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What are the Different Types of GRE® Essay Topics?

By C. K. Lanz
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are two types of essay topics in the Graduate Record Examination (GRE®): one that asks the test taker to analyze an issue topic and one that asks him or her to analyze an argument topic. The analyze-an-issue topic provides a central issue and asks the test taker to think critically about it and then to express his or her thoughts. The analyze-an-argument section requires the writer to critique the logic of an argument. Anyone taking the GRE® will have to complete both separately timed writing tasks. This section of the GRE® will not be changed significantly when the revised test becomes standard on August 1, 2011.

One type of the two GRE® essay topics asks the writer to analyze and evaluate an argument. A short paragraph will present an argument for an interpretation of events that includes a claim and supporting evidence. The test taker must consider the structure and line of reasoning in this paragraph as well as the claim being made and the proof offered.

When analyzing an argument, the writer is not being asked to agree or disagree with the author of the paragraph or to express his or her views on the events presented. The test taker must evaluate the logic of the argument itself and show his or her critical thinking and analytical reading skills. It is important to read the instructions for the GRE® essay topics carefully because there are several possibilities. Failing to answer the question asked can result in a very low score.

Analyzing an issue is another of the possible GRE® essay topics. In this section, the writer will be asked to consider an issue of general interest and clearly express his or her opinion about it. The key is for the writer to build a compelling case in support of his or her own position. Considering the issue from multiple perspectives prior to writing is an effective strategy.

There is no one correct answer for the analyze-an-issue writing task. The score is based on how clearly and effectively the writer is able to develop an argument in support of his or her position. A high-scoring essay in this section will address the topic presented directly.

The GRE® essay topics measure the test taker’s critical thinking and analytical writing skills. In general, scoring is based on the ability to communicate complex ideas clearly, provide relevant supporting reasons and examples, and sustain a coherent and focused discussion. Critically examining claims and evidence and demonstrating a command of standard written English will improve a test taker’s score in this section.

Test takers will have 30 minutes per writing task in the GRE® essay topics section. Those taking the GRE® on a computer will use a word processor developed by the Educational Testing Service. This word processor can insert and delete text and has cut-and-paste and undo functions. There is no spell or grammar checker available. Those taking the paper-based test will write the essays by hand.

The GRE® is changing after August 1, 2011. New question types will be added to the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections. The writing section of the exam will not be altered in a significant way, but there will be only one topic per task rather than a choice of topics.

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