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Tips for Writing High-scoring GRE Essays

Following is a list of practical tips for writing GRE essays. These tips apply to both GRE Analytical Writing tasks: Analyze and Issue and Analyze an Argument.

  1. Don't be in a rush to start typing. Take at least 3 or 4 minutes to brainstorm ideas, jotting then down as they occur to you. Then prioritize your notes and decide on the most effective sequence in which to present your ideas.

  2. Support each of your major points. For every point you make in your essay, always provide at least one cogent reason and/or relevant example in support of that point. (This is the cardinal rule when it comes to the content of GRE essays.)

  3. Help the reader follow your train of thought. Organizing and presenting your ideas clearly and effectively is more important than the ideas themselves. So be sure to use logical paragraph breaks and appropriate transition words and phrases to reveal your essay's rhetorical structure and to help the reader follow the flow of your discussion.

  4. "Bookend" each essay if you have time. Though introductory and concluding paragraphs are entirely optional, by providing these "bookends" you can enhance your essay's cohesiveness and help show the reader that you've organized your ideas and your time well. If you decide to include them, be sure they're consistent with each other and with your main points.

  5. Don't get hung up on writing mechanics. By all means, pay attention to grammar, sentence construction, word usage, spelling and punctuation. But don't let these mechanics slow you down. Content and organization are far more important to GRE readers. Rest assured: As long as the readers clearly understand your ideas, they won't penalize you for the occasional "typo" or awkward sentence.

  6. Write in an appropriate voice and style. Avoid using slang or jargon, but also avoid using overly technical terminology. Do not use humor or puns to make your point. And do not make your point by resorting to a pithy (trite) or oft-quoted remark; instead, express your own ideas in your own words.

  7. Don't try to impress the readers with your vocabulary. There's nothing wrong with demonstrating a solid vocabulary. Just don't overdo it. Otherwise, the readers will suspect that you're using impressive words as a smokescreen for poor content.

  8. Reserve time for minor revisions and corrections. Try to reserve your final few minutes for reading your entire response, making minor revisions and corrections as you go. Fine-tune your transitions from one point to another and correct glaring mechanical errors. Don't try to rework entire paragraphs at this point, or you'll risk running out of time before completing your revision. Instead, focus on fixing smaller problems that might interfere with the reader's understanding of your ideas.

  9. Do not apologize for your essay. For example, do not explain to the reader that you ran out of time for a particular point of critique. And if you're running out of time, do not resort to listing your remaining ideas in shorthand, outline, or bullet-point form. It's best to leave those ideas on your scratch paper.