How to Study for the Writing Section of the GRE

Writing sections of standardized tests are perhaps the most difficult to prepare for, only because you never know exactly what you are going to be asked. Granted, you don’t know specifically what math problems or English questions you’ll have to answer either, but at least you can study the basic concepts. When it comes to writing an essay, you can only prepare so much – but there are ways to prepare, and it all begins with getting an understanding of what type of writing test you are facing.

On the GRE, the writing section is formally referred to as the Analytical Writing section. As you could easily assume, this is because your writing tasks will be based solely on analysis. Exercise your mind to take on the reasoning behind issues, rather than simply describing or giving examples of them. You will not be writing any personal essays, making up any stories, or explaining historical events. This section is not about your knowledge of a subject; it’s about your ability to dissect a subject.

After you’ve digested those key points, the next step is to understand what form your prompts will take. Again, you will not know word for word what the prompts are, but here is what you will know: they will be arguments. You will face two prompts and have to write an essay for each one, but you will only see one at a time. Although they will both be arguments, you will be asked to do something slightly different with each one.

For one of the arguments, you will need to write an essay that demonstrates your stance on the issue. Don’t spend time worrying over which side you take in the argument, because that’s irrelevant. Your opinion cannot be graded as right or wrong – it’s the way you back up that opinion that determines your score. You must develop a well-organized essay that demonstrates your understanding of the points and factors of the argument that were given to you in a logical way. If you are referring to points that do no exist in the prompt, you will not do well on this essay. Similarly, if your reasoning simply does not make sense, you will lose points as well.

For the other argument, you will be asked to explain how well it is or is not supported. So, for this essay, you will not need to develop your own opinion on the argument. There will be one stance on the argument given and you will have to demonstrate what points in the statement do a good job supporting it, if any. Going along with that, you should also take this time to point out what reasoning was missing and how it could have helped the argument. Moreover, you can explain what questions are being left unanswered in this statement regarding the argument and why they need to be answered in order for the statement to be better supported.

Finally, you must be ready for the time limit. You will have only thirty minutes to complete each essay, so be prepared to begin writing within the first couple of minutes. You will not have sufficient time to create a detailed outline, so don’t waste time on it. Going through a few practice essays beforehand can be a good way to warm up your brain for this task – but make sure you are following the time limit, or else that preparation is pointless. If you overcome the pressures of the time constraint and master the recognition of reasoning behind issues, you will be armed and ready to tackle this section of the GRE.