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The GRE® General Test

One test for graduate, business and law school

Select a step to learn more about your GRE® General Test journey.
 

Analyze an Issue Task

The "Analyze an Issue" task assesses your ability to think critically about a topic of general interest and to clearly express your thoughts about it in writing. Each Issue topic makes a claim that can be discussed from various perspectives and applied to many different situations or conditions. Your task is to present a compelling case for your own position on the issue.

  • Before beginning your written response, read the issue and the instructions that follow the Issue statement.
  • Think about the issue from several points of view, considering the complexity of ideas associated with those views.
  • Make notes about the position you want to develop and list the main reasons and examples you could use to support that position.

It’s important that you address the central issue according to the specific instructions. Each task is accompanied by one of the following sets of instructions:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

The GRE raters scoring your response are not looking for a "right" answer — in fact, as far as they are concerned, there is no correct position to take. Instead, the raters are evaluating the skill with which you address the specific instructions and articulate and develop an argument to support your evaluation of the issue.

The Issue task is an exercise in critical thinking and persuasive writing. The purpose of this task is to determine how well you can develop a compelling argument supporting your own evaluation of an issue and effectively communicate that argument in writing to an academic audience. Your audience consists of GRE raters who are carefully trained to apply the scoring criteria identified in the scoring guide for the "Analyze an Issue" task.

Raters apply the Issue scoring criteria to actual responses, so you should review scored sample Issue essay responses and rater commentary. The sample responses, particularly those at the 5 and 6 score levels, will show you a variety of successful strategies for organizing, developing and communicating a persuasive argument. The rater commentary discusses specific aspects of evaluation and writing, such as the use of examples, development and support, organization, language fluency and word choice. For each response, the commentary points out aspects that are particularly persuasive as well as any that detract from the overall effectiveness of the essay.

Since the Issue task is meant to assess the persuasive writing skills you’ve developed throughout your education, it has been designed neither to require any particular course of study nor to advantage students with a particular type of training.

Many college textbooks on composition offer advice on persuasive writing and argumentation that you might find useful, but even this advice might be more technical and specialized than you need for the Issue task. You will not be expected to know specific critical thinking or writing terms or strategies; instead, you should be able to respond to the specific instructions and use reasons, evidence and examples to support your position on an issue.
 

Published topic pools

An excellent way to prepare for the Issue task is to practice writing on some of the published topics (PDF). Even if you don't write a full response, it’s helpful to practice with a few of the Issue topics and sketch out your possible responses. Some people prefer to start practicing without regard to the 30-minute time limit. Others prefer to take a "timed test" first and practice within the time limit.
 

Plan your response

Regardless of which approach you take, review the task directions and then follow these steps:

  • Carefully read the claim and the specific instructions and make sure you understand them. If they seem unclear, discuss them with a friend or teacher.
  • Think about the claim and instructions in relation to your own ideas and experiences, to events you have read about or observed and to people you have known. This is the knowledge base from which you will develop compelling reasons and examples in your argument that reinforce, negate or qualify the claim in some way.
  • Decide what position you want to take and defend.
  • Decide what compelling evidence (reasons and examples) you can use to support your position.

Remember that this is a task in critical thinking and persuasive writing. The most successful responses explore the complexity of the claim and follow the specific task instructions. As you prepare, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What, precisely, is the central issue?
  • What precisely are the instructions asking me to do?
  • Do I agree with all or any part of the claim? Why or why not?
  • Does the claim make certain assumptions? If so, are they reasonable?
  • Is the claim valid only under certain conditions? If so, what are they?
  • Do I need to explain how I interpret certain terms or concepts used in the claim?
  • If I take a certain position on the issue, what reasons support my position?
  • What examples — either real or hypothetical — could I use to illustrate those reasons and advance my point of view? Which examples are most compelling?

Once you’ve decided on a position to defend, consider the perspectives of others who might not agree with your position. Ask yourself:

  • What reasons might someone use to refute or undermine my position?
  • How should I acknowledge or defend against those views in my essay?

As you plan your response, you may find it helpful to:

  • summarize your position and make notes about how you’ll support it
  • look over your notes and decide how you’ll organize your response

After you’ve practiced with some of the topics, try writing responses to some of them within the 30-minute time limit so that you have a good idea of how to use your time in the actual test.
 

Evaluate your response

When you’re finished writing your practice response, it would be helpful to get some feedback on your response.

  • You might want to get feedback on your response from an instructor who teaches critical thinking or writing
  • You could trade essays on the same topic with other students and discuss one another's responses in relation to the scoring guide.

Look at the scoring guide for the Issue topic and try to determine how your essay meets or misses the criteria for each score point in the guide. Comparing your own response to the scoring guide will help you see how and where to improve.

Keep the following tips in mind:

  • You’re free to organize and develop your response in any way that will enable you to effectively communicate your position.
  • You can incorporate writing strategies you learned in English composition or writing-intensive college courses.
  • GRE raters will not be looking for a particular developmental strategy or mode of writing. In fact, when GRE raters are trained, they review hundreds of Issue responses that, although highly diverse in content and form, display similar levels of critical thinking and persuasive writing.
  • Raters will see some Issue responses at the 6 score level that begin by briefly summarizing the writer's position on the issue and then explicitly announcing the main points to be argued. They’ll see others that lead into the writer's position by making a prediction, asking a series of questions, describing a scenario or defining critical terms in the quotation. Raters know that a writer can earn a high score by giving multiple examples or by presenting a single, extended example.
  • Use as many or as few paragraphs as needed to support your argument. You’ll probably need to create a new paragraph whenever you shift to a new cluster of ideas.
  • The clarity of your ideas and the skill with which you convey them are more important than the number of examples and paragraphs or the form of your argument.

For more information, review a sample Issue task, including strategies for the topic and essay responses with rater commentary at each score level.

The sample responses, particularly those at the 5 and 6 score levels, will show you a variety of successful strategies for organizing, developing and communicating a persuasive argument. The rater commentary discusses:

  • specific aspects of evaluation and writing, such as the use of examples, development and support, organization, language fluency and word choice
  • aspects that are particularly persuasive
  • aspects that detract from the overall effectiveness of the essay

When you take the GRE General Test, you’ll be presented with one Issue topic from the pool. To help you prepare, we’ve published the entire pool of tasks from which your Issue topic will be selected.