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Analytical Writing Measure Scoring
Score level descriptions for the analytical writing measure.
Although the GRE Analytical Writing measure contains two discrete analytical writing tasks, a single combined score is reported because it is more reliable than a score for either task alone. The reported score ranges from 0 to 6, in half-point increments.
The statements below describe, for each score level, the overall quality of analytical writing demonstrated across both the Issue and Argument tasks. The test assesses "analytical writing," so critical thinking skills (the ability to reason, assemble evidence to develop a position and communicate complex ideas) are assessed along with the writer's control of grammar and the mechanics of writing.
Scores 6 and 5.5
Sustains insightful, in-depth analysis of complex ideas; develops and supports main points with logically compelling reasons and/or highly persuasive examples; is well focused and well organized; skillfully uses sentence variety and precise vocabulary to convey meaning effectively; demonstrates superior facility with sentence structure and usage, but may have minor errors that do not interfere with meaning.
Scores 5 and 4.5
Provides generally thoughtful analysis of complex ideas; develops and supports main points with logically sound reasons and/or well-chosen examples; is generally focused and well organized; uses sentence variety and vocabulary to convey meaning clearly; demonstrates good control of sentence structure and usage, but may have minor errors that do not interfere with meaning.
Scores 4 and 3.5
Provides competent analysis of ideas in addressing specific task directions; develops and supports main points with relevant reasons and/or examples; is adequately organized; conveys meaning with acceptable clarity; demonstrates satisfactory control of sentence structure and usage, but may have some errors that affect clarity.
Scores 3 and 2.5
Displays some competence in analytical writing and addressing specific task directions, although the writing is flawed in at least one of the following ways: limited analysis or development; weak organization; weak control of sentence structure or usage, with errors that often result in vagueness or a lack of clarity.
Scores 2 and 1.5
Displays serious weaknesses in analytical writing. The writing is seriously flawed in at least one of the following ways: serious lack of analysis or development; unclear in addressing specific task directions; lack of organization; frequent problems in sentence structure or usage, with errors that obscure meaning.
Scores 1 and 0.5
Displays fundamental deficiencies in analytical writing. The writing is fundamentally flawed in at least one of the following ways: content that is extremely confusing or mostly irrelevant to the assigned tasks; little or no development; severe and pervasive errors that result in incoherence.
The examinee's analytical writing skills cannot be evaluated because the responses do not address any part of the assigned tasks, are merely attempts to copy the assignments, are in a foreign language or display only indecipherable text.
The examinee produced no text whatsoever
“Analyze an Issue” task scoring guide
Score 6 outstanding.
In addressing the specific task directions, a 6 response presents a cogent, well-articulated analysis of the issue and conveys meaning skillfully.
A typical response in this category:
- articulates a clear and insightful position on the issue in accordance with the assigned task
- develops the position fully with compelling reasons and/or persuasive examples
- sustains a well-focused, well-organized analysis, connecting ideas logically
- conveys ideas fluently and precisely, using effective vocabulary and sentence variety
- demonstrates superior facility with the conventions of standard written English (i.e., grammar, usage and mechanics), but may have minor errors
Score 5 Strong
In addressing the specific task directions, a 5 response presents a generally thoughtful, well-developed analysis of the issue and conveys meaning clearly.
- presents a clear and well-considered position on the issue in accordance with the assigned task
- develops the position with logically sound reasons and/or well-chosen examples
- is focused and generally well organized, connecting ideas appropriately
- conveys ideas clearly and well, using appropriate vocabulary and sentence variety
- demonstrates facility with the conventions of standard written English, but may have minor errors
Score 4 Adequate
In addressing the specific task directions, a 4 response presents a competent analysis of the issue and conveys meaning with acceptable clarity.
- presents a clear position on the issue in accordance with the assigned task
- develops the position with relevant reasons and/or examples
- is adequately focused and organized
- demonstrates sufficient control of language to express ideas with acceptable clarity
- generally demonstrates control of the conventions of standard written English, but may have some errors
Score 3 Limited
A 3 response demonstrates some competence in addressing the specific task directions, in analyzing the issue and in conveying meaning, but is obviously flawed.
A typical response in this category exhibits ONE OR MORE of the following characteristics:
- is vague or limited in addressing the specific task directions and in presenting or developing a position on the issue or both
- is weak in the use of relevant reasons or examples or relies largely on unsupported claims
- is limited in focus and/or organization
- has problems in language and sentence structure that result in a lack of clarity
- contains occasional major errors or frequent minor errors in grammar, usage or mechanics that can interfere with meaning
Score 2 Seriously Flawed
A 2 response largely disregards the specific task directions and/or demonstrates serious weaknesses in analytical writing.
- is unclear or seriously limited in addressing the specific task directions and in presenting or developing a position on the issue or both
- provides few, if any, relevant reasons or examples in support of its claims
- is poorly focused and/or poorly organized
- has serious problems in language and sentence structure that frequently interfere with meaning
- contains serious errors in grammar, usage or mechanics that frequently obscure meaning
Score 1 Fundamentally Deficient
A 1 response demonstrates fundamental deficiencies in analytical writing.
- provides little or no evidence of understanding the issue
- provides little or no evidence of the ability to develop an organized response (e.g., is disorganized and/or extremely brief)
- has severe problems in language and sentence structure that persistently interfere with meaning
- contains pervasive errors in grammar, usage or mechanics that result in incoherence
Off topic (i.e., provides no evidence of an attempt to address the assigned topic), is in a foreign language, merely copies the topic, consists of only keystroke characters or is illegible or nonverbal.
The essay response is blank.
“Analyze an Argument” task scoring guide
In addressing the specific task directions, a 6 response presents a cogent, well-articulated examination of the argument and conveys meaning skillfully.
- clearly identifies aspects of the argument relevant to the assigned task and examines them insightfully
- develops ideas cogently, organizes them logically and connects them with clear transitions
- provides compelling and thorough support for its main points
In addressing the specific task directions, a 5 response presents a generally thoughtful, well-developed examination of the argument and conveys meaning clearly.
- clearly identifies aspects of the argument relevant to the assigned task and examines them in a generally perceptive way
- develops ideas clearly, organizes them logically and connects them with appropriate transitions
- offers generally thoughtful and thorough support for its main points
In addressing the specific task directions, a 4 response presents a competent examination of the argument and conveys meaning with acceptable clarity.
- identifies and examines aspects of the argument relevant to the assigned task, but may also discuss some extraneous points
- develops and organizes ideas satisfactorily, but may not connect them with transitions
- supports its main points adequately, but may be uneven in its support
- demonstrates sufficient control of language to convey ideas with reasonable clarity
A 3 response demonstrates some competence in addressing the specific task directions, in examining the argument and in conveying meaning, but is obviously flawed.
- does not identify or examine most of the aspects of the argument relevant to the assigned task, although some relevant examination of the argument is present
- mainly discusses tangential or irrelevant matters, or reasons poorly
- is limited in the logical development and organization of ideas
- offers support of little relevance and value for its main points
- does not present an examination based on logical analysis, but may instead present the writer's own views on the subject
- does not follow the directions for the assigned task
- does not develop ideas, or is poorly organized and illogical
- provides little, if any, relevant or reasonable support for its main points
- provides little or no evidence of understanding the argument
- provides little evidence of the ability to develop an organized response (e.g., is disorganized and/or extremely brief)
Off topic (i.e., provides no evidence of an attempt to respond to the assigned topic), is in a foreign language, merely copies the topic, consists of only keystroke characters, or is illegible or nonverbal.
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Free Online GRE AWA Essay Grader
Automatic essay rating software for practice.
The GRE analytical writing is a small but important component of the test that troubles many international test takers. We’ve had several candidates asking us:
- “How can I rate my GRE AWA essay for practice?”
- “Can I download a free GRE essay e-rater?”
Well, there are a few paid options offered by some test prep companies. But not much out there that’s free and a close approximation of the real deal. So we created this free essay grader for GRE essays.
Conceptualized and developed by Sameer Kamat , the software uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) principles and our understanding of how AWA essays are evaluated. We know it’s far from perfect, since no automated essay grader can accurately do (yet) what the trained human brain can. And it’s definitely not the equivalent of a free ScoreItNow report, if that’s what you wanted.
But we hope it’s better than having no feedback at all on your practice AWA essays during the GRE preparation journey.
Grade my GRE Essay
There is no software to download. You can use our free online GRE essay immediately. All you need to do is:
- Type or paste your GRE essay in the box below. [Wait for the text box to load. If it’s taking too long, refresh the page.]
- Click on the ‘Check’ button
- Your essay grade along with the breakup across 3 dimensions (Structure, Readability and Coherence) will be displayed.
Here’s a brief introduction to the various sub-topics that our online essay evaluator covers:
Organization: This checks the attributes related to the building blocks of GRE essays i.e. attributes related to the words, sentences and paragraphs in the AWA essay.
Readability: This tests (using industry standard metrics) how easy it is for the reader to grasp what you have written. Try to maintain a balance between the over-simplistic and the hard-to-comprehend approach.
Coherence: This goes into the nuances of natural language processing and evaluates how you have connected the building blocks using the appropriate English language constructs.
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GRE Essay: Why Is the GRE Essay Section So Important?
By Jitta Raghavender Rao • GRE Writing
The GRE Essay section sounds a bit intimidating, right?
Well, a perfect score on the GRE Essay section would need knowledge of obscure vocabulary, impeccable writing skills, and torrents of practice. But hang on for a second; because the GRE essay is more than just a score . It holds a lot more importance than you think. No. I’m not talking about the importance of language or coherence or logic; but the importance of the first ever section that you are going to face on test day.
I want to address some common confusion about the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) portion of the GRE exam. The AWA section involves two essays, and you get 30 minutes for each essay. And if you finish writing your first essay in 20 minutes, you don’t get 40 minutes for the second essay. If you aren’t new to the GRE format, you’d probably know that the GRE begins with the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) or the GRE Essay section . But, many of you underestimate its importance. You probably think that the GRE essay section is not nearly as consequential as the other sections. Yes, the essays are not part of your total GRE score and are instead scored on a separate scale out of 6.0 in increment of 0.5. Agreed; from the admissions point of view, a difference of 0.5 – 1 point on the GRE Essay doesn’t make or break your chances of getting into your dream school. A 5.0 is almost as good as the 6.0, and unless you score below 4.0 and you are applying to the top schools, you won’t be hurting your chances.
The Big Mistake Most Students Make:
Almost half of the GRE test takers every year are Native English speakers. And these students tend to neglect practicing the AWA section at home, because according to them, it’s not worth investing time on something they are very confident about. But, there are a few vital points that they don’t realize.
We’ve observed what students do when they practice for the GRE, how their approaches have affected their scores on test day, and figured out four reasons as to why the AWA section is an extremely important aspect of the GRE exam.
Reasons Why Practicing GRE Essay is Important:
1. inflated scores during practice.
This is the single most important thing to consider when we talk about the importance of the essay section. Students normally tend to skip the essay section when they take practice tests , so they can directly go to the first section of Math/Verbal. Though this might seem like the obvious choice to you, you should consider the aftereffects before jumping into conclusions.
Think about it. The GRE is not a typical test that you encounter at college or elsewhere. It is a marathon. An intense, 3 hour 45 minute journey, which obviously you aren’t accustomed to. Now, if you skip the essay section during practice, you’ll be forfeiting 60 minutes of the total test time, which means you are going to have to sit for 2 hours and 45 minutes only. This translates into an inflated overall score during practice, because you are just that much more active than you will be on test day.
So, you get accustomed to sitting for 2 hours 45 minutes for the test, and your brain is hardwired to concentrate for that much time only. But, on test day, you still have two more sections to finish after you complete 2 hours and 45 minutes. Do you get the point? It’s that extra one hour of concentration that requires sudden attention from your brain, which it sadly isn’t ready for.
This is exactly why thousands of students score very low on their last two to three sections. They simply aren’t ready for the extra time, because their brains feel tired already. So, if you don’t skip the essay during practice, you’ll be writing in the exact test conditions as on test day, thereby training your brain for the big encounter.
2. The Essay Section is a Great Confidence Booster
Since the essay section is the first thing you will see on test day, it is what makes or breaks your confidence. If you ace this section, it will be a confidence booster for the rest of the exam. You will definitely carry the momentum further into the test. But at the same time, if you don’t do well on this section, the momentum won’t be on your side. The added pressure and the worry that you haven’t done well till then, will have a massive effect on your performance thereon.
3. Very Few Get a Perfect Essay Score
According to this ETS Report , only 1 percent of all students writing the GRE, score a perfect 6.0 on the AWA . Which is around 7000 of 700,000 students every year. This statistic alone shows how hard it is to get a perfect essay score. And universities love students who score well in all the sections. They look for students who don’t leave any stone unturned. And it definitely doesn’t make a good impression on you if you have a great GRE score, but a paltry AWA score. So, it goes without saying that you will need lots of practice if you plan to score anywhere close to the perfect figure.
GRE Essay Percentiles
4. sops and essays.
Universities know that most students seek help from consultancies and professional essay writers to help with their Essays and Statements of Purpose. They believe that approaching consultancies makes the entire point behind essays and SOPs moot. Universities know for a fact that if you take help from professional writers, your essays and SOPs don’t sound original, because they all use a basic template that they tweak a little here and there based on your profile, and then send them away. Generally, university admissions committees use your AWA scores to judge whether or not you actually wrote your essays and statements of purpose. If your score is 3.0, for example, but your essays sound brilliant, they would know that you haven’t sent the application on your own. This creates a very negative impression on you, which you don’t want to see happen. Now, it may be true that some admissions committees won’t care as much. But are you willing to take that risk? What if you’re applying to your dream school, that requires you to present every advantage you can? Scoring higher on the GRE but failing to score on the essays doesn’t seem very prudent.
So, make sure you practice thoroughly and score well on the AWA section, so that even if you take help from professional writers, your essays and your AWA score don’t disagree with each other.
All things considered, it’s really not worth taking the risk, and a poor or nonexistent AWA score will not look good to admissions committees.
Now Its Your Turn
So, these are the reasons why you should ditch the idea that GRE Essay section isn’t very important. Start practicing essays right from the beginning, get a perfect 6.0 score, and give yourself some ego boost!
That is what we think about the GRE Essay section. What do you think? Let us know your thoughts about the AWA section in the comments.
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3 Comments to “GRE Essay: Why Is the GRE Essay Section So Important?”
Thank you for sharing this article,this article is veru usefull for me like what is GRE and How Should we prepare For GRE,Why is it Important.Keep on Posting
Yeah, I totally agree with every single word in this article and I’ll start preparing for AWA section from now on!
Having just taken the GRE test, I agree that the essay should not be neglected. It is difficult to adequately prepare for it unless you understand how to construct your answer in format required.
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Gre prep online guides and tips, how is the gre essay scored.
Your GRE Writing score is a kind of cyborg measurement that averages together both human and machine ratings and melds them into an Analytical Writing score on a scale of 0-6. But how does a human grade the essay? Is the computer grader trustworthy?
In this article, we’ll explain the details of the GRE essay scoring process and the rubrics used by the human graders to derive your two essay scores.
Feature image credit: Seems Legit – panel 3 of 6 /used under CC BY-SA 4.0 /Cropped and resized from original.
GRE Writing Scores: A Roadmap
The GRE essay scoring process is a little complicated because it involves both human and computer graders . Each essay (analyze an issue and analyze an argument) is first graded by a trained human grader on a scale of 1-6. The scale used for essay scoring is holistic, which means you won’t automatically get points off after a certain number of errors. Instead, you’ll be graded on the overall quality of your essays.
Your essay is next sent through the e-rater , which is described on the GRE website as “a computerized program developed by ETS that is capable of identifying essay features related to writing proficiency.” The e-rater program likely grades essays on quantifiable metrics like level of vocabulary difficulty, sentence structure, length of essay (word count and number of paragraphs), and so on. Because it’s pretty difficult to write a program that can judge an essay based on content, it’s possible you could fool the e-rater with a long off-topic essay that uses high-level vocabulary.
But that’s where the human essay graders come in. If the human and computer graders “closely agree,” then the average of their two scores is the score you receive for that essay task. However, if the two scores do not “closely agree, ” then a second human is brought in to grade and the final score is the average of the two human-assigned scores . So if you tried to sneak an off-topic essay by the e-rater, it would be caught by the human grader and a second human grader would be brought in. Even if the human grader scored your essay way higher than the e-rater, you’d still end up with two human graders.
After both of your essays have been scored by e-rater and human grader(s), your overall GRE Writing score is then calculated. To get this number, your scores on the Issue and Argument task are averaged together to give you a final Analytical Writing score on a scale of 0-6 (with 0.5 increments). For instance, if you got a 4/6 on the Issues essay but a 5/6 on the Argument essay, your total GRE Analytical Writing score would be 4.5.
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GRE Essay Scoring: Issue Task
The Analyze an Issue task on GRE Writing asks test takers to read a statement about an issue, take a position, and develop and support that position with evidence and reasoning. For your essay to score highly, you’ll need a clear thesis statement presenting your point of view and multiple examples that back up your claims . How well you accomplish this task dictates how well you’ll do on the Issue essay.
Fortunately, ETS is very up front about what specific benchmarks Issue essays need to meet to reach each score level. Below, I’ve listed the descriptions for 6-, 4-, and 2-scoring Issue essays.
As the above table shows, the holistic GRE Writing score is arrived at by assessing an essay’s quality across many different dimensions: analysis, ideas, development, support, organization, vocabulary & sentence structure. The guiding principle that is used to differentiate between different score levels across all areas, however, is precision .
The more precise you are in formulating an opinion on the issue, in developing and supporting your thinking, in organizing your thinking, and in choosing your words to convey your thinking, the better GRE Writing score you’ll get.
GRE Essay Scoring: Argument Task
The GRE argumentative essay task requires test takers to read an argument and analyze it. The specifics of how this analysis should be done varies from task to task (read more about the eight different kinds of argumentative essay prompts in this article ), but basically you’ll have to evaluate the position or recommendation put forward and decide whether or not it’s reasonable .
Below are the different characteristics of essays scoring a 6, 4, or 2 on the Argument task . As you go through, you may notice some similarities between it and the rubric for the Issue task.
Again, as with the Issue task, the main dimension that separates different score points for the GRE Argument task is level of precision . Instead of being judged on precision in formulating an opinion on an issue, your essay will be judged on precision in analyzing and explaining your analysis of the given argument. Similar to the Issues essay, however, high-scoring Argument essays will still need to demonstrate precision in ideas, development, support, organization, and vocabulary.
How Are GRE Writing Scores Evaluated by Grad Schools?
Now that you understand how the GRE essay scoring works, the question becomes how much grad schools care about GRE Writing scores. The near-unanimous answer, based on the number of schools and programs I researched, seems to be a resounding “not much.”
If schools really want applicants to have specific test scores, they’ll list GRE Writing score cutoffs on their websites (more about what a good GRE Writing score is here ). For the most part, though, as long as you get a 4.0 or above, you’ll be fine, even for the most competitive programs. Find out more about how your GRE score plays into graduate school admissions here .
Want to learn more about how scoring works on the GRE? Try our complete guide to GRE scoring . If you took the old GRE, you can follow our instructions to learn how to convert your old GRE score to its equivalent new GRE score .
Hoping for more essay-specific scoring advice? We tell you how to get a perfect six on the Issue and Argument essays here .
Need some quick tips to boost your GRE Writing score? Then you should be sure to read our collection of the best strategies and tips to improve your score here .
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Author: Laura Staffaroni
Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel and fulfill their college and grad school dreams. View all posts by Laura Staffaroni
20+ PROVEN ways to boost your GRE essay score (backed by data!)
Looking for ways to improve your GRE analytical writing scores? In this post, we’ll teach you some simple GRE essay tips to give you an edge over the competition – backed by real graded essay data.
There are a lot of opinions out there on what makes a good GRE essay, but we wanted to know for sure. Studying for the GRE is stressful enough, and you deserve to know exactly how to ace every section. So, we paid several GRE instructors to hand score 1,000+ GRE essay examples and determined empirically, without a doubt, the keys to writing the perfect GRE essay.
Using these GRE analytical writing examples, we trained a machine learning model capable of accurately predicting your score and letting you know exactly how you can improve.
Here are the top 5 keys our model said have the biggest impact on getting a top analytical writing GRE score:
- Total word count
- Total noun count
- Prompt keyword usage
- Total adjectives count
In this article, we’ll outline the process we took to build the machine learning-backed essay grader and answer the question of how to write a great GRE essay once and for all.
The GRE analytical writing section
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Essay writing can be a difficult skill to master , and to ace the GRE you’ll need to write two: the argument essay and the issue essay. These essays test your critical thinking and analytical writing skills, your ability to communicate complex ideas, develop logical arguments, and maintain a focused discussion. Although the GRE issue essay and the GRE argument essay follow different GRE essay prompts, the criteria they’re graded on and the way to write these essays are basically the same.
With only 30 minutes to complete each essay, you need to be efficient. But what if you had analytical writing GRE tips that could basically guarantee a high essay score, because they were reverse-engineered using machine learning? It would make getting that perfect 6.0 GRE analytical writing score Achievable 😉
Each GRE analytical writing section consists of a topic of discussion and specific instructions on how to respond. In the allotted 30 minutes, GRE takers must be able to analyze the prompt, plan a relevant response, and write an organized and coherent issue essay or argument essay supported by evidence.
Needless to say, every second counts. To help set up Achievable’s GRE course customers for success, we’ve built a machine learning-based essay grading system trained on thousands of professionally graded GRE essays, using real GRE essay prompts. Let’s dig into how it works and how we learned the most important factors for getting that perfect 6.0 GRE essay score.
The Educational Testing Service (ETS), the creators of the GRE, provide some information on how to score a perfect 6.0 on the essay sections. They mention that writers should “articulate a clear and insightful position”, “develop the position fully”, give “compelling reasons and/or persuasive examples”, and “convey ideas fluently and precisely”. It’s great that ETS is trying to give students some direction on how to get a good GRE essay score, but none of these tips are quantifiable. How do you know if an argument position is “clear and insightful,” or if an example of an issue is persuasive?
We don’t like leaving things to chance or rule-of-thumbs, and in building our GRE essay grader we dug into the details to figure out what issue essay and argument essay characteristics are empirically, data-backed, and without a doubt, the keys to getting the best score on the GRE essay sections.
We hired professional GRE instructors from different firms to hand score our essays, and analyzed the results to determine the key features leading to a high GRE essay score. Using a variety of different technologies, we built a best-in-class GRE essay grading tool that can help take your GRE essay writing skills from a 0 to a 6. We want to share the details of our process so that you can feel confident in using the Achievable platform to pass your exam without breaking a sweat.
Let’s take a look under the hood.
The first step in building our GRE essay grader was to comb through every resource the ETS had on GRE analytical writing. Since our GRE essay grader is tailor made to help you score high on the GRE writing sections, the information provided by the creator of the test is by far the most valuable.
We poured through ETS GRE resources, looking for the characteristics that make up a great GRE essay. We did the boring work so you don’t have to, reading through every single line of their GRE issue essay examples, their GRE argument essay examples, and the result was a document almost twenty pages long detailing our findings.
We looked at everything from the obvious characteristics (also called traits or features ) like word count, to details like the number of adjectives used. Of course, at this point we were making intelligent guesses about what was important. The real judge of what to focus on when writing a GRE essay response would be our machine learning model.
Having twenty pages of notes was a great start but the next step would be the major challenge. We needed a reliable way of extracting these traits from a piece of English writing. Unfortunately for us, computers don’t understand English, which meant we needed to dive into the field of Natural Language Processing (NLP).
NLP is a subfield of linguistics, computer science, and artificial intelligence that is helping to bridge the gap between the language used by humans, and the way computers process information.
Luckily, we love to learn here at Achievable, and after a whole lot more research we were ready to build software that could take an essay and dissect it into a list of features. This process, called key entity extraction , was fundamental to building our GRE essay grader. Now that we could reliably process GRE essays and get our feature data out the other end, we were almost ready to train our model.
The last step before training was to prepare the extracted data. Machine learning is very good at one thing, and that’s discovering relationships between sets of data – otherwise it’s not as smart as you’d think. Outliers in the dataset can skew the results, especially when the outliers are very large or very small compared to the average. This meant that the data provided to the ML algorithm had to be pre-processed, or normalized .
Data normalization usually involves rescaling the data such that all values are between 0 and 1. Using the results of our previous analysis, we determined lists of trait values that could be used to normalize the data.
For example, most GRE issue essay templates and GRE argument essay templates follow the conventional essay writing advice of using a 5 paragraph essay structure. This GRE essay template format includes a thesis, 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Normalizing the paragraph count by 5 would create a trait that the ML algorithm could use to work its magic. If we provided more traits to the model, such as the paragraph count normalized by 3, and also by 10, the model could give us more information, and a high degree of confidence, whether 5 paragraphs is the way to go to get a high score. Following this approach, we normalized our dataset of GRE essays and provided hundreds of traits for the machine learning model to analyze.
With our key entity extraction software ready to go, and our sample GRE essay data normalized, we were ready to train a machine learning model using the thousands of hand scored, real-world GRE issue essay examples and GRE argument essay examples.
We built our machine learning model using TensorFlow, and in the training stage, passed huge amounts of data through neural networks resulting in a model that could reliably predict the score of a GRE essay. Using a variety of data science tools we generated charts to help describe the results. These charts help illustrate how each trait affects the predicted score of an GRE essay. We can see which traits have the most significant effect, and by how much, making it very clear how to write a GRE essay.
The chart shown below is called a beeswarm plot and it represents the combined results of the thousands of GRE essays graded by the machine learning model. Here’s how to read it:
- Each row in the plot corresponds to a specific feature
- The rows are ordered from top to bottom starting with the feature that had the biggest impact
- Each colored dot in the row represents a single instance of the feature, i.e. the value of the feature for a specific GRE essay
- The dots are colored according to the size of their value, where the lowest values are blue and the highest values are red
- The gray line down the middle is the zero-impact-line, with values falling to the right having a positive impact on the predicted result and the values falling to the left having a negative impact
Now with that explained, here is the beeswarm plot results from our GRE essay research:
For example, we can see from the plot that the total number of words used in the essay had the biggest impact on the score. Because the impact of a feature increases as the distance of the dots from the zero-impact-line increases, the blue dots extending far to the left indicate that low essay word counts have a large negative impact on score. On the other hand, the red dots tend to cluster slightly to the right of the zero-impact-line, indicating that writing a longer essay can help, but the impact is much smaller. The takeaway here is that you should avoid writing too short an essay, rather than trying to write a very long one.
The chart below is called a force plot and it gives a general idea of how each feature affects the machine learning model’s predicted result for a specific GRE essay.
- The base value (4.339) is the average predicted score across all graded GRE essay examples
- The actual prediction for this essay is shown at f(x) (5.00)
- Each feature has a positive contribution (red) or negative contribution (blue) to the final score
Examining the force plot quickly tells us about the rough impact of each feature and if any stand out. We can see that the weight distribution is fairly gradual, with no single feature having an extraordinary impact. The force plot gives us a good summary of a specific GRE essay scored feature results, but isn’t very actionable. Our next chart, the waterfall plot, gives us a much more detailed explanation.
The chart below is called a waterfall plot and it gives us a more detailed view of how each feature affects the predicted score for a specific GRE essay.
- The starting value E[f(x)] (4.339) is the average predicted score across all graded GRE essay samples
- The features are ordered from top to bottom by the magnitude of their impact, which can be either positive (red) or negative (blue)
- The final value f(x) (4.999) is the predicted score
For this GRE essay, we can see that a low spelling error rate, i.e. having a low number of spelling mistakes, had a significant positive impact on the score (+0.11). On the other hand, a low word count (-0.11) essentially neutralized the positive contribution of the low spelling error rate. Similarly, a good usage of nouns throughout the essay positively contributed (+0.07) to the score, while a low word count for the body paragraphs (-0.07) basically negated this impact.
Our top findings for what you can to do impact your GRE essay score, listed in priority order:
- Higher values for word count have a positive effect on the predicted score while low values have a significant negative effect.
- Low word counts were more significant in their negative effect on score, so rather than trying to write a long essay, focus on not writing one that is too short. In fact, we can see that high values also had a negative effect for some essays, likely when the essay was long but low in quality. In other words, a short essay will tend to bring down your score .
- A higher value for noun count contributes positively while low values contribute negatively.
- Since nouns identify a person, place or thing, an essay lacking in nouns would be unfocused and imprecise. It’s hard to score a 6.0 on a GRE essay if no one knows what you’re talking about! So, a low number of nouns contributes significantly to a lower score .
- Measuring the presence of keywords found in the GRE essay prompt throughout the essay it was clear that an absence of prompt keywords contributed to a lower score .
- This was especially true for the thesis paragraph, where the goal is to clearly specify your main position on the issue or argument topic. Using keywords from the GRE essay prompt guarantees that your response is focused on the given topic.
- For the adjectives count we saw only a minor and somewhat ambiguous negative contribution by low values while higher values strongly contributed to a higher score.
- A higher number of adjectives indicates a more descriptive essay. Since being descriptive helps to develop and clarify your response, be sure to use lots of adjectives alongside your nouns.
- Looking at the number of short, long, and very long sentences, and the ratios between these values, we found that long sentences (16 to 49 words) were the optimal choice for sentence length. We also saw that a higher proportion of short sentences to long sentences contributed to a lower score .
- This suggests that you should prefer more long sentences than short sentences in your writing . However, using solely long sentences can also lower your score, so be sure to include the odd short sentence to establish variety.
- A high spelling error rate contributed to a lower score.
- No surprises here, making spelling mistakes will bring your score down!
- Paragraphs with too few or too many sentences had a slight negative impact on the score.
- A GRE essay paragraph should strike a balance between accurately introducing and supporting a point, without rambling or going off topic. We found the sweet spot to be around 8 sentences per body paragraph and about 5 for the thesis and conclusion paragraphs.
- Thesis paragraphs under 100 words contributed to a lower score.
- The thesis paragraph should be long enough to describe the focus of your response and your main reasons for supporting it.
- Short sentences in the thesis paragraph showed a slight negative contribution.
- It is especially important that the thesis paragraph provides enough context to effectively introduce and focus the essay response.
- The GRE essay grader found a relationship between mentioning a person’s name in the thesis paragraph and a higher score.
- Whether you are repeating a name found in the GRE essay prompt, or trying to provide context, try to reference a person’s name in your thesis paragraph.
- Body paragraphs under 150 words contributed to a lower score.
- The body paragraph is the meat of your GRE essay and should be long enough to introduce a point, provide and analyze evidence, connect to the thesis statement, and transition to the next paragraph.
- Surprisingly, using quotations in body paragraphs contributed to a lower score.
- While quotations may help provide evidence in general essay writing, when writing a GRE essay, focus on concisely responding to the prompt.
- The use of exclamatory sentences (those ending with an exclamation mark) contributed to a lower score.
- Exclamation marks are generally not used in academic writing. WHY??!?! They just don’t feel that professional!!!
- If you need to emphasize a point make sure you do so with your language.
- A concise conclusion (about 100 words) contributed to a higher GRE essay score.
- A conclusion should wrap up your GRE essay, and not introduce more information. Make sure to focus the conclusion on summarizing the GRE essay topic, the essay’s main points, and making the connection to your thesis clear.
- Conclusions composed of fewer but longer sentences contributed to a higher score.
- Sentence variety doesn’t play a big role when it comes to the conclusion paragraph. Focus on using long sentences to summarize your main points and tie everything together.
The following is an example of a high scoring GRE essay submitted by an Achievable user. Our human GRE instructors, as well as our machine-learning GRE essay grading system, score this as a perfect 6.0.
Here is the GRE issue essay prompt:
And the corresponding GRE essay example:
The names of the greatest rulers, artists, and scientists is what is taught in most history classes. Little attention is given to the common people. Despite the fact that the most prolific and talented members of a society have a profound effect on their nations, it is the common people that truly embody the nation and it is them who keep it running. From the plumber, to the lawyer, to the homeless person; they all contribute their grain of salt to the identity and strength of the nation. The purpose of a nation is to create a just society in which every individual can enjoy the wealth and resources of the nation. A nation without a solid base will never be able to allow artists and scientists to create their most innovative and creative master pieces. Without the combined effort of all its people, there will be no Albert Einstein or Mozart, because there will be no resources to encourage these geniuses to develop their talents to their highest potential. The only way a nation can have a solid base is by guaranteeing the well-being of all its citizens. With happy citizens, nations have the solid foundation needed to produce the greatest achievements humanity can accomplish. Thus, the greatest of all nations are those in which the general well-being of its population is at its highest because happy citizens are more productive, more generous to each other, and more knowledgeable.
First, citizens living in a society that ensures their well being become much more productive than in a nation in which their well-being is not guaranteed. Dr. Friedman, in Berlin in the year 1975, conducted a controlled random experiment in which he tested the effects that well-being had in the production level of the subjects of the experiment. He created a control group and an experimental group, and assigned members to each group randomly. The experimental group was in a room that was very hot, whereas the control group was in a well ventilated room. Next, both groups were given simple tasks such as cutting squares out of circles and coloring an image. After 30 minutes had passes, Dr. Friedman evaluated who was able to complete most tasks in the 30 minute time window. He noticed that the experimental group completed only 80% of the tasks compared to the control group, which completed 100% of the tasks. As per Dr. Friedman: “the results of this experiment show how well-being has a negative effect on the productivity of individuals”. Less productive individuals are going to achieve less at work, meaning companies in general will be less productive and less competitive in the global market. In an increasingly competitive world, less productive companies will bring less resources to the nation, making it less likely to invest in the talent of its people.
Second, well-being is directly related to generosity. The more generous citizens of a nation are to each other, the more likely they are to help those in need around them. This, in turn, leads to a collective effort to lift each other up, making the nation more productive and wealthy. Thomas Frank and Imelda Seo developed a randomized experiment in which they tested the relationship between well-being and generosity. The study was conducted in Seoul in 1994 in a public university. The subjects of the test were randomly selected from different levels of the class in an effort to eliminate as many confounding variables as possible. The experimental group was told the very bad news that they had just failed their most recent test. After receiving this news, they were given a limited amount of chocolate and they were told to pick as much as they needed but to think that someone else will come after them and pick what is left from the chocolate. The person that will come later will not know how much chocolate was in the box originally. In contrast, the control group was told the same regarding taking as much chocolate as needed and to be mindful of the person coming behind them, but they were not given the initial bad news that they had failed their test. The results of the experiment show that the experimental group was 70% more likely to take all of the chocolate in the box than the control group. As per Imelda Ser: “this is indicative that when a person’s well-being is jeopardized, they are less likely to be generous.” This study shows how well-being can have a positive impact on the citizens of a nation, and this generosity can lead to citizens helping each other out more and creating a more cohesive and productive society and nation.
Third, citizens living in a nation in which their well-being is adequate are more knowledgeable. More knowledge can lead to greater discoveries. Great artists, scientists, and rulers all require proper education during their early years to achieve the success. If society as a whole is more educated, it is much more likely for a nation to be able to cultivate the talents of their next genius. For example, Amadeus Mozart was the son of a talented musical father that lived in Vienna, the classical music capital of the world at the time of this life. If Mozart would have been born in an empoverished family with no resources and no knowledge of music, who is to tell Austria would have produced such a notable musical expert. The father of Mozart lived a comfortable life that allowed him to develop his own talents, and later pass his new found knowledge to his son, who later took this knowledge to never before seen levels of musical prowess. To guarantee that the knowledge is passed on to the greatest individuals of a nation, it is necessary to ensure the general well-being of its citizens. Only then will a great nation be able to produce a Mozart, an Albert Einstein, or a Napoleon.
In conclusion, a nation can only be great if it can guarantee the well-being of all its citizenry. This is the only way a nation can ensure that the individual talents of certain prolific people can flourish. These individuals require a strong enough safety net that will allow them to pursue their dreams without having to worry about heating the house or finding the next meal. Also, citizens that are happy and living comfortable can produce more for the nation as a whole, and lift each other out of poverty, thus creating a great nation .
This GRE essay received a perfect score ( f(x) = 5.999 ) and the waterfall plot below describes what features had the biggest impact:
In this case, the feature with the biggest impact was the number of adjectives used . If you read the essay, you probably noticed how descriptive it was. The author provided plenty of detailed examples to support his thesis.
At 1,083 words, the GRE issue essay was a good length, and this helped boost the score.
The author added excellent context to the thesis paragraph by including the names of two prominent creatives: Albert Einstein and Mozart . These names were relevant to the response and supported the idea that when a nation guards the well-being of its citizens it fosters creativity and innovation.
Using plenty of nouns relevant to the prompt, the author was able to keep the essay focused and coherent. We can also see a good use of long sentences, giving the author the space needed to elaborate on and support the thesis. An overall low spelling error rate contributed positively to the score. Interestingly, we can see that the use of places in the body paragraphs (e.g. Berlin ) helped to boost the score.
The author received a minor penalty for the overuse of verbs in the thesis paragraph as well as a few spelling mistakes throughout the GRE essay. These negative contributions were ultimately insignificant compared to everything else that the author did right, clearly illustrating how focusing on the right characteristics can guarantee you a high scoring GRE essay.
The following is an example of a medium-scoring GRE essay submitted by an Achievable user. Our human GRE instructors, as well as our machine-learning GRE essay grading system, score this as a 3.5 with room for improvement.
Here is the GRE argument essay prompt:
And the corresponding essay:
More information is needed to accurately determine if the recommendation from the regional manager of Hamburger House should be followed. Information detailing the reason for changing to canola oil, the cost of canola oil, the effect canola oil has on the taste of french fries and other foods, if the public was made aware of the switch to canola oil, public’s perception of canola oil, if the customer reviews over the past two months were about the taste of the fries, any operating changes made at the company that could have affected sales, other factors that could have increased sales, Hamburger house expanding their locations and customer base, the effects on net profits are needed. Additional evidence is necessary to evaluate Hamburger House’s internal memo to franchises.
The reason for why Hamburger House switched to canola oil is the first piece of missing information needed. If canola oil was chosen because it is cheaper than vegetable oil, it would be a sensical choice to reduce costs and choose the cheaper oil. If canola oil were the more expensive option, there must be non-cost-related reasons that justify the switch. In either of the aforementioned scenarios, one must examine if the canola oil makes the fries and other foods taste the same, better, or worse. If canola oil makes all foods taste better and has a net positive effect on profits, franchises should follow the recommendation. If canola oil makes some but not all foods taste better, franchises should only use canola oil in foods that taste better and if there will be a net positive effect on profits.
The second piece of information needed to evaluate Hamburger House’s recommendation is the public’s perception of canola oil and vegetable oil and whether the public was made aware of Hamburger House’s switch to canola oil. If canola oil is perceived to be a healthier option or vegetable oil is perceived as an unhealthier option, it can be expected that the public would react positively to Hamburger House’s use of canola oil and increase foot traffic to its locations. However, if the public was not made aware of the switch in oils, information regarding the content of the positive reviews that Hamburger House has received in the past two months and if those positive reviews were all for locations that switched to canola oil are needed. If the reviews mentioned that the foods that contained canola oil tasted better, it would be reasonable for franchises to switch to canola oil to make their food taste better and, thereby, increase sales.
The third piece of information needed is whether Hamburger House expanded its locations and customer base in the past two months. An increase in french fry sales and average unique customers would naturally increase french fry sales.
The most important aspect as a business is the impact that canola oil has on earnings. It is necessary for a business to be financially profitable to survive. Therefore, if the switch to canola oil allows franchises of Hamburger House to be financially viable, franchises should make the switch if doing so if there is a positive effect compared to keeping vegetable oil.
This essay received a low score ( f(x) = 3.503 ) and the waterfall plot below describes what features had the biggest impact:
The feature with the biggest impact for this GRE essay was the total word count (-0.29). At 526 words, this example illustrates how dramatically a short GRE essay can affect the predicted score. In fact, we can see that the argument essay is penalized for low word count in various ways by other features, such as the body paragraph average word counts, total sentence counts, etc. Writing a longer argument essay is a straightforward way to guarantee a higher score and gives you more space to elaborate on and support the position from your GRE essay topic.
The second feature in the list measures the negative impact (-0.14) of the ratio of short to long sentences in the conclusion. In this case, the author used too many short sentences resulting in a lower score. The conclusion is meant to summarize the essay’s main points and tie them together with the thesis statement, a task that typically requires longer sentences. The conclusion of this argument essay could have been improved by using longer sentences to explain specifically how the thesis and supporting points are connected in addressing the issue laid out in the prompt.
The plot shows a high thesis noun count contributing to a lower score (-0.11). If we examine the thesis we can see the author uses an extremely long sentence that repeats many of the same nouns over and over again (e.g. canola oil). While using nouns is important to keep an essay focused on the topic, the nouns should be both relevant to the GRE essay topic and varied. Simply stuffing nouns into a paragraph will not have the desired effect. This thesis could have been improved by introducing fewer points while elaborating on how each point supports the thesis statement.
While the author did a few things right, it is clear that this GRE argument essay’s low score was majorly due to a low word count, weak use of nouns, poor sentence variety, and an overall lack of focus and specificity. Catching issues like these before the exam can help you improve your writing skills and boost your score by multiple points.
So if you want to improve your GRE analytical writing essay skills, what do you need to do?
- Make sure your essay is long enough to avoid being penalized for a short essay
- Ensure your essay is focused by using plenty of nouns that relate to the topic
- Write a descriptive essay by using lots of adjectives to describe your position, evidence, and ideas
- Read the prompt carefully, highlight keywords, and use these keywords throughout your essay, most importantly in your thesis paragraph
- Vary your sentence length, but in general favor the use of longer sentences
- Avoid making spelling mistakes
- Aim for 8 sentences per body paragraph and 5 sentences for thesis and conclusion paragraphs
- Keep your thesis and conclusion paragraphs concise but use at least 100 words
- Reference a person’s name in your thesis paragraph if it’s relevant
- Keep your body paragraphs above 150 words
- Avoid the use of exclamation marks and quotations
Our Achievable GRE course offers hundreds of GRE essay prompts and GRE essay topics for the GRE issue and argument essays, giving you the opportunity to practice your analytical writing skills until you are 100% confident in getting a top GRE essay score. Your work is automatically saved as you write and includes a timer to keep you on track.
Achievable’s proprietary GRE essay grading system uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze your GRE essay writing and provides instant feedback on exactly what you can do to boost your score. Backed by our vast amount of data from real-world GRE issue essay examples and GRE argument essay examples, we’ve created the smartest GRE essay grader that exists, included with your purchase of Achievable GRE .
Is the Analytical Writing Important in GRE Scoring?
Many students starting their GRE prep ask me, “Is the Analytical Writing important in GRE scoring?”
For a variety of reasons, GRE test-takers often have mistaken impressions about whether the Analytical Writing measure matters and how much it matters. So, in this article, we’ll bust some myths about GRE Analytical Writing and answer the most common questions about the AWA score.
Here are the topics we’ll cover:
What is the gre analytical writing measure, how does analytical writing affect gre scores, consider school ranking, beware the steep drop in the score percentiles, can i skip analytical writing on the gre, a little preparation goes a long way, key takeaways, what’s next.
To start, let’s review what exactly GRE Analytical Writing entails.
The Analytical Writing measure is the first section you’ll see on your GRE . This section contains two essay tasks, each of which you have 30 minutes to complete.
The Issue task asks you to analyze an issue. The essay prompt presents an opinion about a topic of general interest. You’ll have to craft an essay responding to that opinion, with your own reasoning and examples supporting your stance. Whether your response agrees or disagrees with the presented opinion does not affect your essay score. The point is to pick whatever position allows you to craft as logical, coherent, and convincing an essay as possible.
The Argument task asks you to analyze an argument. The argument will be a statement backed up with a justification or followed by a conclusion, either of which is most likely faulty or illogical in some way. Your job is to objectively evaluate the evidence provided in the argument, point out flaws and assumptions in the argument, and back up your analysis using logical reasoning, not your opinion.
Neither of the GRE essays requires you to have particular subject matter knowledge. All of the information you need to write an effective response will appear in the essay prompt, be common knowledge, or be things that you happen to know and can utilize in your essay.
You will write your essays using the basic word processing program provided by the GRE test platform. That program features common functions such as Cut , Paste , Delete , and Undo , but does not feature automated spelling or grammar check.
The Analytical Writing measure contains two essay tasks, each of which you have 30 minutes to complete.
Now that we know what to expect in the GRE Analytical Writing measure, let’s discuss how GRE essays are scored.
The Analytical Writing section is scored separately from the rest of your GRE. In fact, you won’t see your AWA score along with your other scores on test day, because a trained human reader will score your GRE essays, in addition to the computer. So, to allow time for a human to read your essays, you receive your AWA score once your official scores are posted to your ets.org account. The score you receive is on a 0-6 scale, in half-point increments.
The Analytical Writing section is scored separately from the rest of your GRE.
Now, when test-takers hear that the GRE Analytical Writing score is separate, generally one of the first questions they ask is, is GRE writing a part of the GRE overall score? The simple answer is no. Your GRE total score reflects your performance in the Quant and Verbal sections of the exam. Since you receive your total score immediately upon completion of your exam, before your essays have been scored, they have no effect on your overall GRE score. (You can get a detailed breakdown of how the GRE is scored here .)
Your total GRE score does not include Analytical Writing.
Because the Analytical Writing score is not factored into the total GRE score, and because test-takers don’t receive their AWA scores on test day, many GRE students assume that the essay score doesn’t really matter. However, depending on the graduate program to which you’re applying, your AWA score may be an important part of how admissions views your GRE scores. Let’s discuss.
Does the Writing Score Matter to Graduate Schools?
Test-takers often mistakenly assume that graduate schools don’t really care about the GRE essay score. The general thinking is that, since the AWA score is not part of the total GRE score, it doesn’t matter.
Furthermore, test-takers applying to programs in certain fields may assume that writing skills are unimportant for those programs. Or they may think that as long as their application essays are well-written, admissions will “already know” that they have writing skills.
It’s true that programs in some fields expect higher AWA scores than others. For instance, even top Engineering programs generally don’t expect AWA scores as high as those that a good Journalism or English program wants to see. That said, even more math-focused programs may look askance at a very low essay score.
So, this begs the question, what is a good Analytical Writing score for the GRE?
What Is a Good Analytical Writing Score on the GRE?
Analytical Writing is no different from the other GRE sections in that particular section scores matter more for some programs than for others.
Let’s take our earlier example of an Engineering vs. Journalism program. The graduate program in Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon, a top 5 Engineering school, reports that the average Writing score of admitted students is 4.0. NYU’s master’s in Journalism program, on the other hand, reports that its students have an average AWA score of 5.0.
Of course, this disparity is no surprise. Advanced writing skills are central to a student’s ability to perform at a high level in a Journalism program. That said, a 4.0 average is still pretty good for a “math-centric” program such as Engineering, right?
In other words, it’s a mistake to assume that, because a program is not centered on verbal or writing skills, any AWA score will do. Would you feel super confident applying to the Mechanical Engineering program at Carnegie Mellon with a 2.5 AWA? A 3.0?
The moral of the story is that it’s always best to research the GRE Analytical Writing score averages at the specific programs you’re interested in. Those averages will tell you how important AWA is for you. If your field of study is more verbal-focused, chances are the AWA score will matter more than if your field is more math-focused. However, even if you’re applying to math-focused programs, assuming that the Writing score doesn’t matter at all is a mistake.
Research the Analytical Writing score averages at the programs you’re interested in to determine how much the Writing section matters for admissions.
Highly ranked programs may require pretty impressive scores in every GRE section.
For instance, UC Berkeley’s graduate program in Psychology, ranked #1 by U.S. News , reports that the 2020 cohort of admitted students had the following average GRE scores:
It’s difficult to look at those averages and say that the program cares much more about one GRE section vs. another, or that any of the sections isn’t “important.”
Keep this example in mind when researching score averages at your desired programs, because in some cases, you may find data only on GRE Quant and Verbal scores, not AWA scores. In those cases, you’ll want to consider the program rankings. Are you looking at very highly ranked programs that will want to see fairly high scores in every GRE section?
Additionally, you can look for AWA score averages at similarly ranked programs, which will probably have score expectations similar to those of the programs you’re interested in. Furthermore, you can always reach out to admissions at your desired programs to try to get further insight into what kinds of GRE essay scores they look for from applicants.
If AWA score averages aren’t available for your desired programs, look at averages at similarly ranked programs and consider contacting admissions for further insight.
Let’s say you’re not applying to a top-ranked school. Or, you’ve determined that AWA is the least emphasized GRE section for admissions at your desired programs. Even in those cases, you should be aware that there are sharp drops in the percentile rankings associated with AWA scores below a certain point.
Let’s take a look at the latest AWA percentile rankings, per ETS , as of this writing. Note that ETS reports that the average AWA score among all GRE test-takers is 3.6.
Notice that the differences in percentile rankings among the upper scores are not that great. However, as we approach and fall below the average AWA score, the percentile rankings quickly plummet.
So, while the difference between scoring, say, 3.5 and 3.0 may not seem that significant to many test-takers, going from “around average” to a 13th percentile ranking may seem pretty darn significant to admissions.
Given the steep drops we see in percentile rankings associated with below-average AWA scores, I think it’s generally wise to aim for an AWA score of at least 3.5, even for math-focused programs. That way, you avoid those really low percentile rankings.
Remember, you don’t want to give admissions the impression that you didn’t care enough to even try on your GRE essays. And of course, the higher the AWA averages at your desired programs, the higher you should aim.
Generally speaking, test-takers should try to at least hit the worldwide average AWA score of 3.5, to avoid very low percentile rankings.
One very common question I hear from GRE students, particularly those applying to programs that emphasize Quant, is whether it’s OK to skip the Analytical Writing section of the GRE.
For most GRE test-takers, the answer to this question will be no. Most graduate schools want applicants submitting GRE scores to have taken the entire GRE, not just parts of it.
So, unless your desired programs explicitly state that they don’t consider GRE Writing scores, you definitely should not skip AWA. Furthermore, even if a program states on its website that AWA scores are not required or considered, it’s a smart idea to contact admissions directly to confirm that policy. You don’t want an avoidable slip-up such as skipping AWA to cause any problems with your application.
Do not skip the GRE Writing unless you have confirmed with admissions that AWA scores are not factored into admissions decisions.
All things considered, most GRE test-takers have to complete the Analytical Writing section. Furthermore, many (if not most) need to aim for an AWA score that is at least average or better than average.
Fortunately, preparing for Analytical Writing does not have to take a huge chunk out of your GRE prep time. When it comes to the GRE essays, a little preparation goes a long way — even more reason not to neglect AWA! Just taking a few days to do the following could mean the difference between a mediocre AWA score and a top-notch one:
- Review the kinds of prompts you could see on your exam .
- Solidify a basic outline to follow for each essay type.
- Practice writing an essay or two of each type.
At the end of the day, this relatively small investment of time and effort will be well worth it!
Take a few days to review the GRE essay topic pools that ETS publishes, solidify a basic outline to follow for each essay type, and practice writing an essay or two of each type.
- The Analytical Writing measure contains an Issue task and an Argument task, each of which you have 30 minutes to complete.
- Analytical Writing is scored on a 0-6 scale, in half-point increments.
- Your Analytical Writing score is not factored into your total GRE score.
- The average AWA score among all GRE test-takers is 3.6.
- Below-average AWA scores are associated with percentile rankings in the low teens and single digits.
- It’s a mistake to assume that, because a program is not centered on verbal or writing skills, a low AWA score will be acceptable.
- To set your AWA score goal, research the GRE Analytical Writing score averages at the specific programs you’re interested in, or similarly ranked programs. You’ll want to at least hit those averages or better.
- Unless your desired programs explicitly state that they don’t consider GRE Writing scores, do not skip the Writing section of your exam.
- AWA prep doesn’t have to eat up a huge chunk of your GRE prep time. A little goes a long way!
Wondering how much GRE scores matter in general for graduate school? Check out this article for guidance .
You also may be interested in this article about what graduate schools consider a good GRE score .
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About The Author
Marty Murray is the Chief Curriculum and Content Architect for Target Test Prep. A test prep veteran who has scored in the 99th percentile on multiple high stakes standardized tests, Marty is known worldwide for his understanding of effective test preparation. At Target Test Prep, Marty has helped thousands of people to achieve their score goals by creating insightful course content and challenging practice questions designed to help people learn just what they need to know to master tests such as the GRE.
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Score Your GRE Essay
How do i score my gre essay.
Plenty of students want to improve their GRE analytical writing skills, and the only real way to do so is writing, and writing a lot.
But there is a catch-22 here: how do you improve your writing if you aren’t a good writer? How can you identify places to improve if you don’t know what needs improvement? How can you identify an error if you commit the error? These are all valid concerns, but trust me, you just need to start writing.
But we won’t send you out to sea without a life vest. We now have an essay rubric that breaks down the four aspects of writing that count towards your score—Quality of Ideas, Organization, Writing Style, and Grammar & Usage.
If you don’t know what those are now, you will soon. Each column represents one aspect of writing and each row represents a level from 0 to 6. Each cell of the rubric describes a specific aspect of writing at a specific level.
How to Use the GRE Essay Grading Rubric
After completing the essay, you’ll need to check the four aspects of your writing. Even better, ask a friend to look over the essay and provide you a score. Give each aspect of your essay a score ranging from zero to six.
Total all four scores and find the average. Now you have a sense of your writing score. Round scores up as follows: Round a score of 4.25 to 4.5 and a score of 3.75 to 4.
Of course evaluating your own writing will be hard if you don’t know what to look for, but this is a perfect time to improve and practice. Taking a break between writing your essay and evaluating it will help to give you a more objective eye. Also, reading the essay aloud will help you to hear errors.
If you are unsure about your style, grammar, and usage, plug your essay into the Hemingway App . This is not a perfect piece of software, but it’s better than nothing and will catch a lot of grammar and usage errors.
Quality of Ideas:
- Are the ideas creative, compelling, and relevant?
- Did you use an expected, typical example?
- Did you talk about two sides of the issue or just one?
- Were you attacking the major components of the argument or just the minor ones?
- Were the reasons feasible, believable, and relevant to the topic?
- Is there an introduction and conclusion?
- Does the response flow from paragraph to paragraph?
- Are there a lot of structure words to guide the reader, such as “for example,” “first,” or “further”?
- Is it easy to find the main idea of a paragraph and determine what the specific details supporting that idea are?
- Is it easy to understand the development of an idea and how it relates to the passage as a whole?
- Are there a mix of short sentences and long sentences?
- Are there a variety of sentence structures—simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex?
- Are the same words often repeated or are there a lot of synonyms and rephrasing?
- Are the sentences easy to read?
- Can the reader understand the ideas in a sentence?
- Do readers have to re-read a sentence multiple times to understand it?
Grammar and Usage:
- Are there misspelled words?
- Are the lists and comparisons parallel in structure?
- Are there any subject-verb agreement errors or pronoun-antecedent errors?
- Are there any run-on sentences or sentence fragments?
- Are commas, dashes, and semi-colons used correctly?
- Are there any modification problems—dangling modifiers or ambiguous ones?
Go to the Source
All the information that you see in our rubric is based on information published by ETS. If you need sample essays at different score levels or want to read more about the AWA and how it is graded, I highly recommend reading through An Introduction to the Analytical Writing Section of the GRE .
This is a long document and contains a lot of detail. If you want to see the different scoring level descriptions used to create our rubric, here they are:
- Score Level Descriptions
- GRE Scoring Guide – Analyze an Issue
- GRE Scoring Guide – Analyze an Argument
I recommend taking the time to become familiar with the difference between a “3” essay and a “4” essay. To truly become a better self-grader, or to even become a better grader for someone else, you need to become more familiar with the particular grading requirements of ETS.
If you don’t know a lot of the phrases and questions above, you’ll have a lot of practice and learning to do. But better to do it now, then wait until you have to write a paper in your grad school class.
Most people fired from a job aren’t surprised. They know where they have slacked and why they lost their job. I am sure that you can read your writing and know that there are problems (or that everything is great). I hope the rubric gives you a little more traction for evaluating your writing so that you know what you need to work on to improve.
Note: Some students might wonder why the rubric is for the GRE and GMAT. Both test evaluate essays in the same way, so the rubric will work for either test. 🙂
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At UC Santa Cruz, Kevin Rocci began a decade of teaching and tutoring with the Stevenson College Junior Fellow and Writing Assistance programs . He has worked with adults and kids, tutoring the GRE, GMAT, and SAT at Kaplan and teaching English as a Second Language in the JET Programme and at the Intercultural Institute of California . At Magoosh, he expanded beyond teaching, building and managing teams, like Student Help and Content. When he's not Magooshing, you can find him spinning his toddler in circles. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter .
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How to Write a Great GRE Argument Essay
When you take the GRE , you’ll have to write two essays : an Issue essay and an Argument essay. In your GRE Argument essay, you’ll get to demonstrate how well you can understand, analyze, and evaluate an argument. Here are ten GRE Argument essay tips you should know.
Fact #1: It doesn’t matter who is right
Fact #2: you'll have just 30 minutes for the gre argument essay, fact #3: graders will not pore over your essay, fact #4: quality matters, but so does quantity, fact #5: the prompt will tell you everything you need to know.
Make sure you read the prompt two or three times. You’ll want to make sure you truly understand it. Pay attention to what evidence is provided, what is stated in the prompt, and what is claimed by the author. A great way to identify fallacies is to determine what the author has assumed, and then try to explain why that assumption may be wrong. Here are four things to look for:
- Lack of evidence to support an assumption : You’ll want to mention this dearth in your essay—and note the type of information that would strengthen the argument.
- Non-specific language : Does the author make generalizations without providing specifics? You will want to point that out!
- Jumping to conclusions : Most Argument prompts will jump to conclusions at least once. As you read each sentence in the prompt, look for the author’s reasoning. If you can’t find a clear line of argument, you should note that the author has jumped to conclusions.
- Data values : Just because the author provides numbers doesn’t mean they’re necessarily objective or even true. Consider—and discuss within your essay—the reliability of any data, or data collection methods, that are presented in the prompt.
Fact #6: Structure will save you
After you read the prompt, brainstorm the logical fallacies you want to address. Then, choose your top three or four, and formulate a brief outline before you start your essay. There is nothing worse than having to stop writing your essay to come up with new ideas, so you’re going to want to follow a strict organizational format. Here’s a good general template to keep in mind:
- Intro : This should consist of three or four sentences in which you provide an overview of all the fallacies you plan to address.
- Fallacies : Each should get its own indented paragraph. You’ll want to discuss it in detail, and you may even opt to quote from the prompt in making your case.
- Suggestions for improving the prompt argument : Time-permitting, you’ll ideally want to include a paragraph in which you detail how the author could make a stronger case.
- Conclusion : As short as the introduction, this should summarize your body paragraphs (the fallacies and suggestions) and tie up any loose ends. Don’t skip this part! Even if you only have time for a single sentence, write one. An essay without a conclusion will almost certainly receive a lower score than one that is finished.
Fact #7: Clear writing is key
Fact #8: you’ll get one combined score for both essays, fact #9: you don’t have to be perfect to earn a perfect score, fact #10: you can plan ahead.
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