The GRE has three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA). For many students, the AWA is the hardest section. Here, you need to write your own essay, rather than simply answering multiple choice questions as you would on Quants and Verbal.
Your AWA will be graded on a qualitative scale. The better a writer you are, the more points you get. Whether you are a novice writer or an expert writer, you want to aim for the best writing quality possible on the GRE AWA. Below are some tips and tricks for doing just that.
Tip # 1: Read!
High scoring AWA essays are characterized by scholarly tone and sophisticated reasoning. To create writing like this on your own, it helps to read other pieces of writing that show GRE-level academic quality.
There are quite a few websites and publications that offer GRE-like reading. Here are several:
Tip # 2: Use GRE Verbal vocabulary in your AWA Essays
Keen observers may notice that the reading list above can double as reading practice for GRE Verbal prep. And there is another aspect of GRE Verbal practice that’s helpful for improving your AWA Essay: GRE Verbal vocabulary!
The vocabulary you learn for GRE Verbal can also be used in your AWA essays to improve your performance. Don’t worry– you don’t need to use the full range of vocabulary you’ll find throughout the GRE Verbal section. Simply mastering use of the most common GRE words can boost your AWA GRE scores.
Tip # 3: Practice GRE Verbal “Strengthen” and “Weaken” Questions
GRE Verbal has a number of multiple choice questions that ask you to identify facts that– if true– would either strengthen or weaken a written argument on the exam. This exact same skill is also used in the AWA Essays on the GRE.
In the AWA Issue Essay, you have to design a strong argument for your personal stance on an issue, sufficiently addressing any ideas or possibilities that could cast doubt on your argument. And in the AWA Argument Essay, you are asked to find strengths and weaknesses in someone else’s argument. Building your skills on the GRE’s strengthen/weaken questions will help you give well-supported opinions and intelligently dissect arguments on the GRE AWA.
Tip # 4: Take Advantage of ETS’s Official Materials
To practice with GRE AWA questions that are truly similar to the ones you’ll see on test day, you need to go to the source: ETS, the makers of the GRE exam.
On ETS’s official website, there is a large pool of example topics for the Issue AWA Essay and the Argument AWA Essay. ETS’s official GRE website also has example responses with scorer commentary for the Issue and Argument Tasks, and offers a general tutorial for the AWA section. All of these free online resources are valuable for understanding, practicing, and improving the AWA Essay on the GRE. And for a small extra fee, you can get more official AWA prep material in the GRE Official Guide.
Tip # 5: Practice Writing
At the beginning of this list, I told you to read! And now we come full circle. I’m telling you to write! And don’t just practice writing GRE essays. Practice writing in general, and make a regular habit of writing. Keep a journal of your personal thoughts and opinions. Write your reactions to things you’ve read or heard. Post your thoughts to Internet message boards, or leave product reviews online. Or do other kinds of writing; just find a way to write regularly. This will allow you to become more comfortable with writing, and to truly develop your voice as a writer. Through writing practice, you can become the writer you need to be in order to improve and master your GRE AWA Essay.
David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life.