The Argument Essay in the GRE- Prompts & Scoring

دوره: GRE Test- Practice & Study Guide / فصل: GRE Analytical Writing- About the Analytical Writing Measure / درس 5

GRE Test- Practice & Study Guide

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The Argument Essay in the GRE- Prompts & Scoring

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Learn about the Argument Essay on the GRE Analytical Writing measure- what is is, what the prompts will be like, and how the essay should be scored. And most importantly, how you can write a good one!

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The Argument Task

The Analyze an Argument task on the GRE Analytical Writing section asks you to evaluate another author’s argument and take a position on it in response to a prompt. This essay can be a little tricky because you will get a sample passage to write about, but you’re not discussing the issue presented in the passage. In fact, you don’t have to give your opinion on the issue at all. The point is to analyze the author’s argument structure, not the issue in the passage.

That can be tricky because it’s not like most standardized test questions. If you want a little clarification or aren’t sure how to approach that kind of prompt on a standardized test, this lesson is just for you. We’ll go over the prompt, the scoring, and some tips for writing a winning essay.

The Prompt

Let’s start with looking at exactly what the Analyze an Argument Essay asks you to do. The prompt will give you a brief written passage with an explanation of what kind of context it appears in. Then, you’ll get task giving you directions for writing an essay about the passage. Here’s an example of a prompt taken directly from the ETS website:

The following appeared in a memo from the director of student housing at Buckingham College:

‘To serve the housing needs of our students, Buckingham College should build a number of new dormitories. Buckingham’s enrollment is growing and, based on current trends, will double over the next 50 years, thus making existing dormitory space inadequate. Moreover, the average rent for an apartment in our town has risen in recent years. Consequently, students will find it increasingly difficult to afford off-campus housing. Finally, attractive new dormitories would make prospective students more likely to enroll at Buckingham.’

Write a response in which you discuss what specific evidence is needed to evaluate the argument and explain how the evidence would weaken or strengthen the argument.

To write a high-scoring essay, you’ll need to write an organized and coherent essay that responds to the task and supports your position with persuasive reasoning, and you’ll have to do it all in just 30 minutes. The most important part about this is that unlike the other essay on the GRE, ‘responding to the task’ on the Argument Essay means you have to evaluate the argument, not the claim. Here’s what that looks like.

argument essay

It doesn’t matter what you think about dormitories at Buckingham College. That’s not what the task is asking you to evaluate. You could write a great essay in response to this prompt without ever discussing your opinion on the dormitories. The key here is to analyze the author’s argument, not the issue.


Now, let’s take a look at the scoring rubric. This is a useful tool because it tells you exactly what the graders want from your essay. High-scoring essays will:

Take a clear position in response to the specific prompt. A high-scoring essay won’t just talk about the author’s argument in general, and it certainly won’t talk about the issue without discussing the argument.

Develop your position with clearly organized reasoning. Your essay should demonstrate a logical flow of ideas and a reasonable amount of thought.

Use language effectively. You don’t have to use $10 words in every sentence, but your essay should show variety in sentence length and appropriate use of vocabulary.

Your essay will be graded first by a human reader and then by a computer program called an e-rater. If the human and the e-rater give you similar scores, then the human score will be your final score. If the human and the e-rater give you different scores, then a second human will read your essay, and your final score will be the average of the two human scores.

Your score will be reported on a scale from 0 (worst) to 6 (best), in half-point increments. A score of 6 indicates that you’ve written an outstanding response with a thoughtful response to the prompt, clear organization and development of your points, and excellent use of language. A score in the middle of the range indicates a solid essay with some flaws. A score towards the bottom indicates that you had serious problems in addressing the task, organizing your points, or making your argument clear. If you want to know more about what a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ score involves, check out the other lesson in this course all about the scoring rubric on the GRE Analytical Writing section.

Test Day Tips

Now, you know what you need to do; the next question is how to do it. Here are some tips:

Read the task twice to make sure you really understand what you’re writing about.

Use your scrap paper to brainstorm and outline before you start writing on the GRE, you’ll write your essay on a computer, but you’ll get as much scrap paper for taking notes as you want. Use it! Before you get into the essay, jot down the key points that you want to touch on.

As you write, occasionally glance down at your outline to make sure you’re on track. If you’re halfway through your time, are you also halfway through your list of important points? Have you covered everything you needed to touch on?

Look over your essay for spelling and typos, but don’t go crazy. You only have 30 minutes for this task; you don’t have time for extensive revisions.

Lesson Summary

In this lesson, you learned about the GRE Argument Essay, one of the two essays on the Analytical Writing section of the test. The most important thing to remember about this essay is that you’re analyzing the author’s argument, not the issue presented in the passage. That’s been repeated a lot in this lesson, but it’s one of the most common mistakes that students make, especially when they’re tired and rushed. Don’t fall into the trap!

On the Argument Essay, your job is to evaluate the author’s argument in response to the task, support your points with well-reasoned arguments, and use language effectively to make your point. You’ll be scored by a human and a computer, and then by a second human if the first human and the computer disagree. In either case, your final score will be on a scale from 0 to 6, in half-point increments.

It’s really not that scary once you get the hang of it, and especially not after you’ve gotten some practice.

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