Overview of the GRE Analytical Writing Measure

Watch this lesson to learn about what you'll see on the Analytical Writing Measure on the GRE revised General Test. It's always good to know what you're going up against!

Analytical Writing

'Analytical writing' sounds like it ought to have something to do with graphs and statistics, but actually, it's just GRE-speak for the essay section of the test. On the GRE, the Analytical Writing Measure tests your ability to clearly express your own ideas and understand how arguments are constructed. That's why it's called Analytical Writing and not just Writing: the focus is all on how well you can analyze texts and arguments.

On the Analytical Writing section, you'll have to complete two different writing tasks at the very beginning of the test, before you head into any of the other questions. Front-loading the essays like this can make the beginning of the test daunting because they take a lot of sustained concentration and focus in a way that the other questions don't. But look at the silver lining: you'll be done with the essays right away and ready to rest your typing fingers while you work on the multiple-choice!

You don't have to be an English major to do well on the Analytical Writing tasks, but it does help to know what you're getting into. So here's an overview.

The Two Tasks

On college entrance tests like the SAT and ACT, you only had to write one essay, but on the GRE, you'll write two:
  • One analyze an issue task where you make an argument about a given topic or issue. You'll get a short prompt giving you some information about a general-interest topic that anyone can form an opinion on; you won't have to know anything about the topic before you head into the test. Then you'll have to respond to a prompt about that topic. You're not being scored on how deep your knowledge of the topic is; you're being scored on how well you construct your argument and support it with reasons and evidence from the given text.
    For example, you might get a statement like - The rise of social media technology is disconnecting people from real life - and asked to write an essay agreeing or disagreeing with the prompt.
  • One analyze an argument task where you'll assess the structure of a given argument. You'll also get a passage to read on this task, but this time your job is to look at the argument rather than the content. You don't have to give your own opinion about the topic of the passage; you have to describe how the author's argument functions.
    For example, you might have to describe how the author uses details to support his or her main claim. You'll have just 30 minutes for each task, so you'll have to work quickly.

Scoring and Mechanics

Now, it's time for the nitty-gritty: how you'll write the essays and how you'll be scored. The best part about the GRE essays is that you get to write them on a computer. No more #2 pencils! No more worrying about handwriting!

The GRE word processor is pretty basic - it doesn't even have spellcheck - but it does let you cut and paste and undo, which is more than you get on a paper essay.

You'll be scored on each Analytical writing task based on a standardized scoring rubric. On both tasks, the graders are primarily looking for your ability to make an argument and support your position - typos and grammar errors won't seriously affect your score unless they're very intrusive.

You'll get a score for each task on a scale from 0 to 6 in half-point increments. Here's a look at the scoring rubric with some key words from the description to give you an idea of how 'good' each score is. After getting a score from a human, your essay will also be scored by a computer program called an e-rater. If the e-rater agrees with the human score, then the human score is your final score. If the e-rater disagrees, a second human will read your essay, and your score will be the average of the two human scores.

Lesson Summary

In this lesson, you got an overview of the Analytical Writing Measure on the GRE. This part of the test lasts for one hour and consists of two 30-minute writing tasks that you complete on a computer:

  • The analyze an issue task asks you to state, and support your position on a given topic of general interest.
  • The analyze an argument task asks you to break down the logical structure of a given argument

The essays are graded on a scale from 0-6, mostly on how well you construct your argument and support your position. You don't need extensive outside knowledge of the essay topics, and spelling and grammar aren't that important unless they interfere with understanding your essay. The best way to prepare is to practice actually writing some essays, but first check your strategy knowledge on the quiz questions.

Learning Outcomes

As you come to the end of the video, you'll be able to:

  • Understand the purpose of the analytical writing section of the GRE
  • Identify the two tasks you need to complete in the analytical writing section
  • Describe how the analytical writing section is scored
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