Recommended Practice Topics for the GRE Issue Task

GRE prep | Analytical Writing

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.

In the official Intro to the Issue Task, you'll find the pool of Issue topics. Each topic consists of a brief statement of the issue you'll address as well as a set of writing instructions. In all, there are 6 possible sets of instructions and about 130 possible issue statements.

Whichever topic or instructions you get for the Issue Task, you'll need to write an argumentative essay. The issue will be one of "general interest," according to ETS, so no specific expertise will be required. Still, to give a clear and compelling defense of your position on the issue, you'll need specific examples. Coming up with examples on test day will be easier if you've already thought about the sorts of issues you're most likely to address.

So what are those issues? Take a look at this word cloud that's based on the roughly 130 issue statements. Larger words come up more often in the pool, and smaller words come up less often.

GRE Issue Task Word Cloud

Some of the largest words reveal frequently used setups or structures for issue statements, rather than standard themes. For instance, "people," "believe," and "Others" get blown up because many of the statements (close to 15%) read like this:

Some people believe … Others believe …

Similarly, "Reason" and "Claim" get a boost from the many statements (here, too, about 15%) that have this structure:

Claim: … Reason: …

Leaving aside those setup words for a moment, you see the second largest word in the cloud is "students," and several smaller but readily readable words include "courses," "education," "college," and the like. These words are magnified because nearly a third of the issue statements are about Education. Here's a representative prompt:

Universities should require every student to take a variety of courses outside the student's field of study.

Ideas about what schools should make students do (and vice versa) come up in several of the education-themed prompts. So, it's probably an issue worth pondering during your prep.

Another word that's magnified is "society." About 15% of the issue statements use that term, and perhaps a third or more address a loose grouping of issues related to Society & Culture. Here's an example:

The best way for a society to prepare its young people for leadership in government, industry, or other fields is by instilling in them a sense of cooperation, not competition.

This statement includes another word you see a lot in the pool of topics—"government." About a quarter of the issue statements deal with Government, Law & Politics. Often, these sorts of statements talk about what governments, laws, and politicians should or shouldn't do, like in this example:

Government officials should rely on their own judgment rather than unquestioningly carry out the will of the people they serve.

These three broad themes—(1) Education, (2) Society & Culture, (3) Gov't, Law & Politics—encompass most (if not just about all) of the issues in the official pool. Consider picking out a statement that represents each theme and thinking about specific examples that support or oppose the statement.

Also consider practicing with a couple of statements that reflect the Claim-Reason and Some-Others issue setups. Although the issues addressed will vary, the Claim-Reason setup and writing instructions don't change, and the same goes for the Some-Others setup and instructions. There's a decent chance (about 30%) that you'll get one of those two setups . A little practice outlining an essay and coming up with transitions based on those setups won't take too much effort, yet it could have a big pay off on test day.