ETS has published the complete pool of 328 GRE essay topics which will ever appear on the Analytical Writing section of the test. While these collections of prompts provide unparalleled Analytical Writing practice, some test takers may find the sheer number of possible essay topics to be a bit overwhelming.
In this article, we’ve assembled over 60 official GRE essay topics for both the Issue and Argument tasks and used them to illustrate the 14 different kinds of GRE writing prompts you could see on test day. With this expert analysis, you’ll know how to tackle any GRE essay prompt that comes your way.
feature image credit: Female Typing/used under CC BY 2.0/Resized and cropped from original.
GRE Essay Topics Pool: How It Works
ETS has publicly listed all the essay topics that will ever appear on the GRE for both the Analyze an Issue and the Analyze an Argument Analytical Writing tasks.
There are 152 different possible GRE essay topics in the GRE Issue pool and 176 different GRE essay topics in the GRE Argument pool, which means it’s unlikely you’ll run out of official prompts to practice with. And while there’s only a 1/328 chance that one of the GRE writing prompts you practice with ends up being on the test, that’s still better odds than if you practiced with non-official prompts, especially if you end up using a lot of practice prompts.
Each set of GRE essay topics can further be broken down by the specific task you’re asked to complete in your answer. We’ll start by looking at the six different possible GRE Issue essay topics.
GRE Issue Pool
Each Analyze an Issue essay topic “consists of an issue statement or statements followed by specific task instructions that tell you how to respond to the issue” (source: ETS). The specific words used for the topics might be a little different on the test, but in general what you see in the GRE issue pool is what you’ll get.
ETS also warns test takers that there might be some mix-and-matching of different issues with different task instructions among the prompts, so don’t skip over the prompt if you recognize the issue; it’s possible that you’ll have written about the issue before in response to a different task.
The specifics of the task you’re asked to do differ depending on the prompt, but the core of all the Issue tasks is this one question: Do you agree or disagree with this (statement, view, claim, conclusion, recommendation, policy) and/or its basis?
There are 152 different pairings of issues and tasks in the GRE issue pool. Among these GRE essay topics, however, there are actually only six tasks you’ll be asked to perform, and not all tasks are equally common.
Below, we’ve analyzed these six GRE essay prompts. In addition to presenting each task as it will appear on the GRE, we’ve also determined the likelihood of the task showing up on the test and provided a sampling of the issues that you might see paired with the task.
Issue Task 1: Agree/Disagree With a Statement
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, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.
What they’re really asking: Explain your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with a given statement.
Number of topics in the GRE issue pool on this task: 54/152 (35.5%)
Examples of the statements to be analyzed
- To understand the most important characteristics of a society, one must study its major cities.
- In any field of inquiry, the beginner is more likely than the expert to make important contributions.
- There is little justification for society to make extraordinary efforts – especially at a great cost in money and jobs – to save endangered animal or plant species.
- Unfortunately, in contemporary society, creating an appealing image has become more important than the reality or truth behind that image.
- Government officials should rely on their own judgment rather than unquestioningly carry out the will of the people whom they serve.
- The best test of an argument is the argument’s ability to convince someone with an opposing viewpoint.
- If a goal is worthy, then any means taken to attain it are justifiable.
- The primary goal of technological advancement should be to increase people’s efficiency so that they have more leisure time.
- We can learn much more from people whose views we share than from people whose views contradict our own.
- Any leader who is quickly and easily influenced by shifts in popular opinion will accomplish little.
- True success can be measured primarily in terms of the goals one sets for oneself.
Issue Task 2: Agree/Disagree With a Recommendation
Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the recommendation and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, describe specific circumstances in which adopting the recommendation would or would not be advantageous and explain how these examples shape your position.
What they’re really asking: Explain your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with a recommendationfor a course of action.
Number of topics in the GRE issue pool on this task: 24/152 (15.8%)
Examples of the recommendations to be analyzed
- Governments should focus on solving the immediate problems of today rather than on trying to solve the anticipated problems of the future.
- College students should be encouraged to pursue subjects that interest them rather than the courses that seem most likely to lead to jobs.
- Scientists and other researchers should focus their research on areas that are likely to benefit the greatest number of people.
- Nations should suspend government funding for the arts when significant numbers of their citizens are hungry or unemployed.
- Educators should base their assessment of students’ learning not on students’ grasp of facts but on the ability to explain the ideas, trends, and concepts that those facts illustrate.
Issue Task 3: Agree/Disagree With a Claim
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.
What they’re really asking: Explain your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with a claim.
Number of topics in the GRE issue pool on this task: 25/152 (16.4%)
Examples of the claims to be analyzed
- Universities should require every student to take a variety of courses outside the student’s field of study.
- It is no longer possible for a society to regard any living man or woman as a hero.
- Critical judgment of work in any given field has little value unless it comes from someone who is an expert in that field.
- In most professions and academic fields, imagination is more important than knowledge.
- Nations should pass laws to preserve any remaining wilderness areas in their natural state.
Issue Task 4: Which view aligns with your own?
Write a response in which you discuss which view more closely aligns with your own position and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should address both of the views presented.
What they’re really asking: Explain which two views you most agreewith and back it up with reasoning.
Number of topics in the GRE issue pool on this task: 18/152 (11.8%)
Examples of the views to be analyzed
- Some people believe it is often necessary, even desirable, for political leaders to withhold information from the public. Others believe that the public has a right to be fully informed.
- Some people claim that you can tell whether a nation is great by looking at the achievements of its rulers, artists, or scientists. Others argue that the surest indicator of a great nation is, in fact, the general welfare of all its people.
- Some people believe that corporations have a responsibility to promote the well-being of the societies and environments in which they operate. Others believe that the only responsibility of corporations, provided they operate within the law, is to make as much money as possible.
- Some people believe that corporations have a responsibility to promote the well-being of the societies and environments in which they operate. Others believe that the only responsibility of corporations, provided they operate within the law, is to make as much money as possible.
Issue Task 5: Agree/Disagree With a Claim and Its Basis
Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim and the reason on which that claim is based.
What they’re really asking: Analyze an issue by explaining your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with not just the claim, but the reason on which the claim is based.
Number of topics in the GRE issue pool on this task: 19/152 (12.5%)
Examples of the claims to be analyzed
- Claim: When planning courses, educators should take into account the interests and suggestions of their students.Reason: Students are more motivated to learn when they are interested in what they are studying. Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim and the reason on which that claim is based.
- Claim: Any piece of information referred to as a fact should be mistrusted, since it may well be proven false in the future.Reason: Much of the information that people assume is factual actually turns out to be inaccurate.
- Claim: Imagination is a more valuable asset than experience.Reason: People who lack experience are free to imagine what is possible without the constraints of established habits and attitudes.
- Claim: Knowing about the past cannot help people to make important decisions today.Reason: We are not able to make connections between current events and past events until we have some distance from both.
Issue Task 6: Explain Your Views on a Policy
Write a response in which you discuss your views on the policy and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider the possible consequences of implementing the policy and explain how these consequences shape your position.
What they’re really asking: Explain your stance on a policy.
Number of topics in the GRE issue pool on this task: 12/152 (7.9%)
Example of a policy to be analyzed
- In any field – business, politics, education, government – those in power should be required to step down after five years. Write a response in which you discuss your views on the policy and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider the possible consequences of implementing the policy and explain how these consequences shape your position.
GRE Argument Pool
For the Argument task on the GRE, you’ll be asked to read a short passage containing an argument and then analyze that argument according to instructions.
As with the Issue task, there might be some very slight variations in wording between the way the tasks are written on the test as compared to the way they are online, but for the most part what you see online is what will be on the GRE. Similarly, there may be some arguments that are repeated across prompts in the GRE Argument pool, but they’ll each be followed by a different task, so it’s important to read the entire essay prompt (including the task) before beginning your analysis.
There are some commonalities across all of the essay prompts on the GRE Argument pool page, even beyond the fact that every task asks you to look at some kind of argument and analyze it. Of the 176 possible Argument topics, there are just eight different tasks you’ll be asked to perform, and of those eight tasks, numbers 3, 4, 6, 8 below are all basically different ways of asking you to “evaluate this stance and explain why you’ve determined whether or not it has a reasonable basis.”
Below, we’ve presented each of the eight GRE writing prompts as they will appear on the exam, figured out how likely the task is to show up, and given some examples of arguments you might be asked to analyze.
Argument Task 1: Evaluate an Argument and Evidence
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.
What they’re really asking: Discuss how different, specific evidence could weaken or strengthen the argument.
Number of topics in the GRE argument pool on this task: 52/176 (29.5%)
Examples of the arguments to be analyzed
- The following appeared in a letter from a firm providing investment advice to a client. “Homes in the northeastern United States, where winters are typically cold, have traditionally used oil as their major fuel for heating. Last year that region experienced twenty days with below-average temperatures, and local weather forecasters throughout the region predict that this weather pattern will continue for several more years. Furthermore, many new homes have been built in this region during the past year. Because of these developments, we predict an increased demand for heating oil and recommend investment in Consolidated Industries, one of whose major business operations is the retail sale of home heating oil.”
- The following appeared in a memorandum from the manager of WWAC radio station. “To reverse a decline in listener numbers, our owners have decided that WWAC must change from its current rock-music format. The decline has occurred despite population growth in our listening area, but that growth has resulted mainly from people moving here after their retirement. We must make listeners of these new residents. We could switch to a music format tailored to their tastes, but a continuing decline in local sales of recorded music suggests limited interest in music. Instead we should change to a news and talk format, a form of radio that is increasingly popular in our area.”
- Three years ago, because of flooding at the Western Palean Wildlife Preserve, 100 lions and 100 western gazelles were moved to the East Palean Preserve, an area that is home to most of the same species that are found in the western preserve, though in larger numbers, and to the eastern gazelle, a close relative of the western gazelle. The only difference in climate is that the eastern preserve typically has slightly less rainfall. Unfortunately, after three years in the eastern preserve, the imported western gazelle population has been virtually eliminated. Since the slight reduction in rainfall cannot be the cause of the virtual elimination of western gazelle, their disappearance must have been caused by the larger number of predators in the eastern preserve.
- The following appeared in a recommendation from the president of Amburg’s Chamber of Commerce. “Last October the city of Belleville installed high-intensity lighting in its central business district, and vandalism there declined within a month. The city of Amburg has recently begun police patrols on bicycles in its business district, but the rate of vandalism there remains constant. We should install high-intensity lighting throughout Amburg, then, because doing so is a more effective way to combat crime. By reducing crime in this way, we can revitalize the declining neighborhoods in our city.”
- The following appeared in a memo from the vice president of Butler Manufacturing. “During the past year, workers at Butler Manufacturing reported 30 percent more on-the-job accidents than workers at nearby Panoply Industries, where the work shifts are one hour shorter than ours. A recent government study reports that fatigue and sleep deprivation among workers are significant contributing factors in many on-the-job accidents. If we shorten each of our work shifts by one hour, we can improve Butler Manufacturing’s safety record by ensuring that our employees are adequately rested.”
- The following appeared in a letter to the editor of Parson City’s local newspaper. “In our region of Trillura, the majority of money spent on the schools that most students attend – the city-run public schools – comes from taxes that each city government collects. The region’s cities differ, however, in the budgetary priority they give to public education. For example, both as a proportion of its overall tax revenues and in absolute terms, Parson City has recently spent almost twice as much per year as Blue City has for its public schools – even though both cities have about the same number of residents. Clearly, Parson City residents place a higher value on providing a good education in public schools than Blue City residents do.”
- Milk and dairy products are rich in vitamin D and calcium – substances essential for building and maintaining bones. Many people therefore say that a diet rich in dairy products can help prevent osteoporosis, a disease that is linked to both environmental and genetic factors and that causes the bones to weaken significantly with age. But a long-term study of a large number of people found that those who consistently consumed dairy products throughout the years of the study have a higher rate of bone fractures than any other participants in the study. Since bone fractures are symptomatic of osteoporosis, this study result shows that a diet rich in dairy products may actually increase, rather than decrease, the risk of osteoporosis.
- The following appeared in a memo at XYZ company. “When XYZ lays off employees, it pays Delany Personnel Firm to offer those employees assistance in creating resumes and developing interviewing skills, if they so desire. Laid-off employees have benefited greatly from Delany’s services: last year those who used Delany found jobs much more quickly than did those who did not. Recently, it has been proposed that we use the less expensive Walsh Personnel Firm in place of Delany. This would be a mistake because eight years ago, when XYZ was using Walsh, only half of the workers we laid off at that time found jobs within a year. Moreover, Delany is clearly superior, as evidenced by its bigger staff and larger number of branch offices. After all, last year Delany’s clients took an average of six months to find jobs, whereas Walsh’s clients took nine.”
- An ancient, traditional remedy for insomnia – the scent of lavender flowers – has now been proved effective. In a recent study, 30 volunteers with chronic insomnia slept each night for three weeks on lavender-scented pillows in a controlled room where their sleep was monitored electronically. During the first week, volunteers continued to take their usual sleeping medication. They slept soundly but wakened feeling tired. At the beginning of the second week, the volunteers discontinued their sleeping medication. During that week, they slept less soundly than the previous week and felt even more tired. During the third week, the volunteers slept longer and more soundly than in the previous two weeks. Therefore, the study proves that lavender cures insomnia within a short period of time.
Argument Task 2: Examine Assumptions and Implications
Write a response in which you examine the stated and/or unstated assumptions of the argument. Be sure to explain how the argument depends on these assumptions, and what the implications are for the argument if the assumptions prove unwarranted.
What they’re really asking: Discuss assumptions made in the argument and how the argument would be strengthened or weakened if the assumptions are wrong.
Number of topics in the GRE argument pool on this task: 50/176 (28.4%)
Examples of the arguments to be analyzed
- Nature’s Way, a chain of stores selling health food and other health-related products, is opening its next franchise in the town of Plainsville. The store should prove to be very successful: Nature’s Way franchises tend to be most profitable in areas where residents lead healthy lives, and clearly Plainsville is such an area. Plainsville merchants report that sales of running shoes and exercise clothing are at all-time highs. The local health club has more members than ever, and the weight training and aerobics classes are always full. Finally, Plainsville’s schoolchildren represent a new generation of potential customers: these schoolchildren are required to participate in a fitness-for-life program, which emphasizes the benefits of regular exercise at an early age.
- The following was written as a part of an application for a small-business loan by a group of developers in the city of Monroe. “Jazz music is extremely popular in the city of Monroe: over 100,000 people attended Monroe’s annual jazz festival last summer, and the highest-rated radio program in Monroe is ‘Jazz Nightly,’ which airs every weeknight. Also, a number of well-known jazz musicians own homes in Monroe. Nevertheless, the nearest jazz club is over an hour away. Given the popularity of jazz in Monroe and a recent nationwide study indicating that the typical jazz fan spends close to $1,000 per year on jazz entertainment, a jazz music club in Monroe would be tremendously profitable.”
- The following appeared in a letter to the editor of a journal on environmental issues. “Over the past year, the Crust Copper Company (CCC) has purchased over 10,000 square miles of land in the tropical nation of West Fredonia. Mining copper on this land will inevitably result in pollution and, since West Fredonia is the home of several endangered animal species, in environmental disaster. But such disasters can be prevented if consumers simply refuse to purchase products that are made with CCC’s copper unless the company abandons its mining plans.”
- Humans arrived in the Kaliko Islands about 7,000 years ago, and within 3,000 years most of the large mammal species that had lived in the forests of the Kaliko Islands had become extinct. Yet humans cannot have been a factor in the species’ extinctions, because there is no evidence that the humans had any significant contact with the mammals. Further, archaeologists have discovered numerous sites where the bones of fish had been discarded, but they found no such areas containing the bones of large mammals, so the humans cannot have hunted the mammals. Therefore, some climate change or other environmental factor must have caused the species’ extinctions.
- The following appeared in a memo from the vice president of marketing at Dura-Sock, Inc. “A recent study of our customers suggests that our company is wasting the money it spends on its patented Endure manufacturing process, which ensures that our socks are strong enough to last for two years. We have always advertised our use of the Endure process, but the new study shows that despite our socks’ durability, our average customer actually purchases new Dura-Socks every three months. Furthermore, our customers surveyed in our largest market, northeastern United States cities, say that they most value Dura-Socks’ stylish appearance and availability in many colors. These findings suggest that we can increase our profits by discontinuing use of the Endure manufacturing process.”
- When Stanley Park first opened, it was the largest, most heavily used public park in town. It is still the largest park, but it is no longer heavily used. Video cameras mounted in the park’s parking lots last month revealed the park’s drop in popularity: the recordings showed an average of only 50 cars per day. In contrast, tiny Carlton Park in the heart of the business district is visited by more than 150 people on a typical weekday. An obvious difference is that Carlton Park, unlike Stanley Park, provides ample seating. Thus, if Stanley Park is ever to be as popular with our citizens as Carlton Park, the town will obviously need to provide more benches, thereby converting some of the unused open areas into spaces suitable for socializing.
- While the Department of Education in the state of Attra recommends that high school students be assigned homework every day, the data from a recent statewide survey of high school math and science teachers give us reason to question the usefulness of daily homework. In the district of Sanlee, 86 percent of the teachers reported assigning homework three to five times a week, whereas in the district of Marlee, less than 25 percent of the teachers reported assigning homework three to five times a week. Yet the students in Marlee earn better grades overall and are less likely to be required to repeat a year of school than are the students in Sanlee. Therefore, all teachers in our high schools should assign homework no more than twice a week.
- The following appeared in a memo to the board of directors of Bargain Brand Cereals. “One year ago we introduced our first product, Bargain Brand breakfast cereal. Our very low prices quickly drew many customers away from the top-selling cereal companies. Although the companies producing the top brands have since tried to compete with us by lowering their prices and although several plan to introduce their own budget brands, not once have we needed to raise our prices to continue making a profit. Given our success in selling cereal, we recommend that Bargain Brand now expand its business and begin marketing other low-priced food products as quickly as possible.”
- The following is a recommendation from the personnel director to the president of Acme Publishing Company. “Many other companies have recently stated that having their employees take the Easy Read Speed-Reading Course has greatly improved productivity. One graduate of the course was able to read a 500-page report in only two hours; another graduate rose from an assistant manager to vice president of the company in under a year. Obviously, the faster you can read, the more information you can absorb in a single workday. Moreover, Easy Read would cost Acme only $500 per employee — a small price to pay when you consider the benefits. Included in this fee is a three-week seminar in Spruce City and a lifelong subscription to the Easy Read newsletter. Clearly, Acme would benefit greatly by requiring all of our employees to take the Easy Read course.”
Argument Task 3: Evaluate a Recommendation and Its Basis
Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the recommendation and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the recommendation.
What they’re really asking: Discuss the different, specific questions that would need to be answered to determine how reasonable the recommendation is.
Number of topics in the GRE argument pool on this task: 24/176 (13.6%)
Examples of the recommendations to be analyzed
- The following appeared in a memo from a vice president of Alta Manufacturing. “During the past year, Alta Manufacturing had thirty percent more on-the-job accidents than nearby Panoply Industries, where the work shifts are one hour shorter than ours. Experts believe that a significant contributing factor in many accidents is fatigue caused by sleep deprivation among workers. Therefore, to reduce the number of on-the-job accidents at Alta, we recommend shortening each of our three work shifts by one hour. If we do this, our employees will get adequate amounts of sleep.” Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the recommendation and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the recommendation.
- Since those issues of Newsbeat magazine that featured political news on their front cover were the poorest-selling issues over the past three years, the publisher of Newsbeat has recommended that the magazine curtail its emphasis on politics to focus more exclusively on economics and personal finance. She points to a recent survey of readers of general interest magazines that indicates greater reader interest in economic issues than in political ones. Newsbeat‘s editor, however, opposes the proposed shift in editorial policy, pointing out that very few magazines offer extensive political coverage anymore. Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the recommendation and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the recommendation.
- The following appeared in an article in the Grandview Beacon. “For many years the city of Grandview has provided annual funding for the Grandview Symphony. Last year, however, private contributions to the symphony increased by 200 percent and attendance at the symphony’s concerts-in-the-park series doubled. The symphony has also announced an increase in ticket prices for next year. Given such developments, some city commissioners argue that the symphony can now be fully self-supporting, and they recommend that funding for the symphony be eliminated from next year’s budget.” Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the recommendation and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the recommendation.
- Twenty years ago, Dr. Field, a noted anthropologist, visited the island of Tertia. Using an observation-centered approach to studying Tertian culture, he concluded from his observations that children in Tertia were reared by an entire village rather than by their own biological parents. Recently another anthropologist, Dr. Karp, visited the group of islands that includes Tertia and used the interview-centered method to study child-rearing practices. In the interviews that Dr. Karp conducted with children living in this group of islands, the children spent much more time talking about their biological parents than about other adults in the village. Dr. Karp decided that Dr. Field’s conclusion about Tertian village culture must be invalid. Some anthropologists recommend that to obtain accurate information on Tertian child-rearing practices, future research on the subject should be conducted via the interview-centered method.
Argument Task 4: Evaluate Advice and Questions
Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the advice and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the advice.
What they’re really asking: Discuss the different, specific questions needed to determine if the advice and the argument it’s based on are reasonable.
This task is pretty much the same as task 3; the main difference is in the way the prompt is worded (as advice vs. a recommendation being given).
Number of topics in the GRE argument pool on this task: 2/176 (1.1%)
Examples of the advice to be analyzed
- The following appeared in a newsletter offering advice to investors. “Over 80 percent of the respondents to a recent survey indicated a desire to reduce their intake of foods containing fats and cholesterol, and today low-fat products abound in many food stores. Since many of the food products currently marketed by Old Dairy Industries are high in fat and cholesterol, the company’s sales are likely to diminish greatly and company profits will no doubt decrease. We therefore advise Old Dairy stockholders to sell their shares, and other investors not to purchase stock in this company.”
Argument Task 5: Evaluate a Recommendation’s Likely Results
Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the recommendation is likely to have the predicted result. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the recommendation.
What they’re really asking: Discuss specific questions and information that would be needed to show the recommendation would have the expected outcome.
Number of topics in the GRE argument pool on this task: 21/176 (11.9%)
Examples of the recommendations to be analyzed
- The following appeared in a letter from the owner of the Sunnyside Towers apartment building to its manager. “One month ago, all the showerheads on the first five floors of Sunnyside Towers were modified to restrict the water flow to approximately one-third of its original flow. Although actual readings of water usage before and after the adjustment are not yet available, the change will obviously result in a considerable savings for Sunnyside Corporation, since the corporation must pay for water each month. Except for a few complaints about low water pressure, no problems with showers have been reported since the adjustment. Clearly, restricting water flow throughout all the twenty floors of Sunnyside Towers will increase our profits further.”
- The following memorandum is from the business manager of Happy Pancake House restaurants. “Butter has now been replaced by margarine in Happy Pancake House restaurants throughout the southwestern United States. Only about 2 percent of customers have complained, indicating that 98 people out of 100 are happy with the change. Furthermore, many servers have reported that a number of customers who ask for butter do not complain when they are given margarine instead. Clearly, either these customers cannot distinguish butter from margarine or they use the term ‘butter’ to refer to either butter or margarine. Thus, to avoid the expense of purchasing butter and to increase profitability, the Happy Pancake House should extend this cost-saving change to its restaurants in the southeast and northeast as well.”
- The following memo appeared in the newsletter of the West Meria Public Health Council. “An innovative treatment has come to our attention that promises to significantly reduce absenteeism in our schools and workplaces. A study reports that in nearby East Meria, where consumption of the plant beneficia is very high, people visit the doctor only once or twice per year for the treatment of colds. Clearly, eating a substantial amount of beneficia can prevent colds. Since colds are the reason most frequently given for absences from school and work, we recommend the daily use of nutritional supplements derived from beneficia. We predict this will dramatically reduce absenteeism in our schools and workplaces.”
- The following appeared in an e-mail sent by the marketing director of the Classical Shakespeare Theatre of Bardville. “Over the past ten years, there has been a 20 percent decline in the size of the average audience at Classical Shakespeare Theatre productions. In spite of increased advertising, we are attracting fewer and fewer people to our shows, causing our profits to decrease significantly. We must take action to attract new audience members. The best way to do so is by instituting a ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ program this summer. Two years ago the nearby Avon Repertory Company started a ‘Free Plays in the Park’ program, and its profits have increased 10 percent since then. If we start a ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ program, we can predict that our profits will increase, too.”
Argument Task 6: Evaluate a Prediction and Its Basis
Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the prediction and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the prediction.
What they’re really asking: Discuss the specific questions that need to be answered to determine how reasonable the prediction and its basis are.
Number of topics in the GRE argument pool on this task: 14/176 (8.0%)
Examples of the predictions to be analyzed
- The following appeared in a memorandum from the manager of KNOW radio station. “Several factors indicate that KNOW radio can no longer succeed as a rock-and-roll music station. Consider, for example, that the number of people in our listening area over fifty years of age has increased dramatically, while our total number of listeners has declined. Also, music stores in our area report decreased sales of rock-and-roll music. Finally, continuous news stations in neighboring cities have been very successful. We predict that switching KNOW radio from rock-and-roll music to 24-hour news will allow the station to attract older listeners and make KNOW radio more profitable than ever.”
- The council of Maple County, concerned about the county’s becoming overdeveloped, is debating a proposed measure that would prevent the development of existing farmland in the county. But the council is also concerned that such a restriction, by limiting the supply of new housing, could lead to significant increases in the price of housing in the county. Proponents of the measure note that Chestnut County established a similar measure ten years ago, and its housing prices have increased only modestly since. However, opponents of the measure note that Pine County adopted restrictions on the development of new residential housing fifteen years ago, and its housing prices have since more than doubled. The council currently predicts that the proposed measure, if passed, will result in a significant increase in housing prices in Maple County.
Argument Task 7: Discuss Alternative Explanations
Write a response in which you discuss one or more alternative explanations that could rival the proposed explanation and explain how your explanation(s) can plausibly account for the facts presented in the argument.
What they’re really asking: Discuss alternative explanations that would reasonably explain the evidence discussed in the argument.
Number of topics in the GRE argument pool on this task: 11/176 (6.3%)
Examples of the explanation and argument to be analyzed
- The following appeared in a memo from the director of a large group of hospitals. “In a controlled laboratory study of liquid hand soaps, a concentrated solution of extra strength UltraClean hand soap produced a 40 percent greater reduction in harmful bacteria than did the liquid hand soaps currently used in our hospitals. During our recent test of regular-strength UltraClean with doctors, nurses, and visitors at our hospital in Worktown, the hospital reported significantly fewer cases of patient infection (a 20 percent reduction) than did any of the other hospitals in our group. The explanation for the 20 percent reduction in patient infections is the use of UltraClean soap.”
- There is now evidence that the relaxed pace of life in small towns promotes better health and greater longevity than does the hectic pace of life in big cities. Businesses in the small town of Leeville report fewer days of sick leave taken by individual workers than do businesses in the nearby large city of Masonton. Furthermore, Leeville has only one physician for its one thousand residents, but in Masonton the proportion of physicians to residents is five times as high. Finally, the average age of Leeville residents is significantly higher than that of Masonton residents. These findings suggest that the relaxed pace of life in Leeville allows residents to live longer, healthier lives.
Argument Task 8: Evaluate a Conclusion and Its Basis
Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be addressed in order to decide whether the conclusion and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to the questions would help to evaluate the conclusion.
What they’re really asking: Discuss the specific questions that need to be answered to determine if the conclusion and its basis are reasonable.
Number of topics in the GRE argument pool on this task: 2/176 (1.1%)
Examples of conclusions to be analyzed
- A recent sales study indicates that consumption of seafood dishes in Bay City restaurants has increased by 30 percent during the past five years. Yet there are no currently operating city restaurants whose specialty is seafood. Moreover, the majority of families in Bay City are two-income families, and a nationwide study has shown that such families eat significantly fewer home-cooked meals than they did a decade ago but at the same time express more concern about healthful eating. Therefore, the new Captain Seafood restaurant that specializes in seafood should be quite popular and profitable.
GRE Essay Prompts: 3 Terrific Tips
No matter which of the GRE essay topics you encounter on test day, the following tips will help you prepare.
#1: Keep Strict Timing
When you’re working on practice GRE writing prompts, make sure you stick to a strict 30-minute time limit for each Analytical Writing prompt.
If you need to build up to writing within this time limit, you can start out by giving yourself extra time and then working your way down to 30 minutes. However, try not to only practice with extra time, or you’ll be unprepared for the real GRE Analytical Writing essays.
#2: Type Your Essays
To get the best practice for the computer-based GRE, you should write all your practice essays on a computer.
If possible, use the simple word processor in the PowerPrep Test Preview Tool or practice tests to do every practice essay. You’ll need to get used to the lack of spellcheck and familiar shortcuts or features of your own word processor that you might not realize how often you use, like select all, copy, cut, paste, or undo; it’s surprising to find how much not being able to use CTL+A to select all or CTL+V to paste can affect your writing and editing speed.
Even if you’re not writing about the GRE essay prompts given in PowerPrep, you can still use the text box and timer in the test preview tool or one of the practice tests to write practice essays on other prompts. Just be sure to save your essay into a separate document on your computer so you can go back and read and score it afterwards.
#3: Grade Your Essays
Once you’ve written your practice Issue and Argument essays, score them by using the essay rubrics and by comparing your writing to the sample essays ETS provides at each score point.
The rubrics for the Issue essay and the Argument essay are similar when it comes to the importance of clarity of writing and adherence to standard English grammar, spelling, and punctuation; they only really differ when it comes to assessing the specifics of the issue or argument analyses. You can try using the rubric yourself on your own essays and determine where on the rubric your essay fits; alternatively, you can see if you can find a GRE buddy who is willing to grade you and give you feedback based on the rubric, since it’s sometimes easier to be objective about someone else’s work.
While the rubrics are useful as guidelines for what to include in your essays, however, it can be difficult to envision what a perfect scoring essay might look like from the laundry list of qualities alone. That’s why the best way to learn what makes a difference between different essay scores is studying examples of high-scoring essays, analyzing what they do well, and finding the differences between them and lower-scoring essays on the same topic. We do this analysis for you in our articles on how to get a perfect 6 on the GRE Issue essay and Argument essay.
The object of grading your essays is not to feel bad that you didn’t live up to the ideals of a perfect essay score but instead to zero in on your weak spots so you can improve. Whether it’s disorganized writing, running out of time (and so not finishing your essay), insufficient analysis, or some other issue entirely, identify the main issues with your essay, then focus your practice on improving those areas.
Looking for more great advice to increase your GRE AWA score? Read our article on GRE essay tips and strategies.
Want to find out more about what’s on the essay rubrics? We have a complete guide to how the GRE essays are scored here.
Learn more about what’s on the GRE and what a good GRE score is.
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Author: Laura Staffaroni
Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel and fulfill their college and grad school dreams. View all posts by Laura Staffaroni
The GRE essay topics on the Issue task come such from such wide a variety of fields that there seems to be no discernible pattern in the GRE writing prompts we’ve seen. There are angry mayors decrying pollution in their cities; woven baskets along a mythical river; and rhesus monkeys and stimulation. Despite such a colorful array, there are several “buckets”, or categories, into which the GRE Issue Essays fall.
Below, you can see that I’ve come up with seven main GRE essay topic categories and sorted the actual issue questions from the ETS website into them. Remember, the Issue Essay you will see test day will be drawn from this question bank.
It’s very important to remember that one of the argument prompts found on the GRE site will come up test day. That’s right: you can get a head start by doing mock essays from the prompts on the official site.
Though, I should mention that there are nearly 200 argument prompts on the site. Before you despair, keep in mind that some of these prompts are very similar and by practicing an essay prompt or two from each of the buckets below, you’ll prepare yourself for test day. And who knows? You might get lucky, the argument prompt you get test day being one that you already wrote a mock essay for.
Meet the 7 categories of GRE essay topics
These GRE writing prompts will ask you something about the aims and objectives of essay writing. The emphasis is typically on college–choosing majors, tuition, curriculum–though you might get a prompt relating to education at large.
“All college and university students would benefit from spending at least one semester studying in a foreign country.”
“Educational institutions have a responsibility to dissuade students from pursuing fields of study in which they are unlikely to succeed.”
“Educational institutions should actively encourage their students to choose fields of study that will prepare them for lucrative careers.”
“A nation should require all of its students to study the same national curriculum until they enter college.”
“Governments should offer a free university education to any student who has been admitted to a university but who cannot afford the tuition.”
“Universities should require every student to take a variety of courses outside the student’s field of study.”
“Claim: Universities should require every student to take a variety of courses outside the student’s major field of study.
Reason: Acquiring knowledge of various academic disciplines is the best way to become truly educated.”
“Formal education tends to restrain our minds and spirits rather than set them free.”
You’ll notice these prompts are all very similar. For instance, there are two prompts–the ones beginning with “educational institutions”–that are almost identical. Though this list is not exhaustive, in terms of education prompts that could pop up, it is highly representative, as are the prompts for the categories below. So if you practice with just a few prompts per category, you should be ready.
Unsurprisingly, given that the GRE is a test for graduate school, the education prompt tends to come up more often than any other. I would recommend writing one of these essays on a prompt that specifically mentions college and another that doesn’t (“Formal education tends…free” is a good one because it is probably the least related to the others).
2. Technology and society
“As people rely more and more on technology to solve problems, the ability of humans to think for themselves will surely deteriorate.”
“The primary goal of technological advancement should be to increase people’s efficiency so that they have more leisure time.”
“The increasingly rapid pace of life today causes more problems than it solves.”
“Although innovations such as video, computers, and the Internet seem to offer schools improved methods for instructing students, these technologies all too often distract from real learning.” (this ones a hybrid with the education “bucket”–cool!)
“Some people believe that our ever-increasing use of technology significantly reduces our opportunities for human interaction. Other people believe that technology provides us with new and better ways to communicate and connect with one another.”
“The human mind will always be superior to machines because machines are only tools of human minds.”
(I know this is a pretty random bucket – but it’s what ETS decrees)
“To understand the most important characteristics of a society, one must study its major cities.”
“Claim: Governments must ensure that their major cities receive the financial support they need in order to thrive.
Reason: It is primarily in cities that a nation’s cultural traditions are preserved and generated.”
“It is primarily in cities that a nation’s cultural traditions are generated and preserved.”
“When old buildings stand on ground that modern planners feel could be better used for modern purposes, modern development should be given precedence over the preservation of historic buildings.”
“The best way to solve environmental problems caused by consumer-generated waste is for towns and cities to impose strict limits on the amount of trash they will accept from each household.”
“Some people believe that government funding of the arts is necessary to ensure that the arts can flourish and be available to all people. Others believe that government funding of the arts threatens the integrity of the arts.”
“In order for any work of art—for example, a film, a novel, a poem, or a song—to have merit, it must be understandable to most people.”
“Claim: Nations should suspend government funding for the arts when significant numbers of their citizens are hungry or unemployed.
Reason: It is inappropriate—and, perhaps, even cruel—to use public resources to fund the arts when people’s basic needs are not being met.”
“Nations should suspend government funding for the arts when significant numbers of their citizens are hungry or unemployed.”
5. Government and Power
“The well-being of a society is enhanced when many of its people question authority.”
“Claim: In any field—business, politics, education, government—those in power should step down after five years.
Reason: The surest path to success for any enterprise is revitalization through new leadership.”
“Some people believe that government officials must carry out the will of the people they serve. Others believe that officials should base their decisions on their own judgment.”
“Some people believe that in order to thrive, a society must put its own overall success before the well-being of its individual citizens. Others believe that the well-being of a society can only be measured by the general welfare of all its people.”
“Governments should not fund any scientific research whose consequences are unclear.”
“Some people believe it is often necessary, even desirable, for political leaders to withhold information from the public. Others believe that the public has a right to be fully informed.”
6. Intellectual Endeavors
“In any field of inquiry, the beginner is more likely than the expert to make important contributions.”
“The best ideas arise from a passionate interest in commonplace things.”
(For a lack of a better name – though I guess “Deep Thoughts by ETS” would work.)
“As we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible, but more complex and mysterious.”
“The greatness of individuals can be decided only by those who live after them, not by their contemporaries.”
“People who are the most deeply committed to an idea or policy are also the most critical of it.”
“Many important discoveries or creations are accidental: it is usually while seeking the answer to one question that we come across the answer to another.”
“Claim: It is no longer possible for a society to regard any living man or woman as a hero.
Reason: The reputation of anyone who is subjected to media scrutiny will eventually be diminished.”
How to practice using GRE writing prompts
There are a few more “buckets”, but the seven categories above cover about 95% of the spectrum. The takeaway from all this is that you should find the category you are weakest in and work at becoming more comfortable with and knowledgable about that topic. For instance, many dread the art category, painfully aware that they cannot tell the difference between a Monet and a Manet (besides the ‘o’ and the ‘a’, of course).
Before you just start scribbling (or typing) a GRE essay, an important word on organization:
The point here is to know what you are going to write before writing it. The other way around, while tempting, can get you into trouble with the clock. Sure, you’ll generate some smart words right off the bat, but you’ll very likely write yourself into a hole where you are repeating yourself. This kind of desperation — in which you don’t have anything to say but are doing your best to rephrase what you already said a sentence or two earlier — is not lost on the graders.
The first step is to brainstorm, taking a few minutes to first come up with a position that is nuanced, instead of producing an unequivocal ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the issue question.
Next, you want to consider some possible counterarguments to your position. In acknowledging them, you are not weakening your position, as long as you show how they are lacking. This kind of analysis will only strengthen your position — and it is the exact kind of analysis the graders usually associate with ‘5’ score and higher. Doing this will help you avoid one of the biggest mistakes you can make on the Issue Essay — failing to provide support for your examples.
The good news is, coming up with arguments and counterexamples for these GRE essay topics won’t entail getting a degree in art history, in the case of those prompts. You only have to be able to be comfortable with a few examples, and make sure you can effectively relate them to your analysis. After all, the GRE Issue is not a test of knowledge as much as it is a test of how you can use knowledge — however limited — to back your position.
A few study tactics for using the GRE Issue prompts
If establishing a nuanced position and coming up with counterexamples to that position is difficult for you, don’t worry! Doing this is difficult for many, unless they’ve had practice.
So instead of writing your entire essay, first sit down with a prompt and practice coming up with a position and counterexamples. To give yourself a little structure, start the timer at 5 minutes. At first it’ll be difficult, but stick with it. Doing three prompts each morning for a week or so will make the process easier.
You can also go back to your notes after the five minutes are up and think of ways they could have been improved. Again, being patient and practicing daily will help make this process much more natural. At that point, you can start writing full length practice essays. And don’t worry — with almost 200 prompts, you are not going to run out of practice material!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April, 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.