GRE AWA :
A Killer Guide to Analytical Writing Assessment

A good GRE AWA score lets colleges know that you are capable of critical thinking, of exceptionally good writing and logical reasoning.

In other words, it can really boost your profile.

But what does a good essay even look like? How are these essays graded? How many words are you expected to write in GRE Analytical Writing?

We’ve covered all this and more in today’s blog.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

What is AWA?

For those of you still in the early stages of your prep, here’s a very brief introduction to the GRE as well as the analytical writing section.

The GRE is made up of three different sections. The popular ones that everybody tends to know about right away are the Verbal and the Quant sections but apart from these, you also have what is called the analytical writing GRE section.

Now the analytical writing section is actually a one-hour section placed at the very beginning of your GRE exam and it involves writing or composing two different essays within that hour.

You have half an hour to compose one essay and another half hour to compose the other.

A lot of you may think that the GRE AWA section is not really the most important one because it doesn’t have the same weightage as verbal and math scores but that is not true.

In fact, the GRE Essay scores can actually be a great boost to your profile.

GRE Writing Score

Getting a really good GRE Analytical Writing score – anywhere from 4 to 6 –  can boost your profile.

It tells all of the colleges to which you apply that you are capable of critical thinking, of exceptionally good writing and logical reasoning.

This is a very heavy part of their academics and not just at the college level. This is something that is emphasized right from school.

As mentioned, this section assesses your critical thinking and analytical writing skills. It’s testing your ability to do the following things – 1) to articulate and support complex ideas so at the very least you need to be able to express these ideas in clear language 2)  you also need to be able to construct and evaluate arguments.

what does analytical writing mean?

Now these are two different things. One of the two tasks that you have in your GRE AWA section focuses on your ability to build an argument on your own to support a particular idea, the other task will provide an argument and ask you to analyze & evaluate the soundness of the logic of that argument. You need to be able to do both.

Its testing to measure you on both levels, of course. Last but not the least you need to be able to sustain a focused and coherent discussion. Now this discussion is going to be in the form of an essay but these are not the kinds of essays you may be used to writing in school so far or in college.

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These are going to be heavily analytical in nature and you need to be really focused. You need to have an idea of exactly what you’re going to say. It’s going to have to be structured, logical and competent.

We will look into how to write AWA general essays on the GRE so that this can be achieved. Now it’s important to know that just like the rest of the GRE – especially the verbal section – the analytical writing section will not try to test you on your knowledge of any particular content.

So don’t worry if you read a GRE analytical writing topic that’s about deer and the Arctic. If you have no idea about deer, if you have no idea about the Arctic or the Antarctic – that is not a problem. These questions are designed for you to be able to tackle them irrespective of your knowledge of these fields.

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The idea here is to test your skill, your ability to analyze not your subject knowledge. That being said those of you who do have subject knowledge – it’s also a good idea to leave that out of your analyses.

Leave it out of your essays simply because it’s not 100% reliable. Your memory may not be the perfect way to judge whether you know something or you don’t.  For all you know it may not be 100% related to exactly what they’re saying or it could even be outdated information.

Chapter 2

Evaluation Criteria for AWA

Alright, let’s go a little bit into the criteria involved in evaluating the essays. When they’re assessing the quality of your writing, the testers – the ones who score your GRE Analytical Writing samples (essays) –  will be taking into account four skills. One, the content of your essay. That is your ability to present a cogent, persuasive relevant essay – Relevant ideas and arguments with sound reasoning and supporting examples.

By that we mean that your reasoning is what’s most important. Your logic has to be in place. Whenever you make a claim, you have to support it with an example. Don’t just make an open statement saying “I disagree with the claim technology is very bad for us”.

You can’t stop right there. You have to elaborate on why you think technology is bad for you, why you feel that this is not efficient and further you need to support it with irrefutable logic.

Examples are great because they do both at the same time.  You don’t have to use very complex words in these essays to get a decent score. The important thing to note when it comes to vocabulary is that if you are under confident about any particular word, don’t use it.

GRE analytical writing essay evaluation criteria

 

The standard is any person who is an expert on the language in which you have written the general essay will be able to tell a mistake apart very easily. So even if you’re a little under confident don’t use it.

They are not looking for high vocabulary or complex words, they’re looking for logic, reasoning and clarity in expression. So use the words that you know very well and try to express ideas in the clearest possible way.

The next most important thing is organization. Not only do you need to have your reasoning and your examples in place, you need to organize your ideas in a way that builds on your previous ideas well, in a way that naturally takes the reader from point A to point B to Point C and to your conclusion.

By the time they reach the end they should be nodding their heads and saying “yes, I completely agree.” In order to do that you need to have a good structure in mind. Of course, next on the list is language. 

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Yes, you do have to be a little bit a little careful about your language because they are looking for some sense of fluency with language. Your word choice, your word usage, your sentence structures – these are things that you should get some confidence over before you attempt to write a GRE essay.

This is going to tell them how comfortable you are communicating clearly with the language that you’re going to have use for the next two or more years in their country.

That said if you don’t have a high vocabulary or complex word knowledge, it’s okay if you don’t use a lot of complex sentence structures. You can still get a decent score on the AWA if you’re not too confident.

Don’t unnecessarily make your sentences long-winded or complex because you think they’re expecting that. Grammar is also something they’re going to look at a little closely.

It’s okay if you make a handful of errors in one essay but the repeat errors of a particular type will really stand out. If you have a subject verb agreement problem in your first paragraph but they don’t see another one in the rest of the essay, it’s not going to be a real issue they’re not going to mark you down for that.

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If, however, you have subject verb agreement issues throughout your entire essay that’s going to show them that this is a serious grammatical issue in your language.

We recommend getting a little comfortable with some of the standards of written English. The best way to do this is to read a lot, get a lot of GRE analytical writing practice in. Do this using online tools that point out mistakes in your writing.

In fact even if you have the latest version of Microsoft Word, it’s going to underline and give you those suggestions for any grammatical or syntactic mistakes so just get some practice writing full sentences and seeing where you go wrong frequently.

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The real important things that they’re looking for here for you to focus on would be content and organization. So for those of you in your very early stages of prep we would advise you to focus first and foremost on these two. Without content without organization, there’s no use in your language and grammar being excellent because if the content is missing they can’t really give you a score for sounding good.

They need to give you a score for saying the things that are necessary to make this essay substantial. So first focus on understanding the issue or the argument at hand, analyzing it, writing a clear essay, structuring it in a way that makes logical sense and everything will come together. These are the heaviest and most important things for your AWA section.

Chapter 3

Why is it on the GRE?

Why is Analytical Writing GRE a thing?

It tells all of the colleges to which you apply that you are capable of critical thinking, of exceptionally good writing and logical reasoning. So much like the GRE verbal reasoning section, this also tests your ability to think and analyze texts but more importantly also your ability to express it  in words of your own.

This is a very very important skill and the reason this is being stressed is because those of you who aspire to write the GRE to get abroad for your masters courses will be expected to write a lot of assignments, to write papers, to work on research and to submit a lot of content throughout your academic career in the US.

Why is the Analytical writing section present in the GRE/

This is a very heavy part of their academics and not just at the college level. This is something that is emphasized right from school. So for those of you who are still uncomfortable with that you can think of the AWA section as something that prepares you to tackle all of this – to tackle the challenge that a higher education in a country like the US where English is their first language is going to bring for you.

Chapter 4

Time Allocated for the AWA

There are two types of tasks. One is called an ‘analyze an issue’ task and the other is ‘analyze an argument’ task. Together they combine to form the AWA section for each of which you have 30 minutes bringing it to a total of sixty minutes.

GRE Issue Essay:

GRE Issue Essay tests your ability to present your opinion on an issue and support the your argument. Don’t get confused with the GRE Argument Essay. Here you need to support one side of the issue and present it in 30 minutes.

GRE Argument Essay:

This type of essay tests your ability to criticise the author’s argument with proofs and presents his view with supporting evidences. Finally you need to give evidence to weaken the conclusion without disapproving the author’s conclusion.

These are actually the first 60 minutes of your four hour exam. So really build your stamina and come prepared. Be prepared, practice. This kind of thing doesn’t happen beautifully overnight.

Time allocated for GRE AWA section

Chapter 5

How are the Essays Scored?

They’re going to look at all of these aspects – the strength of your argument, the relevance of your examples, your grammar and finally combine all of that to get your score. It’s also important to remember that each essay is evaluated twice. Once by a human reader, the other is by a software called an ‘e-rater’.

This was developed by ETS – the people who made the GRE exam and it’s actually used to monitor the human reader. So the e-rater also gives an evaluation and a score and if the two scores agree with one another then the human score is final.

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If they disagree, then a second human score is obtained so there’s a chance that your essay may even be read a third time and that final score is an average of the two humans.

The e-rater score is never your final score, it’s just to test whether the human score sounds appropriate. They’re going through a lot of trouble to assess how good your essay is.

Now let’s talk about how the essays are scored. Each of these essays are scored in two different ways. One –  it’s evaluated by a trained human reader. There is going to be a real person reading your essays so make it as legible as possible.

Try to avoid grammatical mistakes, spelling errors. They can see it. They’re going to grade each of the essays and  give it a score out of six. The final score is going to be an average of these two scores.

They don’t give anything in decimal points, it’s always going to be a whole number and the final score may have the decimal point of five at best. That’s how you are scored. So your issue received a score of five and your argument a four, then your AWA score overall would be a 4.5.

How GRE analytical writing is scored?

Note that the scoring is holistic so what they’re looking for is overall quality. The essay as a whole should be quite good for you to receive a reasonably good score like a 4.

It’s okay if you’ve made a few grammatical mistakes, it’s okay if your content is not 100% perfect but say you do averagely well across all of these, then you can get a pretty decent score.

Now if the grammar is really really horrible but you have great content you still have some chances of scoring decently. Content has the highest value. That said, if it’s really hard for them to even get through one of your sentences, that’s not going to help either. So focus on covering all four of these areas – your content, your organization, your grammar and language.

What is Good GRE Writing score?

Even though GRE Analytical Writing has two different sections, the score you get is a combined which makes it more reliable. One of the important factors that determines your good GRE AWA score is the field of study you wanted to pursue.

Take a look at the table below to know the performance of each score range.

Score RangePerformance
5.5 - 6 Excellent
4.5 - 5.0 High
3.5 - 4.0 Average
0.0 - 3.0 Low

From the below ETS performance reports between 2014 and 2017, you can observe that most of the test takers were able to score above 3.5 in Analytical writing section but only 8 percent of the test-takers were able to score above 5.0, which means you need to practice a lot to score above 5 in GRE writing.

Score% of test-takers scoring below the selected score
6 99
5.5 98
5.0 92
4.5 82
4.0 59
3.5 41
3.0 17
2.5 7
2.0 2
1.5 1
1.0 1
0.5 1
0.0 1
Chapter 6

Time Management for the AWA

The next big question that comes to mind is “how do I manage my time?”.  You have 30 minutes each to write both essays. How do you break it up into chunks? How do you deal with each part of this task well? Here are a few GRE analytical writing tips we recommend.

As always, we suggest you spend the first couple of minutes reading your topic carefully and understanding the prompt.

The reason we say this dedicatedly is because a lot of learners personally tend to read the prompt very quickly and think “oh gosh I have to write an essay” and then rush and start writing. Don’t do this.

We’ve seen students make very big mistakes or errors in their judgment because they rush to try to write the actual essay. It’s important to understand the essay prompt and the argument first. You may even miss a really big key word and completely misunderstand what the prompt is about.

How to utilise 30 minutes for writing a good essay?

In fact  we’ve seen students miss key words which mean the exact opposite of what they’ve understood. Take your time to read carefully and spend these couple of minutes being really focused here.

The next two to four minutes is going to be spent on reading the prompt again. Those of you who don’t like reading again please get that out of your system for the entire GRE verbal AWA. Everything hinges on you reading carefully and reading maybe even multiple times to make sure you really understood what you’re reading.

This is where you begin to jot down your points and examples as they come to your mind. The moment you lay your eyes on any particular topic ideas will  come flooding into your mind. Now is the time you take to quickly note them down.

It’s okay if you use short forms, whatever you can do as quickly as possible. for those of you who are not comfortable with typing please get a lot of practice. The next 15 minutes is the most important. 15 minutes is smack in the middle so that you have enough time to really wrap it up. This is when you write a draft.

In addition, ETS has published the complete pool of GRE AWA topics which will ever appear on the Analytical Writing section of the test! If you have the time, we recommend checking out the list of topics so you’re not blindsided on test day.

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For those of you who are not accustomed to following the proper writing technique every piece of writing that you do has an all-important drafting stage. This means it is not the final piece.

Type up your draft, use the points and examples you came up with, jot things down, even put new things that hit you at this time but you have to do it within these 15 minutes because next you only have a few more minutes to really develop new points and clean things up.

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Now this is where the most important part of making an essay a finished product actually happens.

This is when you make your draft final. This is when you make it a complete piece of writing. You have to spend time re-arranging and re-organizing your ideas. You need to decide where you want to start talking about the most impactful thing, which is the best concluding note and move things around.

Make sure that there’s logical flow from point A to point B. So if this point B contradicts point A, there’s a space for you to use a transition. Maybe you’ve finished point A on a particular note. Before you start point B you might want to say “however it’s important for us to consider so on..”.

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This is the kind of thing that gives your essay flow. It makes the reader aware of your flow of thought, of your flow of reasoning.

Transitions are a huge part of organizing your essay and we strongly recommend taking a few minutes to get comfortable with these. The reason the last three minutes are especially important is because we really take it seriously as a part of the writing process. You’re not allowed to not do anything additional these last three minutes.

You must read your entire essay, check for mistakes and typos and see if you need to make any quick changes. At this time you make no additions or subtractions, just edit and make sure you clean it up.

GRE Writing Practice:

Start practising the essays and schedule an hour in a day to write one argument essay and one issue essay. While writing, make yourself and the reader clear on what side of the argument you are standing. Don’t let the reader assume it.

Take up the high score GRE essay samples and compare your essays with them. Go through the differences like number of paragraphs, sentence structure, vocabulary and strong evidences to support your argument. By following these GRE writing tips you can aim for 5+ in GRE analytical writing score.

Chapter 7

Summarizing the AWA

About word limits – it’s not the biggest and most important thing of concern here in the GRE analytical writing section. You have half an hour to write a substantial essay. We recommend writing an essay that’s anywhere between three and five paragraphs.

The reason we say this is because you need that much space at least to develop your ideas thoughtfully and substantially. Five paragraphs are good.

An absolute maximum would be seven paragraphs. Do not exceed seven paragraphs, that really means you’re talking a little bit too much and testing the readers ability to keep up with your thinking.

GRE analytical writing tips

Try to write at least 300 – 400 words or three to five paragraphs.

Practice is absolutely essential for the AWA. You cannot ace these AWA exams on your first try so practice. Try to type at least three to five of these essays.

This means at least three issue types and at least three argument types well before your actual GRE. Of course when you practice use a timer. Timing is all essential for organizational clarity.

Bonus GRE Resources

Structuring & Composing Your GRE AWA Essays!

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I'd like to hear from you

There you have it. Everything you need in order to get your GRE AWA practice started right.

Is writing essays something you enjoy? Or is there an aspect of this you’re nervous about?

Leave a comment below letting us know right away.

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