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Even for people with undergraduate degrees, the essay writing portion of the GRE can be a major source of stress. For many of us, crafting an essay is a complex enough task without layering a ridiculously short time limit on top of the process, as the GRE does. However, if you follow these three principles, you’ll be able to create a strong response for any kind of question on the GRE:

1.    Analyze the question stem

It may seem obvious, but the most important part of answering any question is understanding it. This is especially true with open response and essay questions, where misinterpreting the question could lead to you writing a brilliant response that is worth exactly zero points.

First, read the prompt and determine if you’re being instructed to provide your own opinion on evaluate someone else’s opinion. When the GRE wants your opinion, it will classify the question as “Analyzing an Issue.” When the GRE is looking for your reaction and break-down of somebody else’s idea, the test will refer to that as “Analyzing an Argument.” By searching for this language on your test, you can ensure you’re answering the right question and setting yourself up to receive as many points as possible.

2.    Organization is your friend

When you write an essay to turn in for class, you don’t just write it from beginning to end in a single stream of consciousness, right? No way! It’s shocking how many people use this “begin at the beginning and when you come to the end, stop” approach to writing essays for standardized tests.

Before you start writing anything, take a few minutes to organize your thoughts. If might feel like you’re sitting there doing nothing, but you’re actually putting in vital work that will strengthen your response and save you (and the person who reads your response) a lot of grief.

In the heat of the moment on test day, it can be easy to forget the fundamentals, so remind yourself to begin with an introduction, present ideas in the body of your response, and then wrap things up with a conclusion. Providing your reader with this structure will help them orient themselves in your response and make your work stand out as well-organized.

3.    Leave no idea unsupported

The best way to demonstrate your intelligence, strengthen your arguments, and blow readers away is to make sure you support every single thing you write with evidence or examples. It’s far better to make just a few points and explain them fully than to introduce a large number of ideas that you explore on only a shallow level.

Every time you write a sentence, ask yourself, “Is this something that someone might have trouble understanding or disagree with?” If the answer is “Yes” or even “Maybe,” you should probably follow up that sentence with an example, explanation, or supporting piece of evidence.

Whether you’re making your own argument or analyzing others’, it always helps the reader (and your prospective score) to provide as much clarity and detail as possible. Being successful on the GRE essay takes much more than just “knowing the answer” to the question, it requires the ability to think, organize, and explain using limited time.


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