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Preparing for the Analytical Writing Measure

Transcript

Video duration: 25:03

DEVON TOMASULO: Hello, I'm Devon Tomasulo, and I've been working in the Research and Development division at ETS for seven years. I am an Assessment Specialist in the Higher Education Assessment Department, and today we'll be talking about preparing for the Analytical Writing Measure.

In this session, we will cover an introduction to the Analytical Writing measure, where we'll talk about task types and strategies for answering this section of the exam. We'll also talk about general strategies, as well as GRE® resources that are available to you as you prepare for the exam.

In this section of the presentation, we'll provide you with an overview of the Analytical Writing measure. We'll talk about what you can expect in terms of the content of the exam, as well as how your essays that you produce will be evaluated.

The Analytical Writing measure is designed to assess critical thinking and analytical writing skills. So, on this section of the exam, you will be demonstrating your ability to articulate and support complex ideas, construct and evaluate arguments, and sustain a focused and coherent discussion. Please note that this section of the exam does not address specific content knowledge, and the prompts and tasks were designed to allow you to demonstrate your critical thinking and analytical writing skills without the need for specific content knowledge.

So, let's take a quick look at the content of what you can expect on the Analytical Writing section. This section contains two 30-minute timed analytical writing tasks. This includes an issue task and an argument task, and we'll talk about the specifics of those task types later on in this presentation.

Essay responses are typed on a computer, and ETS software has a basic word processor that contains functionalities, such as inserting text, deleting text, cut and paste, and undoing the previous action. Please note that Spell Checker and Grammar Checker are not available in the ETS word processor. This is because your fluidity with language will be part of the criteria that is used to evaluate your performance on this area of the exam.

Here we'll talk more about how your essays will be evaluated. Trained GRE readers will evaluate each response, both your issue response as well as your argument response, and they'll be evaluating it based on an overall quality measure. In order to make this determination, they'll be looking at things such as how well you respond to specific task instructions in the essay, how well you consider complexities of the issue or identify and analyze important features of the argument. They'll be looking for organization, development, and expression of your ideas, how well these ideas are then supported, and what kind of relevant reasons and/or examples are provided. We'll also be looking at control of the elements of standard written English.

As a part of ETS's approach to fair, reliable, and valid scoring, each essay receives two scores. One score is from a trained GRE reader, and the second score is from an automated scoring engine that's termed e-rater. This is a computer program developed by ETS that is capable of identifying essay features related to writing proficiency.

Both e-rater and the trained GRE reader will apply a score based on a six-point holistic scale. What we mean by holistic scale is that all of the aspects of your essay will be taken into account before applying a specific score to your paper. If the human reader and the e-rater scores closely agree, then the average of these two scores is going to be used as the final score. If the scoring from the GRE reader and e-rater are in disagreement, then the essay response will be scored by a second GRE human reader, and the final score will be the average of these two human scores.

The final scores of the two essays are then averaged. And what we mean by this is that we'll take the score from your issue essay and the score from your argument essay, and those will be averaged as your final score for the Analytical Writing measure. If you want to learn more about our scoring guides and score level descriptions, they're available on the GRE website, and we'll also talk about them more in this presentation.

The general structure of the scoring guides for the Analytical Writing measure breaks into two general groups. We have upper-half scores and lower-half scores, and this is true both for argument essays as well as for issue essays. The upper-half scores of a 6, 5, or a 4 are all determined based on meeting all of the criteria for that specific area. So, we're looking at having both adequate content and adequate development, as well as adequate language control in order to earn a 4, which is one of the upper half scores.

On the lower-half side, in order to earn a 3, 2, or 1, there is a notable part of the essay that might be lacking. And we'll talk more about this in the presentation, but you can also look at the scoring guides online. You only need to meet the criteria for one of the areas of the lower-half scores in order for that to bring the score down.

So, for example, if you only have limited language control, that might warrant a 3 for the essay, even if the content of the ideas are at the adequate or the strong level. So, let's look at this a little bit more.

Here we've selected a few score-level descriptions so you can get a sense of a high, medium, and low performance on the GRE essay. We have further score-level descriptions on our GRE website if you're interested, and we have a link to that website at the end of this presentation.

At the highest level, we have a 5.5 or a 6. And the description here says that an essay would sustain an insightful, in-depth analysis of complex ideas, develop and support main points with logically compelling reasons and/or highly persuasive examples. It's well-focused and well-organized and skillfully uses sentence variety and precise vocabulary to convey meaning effectively.

The most important part of this description, and something that you'll see throughout all of these descriptions, is that an essay needs to do all of these things in order to earn these scores. So, in order to earn the highest scores, you'll need to have insightful ideas as well as a well-organized structure and precise vocabulary.

At the mid-level, we have a 3.5 or a 4, which provides a competent analysis of complex ideas, develops and supports main points with relevant reasons or examples, is adequately organized, and conveys meaning with reasonable clarity. You'll see here that just like the 5.5 or a 6, we're looking at many different facets of the essay. But the criteria for a 3.5 or a 4 level focuses on words that are more at a mid-level, such as competent or having reasonable clarity, as compared with the highest level, which might have sustained insightful ideas.

Finally, at the lowest level, we have a 1.5 or a 2. And at this level, there is a serious weakness that was displayed in one of the following ways. So, some of the ways might be a serious lack of analysis or development. It could just be a lack of organization. Or it could be serious and frequent problems in sentence structure. These are just some of the ways that you might earn one of the lower scores. Again, we have further descriptions on the website if you want to look at them more.

Now we'll take a look at the task types and strategies for answering this portion of the exam. We'll look at the task types for both issue and for argument. Here we'll look at an issue task first.

In order to compose your issue essay response, you'll be presented with a brief quotation that states or implies an issue of general interest, as well as specific instructions on how to respond to that issue. A reminder here that you do not need specific outside content knowledge in order to answer either the issue task or the argument task. As you're working on the issue task, it will require you to analyze the issue presented, as well as develop an argument with reasons and/or examples that support that position.

You'll have 30 minutes to plan and compose your essay response. An essay response that addresses an issue other than the one assigned to you will receive a score of 0. That is to say that anything that's off topic or does not respond to the specific prompt that you were given will not be evaluated.

Here, we're going to look at issue task variance. So, you'll see later on in this presentation that an issue task for the GRE has two components. The first component is a general prompt that's about the topic that you'll be addressing. The second part is the specific task that will tell you how to address that prompt.

Here we have, and on the remaining slides we'll have, specific examples of the type of task variants that might be presented to you on the exam. So, you'll see that these make the most sense in context with a specific prompt, and we'll get to that example later. But here you can see some of the ways that we might be asking you to respond to something. I'll read through the two bullet points here so that you have context, and then we'll move through the remaining examples on the following slides.

First, we have: 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.

Underneath, we have: 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.

So, you can see in the first bullet, we're talking specifically about the statement that is made and explaining your reasoning for agreeing or disagreeing and considering specific ways in which it may or may not hold true. In the second part, we're talking about evaluating a recommendation and describing specific circumstances about that recommendation and how that shapes your position.

Some other task variants include looking at a claim and the reason on which that claim is based, as in the first bullet. And you'll see the other two bullets underneath also talk about slightly different approaches to how you might frame your particular position.

And here is our final one, talking about the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim, and noting here that 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.

So, there's definitely some nuances in these particular task types that you'll want to pay attention to, to make sure that you're responding appropriately.

I'm going to pause here for a moment to give you some time to take a look at the issue task.

You'll see that there are two sections over here on the left-hand side. So, the first section is what we're calling the prompt. This is the general topic that you're responding to. And this one begins with, "As people rely more and more on technology to solve problems, the ability of humans to think for themselves will surely deteriorate."

So, we have that as our prompt, and then underneath it, we have the specific task type. So, you'll see that this is one of the task types that we looked at on the previous slides. So, for this particular prompt, our task is, write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you would 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.

So, this is just an example of an issue task that would be presented to you, but you can see the basic structure of what you can expect. There will always be a prompt first that talks about a general topic, and then there'll be a task underneath that tells you the specific direction in which you should approach that task.

Here we have some strategies for analyzing an issue task. We've talked about some of these questions on previous slides, but we've collected them here so that you have an easy resource as you prepare for the exam. Some of the questions include, what precisely is the central issue? What are the instructions asking me to do? Do I agree with all or any part of the claim?

This can be particularly helpful in developing your argument, because it doesn't necessarily need to be that you 100% agree or 100% disagree. There might be different circumstances or nuances that you want to pay attention to. Some other questions include does the claim make assumptions? Are they reasonable assumptions? If so, that's something that you can unpack in the course of your essay.

Also, do I need to explain how I interpret certain terms or concepts? Is there a specific idea about education or a larger idea that you realize your own preconceived notions might be playing a factor in? All of these questions are to help elicit more of your ideas so we can see more of your thinking.

Again, remember that our main goal in this section of the exam is to assess critical thinking and analytical writing skills. So, use this as a space to demonstrate those skills, and hopefully some of these questions will help you get into the practice of doing that.

These additional questions here might help you continue to develop your ideas. And that's something that you'll see if you take a closer look at our scoring guidelines, that we're looking for compelling examples that are described and developed in a way that shows insightfulness and thoughtfulness.

So what examples, either real or hypothetical, could I use to illustrate those reasons and advance my point of view? What reasons might someone use to refute or undermine my position? Always taking another perspective on something can certainly help to develop your position and make it more compelling. And how should I acknowledge or defend against those views in my essay response?

Not all of these questions will necessarily come into play, but we're hoping that they show some of the thinking that we're hoping to elicit as you engage with these task types.

We have a few general reminders about the issue task here. First, make sure that you respond to the assigned issue and the specific task directions that are underneath it. Please feel free to accept, reject, or qualify the claim in your response.

Please note there is no right answer. The reason we're saying that is because it doesn't matter what position you take. It matters how well you develop that position. You must also make it clear how your reasons or examples support the position on the issue, which is to say, make sure that we can see all the connections that you're making.

Now we'll shift to our discussion about the argument task. The argument task presents a short passage that presents an argument and specific instructions on how you respond to that passage. So, it's the same composition as an issue task. You'll have both the prompt part at the beginning, as well as specific instructions on how to respond. It requires that you assess the logical soundness of a given argument according to the specific task directions. And again, like the issue task, you'll have 30 minutes to plan and compose your essay response. And a response to an argument other than the one assigned will receive a score of 0.

Similarly to how we provided the task variants for the issue task, we also have task variants for the argument. So, you'll see here that all of these tasks that are in the sub-bullets and the bullets on the following pages are providing instructions for how to respond to that specific prompt. So, you'll have both a prompt, and then the task underneath it that will tell you how to respond to it.

These are some examples of those tasks. I'll read the first two for you just so you can get a sense of some of the differences, and then we'll move through the remaining ones on the other slides.

The first one is: 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. The second bullet is: Write a response in which you examine the stated 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 those assumptions prove unwarranted.

So, in our first bullet, we're talking about the specific evidence that's needed in order to evaluate the argument; in the second one, we're talking about stated or unstated assumptions. So, you can see that there's a difference in terms of how you might approach a prompt based on the specific task that's attached to it.

And we have here, on the remaining slides, additional variants that might come with your argument task. And I'll just quickly read out the first one for reference here, but you can go back later and familiarize yourself with the other task types.

But our first one is: 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.

In analyzing an argument task, you'll be presented with the same general setup that you are for an issue task. So, the first part on the upper left-hand side is going to be the general prompt. So, this is a statement that you will be evaluating. Underneath it is the specific task type that you'll be looking at. And I'll pause here for a few moments so that you can quickly read through and get a sense of what the argument tasks will look like.

As you can see, the prompt sets up a small scenario in which a conclusion is come to at the end. Your job is to take a look at the scenario and the conclusion and evaluate the soundness of the argument. And you'll do this through the specific lens of the task that's presented to you underneath.

Here we have some key argument concepts that we've provided for your reference that might help you structure your essay. I'll read through them quickly for you: alternative explanations, arguments, assumptions, conclusions, counter examples, evaluations, evidence, examples, and reasons.

Here we've collected some questions that can help you as you're preparing for answering the argument task. Similar to the question that we presented at the end of discussing the issue task, you might not answer all of these questions in your essay, but we're putting them here to help show the type of thinking that we're hoping to elicit in presenting you with these tasks.

So, some things that you can think about include, What is offered as evidence, support, or proof? What is explicitly stated? And what is assumed or supposed, perhaps without justification? And finally, What is not stated but necessarily follows from what is stated? Again, these are just questions that we're putting here so that you can develop more of your own thinking and putting that onto the page.

General reminders about analyzing an argument task is that you must respond to the specific argument and task directions. This is the same as with the issue prompt, but make sure that you read through everything that's presented to you. Also, make it clear how your specific analysis of the argument connects to the assigned task. Again, make sure that we can see all the connections that you're making.

And please note that you are not being asked to present your own views on the subject matter, which is somewhat different than the issue that's presented to you, in which you can present some more of your own ideas and work those into the essays. In the argument task, your focus is on the prompt that's given to you and analyzing what's there.

Finally, we'll talk about some general strategies for preparing for this section of the exam. Here we've collected some common-sense test preparation rules. These might be actions that you're already taking, but we're collecting them here so that you have an easy reference.

First, become familiar with the test structure and timing. As we've repeated here, there is a reliable structure that you can count on when you take the exam of having both a prompt and a specific task type underneath it. And you'll always have 30 minutes to prepare and write your essays.

Become familiar with the scoring criteria as well, and you can check out our scoring guidelines on our website. You can also take a look at our published topic pools and practice writing on each task type. You can review sample responses and reader commentary for each task type. This will allow you to see essay responses and see the scores that they get. Become familiar with key argument concepts and practice writing under timed conditions.

Here we have some additional guidance that can help you as you approach different tasks. Please spend a few minutes thinking about the topic and the specific directions as you plan your essay and how you would like to respond. Pay close attention to the specific task directions, and make sure that you support your position with reasons and examples drawn from areas of your reading, experience, and observations.

When addressing the argument task, make sure that you're addressing the specific argument that is presented to you. Leave time to read what you have written and make any revisions that you think are necessary. Avoid excessive irony or humor that may be misinterpreted by readers. In short, make sure that you're demonstrating your critical thinking and analytical writing skills in a way that can be conveyed to others.

Some additional resources that we have for you are located on our GRE website. On our GRE website, we have an overview of the Analytical Writing measure, which includes detailed information on the essay tasks, tips for preparation, sample tasks with scored sample essay responses, and a large pool of issue and argument topics so that you can practice on your own with timed writing.

We also include the scoring guide for both the issue and the argument task so you can familiarize yourself with the six-point holistic scale that our GRE readers use in evaluation. And finally, we have Analytical Writing score level descriptions so you can see an articulation of what a specific score on the Analytical Writing measure means for that particular essay.

Thank you so much for spending time with us today preparing for the GRE exam. We hope that these free resources support you in your preparation for the exam, and we are working very hard on our end to make sure that you have a fair, reliable, and valid assessment. Thank you.