2015 at 11:16 am #

      Hi Mudit,
      Thanks for your question! Since you’re a premium student, I went ahead and forwarded your question on to our team of remote tutors. Someone from that team will reach out to you via email.
      Happy studying! 🙂

  24. Mia Dragovic October 10, 2015 at 3:17 am #

    Hi Chris,
    I am not sure where to post this question – my exam is in a week and I have had a very short prep time so exuces me if I am asking a basic question. I tried to find an answer, but could not find you addressing this anywhere; Is it acceptable to use first person in examples on an Issue essay? Is it OK to draw from one’s own experiences? For example, on an issue essay questioning the educational system, is it all right to say, e.g. “Being a student of both American and European educational system, I was fortunate enough to experience the perks and downsides of both”?

    Thank you, and thanks MAGOOSH for making my short prep very enjoyable and fun!

    • Dani Lichliter
      Dani Lichliter October 12, 2015 at 9:55 am #

      Hi Mia,

      Glad to hear your test prep has been enjoyable and fun! 🙂 Since you are a premium member, I went ahead and forwarded your question on to our remote tutors. Someone from that team will reach out via email to help you. Good luck on your exam next week!


  25. Henrieke July 11, 2015 at 3:51 am #


    Thanks a million for all the help and assistance you provide via the Magoosh blog.

    I will be taking the GRE in Germany and have been trying to find out what to expect from the test center. Although it might sound funny / of minor importance, I am a bit concerned about e.g. the laptop keyboards that will be provided to type up the essays. I am used to typing on flat-keyed laptop keyboards. Being subjected to a different type of keyboard (in terms of physical appearance as well as in regard to the language setting of the keyboard) could be confusing and slow me down, and in consequence constitute an additional stress factor, so I would like to be mentally prepared.

    Do you know anything about whether the keyboards are standardized in all countries and whether I should expect an American keyboard or, in my case, a German one?

    Thank you in advance!!!

  26. Char May 30, 2015 at 4:21 pm #

    Hey Chris,
    I had a quick question regarding the layout of the “analyze an argument” essay. I have learned that I have a much easier time approaching the essay if I use the first paragraph as a means of representing the argument in premise and conclusion form (typically seen in analytical philosophy papers and papers involving mathematical proofs). So for example:

    The proposed argument can be represented in the following premise and conclusion form:
    Premise 1) ….
    Premise 2) ….
    Premise 3) ….
    Conclusion) ….

    After representing the argument in this structured format, I have found that I am more readily able to address the problems associated with the argument by directly referring to the premises outlined. So my question to you is: Is it acceptable to write the argument essay in this manner? Or would including the premise and conclusion form of the argument be interpreted and, consequently, graded in a negative fashion? Thank you in advance for your time and insight!

  27. Danie May 19, 2015 at 11:54 pm #

    Hi, i took my gre few days ago and got a decent score in verbal (thanks to magoosh word list 🙂 ) and quantitative. My awa would be posted to me in a few days.Pls I want to know what plagiarism is in the Gre awa. As i used sentences from certain books in my introduction and conclusion of my Argument task.

    • Meredith September 15, 2017 at 10:01 am #

      Hi Danie, I am honestly in the same situation as you once were. Did your writing score come out okay? Thanks!

  28. Mike April 24, 2015 at 7:59 pm #

    Hi, Chris
    Where is Part II ? I fail to find the second post…. Can you tell me the link?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 27, 2015 at 5:29 pm #

      Hi Mike,

      There never was a second post, but I really do want to write it. I’ll put it on my things to do for the May. Sorry for any confusion — we’ll go ahead and change the title for now as not to mislead any!

      • Emanuel May 16, 2015 at 9:07 pm #

        Nice blog post! I would update the bottom to make it more clear that the second post hasn’t been written yet. I spent a bit of time looking for it before I found this comment.

        • Rita Neumann
          Rita Kreig May 18, 2015 at 3:38 pm #

          Hi Emanuel,

          Thanks for bringing this to my attention! You’re definitely right that I need to make this more clear. I added a (coming soon!) note to the post, and will update when Part II goes live. 🙂

          Thanks again! Hope you have a great week.


  29. Elena Cvetkovska April 7, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

    Hi Chris. I have a question regarding the length. You already said in one of the previous comments that 500 is a good length and I agree. But I have copy and pasted the official ETS issue essays in word processor, they come up at whooping 700, even 800 words. The argument task was also more than 600 words. Is this realistic? I mean it is just too much, even if you type super fast you would really have to come up with half baked excuses for a sentence .

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 7, 2015 at 4:02 pm #

      Thanks Elena for doing all the heavy lifting!

      Are you sure those essays are for the newest version of the GRE (in which you only get 30 minutes). 800 words is a pretty insane amount of typing. Making coherent sentences would be–as you noted–a challenge.

      The thing is some of those ‘6’ essays are very, very good and might still have gotten a ‘6’ even if they had 100 words fewer. It’s hard to say. I’d recommend students focus on quality of prose and ideas and then, if possible, to speed up the writing process.

      Thanks for bringing this to my attention 🙂

  30. priya November 27, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    Hey Chris,

    You mentioned in one of your replies above that we need to read a lot of practice essays. Where do we find them? We know there is a pool of questions on but…

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele December 4, 2014 at 11:44 am #

      Hi Priya,

      You know that there just aren’t that many practice essays out there. I have two books by Vibrant Publishers, but I wouldn’t recommend either of them. The essays aren’t necessarily representative of ‘6’, at least not all of them. Most of the samples are weak on analysis and are just rich with examples. And the book never tells you what makes for a good essay.

      I hope, too, one day write a bunch of a different essays of varying scores, and focus on how to improve essays. Of course, that will be some time off since it will be pretty time consuming.

      Sorry, I can’t give you any guidance. But study the essays on the site. That is your best bet :).

  31. Mariam November 18, 2014 at 12:34 am #

    Hi, Is there a word limit to either of the essays (Issue and Argumentative)? And if not, what is the ideal length according to you? Thanks.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele December 4, 2014 at 11:48 am #

      Hi Mariam,

      There isn’t a word limit, just because there are really only so many words a mortal can crank out in that time. I’d probably max out at around 700 myself–and that’s with numerous typos and subpar phrasing.

      A good length is about 500 words. That is pretty impressive alone. If you can create a coherent argument and use felicitous diction to boot you are on the right path.

      Hope that helps!

  32. Tushar October 3, 2014 at 12:56 am #

    Hi Chris,
    I have a question about the type of examples to be used in the essay. As I am from India and don’t know much about working of government, cultural values etc. of US, can I use my own examples of which grader may not be aware of.
    And can we use examples from good english movies instead of real life examples.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele December 4, 2014 at 11:51 am #

      Hi Tushar,

      Using examples from India is absolutely fine. The reader doesn’t have to know about those examples, as long as you explain the parts that are relevant to your argument, making sure to give at least some context, you should be fine.

      Movies are probably not the best to use as examples because they aren’t based on real life, and many of the essay prompts focus on reality. That isn’t too say you can’t write a solid essay using a movie examples, but it’d be a little tougher.

      Hope that helps!

  33. Zainab Ahmed September 13, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

    When I read all the sample essays written for the GRE, all I can think is that my writing skills are so elementary and no matter how many essays I’ll read, I will never learn to write like that. The second essay, for example, is so clearly written and the word choice is great. I can’t even think of any challenging words when I write my essays. What do I do?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele September 15, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

      Hi Zainab,

      Well, that is me writing at a really elevated style that just screams for a six. The point is that the essay won’t necessarily score a ‘6’ if it only sticks to one example without taking into consideration the prompt: how exactly does technology affect our brains, and in what ways are these changes mostly good, or depending on the essay, mostly bad.

      The GRE isn’t expecting that level of style, even for a six. It does expect to see some style, but it’s also looking for how you reason. Don’t just say, technology is bad, or even that it is good or bad, but mostly one or the other. When we try to use technology to supplant skills that are best done by humans (e.g. clinical diagnosis), then we can likely get in trouble. When we allow technology to intrude throughout our day, so that it impairs long term productivity… developing those ideas are what will help you get a high score. And notice no fancy words and syntax :).

      Reason well, use some sentence variety, and a few compelling examples to back up your point, and you can get a ‘5’.

      Hope that helps!

      • zainab September 15, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

        Okay, thanks so much for replying Chris. That really helped, knowing that I dont need to use fancy or challenging words to get a high score. I will try practicing writing as many essays as possible for better writing skills. You are a great tutor! 🙂

  34. Pari August 23, 2014 at 2:45 am #

    Hey Chris,

    I’ve my Gre exam in couple of weeks. All I feel is that I lack in mentioning appropriate examples in support to my context , rather say I dont really understand what kind of examples to mention in there. Can you please help me with this?.

    Thanks 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele August 25, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

      Hi Pari,

      Your examples should be specific. For example, don’t say “governments tend to be x, y, and z”. Choose, instead, a country and a political crisis. You shouldn’t summarize too much, because you are trying to analyze the prompt. Notice in the second example, the author talks about the medical technology, but sticks to the thesis by describing how that technology will help make us better. He also does not go in 100% on the issue (“That is not to say that technology has become a panacea, as it were, for the medical profession”).

      To come up with specific examples, you should read as many GRE practice essays as possible to see what the ‘5’ and ‘6’ essays use. Doing so will give you a better sense of what makes for good examples.

      Hope that helps!

  35. Daniel July 27, 2014 at 6:04 am #

    Hey Chris,

    I was wondering, do I need to give accurate facts for the Issue Essay? Can I butcher history a little bit to make a strong point to my argument? Because the graders spend only a few minutes on each essay. Thanks!


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 28, 2014 at 11:53 am #

      Hi Daniel,

      Since one of the graders is a computer, you can definitely butcher history. But if you say that Mongolians landed on the moon in the 12th century, the human grader, I imagine, is going to be somewhat perplexed. Saying that the Bay of Pigs happened in the late 60’s or that the British defeated the Portuguese armada to gain control of the New World isn’t too egregious and shouldn’t negatively impact your grade (history buffs: I know I just skewered a sacred cow or two, but the point historical accuracy doesn’t determine the analytical validity of the essay). Still, try to avoid a complete rewrite of history because the human grader might not be able to repress his/her shock to objectively grade your essay.

      Hope that helps 🙂

      • Deepika September 15, 2017 at 2:47 pm #

        Hi Chris, I read few comments on the blog posts and they are very helpful. You and your team have been doing great job. If you can add a function to vote or like your blogspot comments, it may help to read most helpful comments.( For me it was all helpful but still this one was more helpful)

  36. sky July 6, 2014 at 9:44 pm #

    Hey Chris,

    I am an ESL, grammar is a big issue for me. I was just wondering whether u have any good materials or way for me to improve my grammar. I tried to read some grammar books in Chinese, but it does not really help me. Thank u.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 9, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

      Hi Sky,

      There are some great grammar texts in English that aren’t that boring to read (though most are). I like Princeton Review’s Word Smart because it focuses on grammar as it relates to test prep. Learning the grammar in that book will help you become a better writer.

      For a more fundamental–and even more fun take on grammar–Magoosh offers an English program filled with videos on grammar (from basic to relatively advanced).

      Good luck!

  37. Sriram June 12, 2014 at 8:32 am #

    Hi Chris,
    I did put in my thoughts a couple of days back. Can you please comment?


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 12, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

      Hi Sriram,

      We can’t seem to find your comment :(. We went through the wordpress several times but were unable to find it. So sorry about that. Is there any way you could repost it, in part or in full :).

      • Sriram June 13, 2014 at 1:17 am #

        Essay1 is, at best, a perfunctory attempt to defend an argument. The issues addressed are in general,facile,bordering on the irrelevant. The author imputes the decline in “thinking” to excessive involvement in social media through cellphones and computers. This, in my view, is not a convincing argument and the premise on which the conclusions are drawn are fallacious. The essay seems to be, if anything, a slapdash effort and consequentially, deserves a poor rating.
        Essay2, on the other hand is quiet lucid, persuasive and intelligible, qualified though by a statement which is not accurate – X-rays, citied as an example needing human intervention is not strictly essential. Machine learning techniques – PCA, Naive Bayes, to name a few – can predict, with reasonable accuracy, outcomes by comparing pixels comprised in digital X-ray images. Nevertheless, this is a minor anomaly and should not obscure the efficacy of the argument presented. I fully endorse the author’s viewpoint that technology assists us to function better : leveraging data stores to query relevant information is but prudent use of technology and does not stultify the thought process. If anything, technology would expedite problem solving and as the author imputes, has salutary effects; quoting the medicinal field to buttress his argument is felicitous and apt. The author takes a balanced approach by qualifying his endorsement for technology, in that, he explicitly states technology should not be viewed as a panacea for the realm of medicine. The essay, although mostly complete, in my view point, should have elicited instances of imprudent use of technology – not necessarily related to medicine – for example, using electronic devices to perform elementary and trivial calculations which could not only prove counter-productive, but also make us excessively reliant on technology instead of our brain power. In conclusion, Essay2, overall is well structured, nicely presented and the author presents a good defence of his argument. It should be highly rated.

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele June 13, 2014 at 11:32 am #

          Hi Sriram,

          Thanks for the excellent feedback! Your comments on the first essay are spot on. Luckily, you are not going to hurt the first student’s feelings–I wrote the first essay, doing my best to mimic low quality essays that I’ve seen.

          On the second example, you’re right–the essay wouldn’t get docked points on knowing the latest in X-ray technology. I think you also bring up a good point, when you mention that the example could have brought up the overuse of technology. However, I don’t think that would necessarily belong in the medical example paragraph. A subsequent paragraph addressing some downsides may have made a more natural place.

          Thanks again for the insightful analysis 🙂

  38. Mireille June 10, 2014 at 8:48 am #

    I would probably give the first essay a 3… the reason being obvious — not at all insightful, not really having a broad approach of the issue at hand, moreover stylistically lacking, as well. Very simple sentences, basic English, no challenge for a reader who wants to “spend quality time”, to quote him / her. 😉 However, the author was able to come up with a concrete example (Facebook) and did make an honest effort to follow through with that idea.

    As for the second essay, the only reason I would probably give it a 5.5 is the fact that is completely and totally taking one path and one path only — obviously the person is more familiar with medical field and sticks with it, but perhaps before taking that path I would have probably added a few quick examples of how technology is positively impacting other fields, as well. Just to make things sound a bit more rounded. Medical is indeed an important aspect in our life, but not the only one. Even the conclusion, instead of reflecting the impact technology has in humanity, the author sums it all up with doctors only in mind, and it kind of makes me feel a bit less human, you know… since I’m not a doctor! LOL

    Other than that, anyone can see a bright and insightful person, who read of book or two, wrote that essay: he or she is not too shy to use a few challenging words here and there, the sentence structure varies (as it should be!) throughout the paragraphs, etc. Without a doubt a more informative sample than the first essay.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 12, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

      Very good! I think most people are blown away by the writing of the second essay and automatically award it a ‘6’. But it is too example-driven, in the sense that it does not connect the example to the broader issue, nor does it really follow the directions, “consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position”. At best, the essay only indirectly touches on this.

      So that’s the point of the follow up to this post. Essentially, I’ll take an essay that doesn’t have the rhetorical flourish of this essay, yet better follows the directions. It will get a ‘6’. This one is probably on it’s way to a ‘5’ (though the computer might give it a ‘6’), unless it connects the doctor example to the bigger picture and delves a little more deeply into the directions, something it could easily do in a follow-up paragraph.

      Look forward to your insights on the follow-up post 🙂

      • Mireille June 12, 2014 at 9:21 pm #

        …yes, indeed, I “felt” something is quite fishy with this author having his mind stuck on those doctors! He simply won’t let them go! LOL Well, then hopefully ETS will be as generous with me as I was with this guy! 😀

        I know it’s not relevant to the subject, but I just can’t help asking this… These…paragraphs / essays you are using as study materials in your posts…do you collect them from various sources or you actually…create them yourself as you need them?! I actually meant to ask you the question ever since you reassured me (a few posts back) that you were not masquerading as Solomon; that’s when it first occurred to me you might have actually typed the whole thing yourself, not just copied and pasted it from somewhere, as I was first tempted to assume). Then, when I saw these other two examples, I remembered about my unasked question. 🙂 Not a big deal, just pure curiosity, I guess. And yes, I did / do believe you not being Solomon — that really isn’t my dilemma here! 😀 It never was, actually. 🙂

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele June 13, 2014 at 11:37 am #

          Interesting question!

          In this case, I actually wrote both essays :). Both are examples of what not to do, but each of a totally different order. Indeed, the medical example could still be saved and be a perfect ‘6’ if it uses the subsequent paragraphs to broaden the scope and addresses the directions a bit better. As for the first example, it is severely lacking. (Not my best writing day :)).

          However, we have many other student essays on the site that we collected a year from students who wanted feedback (they gave us permission to use them for the blog :)).

          Otherwise, all the other content is hatched from Solomon’s mind (I mean my mind :)). Don’t worry I’ve never masqueraded as a student in the comments section :).

          • Mireille June 13, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

            … I can appreciate the kind of humor “not my best writing day!” 😀

            Thanks for taking the time to answer my question, although it was quite off-topic.

      • Mireille June 12, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

        (I felt something *was*) 🙂

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