9 Great Tips on GRE Essay Writing

This guide sets out our nine best tips on preparing for GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) general tests with a particular focus on analytical writing.

  1. Create your essays using POWERPREP Online

In the event your GRE test is computer-based, you can practice the test's essay components using a product called PowerPrep Online. This product offers two tests and has in-built essay writing capabilities. This is also the case with the product's preview feature. The program provides prompts, which you can answer and you can continue using the program's facilities to write as many essays as you wish.

Should it happen that you have difficulty getting PowerPrep installed on your computer or working, you can use any word processing program (e.g., GoogleDocs, OpenOffice, or MS Word) for essay practice. However, to make the essay-writing experience as realistic as possible, try and avoid using the features outlined below:

  • Grammar and spell-checking tools
  • Redo and copy functionality
  • Any shortcuts you might generally use (e.g., "select all," "undo," and "cut and paste" shortcuts).

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  1. Keep a close eye on the time and stay within the limits

GRE essay assignments are in part made difficult because of time constraints. If you do not set up your practice tests to reflect real-life test conditions - adhering to the same timeframes - your practice is not going to help you much in a real test environment.

In the event you find the time part of a GRE essay answer a struggle, it is worth trying to write whatever you can in a half-an-hour, checking how far you have got to when the time is up. You could then continue writing until your essay is finished and check how much time the remaining part took. This method is not as beneficial for practicing GRE writing as it is for, say, quantitative or verbal practice where you will not be required to write a specific amount or cover specific points or a specific set of points. Nevertheless, setting a marker when you reach the allowed time and then continuing to the end can help demonstrate what you are capable of accomplishing in an essay in a 30-minute timeframe versus what you believe a good essay should be like if you had sufficient time to work on it.

Generally speaking, however, you should try and adhere to a time limit of 30 minutes for reading through questions and answering them.

  1. Use official GRE rubrics for the purpose of grading your essay work

Be strict when it comes to identifying weaknesses in your essay. Compare what you have written to the standards in the official rubrics for a GRE essay, with special reference to the standards and grading for Issues and for Argument essays, and grade your practice work according to these standards. If you are unsure about something, it is best not to act favorably towards yourself because the GRE grader assessing your work will not.

It can help to refer to GRE sample essays at various stages in the writing process. These provide solid examples of the places set out in the GRE rubric for individual score levels (which will be covered in the next tip). In the event you still have any concerns that you are not sufficiently objective with regards to your written work, ask a friend or classmate to assist you with grading your essay in accordance with the provided rubrics.

  1. Use existing essay samples for comparison purposes when writing practice GRE essays

When you are selecting prompts for practice purposes, begin by selecting ones that the Educational Testing Service (ETS) provides samples on. These will enable you to compare your written responses to essays the ETS has already scored.

It is very important to understand the rubric used in GRE writing in order to do well in tests because this is what GRE graders will use for grading your essays. However, it is sometimes difficult to use the abstract rules of these rubrics to measure the quality of your essay. But it does become easier to understand how your effort stacks up when you try and compare what you have written to how other students have approached the same or a similar topic and what they have written.

At the present time there is an Issues assignment and an Argument assignment (just one of each) on the website of the ETS and each has a scored sample response, and these are freely available to the public. Additionally, in Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 of the GRE General Test Official Guide (2nd edition), you will find two more Issues tasks and two Argument tasks (four task prompts in total). If you want to view or attempt to answer these prompts, the guide may either be purchased or borrowed from a library that stocks it.

  1. Choose official essay prompts only

If you are looking for official prompts to use for practice, you will find 328 GRE prompts to choose from, of which 152 of these are Issues and 176 are Arguments. So, this leaves very little reason for using unofficial prompts.

One reason why you might choose non-GRE writing prompts could be if they are any of the six provided via ScoreItNow! These enable your writing to be scored by the software used by GRE exam scorers. Otherwise, it just is not worth your while using unofficial writing prompts to practice essay-writing.

  1. Do a mock analysis of your writing

As noted in the last tip, with such a great choice of GRE writing prompts, you are unlikely to run completely out of practice prompts (unless you spend a lot of hours (164 to be precise) practicing writing analytical essays. Consequently, you can practice writing essay outlines to supplement your existing practice.

When it comes to practicing creating outlines for Issue essays, it is recommended you identify three examples (at least) and some bullet points as a means of demonstrating how these support your various points. Do not just work on explaining each of your examples, but show too how each one relates to the particular issue and how and/or why it provides evidence to support your stance or position.

With regards to creating practice outlines for argument-type essays, it is recommended you provide, at minimum, three points for analysis and some bullet points as a way of explaining why each point is important. These analysis points might well be the claims or assumptions put forward in your argument, the evidence for evaluating your argument, or other viewpoints and explanations, etc.

  1. Allow sufficient time for reviewing and editing your essay work

As mentioned in tip number one of this guide, the word processing facilities in the GRE system do not include a spelling or grammar checker or an auto-correction feature. Hence, you are likely to make a few mistakes in the course of writing your GRE essay, particularly if you are trying to type quickly. A small number of minor mistakes are acceptable, but your essay will be hard to follow and understand if it contains an excessive amount of spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors. For example, some common (and acceptable errors) can include the odd misspelling such as "compliment" instead of "complement" or "plum" instead of "plumb," but provided these are minimal and your meaning is not distorted, you should get away with them. Just leave yourself enough time at the end to re-read your written work and for editing it to ensure mistakes are kept to a minimum.

Sometimes, an essay will need to be edited for greater clarity and not just for mechanical elements such as punctuation and spelling, but to additionally ensure your thoughts and ideas are well-organized in a manner that is sensible.

  1. Your GRE score for essay-writing does not need to be perfect

In the majority of graduate school applications, the score you get in a GRE is just a small component of the overall assessment. In most cases, a score of 4.5 or a bit higher is sufficient. Certainly, it is not necessary to worry unduly if you do not get a full 6.0. This is because a high score in writing will not hugely impact the chances of a college application being successful if it is the case the remainder of it is just average.

  1. Write full or part-length essays as practice for your test

The very first part or section of a GRE is comprised of the questions that deal with analytical type writing. Hence, you should be feeling very energetic and the adrenaline should be flowing from the effects of the test. Nevertheless, while this involves an hour of focused writing at the start, there are four to five additional sections to follow (with much dependent on whether you test has an experimental component). Hence, it is not a good idea to completely drain yourself of energy on the first part.

GRE preparation is also about learning how best to conserve one's stamina and focus. A good way to achieve this - one of the best in fact - is to practice taking these tests in as realistic a setting as possible. This advice goes hand-in-hand with tip numbers one, two, and five above since all of these are aimed at ensuring your test-taking practice is as realistic as it can be. It is only by practicing a GRE test in a realistic manner that will enable you to find and address things that might be problematic on the day of your test.

As well as the above nine tips on analytical writing for a GRE, you will find five useful strategies for dealing with the two types of essay-writing questions on BestWritingService.com website.


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