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GRE Test Prep: 4 Steps to a Much Stronger AWA Essay

GRE test prep


Read time: 5 minutes

The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) section of the GRE consists of two separately timed writing tasks. How does it work?

You’ll have 30 minutes to write two different essays: one will ask you to present your opinion on an issue, and the other will ask you to evaluate the strength of an argument.

Both these tasks test your critical thinking skills, and ability to articulate complex ideas with clarity and precision.

This means your writing must be coherent, persuasive, well structured, and carefully planned. But how do you get there?

Just like the techniques you rely on to break down and solve GRE Quant and Verbal questions, there are specific strategies you can use to improve your AWA essays.  Start with these 4 steps.

First Analyze Top Scoring AWA Essays

Before you begin digging into sample writing tasks yourself, take some time to understand what a top scoring AWA essay actually looks like.

Read through a few strong examples, and compare them to lower scoring responses. Get the lay of the land—and crucially, get a firm grasp on what the GRE essay graders are looking for.

Take note of how the essay paragraphs are structured, how the writer supports his/her view, and the overall formality of tone and vocabulary.

ETS (the makers of the GRE) provide several examples of AWA essays (ranging from high to low scores) on their website.

Browse sample essays and grader comments right here.

Always Start with an Outline

Because time is short for the AWA task, it is very tempting to simply dive right in, and start writing your response without mapping out an outline. Very few test-takers will succeed using this strategy!

Taking a few minutes to note down your plan has several benefits. First, an outline will help you think through your argument or stance on an issue, and develop examples to support your position.

If you go in “blind”, you could end up writing yourself into a trap, change your mind, and have no time left to correct your approach.

Second, the very act of preparing a quick outline should help to calm your nerves. You will have created a roadmap for yourself—something to refer to while building out your paragraphs.

While working on practice essay questions, always budget about 5 minutes for an outline. Engrain the habit during GRE test prep so you’re not tempted to skip this crucial step on exam day.

Practice Defending & Improving Your Arguments

In the AWA “issue” essay, you’ll need to clearly and persuasively defend your opinion on a social, cultural, or political issue. For the AWA “argument” task, you’ll need to evaluate the strength or weakness of an argument that is provided for you.

Either way, you’ll need to take a stance, and back it up with solid reasoning, facts, and examples. You must thoroughly explain and support your view to earn a high AWA score. The best way to practice?

Reading effective AWA sample essays will help a lot—but you will also need to practice formulating, evaluating, and defending your own arguments. Here are a few ways to get started.

1. Talk through “hot” topics with friends and family. Take a side and see how persuasively you can defend it. Always aim to develop at least three solid examples to support your views.

2. Listen to the other side of the issue, and see if you can poke holes in your friend’s defence or rationalization. Explain how those holes weaken the overall argument.

3. Practice putting your thoughts into writing. Tackle the sample “issue” and “argument” questions provided by ETS. Start by outlining your position and three main supporting points, and then develop those ideas into a five paragraph essay (introduction, three main supporting points, and a conclusion).

Click here to browse sample “issue” questions

Click here to browse sample “argument” prompts

Struggling? Get Professional GRE Test Prep Help

Writing effective essays is quite challenging for many test-takers, particularly those who pursued quant-focussed undergraduate degrees.

If you’re struggling with verbal concepts, learning English as a new language, or simply can’t nail down essay structure and argumentation by yourself, it’s time to consider a quality GRE course.

Whether you opt for individual tutoring or a group class, you’ll learn proven, step-by-step procedures for tackling both issue and argument essay tasks. These are no-fail strategies you can rely on to “decode” essay questions, and structure every aspect of your response.

Remember: You don’t need to be a brilliant wordsmith or talented writer to score well on the AWA section. You just need a targeted set of technical skills, which can be taught and mastered through practice.

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