GRE Essay Writing Tasks: How to Use your Time

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Many graduate programs are interested in your analytical writing and critical thinking skills as they are key to experiencing success in both higher education and subsequent careers. The GRE’s Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) is the tool that is used to measure your ability to breakdown and understand complex arguments and produce a text explaining this in a coherent, well-styled manner. If you are not a talented writer or well-rounded with academic disciplines, there is no reason to stress out over the AWA. It is of critical importance to focus on the primary writing tasks of the GRE’s AWA. This section consists of two separately timed tasks:

  • a 30-minute "Analyze an Issue" task

  •  30-minute "Analyze an Argument" task

Seeing that you only have 30 minutes for each task, managing that given time in an optimal manner is essential to producing an essay that meets all requirements put forth by the AWA. Familiarizing yourself with the points that AWA readers are seeking out can help you hash out a well-structured plan that will ensure you include all important components in your text. To give a few examples, AWA readers are generally looking for vocabulary, proper use of complex grammar constructions, logical structure to arguments, and overall variety in sentence structure. Below we will outline the “RITE” system, which can be implemented when working on each 30 minute section of the AWA.

  • 2 minutes: Read
    Take the first two minutes to closely read the essay prompt and passage with the focus on what the prompt would like you to address in your essay. Going through this process first will increase your concentration while reducing anxiety as you will understand the task at hand. It is important to read the prompt at least twice to ensure you didn’t skim over anything and properly comprehended the small details. It is advantageous to breakdown the passage with the intention of isolating the supporting arguments and primary conclusion. After doing this, it is easier to identify their cause-and-effect relationships, which is necessary when preparing to write your essay.

  • 5 minutes: Ideate
    During the next five minutes, the “RITE” system wants you to brainstorm and hash out ideas for the essay. With the prompt fresh in your mind, the first step is to figure out your central theme and use a single sentence to summarize the whole argument. Once you have developed a thesis, it is time to clearly outline supporting arguments so that the structure can start to form. It is optimal to use a four-paragraph structure with an introduction to the thesis, supporting arguments displayed in the next two paragraphs, and finally the conclusion. Having a mental image of how the text should read and look will help you save precious time later on, which can be used on more critical content and style issues.

  • 20 minutes: Type
    Now that you have a mental picture of how your essay should read and look, it is time to get it down on paper. There are various ways to get started, but the most popular is to type out the first sentence of each paragraph giving you a summary of what should follow. Now you have a decision to either fill out the rest of the paragraphs in order from first to last or in order of difficulty. This is completely unique to each writer so go with what was most successful for you personally during your preparation. Be sure to keep a variety of grammar and sentence structures in the body of the essay. This is an important aspect, but don’t get bogged down trying to come up with a different way of writing a phrase or clause as this can quickly eat up remaining time. After the 20 minutes, you should be holding a draft which will serve as the base for the final 500-word product. As a general rule of thumb, you should have 4 approximately 125-word paragraphs (don’t waste time counting!) that can be edited and restyled to your liking. This may seem like a daunting task for a 20-minute time span, ample practice will yield more confidence, higher quality texts and efficient translation of thoughts to print.

  • 3 minutes: Edit
    Use the last 3 minutes to proofread and make any final edits. Try not to add new content or sentences to your essay at this point. We recommend reading through the essay twice to find any grammatical errors or spelling mistakes. You also want to focus on transition sentences to make sure the essay flows well and logically connects supporting arguments. Using language you are comfortable with will allow your essay to read better as utilizing vocabulary and structures that are too complex or that you do not fully understand can create confusion and push you away from attaining a high writing score. Keep things relevant, concise and readable.

You can attain a perfect score of 6 on the AWA through dedicated, structured practice. It is not necessary to be an inherently gifted writer in order to succeed on this writing task. Understanding the prompts and producing relevant content with logical structure and style will catch the eye of the reader. This is a very learnable skillset that can have a large impact on your applications to graduate programs. That 6.0 AWA is realistic for anyone who puts in the hard work and has the drive to crack the code to writing the essay they desire.

GRE Essay Writing Tasks: How to Use your Time


Effectively make use of the given time for the GRE Analytical Writing Assessment. Implement the below strategies to increase your chances of attaining high GRE AWA scores and improving your overall writing abilities.

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