How to Write a Great GRE Argumentative Essay

If you plan to apply to graduate school, you might have to take the Graduate Record Examinations, or GRE. The exam requires you to write two timed essays: an "Analyze an Argument" essay and an "Analyze an Issue" essay. For each, you are allotted 30 minutes to plan, write and proofread a text in response to a prompt. To achieve your best score, read the prompt and instructions for each task carefully, plan before you write and take time to review your work before you submit it.

Read Carefully

The first step to writing a great GRE essay is to read the argument and instructions carefully. The two prompts offer very different instructions and guidelines, so be certain you understand what exactly is being asked of you. Read each prompt more than once, taking thoughtful notes as you read. The notes will help you gather ideas and shape your evaluations and arguments when you write. For example, the University of California at Irvine suggests that students identify and underline every part of the prompt they need to address in their essay. Reading carefully before you write allows you to avoid making careless mistakes that can lower your score.


An effective GRE essay is one that is planned out beforehand. The first step of planning is to take three to five minutes to brainstorm in response to the prompt. The University of California at Irvine tells students: "don’t write sentences; don’t censor yourself; don’t make it pretty." Brainstorming is about getting as many ideas on the page as possible without judgment. Only after you have completed this stage should you organize and prioritize your ideas. Planning the content before you write gives your essay more structure and can save you time in the long-run.

"Analyze An Argument"

Unlike a traditional argumentative essay, for this task you should not state whether you agree or disagree with the position presented. You should also not write about whether or not the argument is accurate. In the "Analyze an Argument" prompt, you are asked to identify holes in the argument presented. The Educational Testing Service, or ETS, suggests evaluating the argument's structure, line of reasoning and use of evidence. For example, you can write that the argument is mistakenly attributing a specific effect to a cause, or that the evidence provided doesn't directly support the argument.

"Analyze An Issue"

This prompt asks you to critically examine and express a clear position on a particular issue. This task is most parallel to a persuasive or argumentative essay. What matters isn't which position you take; it's how clearly you express your point of view and how well you support it with evidence and analysis. Start with a clear thesis statement, develop this statement through explanation and provide specific examples in each body paragraph to support your point.