The analytical writing portion of the Graduate Records Exam includes two tasks: Analyze an Argument and Analyze an Issue. You have 30 minutes in each task to outline and compose your response. Both involve testing your critical thinking and analytical writing skills, but each requires a different approach and set of skills. Together they make up your composite writing score, assessing the content, organization, language and mechanics of each response. A perfect score on this section -- a 6 -- can greatly improve your odds of getting into the graduate school of your choice.

Analyze an Issue

The issue task emphasizes critical thinking as well as the composition and development of a argument. You'll be presented with a statement or claim of general interest, then asked to take a position on and respond to it with ample support and evidence. You'll be assessed on how well you construct and express your thoughts as well as your ability to think critically about a topic that has no “right answer” and can be viewed from many perspectives. The topic will be chosen from a pool published by the Educational Testing Service and may be viewed on the ETS website for free. The topic is then followed by one of six similar sets of instructions. One question, for example, asks you to discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement, then to provide consequences and how they form your position.

Strategies for the Issue Task

This task asks you to take a side. Wavering makes your response appear weak and unclear. Focus not on finding the “right answer,” but rather on how well you construct whichever position you decide on. Evidence must be specific and relevant to be successfully persuasive. Keep your argument focused and rational, and avoid overly self-referential statements, such as “I believe” or “In my opinion.” Vocabulary is important, but don't use excessively sophisticated language if you are uncomfortable with it.

Analyze an Argument

The argument task is quite different from the issue task. Rather than asking you to compose your own argument, you are to critique another person’s argument by evaluating the presented information for logical reasoning and sufficient evidence. Your response should include both an assessment of the position and its claims and a discussion of whether it is a coherent and rational argument. These arguments are also drawn from a pool published by the ETS on their website.

Strategies for the Argument Task

You are not being asked to discuss either the accuracy of the statements or your opinion on them, as you were in the issue task. Instead, focus on the structure of the argument and its line of reasoning, paying attention to the logical processes of thought. Look for transition words like "in conclusion," "therefore," or "thus." Focus on what is being offered as evidence and be on the lookout for what might be assumed or supposed without support. Think about ways the argument could be strengthened, especially how the logic could be supported by more evidence rather than assumptions. Discuss what might make the argument stronger, and what further information would help present a coherent and rational argument. Again, vocabulary and grammar are a part of your score, but control of the language is more important; only use words you are comfortable with to compose a clear and focused response.