Score Your GRE Essay

How do I score my GRE essay?

Plenty of students want to improve their GRE analytical writing skills, and the only real way to do so is writing, and writing a lot.

But there is a catch-22 here: how do you improve your writing if you aren’t a good writer? How can you identify places to improve if you don’t know what needs improvement? How can you identify an error if you commit the error? These are all valid concerns, but trust me, you just need to start writing.

But we won’t send you out to sea without a life vest. We now have an essay rubric that breaks down the four aspects of writing that count towards your score—Quality of Ideas, Organization, Writing Style, and Grammar & Usage.

If you don’t know what those are now, you will soon. Each column represents one aspect of writing and each row represents a level from 0 to 6. Each cell of the rubric describes a specific aspect of writing at a specific level.

Download the Magoosh Essay Rubric (you can also download the printable PDF by clicking the image below) and get started!

How to Use the GRE Essay Grading Rubric

After completing the essay, you’ll need to check the four aspects of your writing. Even better, ask a friend to look over the essay and provide you a score. Give each aspect of your essay a score ranging from zero to six.

Improve your GRE score with Magoosh.

Total all four scores and find the average. Now you have a sense of your writing score. Round scores up as follows: Round a score of 4.25 to 4.5 and a score of 3.75 to 4.

Of course evaluating your own writing will be hard if you don’t know what to look for, but this is a perfect time to improve and practice. Taking a break between writing your essay and evaluating it will help to give you a more objective eye. Also, reading the essay aloud will help you to hear errors.

If you are unsure about your style, grammar, and usage, plug your essay into the Hemingway App. This is not a perfect piece of software, but it’s better than nothing and will catch a lot of grammar and usage errors.

Quality of Ideas:

  • Are the ideas creative, compelling, and relevant?
  • Did you use an expected, typical example?
  • Did you talk about two sides of the issue or just one?
  • Were you attacking the major components of the argument or just the minor ones?
  • Were the reasons feasible, believable, and relevant to the topic?



  • Is there an introduction and conclusion?
  • Does the response flow from paragraph to paragraph?
  • Are there a lot of structure words to guide the reader, such as “for example,” “first,” or “further”?
  • Is it easy to find the main idea of a paragraph and determine what the specific details supporting that idea are?
  • Is it easy to understand the development of an idea and how it relates to the passage as a whole?


Writing Style:

  • Are there a mix of short sentences and long sentences?
  • Are there a variety of sentence structures—simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex?
  • Are the same words often repeated or are there a lot of synonyms and rephrasing?
  • Are the sentences easy to read?
  • Can the reader understand the ideas in a sentence?
  • Do readers have to re-read a sentence multiple times to understand it?


Grammar and Usage:

  • Are there misspelled words?
  • Are the lists and comparisons parallel in structure?
  • Are there any subject-verb agreement errors or pronoun-antecedent errors?
  • Are there any run-on sentences or sentence fragments?
  • Are commas, dashes, and semi-colons used correctly?
  • Are there any modification problems—dangling modifiers or ambiguous ones?


Go to the Source

All the information that you see in our rubric is based on information published by ETS. If you need sample essays at different score levels or want to read more about the AWA and how it is graded, I highly recommend reading through An Introduction to the Analytical Writing Section of the GRE.

This is a long document and contains a lot of detail. If you want to see the different scoring level descriptions used to create our rubric, here they are:

I recommend taking the time to become familiar with the difference between a “3” essay and a “4” essay. To truly become a better self-grader, or to even become a better grader for someone else, you need to become more familiar with the particular grading requirements of ETS.



If you don’t know a lot of the phrases and questions above, you’ll have a lot of practice and learning to do. But better to do it now, then wait until you have to write a paper in your grad school class.

Most people fired from a job aren’t surprised. They know where they have slacked and why they lost their job. I am sure that you can read your writing and know that there are problems (or that everything is great). I hope the rubric gives you a little more traction for evaluating your writing so that you know what you need to work on to improve.


Note: Some students might wonder why the rubric is for the GRE and GMAT. Both test evaluate essays in the same way, so the rubric will work for either test. 🙂


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

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27 Responses to Score Your GRE Essay

  1. Sisir August 21, 2019 at 1:00 pm #

    Thanks for the rubric, Kevin! I think at my current level, I can manage a 5 on the GRE. Trying to push it further to maybe hit that 5.5 (hopefully 6) mark!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 22, 2019 at 8:14 am #

      Good luck, and keep up the hard work!

  2. Anna September 25, 2017 at 10:13 am #

    Tiny typo, where “their” should be “there:”

    “Writing Style:

    Are there a mix of short sentences and long sentences?
    Are their a variety of sentence structures—simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex?”

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 25, 2017 at 3:16 pm #

      AHHH! Thanks for letting me know. I’ve fixed it. 🙂

  3. Ishani June 9, 2017 at 9:12 am #


    Can you please share a website or link where I could find a pool of AWA topics to practice?


  4. praveen September 22, 2016 at 11:15 pm #

    Hi, kevin

    I need to know Is there any website where it can evaluate my essays on issue and argument tasks?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 24, 2016 at 9:03 pm #

      Hi Praveen,

      Yes, I would check out this blog post that will help you with this!

  5. mrinmoy September 25, 2015 at 6:03 am #

    i want to know that from where i can get lots of samples of Issue and Argument essay. And another thing that i’d like to ask that after finishing Magoosh GRE vocabulary flashcards apps from where i should continue to learn words. However, is reading Manhattan GRE books good for both verbal and quantitative section?

  6. Ksu March 24, 2015 at 6:26 am #

    Hello! Thank you for a very thorough explanation on GRE AWA scoring and tips!

    Just wanted to point out that the link to “An Introduction to the Analytical Writing Section of the GRE” doesn’t work properly; although can be found easily on ETS website 🙂

    • Kevin Rocci
      Kevin March 24, 2015 at 9:11 am #

      Glad to hear that the post helps! 😀

      And thank you for letting us know about that link not working. I changed the URL, so it should work now! 😀

  7. Shashi Yadav December 27, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    Dear Chris,
    Please could you tell me as to how can we get our essays graded.

  8. Cornelia September 1, 2014 at 4:18 am #

    Hi Kevin,

    I’d love to download the pdf, but the links don’t seem to be working…?



    • Kevin Rocci
      Kevin October 23, 2014 at 10:53 am #

      Hi Cornelia, Can you give it a try again? I just tried it and it worked for me. I am using a Chrome browser on a Mac. Let me know if you are still having trouble. 😀

      • Puskar Joshi May 14, 2015 at 1:42 am #

        Hi Kevin,

        I have consistently scored 4.0 in the AW section in the past three tests. I want to improve my score and would like to score between 4.5 to 5.0. To let you know haven’t got help from anyone beside Princeton’s GRE practice material or/and GRE AW instructions.

        Do you have any special program to assist me?


        • Kevin Rocci
          Kevin Rocci May 14, 2015 at 11:35 am #

          Hi Puskar,

          Congrats on your score of 4.0! That’s admirable and something to be proud of! 😀

          If you are looking to push your score to the 5.0 level, you’ll most likely need to work on creating more sophisticated responses and eliminating errors from your writing. You’ll need to do this with lots and lots of practice! 😀 I recommend that you work through the AWA prompts listed on the ETS website. Here are the links:

          You should spend time learning these prompts and writing essays for these prompts since they might appear on the test. Outline your ideas, work on examples, and practice writing balanced responses to each prompt. From there, you can use this post to evaluate your writing and look for ways to improve. 😀

          I hope this helps!

          Happy Studying!

  9. Viet August 13, 2014 at 4:34 am #

    Hi Kevin! Thanks for the great tips. Above, you mentioned the Hemmingway App. Do you recommend purchasing this product to help improve my writing for the AWA? The product is $6.99.

    • Kevin Rocci
      Kevin August 13, 2014 at 9:26 am #

      Hi Viet,

      I am glad you liked the post! 😀 You probably don’t need to purchase the app. You can use the web version to help you evaluate the writing. But if you think it is a great app and you really like it, you could purchase the desktop version to support the people who built it. 😀

      Happy Studying!

      • clare October 17, 2014 at 9:13 am #

        Hi Kevin,

        Thanks in advance for your help.

        Question: do we have to worry about the difference between the Issue Task questions that ask about “field of inquiry” vs “field of endeavor”? I’m unclear as to what the difference between these are, but I’m wondering whether I should even worry about what the differences are. I appreciate your input.


        • Kevin Rocci
          Kevin October 23, 2014 at 10:52 am #

          Hi Clare! Happy to help! 🙂 The difference between those terms are very small. I would not worry too much about the language. Both refer to similar activities—either asking questions or trying to reach a goal. Usually, though, asking the questions, inquiring, is meant to reach some goal. So the difference is slight, and ultimately, won’t affect the essay you write. 😀 I hope that helps.

  10. Jane June 19, 2014 at 6:10 pm #

    Hey Kevin,

    I took the GRE and met the requirements for the program at my school for verbal and quantitative, but I needed 4 on the writing and I only got a 3.5. I figured the writing part would be the easiest, so I barely prepared for it! The second time I took it I just focused on studying for the writing part. I went through and read the entire pool of questions on the ETS website and timed myself and practiced writing different essays. I was so upset when I got my score back and it was even worse than the first time, I got a 3! Now I’m freaking out. Any advice?

    • Kevin Rocci
      Kevin June 20, 2014 at 11:19 am #

      Hi Jane! Thanks for reading! 😀

      I am sorry to hear that you are still struggling with the writing section. That’s frustrating, especially if you went through the whole pool of essays! That’s a lot of work you put in. Without seeing your essay, I have to make some assumptions about why you are falling in the 3 range. Either you are not writing enough and not coming up with enough detail, or you are committing a lot stylistic and grammatical errors, or you are not organizing and completing your essay. Does any of this sound like your essays that you wrote on the test?

      I think the best thing to do would be to look at the sample essays that ETS provides and study the difference between a 3 essay and a 4, 5, and 6, essay. This will give you a sense of what you need to do in your own writing to boost your scores. Here are links to the sample essays from ETS:

      List of AWA Issue Sample Responses
      LIst of AWA Argument Sample Responses

      I hope that this helps! 😀 Happy studying!

  11. Abhinav May 25, 2014 at 12:18 am #

    Hi Kevin,

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I have a question: Does a major difference in the Issue grading and the Argument grading affect the overall score in any way? I find the Argument essay easier and easy to score a 4/5, the issue is not always easy and expecting a 2/3 on average. Is the overall score always the average of the two, irrespective of the score difference?

    • Kevin Rocci
      Kevin May 27, 2014 at 11:07 am #

      Happy to help! I am glad to hear that you enjoyed this post. 🙂

      According to ETS, your writing score is the average of the scores for your two essays. This is what they say: “The scores given for the two tasks are then averaged for a final reported score.” So two readers graders will read and grade each essay, and then the scores are averaged to give you a Writing Score. 🙂

      Does that make sense? Let me know if I can be more clear. 🙂

  12. Dan May 7, 2014 at 12:39 am #

    Thank you. I’d like to incorporate more writing into my daily GRE schedule. Any thoughts on how to do that constructively?

    • Kevin Rocci
      Kevin May 7, 2014 at 9:38 am #

      Hi Dan, happy to help! 🙂

      First, I definitely recommend working through the Issue and Argument Essay prompts on the ETS website. These are all the possible prompts that you will see on the test, so the more familiar you are with them, the more prepared you will be for the essay part of the test.


      With those in hand, the best way to practice is just start writing. The more timed writing you do, the better your essay will be and the more that you’ll be able to write on test day.

      I know that writing an entire essay everyday might be too much to take on, so I recommend simplifying it. I would suggest two times a week writing a complete argument and issue essay, but the rest of the time, shorten your time limit and only write part of the essay. For example, set a timer for 10 minutes and try to brainstorm and then write 2 strong body paragraphs of an issue essay. Or set a timer for 5 minutes and try to outline an essay and write the introduction. In this way, you become familiar with the different prompts and practice timed writing without committing to a full essay.

      Lastly, I recommend looking at some of our other articles on the AWA section. There are sample essays and other great tips and strategies that I am sure you will find useful. 🙂


      I hope that his helps! Let me know how it goes. 🙂

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