3 Ways to Get GRE Writing Practice

If you’re taking the GRE, the exam starts with the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), which consists of two parts: the Issue Task and the Argument Task. You have 30 minutes to write each essay. Unfortunately, that doesn’t give you much time to include all the thoughts you might have on the topics or to structure your words in the most effective manner. But there are ways to get GRE writing practice, like brainstorming outlines for your essay, writing full essays before the exam, and comparing your essays to provided examples.

Ultimately, practice is key to perform your best on the GRE essays. Let’s look at a few detailed writing tips…

GRE Writing Tip #1: Write full Issue task and Argument task essays

Potential essay topics that you could have on the day of your GRE are available on the ETS website, so technically there are no surprises if you do your homework! There is a pool of topics for the Issue Task and a pool of topics for the Argument Task. However, there are many, many topics in each pool. To start practicing, pick one topic from the Issue Topics pool and one from the Argument Topics pool, and write a timed essay for each of the tasks.

As you write each essay, use the 5-20-5 rule:

  • 5 minutes to brainstorm and outline

  • 20 minutes to write as much as you can

  • 5 minutes to edit and review your work

For the Issue Task, this means you take the first five minutes to decide whether you agree or disagree with the topic; then, write down two or three specific examples to support your opinion. For the Argument Task, use the first five minutes to identify two or three flawed assumptions the argument is based on and write down any information you would need to better assess the argument. Completing each of these practice essays within the 30-minute time limits will help build your stamina for GRE test day.

GRE Writing Tip #2: Compare your essays to official sample responses

Once you have written some Issue and Argument practice essays, see how your responses match up to the high scoring examples provided in official ETS materials. Do your essays contain a similar number of paragraphs? Are those paragraphs approximately the same length? Are your sentences structured in the same way? Have you displayed vocabulary variety in your writing? Have you incorporated specific examples to support your position in the Issue Task? Have you cited specific flaws to examine in the Argument Task?

Look at how the sample responses with scores of 5 and 6 are crafted, and try to emulate that style of writing in your own essay.

GRE Writing Tip #3: Practice brainstorming and outlining responses to the ETS pools of topics

As mentioned above, ETS provides a Pool of Issue Topics and a Pool of Argument Topics so students can practice for the AWA. In addition to writing full Issue and Argument essays on a regular basis, you can spend 10-minute chunks of your days developing brief responses to the tasks, one at a time. This will help you come up with answers to the topics more efficiently, and it will expose you to the wide range of topics quickly, rather than if you were to write a full essay for each one.

You will also discover that many of the Issue topics, as well as the Argument topics, follow certain, basic formats. For example, many Issue topics involve education proposals, government policies, or political leadership. Many Argument topics examine scientific studies, economic plans, or city development. As you work through more of them, you will become familiar with how to approach a certain type of Issue topic or Argument topic when it appears on your exam.

All in all, the best way to get GRE writing practice is to start writing GRE essays. Begin by scheduling an hour every other day to write one Issue essay and one Argument essay. Then, as you figure out your strengths and weaknesses on the AWA section of the GRE, adjust your study methods to improve your performance on the necessary areas. By writing regularly, evaluating your responses, and familiarizing yourself with the Issue and Argument topics, you will be on your way to maximizing your writing score on the GRE.

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