Introduction to GRE Analytical Writing Ability (AWA) Section



The GRE Analytical Writing Section (AWA) consists of two essays – Issue Essay and Argument Essay, each of which you need to write in 30 minutes. The AWA sections tests your writing ability and analytical thinking skills on the basis of your response in these two essays. To write your essays, ETS provides you a basic word processor with the following functionalities – insert, delete, cut-paste and undo. The AWA section always comes first in your GRE, you cannot skip it, move to other sections and then come back again.

The AWA section GRE is usually the most neglected and underestimated section of the GRE. Just like the Math and Verbal sections, preparing for the AWA section needs regular practice and hardwork. A good news for students is that ETS has released the entire pool of Issue and Argument topics on their official website which can help you prepare for the AWA section.

What is the difference between Issue Essay and Argument Essay?

The Issue Essay asks you to respond to a general statement that can be related to topics such as science, arts, politics, education, economics and culture and posit your view on that topic i.e. how much do you agree or disagree with the statement.  A sample AWA Issue Analysis topic puts up like this:


A nation should require all of its students to study the same national curriculum until they enter college.

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.

The Argument Essay presents a brief passage where the author has taken a position by presenting evidence and reasons on a claim. You are asked to test the logical soundness of the argument by analyzing the evidence presented. You are not asked to present your views on the topic, you only have to analyze the argument and provide logical reasons that support why the argument is flawed or convincing.  A sample AWA Argument Analysis topic puts up like this:

In surveys Mason City residents rank water sports (swimming, boating and fishing) among their favorite recreational activities. The Mason River flowing through the city is rarely used for these pursuits, however, and the city park department devotes little of its budget to maintaining riverside recreational facilities. For years there have been complaints from residents about the quality of the river’s water and the river’s smell. In response, the state has recently announced plans to clean up Mason River. Use of the river for water sports is therefore sure to increase. The city government should for that reason devote more money in this year’s budget to riverside recreational facilities.

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 the assumptions and what the implications are if the assumptions prove unwarranted.

Scoring and Score Descriptions

The GRE AWA Essays are scored between 0.0 and 6.0 based on a 0.5 point increment. The essays are read by two readers who submit their respective scores based on analysis through pre-defined metrics as well as an E-Rater which usually checks for human errors. The final score is the average of the two essays, rounded to the nearest 0.5.

For example, if you’ve scored a 4 and a 5 in the Issue Analysis essay, then your final Issue analysis score will be (4+5)/2 i.e. 4.5. If you’ve scored a 5 and a 6 in the Argument Analysis essay, then your final Argument issue score will be (5+6)/2 i.e. 5.5. Your final AWA score will then be the average of your Issue and Argument essay scores – (4.5 + 5.5)/2 i.e. 5.0.

The scoring descriptions of AWA section GRE are as follows:

6.0 – OUTSTANDING: A well developed position on the argument/issue, displaying effective writing, cogent ideas and mastery over English language skills.

5.0 – STRONG: A well developed position on the argument/issue, displaying good writing skills, convincing ideas and reasons, clear control over language but with minor flaws.

4.0 – ADEQUATE: A satisfactory position on the argument/issue, displaying fair writing skills, clear ideas and reasons, satisfactory control over language with lack of vocabulary variety and  with minor flaws or a few major flaws.

3.0 – LIMITED: A satisfactory position on the argument/issue, displaying limited writing skills, no proper organization of ideas and some major flaws such as lack of sentence variety, word usage, grammatical errors etc.

 2.0 – SERIOUSLY FLAWED: An unsatisfactory position on the argument/issue, displaying poor writing skills, providing little relevant reasons and lack of control over language such as poor sentence structure that interferes with the meaning. 

1.0 – FUNDAMENTALLY DEFICIENT: A very weak position on the argument/issue, displaying poor writing skills, no proper organization of ideas, serious flaws in language control and frequent errors.

0.0 – UNSCORABLE: A score of zero is usually given when the test taker writes no essay or an essay on a completely irrelevant topic or if the essay is written in a language other than English or if the essay is a mere copy of the given topic.

How important is the GRE AWA score?

Many students consider the AWA score to be less important than the Math and Verbal Sections. The AWA section GRE is a crucial factor in determining your readiness for graduate school where writing ability is a necessary skill. A poor AWA score (less than 3.0) can raise the eyebrows of the admission committee who might reread your Statement of Purpose (SOP) to find out if it is actually written by you or by someone else. Thus, your AWA score is definitely an important factor in the admission process.

Best Books for GRE Analytical Writing Ability (AWA) Section

  1. Vibrant Publishers GRE Analytical Writing – Solutions to Real Essay Topics (Books 1 and 2)
  2. ETS Official Guide to the GRE Revised General Test
  3. Manhattan Series – Reading Comprehension and Essays

How can you get your practice essays essays graded?

1. ETS Score It Now! : Paid feature ($13) made available by ETS where you can submit any two of your essays and get them graded by ETS.

2. Experts: You can get your essays checked from Experts such as a professor of linguistics or literature or an experienced GRE tutor who is really good at written English language.

3. Family and Friends : Friends or family members who have gone through the GRE experience can help you a lot to identify flaws and shortcomings in your essays and give you an outsider’s opinion.

4. Self Analysis: Although this might sound a bit odd, self evaluation can be a useful option as well. Compare your essays with the sample responses on the Internet and find out where you’re lagging and what areas you need to improve. 

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About Ashwed Patil

Ashwed is a prospective MS student with interests in Computer Science, Content Writing and Geography. He has secured 8 admissions out of 10 U.S. universities he has applied to. His experience with the arduous MS application process motivated him to guide fellow applicants through online articles and blogs. He has also been deeply involved in teaching underprivileged kids in his hometown, Nasik. An interesting fact about Ashwed – he likes to make imaginary countries out of someone’s personality traits!