writing a GRE essay


When you take the GRE, you’ll have to write two essays: an Issue essay and an Argument essay. In your GRE Argument essay, you’ll get to demonstrate how well you can understand, analyze, and evaluate an argument. Here are ten GRE Argument essay tips you should know.

Fact #1: It doesn’t matter who is right

ETS, the test makers of the GRE, aren’t interested in finding out whether you think the author is right. Instead, they’re looking to see how well you can critically assess the author’s reasoning and use of evidence. Don’t spend time making a moral claim; instead, devote your precious minutes to evaluating the evidence for the author’s claim—including what is stated outright, what is implied, what is assumed, and what may logically be concluded. In other words, how well can the author’s reasoning withstand your scrutiny? 

Fact #2: You’ll have just 30 minutes

Speaking of time on the GRE, this section asks you to do a lot in a limited window. So don’t do anything that’s not asked of you!

Fact #3: Graders will not pore over your essay

Your graders will spend even less time with your essay than you do—about two minutes. That means your essay structure should be immediately apparent. If they have to spend extra time unpacking your claims, or if they aren’t able to spend the needed time to unpack your claims, your score will be reduced accordingly.

Fact #4: Quality matters, but so does quantity

The essays that tend to get the highest grades have one feature in common: length! Write as much as you can—without being repetitive. Your Argument essay should include at least four indented paragraphs and consist of 350–600 words—ideally somewhere in the 500–600-word range. Quality is most important, but in order to achieve that, you’ll need to provide a solid line of reasoning and excellent examples—both of which require length.

Fact #5: The prompt will tell you everything you need to know

Make sure you read the prompt two or three times. You’ll want to make sure you truly understand it. Pay attention to what evidence is provided, what is stated in the prompt, and what is claimed by the author. A great way to identify fallacies is to determine what the author has assumed, and then try to explain why that assumption may be wrong. Here are four things to look for:

  • Lack of evidence to support an assumption: You’ll want to mention this dearth in your essay—and note the type of information that would strengthen the argument.
  • Non-specific language: Does the author make generalizations without providing specifics? You will want to point that out!
  • Jumping to conclusions: Most Argument prompts will jump to conclusions at least once. As you read each sentence in the prompt, look for the author’s reasoning. If you can’t find a clear line of argument, you should note that the author has jumped to conclusions.
  • Data values: Just because the author provides numbers doesn’t mean they’re necessarily objective or even true. Consider—and discuss within your essay—the reliability of any data, or data collection methods, that are presented in the prompt.

Fact #6: Structure will save you

After you read the prompt, brainstorm the logical fallacies you want to address. Then, choose your top three or four, and formulate a brief outline before you start your essay. There is nothing worse than having to stop writing your essay to come up with new ideas, so you’re going to want to follow a strict organizational format. Here’s a good general template to keep in mind:

  • Intro: This should consist of three or four sentences in which you provide an overview of all the fallacies you plan to address.
  • Fallacies: Each should get its own indented paragraph. You’ll want to discuss it in detail, and you may even opt to quote from the prompt in making your case.
  • Suggestions for improving the prompt argument: Time-permitting, you’ll ideally want to include a paragraph in which you detail how the author could make a stronger case.
  • Conclusion: As short as the introduction, this should summarize your body paragraphs (the fallacies and suggestions) and tie up any loose ends. Don’t skip this part! Even if you only have time for a single sentence, write one. An essay without a conclusion will almost certainly receive a lower score than one that is finished.

Fact #7: Clear writing is key

Keep in mind that this is not a creative writing essay. Make sure all of your statements are as direct as possible. Use varied sentence structure and relevant vocabulary. It’s more important to use precise terms than ornate ones—after all, the strength of your argument depends wholly on the language you use.

Fact #8: You’ll get one combined score for both essays

You’ll be scored on a scale from 0 to 6, in half-point increments—and that score will assess your performance on both essay tasks. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to compensate for a misstep, so go into your Argument essay with your strategy clearly mapped out.

Fact #9: You don’t have to be perfect to earn a perfect score

According to the score rubric, an essay that earns a score of 6 will contain an in-depth analysis, claims with compelling examples, strong organization, and sentence variety and well-chosen vocabulary, among other factors. But it need not be perfect! According to ETS, an essay with a score of 6 “may have minor errors that do not interfere with meaning.” Pursue the highest standards, but don’t let your pursuit of perfection get in the way of a quality—possibly even perfect-scoring—essay.

Fact #10: You can plan ahead

Practice makes perfect, especially for essays! Write at least three practice essays under testing conditions. (More is always better.) You can also sign up for a free practice GRE. You’ll want to get accustomed to writing under a time constraint. You should also create a template for your essays that you’ll be able to draw from on the actual GRE. Doing practice essays will help you learn how to organize a clear, thoughtful essay—and how to achieve that goal quickly!


For more information about how to reach your full score potential, check out our best-in-class GRE resources.