The Issue Essay in the GRE: Prompts & Scoring

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

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

Learn all about the Analyze an Issue essay on the GRE revised General Test. This lesson covers everything you need to know about the issue prompts, scoring and timing.

The Issue Essay

The GRE essays can seem a little intimidating at first because the instructions are different from what you probably remember on the SAT or ACT. But once you break them down, they're not that tough! In this lesson, we'll talk about one of the two GRE essays, the Analyze an Issue essay. On this essay, you'll take and support a position on a given topic in response to a specific task.

There's no correct answer to these questions; they're all issues that reasonable people could disagree about. You also don't need specialized expert knowledge of the issue. The point isn't what side of the argument you pick: it's how well you construct your essay. That's what you'll be graded on, so that's where you want to focus your test prep energy.

In this lesson, we'll discuss what that means, some common pitfalls to avoid and how to approach the task to get your highest score.

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Coming up next: Published Issue Essay Prompts for the GRE

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  • 0:00 The Issue Essay
  • 0:55 The Prompt and Task
  • 2:27 Scoring
  • 3:36 Test Day Tips
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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The Prompt and Task

Analyze an Issue prompts are exactly what they say on the tin: you get an issue, and you have to analyze it.

Here's a sample issue prompt taken directly from the GRE website:

'Critical judgment of work in any given field has little value unless it comes from someone who is an expert in that field.

Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim. In developing and supporting your position, be sure to address the most compelling reasons and/or examples that could be used to challenge your position.'

As you can see, the prompt gives you:

  • A topic of general interest. You won't have to bring in any specialized knowledge about the topic from the outside, and you won't have to cite any exact statistics or remember a bunch of facts from outside sources. These are prompts that anyone can answer.
  • A specific task. The task gives you instructions for organizing your response: you're supposed to agree or disagree with particular focus on potential counterarguments.

Your job here is to state and support your opinion in response to the task. Do NOT:

  • Discuss both sides of the question without taking a position.
  • Take a position on the issue in general without addressing the specific task. You have to follow the instructions in the task - in this case, you have to provide and address counterarguments.

Make sure that you DO:

  • Take a clear position, and support it with evidence and reasons.
  • Respond specifically to the task.
  • Anticipate and respond to potential counterarguments.


Your essay will be scored basically on how well you follow that list of dos and don'ts. It's all about how well you argue your case and respond to the task; it doesn't matter which side you pick as long as you argue it well.

The readers are primarily looking for:

  • A clearly stated position that responds to the task
  • Well-organized support for the position with logical connections between ideas
  • Basically fluent English grammar, vocabulary and sentence structure

You could accomplish these things with a variety of different essay lengths and organizational structures; you don't have to stick to the typical five-paragraph essay unless you want to.

Your essay will be scored holistically on a scale from 0 to 6, in half-point increments. 0 is the worst, and 6 is the best.

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