The GRE contains two essay questions in the Analytical Writing portion. For each question, you get 30 minutes to complete your response. Both tasks emphasize critical thinking skills and analytical reasoning above grammar and mechanics. The main differences between the two tasks include the type of question asked, the instruction set for each task and the skills tested. The issue task requires you to provide your opinion while the argument task asks you to evaluate the soundness of an argument.
The "Analyze an Issue" task focuses on critical thinking and reasoning skills. You must address the given topic by providing your opinion backed up with evidence to support your claim. Six potential sets of instructions come with the question on the Issue Task. One possible instruction set might ask you to write a response that discusses your level of agreement with a particular statement and provides possible scenarios that might strengthen or weaken the argument. Don't worry about the right answer since the essay graders only focus on how well you present your case and support your opinion.
Unlike the issue task, the "Analyze an Argument" task doesn't ask you to form an opinion or determine the accuracy of the statement. Instead, you must evaluate someone else's argument, focusing solely on the facts presented to determine whether the author used sound logical reasoning and evidence to support his claim. Possible instruction sets might ask you to discuss any supporting evidence required to evaluate the legitimacy of the argument. You also might get asked to discuss the type and order of questions you must answer to determine the truth of the statement without stating the accuracy of the statement.
The GRE coordinators post the pool of issue and analytical reasoning topics on the ETS website. They recommend that potential test takers consider reading and responding to each statement to get a better idea of what they will be asked to do. This helps prepare you for the test and prevents any potential surprises on the actual test date. The topics listed may vary slightly by wording or intent. For example, an issue topic listed on the test site might make a statement about technology and how the effects of technology decreases the abilities of humans to think independently. The actual test might change the wording so that the statement now assumes that technology increases the human ability to think creatively.
Grammar and Mechanics
The GRE doesn't emphasize grammar and mechanics on either the issue or argument task, though it helps to use correct grammar and mechanics when possible so graders can focus on the content of your essays. Scores range from 0 to 6 in half-point increments. Perfect scores include highly persuasive examples, focused and logical arguments and correct vocabulary usage with minor grammar and mechanics errors that don't impact your argument's meaning. The issue response must show a clear opinion and logical reasoning. The essay graders look for flaws in your response and take off points if you don't address crucial questions. The argument task grades you on your ability to analyze the effectiveness of an argument.
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