In Focus: Arrive Prepared for the AWA Issue Essay

Posted by Jonathan Evans on

Details, Details:

When you sit down in your testing center to take your computer-based GRE, the first section you will encounter is the Analytical Writing Assessment, specifically the Issue Essay task, for which you have 30 minutes to write a response to a prompt. While the instructions for the issue essay vary from prompt to prompt, let's consider the portion of the instructions that is common to (almost all) issue essays:

Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position...

The instructions that follow the last phrase ("In developing and supporting your position"), the authors of the test give instructions specific to the point at issue. These additional instructions are usually quite brief and can be summed up as a directive to attend to both sides of the issue and to use pertinent and compelling examples. Let's remark this idea of examples because we will return to it shortly.

Now let's jump ahead to scoring criteria for essays that receive a score of 6 (the top score):

Sustains insightful, in-depth analysis of complex ideas; develops and supports main points with logically compelling reasons and/or highly persuasive examples (emphasis mine); is well focused and well organized; skillfully uses sentence variety and precise vocabulary to convey meaning effectively; demonstrates superior facility with sentence structure and language usage, but may have minor errors that do not interfere with meaning.

Notice again the criterion of persuasive examples is front and center in the scoring rubric. This emphasis on examples is not accidental. To write a persuasive response to an issue essay, one that receives a top score, it is essential that you include specific, compelling examples to support your thesis and that you include details germane to the topic. While you might consider this obstacle nearly insuperable—after all, how could one possibly be expected to know examples for everything—below the jump we will discuss how to arrive equipped with excellent, detailed examples to use on your test. 

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Topics: GRE prep, Analytical Writing

GRE Vocabulary: The Saga Continues

Posted by Jonathan Evans on


THE NEVERENDING STORY:

There were some pretty strange children's movies when I was a kid. Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, the so-bad-it's-good Ron Howard movie Willow  (featuring Real Genius and Top Gun star Val Kilmer), and the still-disturbing leporine epic Watership DownBut insofar as capturing the imagination of the archetypical misunderstood eight-year-old (imagine the eighties version of Harry Potter), nothing surpassed The Neverending Story, a child's acid trip literary fantasy Mi'raj  on the back of a Cocker Spaniel dragon, featuring a theme song by Kajagoogoo lead singer Limahl

Buried amidst this B-movie esoterica there is a point germane to your GRE preparation. In my previous blog post, I discussed how to prepare to prepare for the GRE Quantitative Reasoning section. I emphasized the importance of a seamless grasp of math definitions and fundamentals as stepping-stones for success with more sophisticated test-taking strategies. With this blog post, let's shift our attention to GRE Verbal, specifically the importance of a strong vocabulary. 

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Topics: Verbal, Grad School Admissions, GRE prep, Analytical Writing

Recommended Practice Topics for the GRE Issue Task

Posted by Ryan Born on

When you take the GRE, you'll have to write two essays for the Analytical Writing section. All the topics are online right now at the Official GRE website. You should pick out a few and practice .

Let's say you're going to practice for the Issue Task essay. Which topics should you pick? Is it best to just select some at random? No, not when there are common themes and setups you can target.

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Topics: GRE prep, Analytical Writing

Using GRE Argument Topics to Prepare for Reading Comprehension

Posted by Ryan Born on

GRE Reading Comprehension passages often present arguments. By argument, I don’t mean a messy quarrel. I mean an attempt to give reasons called premises in support of a (usually) novel or debatable claim called a conclusion. Analyzing arguments is a crucial skill for Reading Comp, and ETS, maker of the GRE, offers tons of free practice passages in the official pool of Argument topics for the Analytical Writing section.

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Topics: Verbal, GRE prep, Reading Comprehension, Analytical Writing

Official GRE Essay Practice: Score 6 vs. Score 5 on the Argument Task

Posted by Ryan Born on

ScoreItNow! is an online writing practice service from ETS, maker of the GRE. For US$20, you can write two responses to real Analytical Writing prompts and have them scored by e-rater, the automated essay scoring software used to check GRE essay scores assigned by human raters.

I signed up and wrote an Argument essay. The score e-rater returned fell within the range I expected—5 to 6—and the feedback I got covered grammar, mechanics, usage, and style, as well as development and organization. My essay's content wasn't evaluated, but sample essays were presented that gave me an idea of what constitutes a top-scoring analysis.

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Topics: GRE prep, Analytical Writing

Real-World Prep for GRE Reading Comp & The Argument Essay

Posted by Ryan Born on

A sizable chunk of the GRE requires you to think about arguments. Half of Analytical Writing is the Analyze an Argument task, and about half of Verbal Reasoning is Reading Comprehension, a question type that often uses argument-based passages.

Conveniently, you can prepare for Reading Comp and the Argument Task simultaneously using free (and modestly priced) practice material from ETS, maker of the exam. Other free, high-quality resources can sharpen your critical thinking skills, too. You just need to be open to supplementing your GRE prep materials with some real-world reading.

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Topics: Verbal, GRE prep, Reading Comprehension, Analytical Writing

3 Key Facts about E-rater & Automated GRE Essay Scores

Posted by Ryan Born on

Every year more than a million GRE essays cross the desks of ETS essay raters. These same submissions slide through the subroutines of e-rater, an automated scoring program developed by ETS. With a scoring speed of 800 essays per second, e-rater could evaluate every GRE essay from 2013–2014 (about 1.1 million submissions) in under 25 minutes. In that same time, a human rater will usually score around 10 essays.

This feat of education-automation raises certain questions. Do humans still read and score essays? When e-rater and a human score the same essay, do they give the same score? Do they even look at all the same features—from the grammar, vocabulary, and organization to the logic, evidence, and creativity? The answers may surprise you.

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Topics: GRE prep, Analytical Writing

GRE Essays Get Automated Scores—Why Not Report Them In The Test Center?

Posted by Ryan Born on

Right after you take the computer-based GRE, unofficial scores are available for Quant and Verbal but not Analytical Writing. You won't learn how you did on the GRE's essay section until your official scores come out about two weeks later.

Yet a mere two milliseconds is enough time to score your essays with e-rater, the essay evaluation software used by ETS. So why doesn't ETS automatically calculate an unofficial score for Analytical Writing just as it does for Quant and Verbal? The answer likely has to do with the role e-rater plays in your official GRE writing score.

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Topics: GRE prep, Analytical Writing

Doing GRE Reading Comp Exercises to Prepare for The Argument Essay

Posted by Ryan Born on

In the Analytical Writing section's "Analyze an Argument" task, you’ll critique a short argument that’s being made for or against some prediction (“profits will rise”), explanation (“genetics is the cause”), recommendation (“repeal the ban”), or other topic of debate. Your directions may be to ferret out hidden assumptions or to identify evidence that could help or hurt the argument. Either sort of analysis takes practice, and doing certain Reading Comprehension questions can help.

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Topics: Verbal, GRE prep, Reading Comprehension, Analytical Writing