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GRE analytical writing: how to get a perfect 6.0 score
With the right preparation and strategy, you can get a 6.0 on the GRE
analytical writing test. You just need to
know how to write for the test. I got 6.0 the first time I sat the GRE test - and if I can do it, so can you!
In this article I am going to outline what you need to do to get 6.0 score in analytical writing. I am going to tell you how to prepare quickly and effectively for the writing section of the test, and I have written below the tips you need to write a great answer in both sections: writing about and issue, and analyzing an argument.
But first I want to share with you the best advice I can give anyone sitting any kind of test. This is the secret of my academic success:
Find out what the examiners expect of you in the test, and give them exactly what they want.
I am a great fan of creative flair but an exam is not the time to start 'doing your own thing'. In fact more than any test I've ever sat, the GRE analytical writing section is about keeping things simple and well structured. It's not the time to wax lyrical - it's the time to focus on the job and get it done within the 45 minutes!
US Colleges with high post-graduate admissions standards
For admissions standards, you need to contact individual universities. Requirements vary between institutions, and between different departments and courses. As a rule of thumb, the more prestigious the college and the more popular the degree course, the stiffer the competition will be for places. This is when getting a 6.0 score in writing could be what sets you apart from the crowd.
This is not an exhaustive list, but the following colleges consistently have a high average GRE score among students admitted to post-grad degrees.
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Stanford University (CA)
- University of California-Berkeley
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign
- Purdue University-West Lafayette (IN)
- University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
- Carnegie Mellon University (PA)
- University of Southern California (Viterbi)
- California Institute of Technology
- Cornell University (NY)
Many colleges in the United States (and other parts of the English-speaking world) require you to sit the Graduate Record Examination as part of the entry requirements to a post-graduate degree. A perfect score of 6.0 on the analytical writing section is rarely required, but the most prestigious colleges in America will be looking for a score of 5.0 or above.
Sometimes the writing section frustrates people - English undergraduate Majors, journalists and other writers have been surprised to receive 4 or 4.5 score. The best way to make sure you score at least 5.0 is to aim for a perfect score of 6.0. This is quite easy to achieve once you understand exactly what the test examiners expect from you.
Preparing for the test is crucial if you want to do well, but that doesn't have to mean spending hours and hours writing practice essays. Instead of working hard, work smart. Here is how I spent my time (and it wasn't that long!) preparting for the GRE writing section.
1. I read up on what is expected in a 6.0 scoring essay (lots of tips for that below), and I read plenty of examples of 6.0 scoring answers.
2. I wrote practice plans rather than practice essays. Planning is the key to good analytical writing and you need to be able to plan your answer quickly in the test. I spent my time writing plans for how I would answer the sample questions rather than going into detail. this really helped me to improve how I structure an argument - which is the key skill the writing section is designed to test you on.
3. Nothing else, that was it! A general habit of reading and writing regularly is useful, but that's something to build up over months and years.
Basic plan for writing about an issue
- Introduction: Give your opinion on this issue (agree/disagree/agree with some elements)
- Second paragraph: One reason why you have this opinion - facts or evidence to support this reason
- Third paragraph: Another reason why you have this opinion - facts or evidence to support this reason
- Fourth paragraph: Another reason why you have this opinion - facts or evidence to support this reason
- Fifth paragraph: Any counter-arguments. Show that you are aware of other possible opinions, and explain briefly why you do not think these opinions are as valid as yours.
- Conclusion: Reaffirm the opinion you expressed in the introduction in slightly different words. Sum up how the evidence you have given in the essay supports your opinion.
Issues section: tips
Here is what the computer and the human examiner will be looking for in your writing about an issue on the GRE writing section:
- Ideas ordered logically.
- Make an argument for or against
- Use linking phrases well
- Use of academic language
Ok, so you're in the GRE test and you've reached the 'writing about an issue' section. Here's what to do:
Step 1: Choose between the two topics. Time: 2 mins. Quite simply, choose the topic you know most about. You will write best if you have a strong opinion about a topic, and if you can back up your opinion with a few relevant facts and examples.
Step 2: Plan your response. Time: 7 mins. This is crucial - no one gets a top score writing 'off-the-cuff'. First you have to decide what is your position on the issue. Do you completely agree, completely disagree or do you agree with some elements but disagree with others. Make sure you are clear about this, then form a plan to explain your position and back in up.
Feel free to copy the model I used to structure my essay which appears in the right hand column.
Step 3: Write your response. Time: 30 mins. Make sure you show clearly in your introduction what position you will be taking about this issue. Each paragraph should elaborate on one reason why you hold the opinion you do and what evidence or ideas you are basing this reason on. your conclusion should sum up your argument and re-affirm the opinion you expressed in the introduction. Another tip is use linking words strategically at the start of each paragraph.
Useful linking phrases:
- Firstly, secondly, thirdly.
- For example
- Another related point is ...
- Having said that, ... (introduces the counter-arguments)
- In conclusion
- To sum up
Step 4: Check over your work. Time: 6 mins. You can still get 6.0 in the GRE analytical writing with one or two minor spelling mistakes, but not if any of your sentences don't make sense. Read over your essay and check:
- Does everything make sense?
- Are any words missing?
- Are the ideas well-arranged into paragraphs in a clear order?
- Are your grammar and spelling correct?
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN WHEN THERE WERE 45 MINS AVAILABLE FOR THIS SECTION. IF THIS HAS NOW CHANGED, PLEASE ADJUST YOUR TIMINGS ACCORDINGLY.
Analysing an argument: tips
Analysing an argument means exploring the pros and cons of the logic used by the person writing the argument. Because the examiners want to see how well you can see and expose the flaws in an argument, you can be almost certain there will be some faulty logic behind the argument - it is your job to identify the flaws and point out why the logic doesn't work.
Some questions you can ask yourself when you read the 'argument' paragraph in the analytical writing section:
1. Has the writer convinced me to agree with them? If not, why not?
2. Has the writer based their argument on clear evidence, or faulty assumptions?
3. Has the writer made a clear link between facts and their own opinion? Is this link logical or have they made a leap into inventing their own opinion?
4. Is there more evidence the writer should have gathered before making a definitive argument?
When you are in the test, following these steps will help you to quickly break down the argument, analyze it, and write your response.
Step one: Read the argument. Take note of the key points the writer is making. Take note of any sentences which contain facts and figures.
Step two: Ask yourself the questions above to analyze the argument.
Step three: Decide - are you convinced by the writer's argument or does it contain flaws? It will almost definitely contain some flaws which the examiners want you to write about. Before you start writing your response, list the flaws - you will use this as the plan for your response.
Step four: Write your response, your analysis of the argument. Here is a skeleton outline of how to structure your response:
- Introduction: Make it clear how you rate the writer's argument - is is perfect? Slightly flawed? Very flawed? Or utterly unconvincing and deeply flawed?
- Write one paragraph for each flaw in your list. For each flaw quote from the writer's argument: eg " The writer says that ...blah blah.." . Then state how the writer should have interpreted the facts: "In fact the evidence contained in the piece actually suggests that ... blah blah"
- Conclusion: Give your opinion overall on what has been the writer's key mistake(s) - have they misinterpreted facts? Made false assumtions? Ignored evidence? Based their argument on limited data? The conclusion is a good chance to sum up what is wrong with the argument and what argument should have been constructed from the evidence instead.