The GRE Issue Essay provides a brief quotation on an issue of general interest and asks you to evaluate the issue according to specific instructions. You must then support one side of the issue and develop an argument to support your side.
Yes, you will be making an argument in this essay, but don't confuse it with the GRE Argument Essay, in which you'll poke holes in another author's argument. Here, the focus is on supporting the issue. Think of it like this: In the GRE Issue Essay, you'll develop your own argument with respect to one side of an issue.
Or, as GRE testmaker Educational Testing Service (ETS) puts it, you'll be "required to evaluate the issue, consider its complexities, and develop an argument with reasons and examples to support your views.”
However you choose to look at it, one thing is certain: the better organized your essay, the clearer it will be to the grader, and the higher it will score.
How to structure the GRE Issue Essay
The GRE Issue Essay is similar in structure to the classic five-paragraph short essay. You may opt for four to six paragraphs, but the template we walk you through plans for the classic five.
Here's how to put it to use.
Although the grader will have access to the specific assignment you received, your essay should stand on its own, making clear the assignment you were given and your response to it.
Start with a sentence that clearly restates the issue you were assigned, followed by a sentence with your position on that assignment—your thesis. Next, introduce the specific reasons or examples you plan to provide in each of the next three paragraphs: one sentence for each of the forthcoming paragraphs.
It is key that you consider exactly what's being asked of you in the assignment, and make sure the language you use in your intro paragraph demonstrates that you understand the specific instructions for that assignment. For instance, if the task tells you to “address the most compelling reasons and/or examples that could be used to challenge your position,” you will need to show at least two strong reasons or examples that the opposing side could use—and then explain why those reasons or examples are incorrect.
Structure your first paragraph in this way, and you’re well on your way to effectively indicating that you understand the assignment, are organized, have considered the complexities of the issue, and can effectively use standard written English—all components of a strong essay that's destined for a great score.
Each of your body paragraphs should do three things:
- introduce one of your examples
- explain how that example relates to the topic
- show how the example fully supports your thesis
You should spend the majority of each body paragraph on the third step: showing how it fully supports your thesis.
When you take the GRE, you'll have to write two essays for the Analytical Writing section. All the topics are online right now at the Official GRE website. You should pick out a few and practice .
Let's say you're going to practice for the Issue Task essay. Which topics should you pick? Is it best to just select some at random? No, not when there are common themes and setups you can target.
In the official Intro to the Issue Task, you'll find the pool of Issue topics. Each topic consists of a brief statement of the issue you'll address as well as a set of writing instructions. In all, there are 6 possible sets of instructions and about 130 possible issue statements.
Whichever topic or instructions you get for the Issue Task, you'll need to write an argumentative essay. The issue will be one of "general interest," according to ETS, so no specific expertise will be required. Still, to give a clear and compelling defense of your position on the issue, you'll need specific examples. Coming up with examples on test day will be easier if you've already thought about the sorts of issues you're most likely to address.
So what are those issues? Take a look at this word cloud that's based on the roughly 130 issue statements. Larger words come up more often in the pool, and smaller words come up less often.
Some of the largest words reveal frequently used setups or structures for issue statements, rather than standard themes. For instance, "people," "believe," and "Others" get blown up because many of the statements (close to 15%) read like this:
Some people believe … Others believe …
Similarly, "Reason" and "Claim" get a boost from the many statements (here, too, about 15%) that have this structure:
Claim: … Reason: …
Leaving aside those setup words for a moment, you see the second largest word in the cloud is "students," and several smaller but readily readable words include "courses," "education," "college," and the like. These words are magnified because nearly a third of the issue statements are about Education. Here's a representative prompt:
Universities should require every student to take a variety of courses outside the student's field of study.
Ideas about what schools should make students do (and vice versa) come up in several of the education-themed prompts. So, it's probably an issue worth pondering during your prep.
Another word that's magnified is "society." About 15% of the issue statements use that term, and perhaps a third or more address a loose grouping of issues related to Society & Culture. Here's an example:
The best way for a society to prepare its young people for leadership in government, industry, or other fields is by instilling in them a sense of cooperation, not competition.
This statement includes another word you see a lot in the pool of topics—"government." About a quarter of the issue statements deal with Government, Law & Politics. Often, these sorts of statements talk about what governments, laws, and politicians should or shouldn't do, like in this example:
Government officials should rely on their own judgment rather than unquestioningly carry out the will of the people they serve.
These three broad themes—(1) Education, (2) Society & Culture, (3) Gov't, Law & Politics—encompass most (if not just about all) of the issues in the official pool. Consider picking out a statement that represents each theme and thinking about specific examples that support or oppose the statement.
Also consider practicing with a couple of statements that reflect the Claim-Reason and Some-Others issue setups. Although the issues addressed will vary, the Claim-Reason setup and writing instructions don't change, and the same goes for the Some-Others setup and instructions. There's a decent chance (about 30%) that you'll get one of those two setups . A little practice outlining an essay and coming up with transitions based on those setups won't take too much effort, yet it could have a big pay off on test day.