The Argument Essay in the GRE: Prompts & Scoring Video

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  • 0:02 The Argument Task
  • 0:47 The Prompt
  • 2:37 Scoring
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

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!

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.

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