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How to Write a Timed Persuasive GRE Essay Under Pressure


The Graduate Record Examination includes two writing tasks. In the first, students read a statement and offer their opinion on a presented issue. In the second, they read a short prompt, and evaluate its argument based on the evidence provided. Each time, students have to develop a detailed analytical essay in only 30 minutes and demonstrate advanced, polished and persuasive writing skills. The writing section of the test is challenging for many students because of the time limits and complexity of the prompts.

Practice In Advance

The essays produced during the exam differ from the papers most students practice as undergraduates. The writing is not based on independent research, and the 30-minute time limit doesn’t give students much time to reframe their ideas. To prepare themselves for writing and creating arguments under time constraints, students need to rehearse their strategies in advance of the real test. The Education Testing Service, the organization that administers the GRE, provides sample topics and responses to help students practice. The ETS recommends writing several practice essays and asking a peer or teacher to review them. It also offers scoring guides to help students understand what skills exam graders look for and how they evaluate the content.

Develop an Outline

Time management is important on the GRE writing section, and outlining an essay is one of the best ways to decide how much time your should spend on each part of your argument. Organize your thoughts carefully before you begin, and avoid rewriting and reorganizing your ideas on the fly. Insert examples and anecdotes into your outline to provide supporting evidence for your stance. The test administrators offer scratch paper to test takers, so you will have space to build your argument and jot down important thoughts.

Don't Second-Guess Yourself

There are no correct answers on the GRE writing section. Graders evaluate the degree of organization, language and critical thinking skills reflected in the essay. Some students waste time by changing their thesis or supporting arguments after they begin. This is a flawed strategy because the graders care more about how well students articulate and support their arguments than what stance they take. Instead of fretting over getting the answer "right," focus on enhancing the quality of your essays by providing additional examples and developing key evidence.

Save Time to Edit

Graders understand that some grammatical errors are inevitable on a timed essay, but you should still save a few minutes to edit your work. Glaring grammatical or spelling errors will hurt your score, so it’s smart to revise. A good tactic for catching typos is to read the essay sentence-by-sentence from the bottom up. Students who struggle with grammar and spelling should take a writing-intensive course to improve their score. If you’ve already completed your undergraduate studies but still struggle with your writing skills, consider enrolling in a GRE prep course.

About the Author

Nick Robinson is a writer, instructor and graduate student. Before deciding to pursue an advanced degree, he worked as a teacher and administrator at three different colleges and universities, and as an education coach for Inside Track. Most of Robinson's writing centers on education and travel.

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