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GRE Analytical Writing Sample Essays

Sample Issue Topics

In August 2011, the GRE test pattern underwent a major change. The total score for the General Test was brought down to 340 from 1600.

The Issue task consists of an issue statement which is followed by specific instructions that instruct you on how to respond to an issue. The ETS website lists over 200 topics on their website. While it might be a pretty overwhelming task to prepare for each of them individually, one can easily go through them leisurely - a few topics each day - and practice the ones that seem the most challenging. It's amazing how much easier things can get on exam-day by just being aware of the topics that one might come across. The good news is, all these topics fall under 6 broad categories:

  • Education:
    Educational institutions have a responsibility to dissuade students from pursuing fields of study in which they are unlikely to succeed.

  • Art:
    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.

  • Technology and society:
    As people progressively rely more on technology to solve problems, the ability of humans to think for themselves will surely deteriorate

  • Government and power:
    The well-being of a society is enhanced when many of its people question authority and tyrannical leaders.

  • Intellectual endeavours:
    In any field of inquiry, the beginner is more likely than the expert to make important contributions

  • Philosophical:
    The greatness of individuals can be decided only by those who live after them, and not by their contemporaries

Let us consider an issue statement and look at an essay capable of scoring a perfect 6.0 and compare it with one that would be likely to score around 4.0:
“As people rely more and more on technology to solve problems, the ability of humans to think for themselves will surely deteriorate”
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.

Essay response- Score 6
Surely there has been no time in history where the daily lives of people have changed more dramatically over a single lifetime. A quick reflection on a typical day reveals how technology has revolutionized the world. Most people commute to work in an automobile that runs on an internal combustion engine. During the workday, the chances are high that the employee will interact with a computer that processes information on silicon bridges that are 14 nanometres wide or even less. Upon leaving home, family members can be reached through wireless networks that utilize signals from artificial satellites orbiting the Earth. All of these common occurrences were nothing short of inconceivable at the turn of the 19th century.

The statement attempts to bridge these dramatic changes to a reduction in the ability for humans to think for themselves. The assumption is that an increased reliance on technology negates the need for people to think creatively to solve previous quandaries. Looking back at the introduction, one could argue that without a car, computer, or mobile phone, the hypothetical worker would need to find alternate methods of transport, information processing, and communication. Technology short circuits this thinking by making the problems obsolete.

However, this reliance on technology does not necessarily preclude the creativity that marks the human species. The prior examples reveal that technology allows for convenience. The car, computer, and phone all release additional time for people to live more efficiently. This efficiency does not preclude the need for humans to think for themselves. In fact, technology frees humanity to not only tackle new problems but may itself create new issues that did not exist without technology. For example, the proliferation of automobiles has introduced a need for fuel conservation on a global scale. With increasing energy demands from emerging markets, global warming becomes a concern inconceivable to the horse-and-buggy generation. Likewise, complete dependence on oil has created nation-states that are not dependent on taxation, allowing ruling parties to oppress minority groups and women. Solutions to these complex problems require the unfettered imagination of maverick scientists and politicians.

In contrast to the statement, we can even see how technology liberates the human imagination. Consider how the digital revolution and the advent of the internet have allowed for an unprecedented exchange of ideas. WebMD, a popular internet portal for medical information, allows patients to self-research their symptoms for a more informed visit to the physician's chamber. This exercise opens pathways of thinking that were previously closed off to the medical layman. With increased interdisciplinary interaction, inspiration can arrive from the most surprising corners. Jeffrey Sachs, one of the architects of the UN Millenium Development Goals, based his ideas on emergency care triage techniques. The unlikely marriage of economics and medicine has healed tense, hyperinflation environments from South America to Eastern Europe.

The last example provides the most hope with how technology actually provides hope to the future of humanity. By increasing our reliance on technology, impossible goals can now be achieved. Consider how the late 20th century witnessed the complete elimination of smallpox. This disease had ravaged the human race since prehistorical times, and yet, with the advancements in inoculation technology, free-thinking humans dared to imagine a world free of smallpox. Using technology, battle plans were drawn out, and the disease was systematically targeted and eradicated.

Technology has always distinguished humans from other living beings, from the discovery of fire to the implementation of nanotechnology. Given the history of the human race, there will be no limit to the number of problems, both new and old, for us to tackle. There is no need to retreat to a Luddite attitude to new things, but rather embrace a hopeful posture to the possibilities that technology provides for new avenues of human imagination.


Essay response- Score 4
In all actuality, I think it is more probable that an over-dependence on technology will cause our bodies to deteriorate long before our minds do, in any significant amount. Who can't say that technology has made us lazier, but that's the key word, lazy, and not foolish. The ever-increasing amount of technology that we incorporate into our daily lives makes people think and learn every day, possibly more than ever before. Our abilities to think, learn, philosophize, etc. may even reach limits never dreamed of before by average people. Using technology to solve problems will continue to help us realize our potential as a human race.

If you think about it, using technology to solve more complicated problems gives humans a chance to expand their thinking and learning, opening up whole new worlds for many people. Many of these people are glad for the chance to expand their horizons by learning more, going to new places, and trying new things. If it wasn't for the invention of new technological devices, I wouldn't be sitting at this computer trying to philosophize about technology. It would be extremely hard for children in much poorer countries to learn and think for themselves with out the invention of the internet. Think what an impact the printing press, a technologically superior machine during its time, had on the ability of the human race to learn and think.

Right now we are witnessing a golden age of technology, using it all the time during our everyday lives. Inventions like the washing machine, microwave and air-conditioner have made life considerably more convenient and comfortable. However, we aren't allowing our minds to deteriorate by using them, we are only making things easier for ourselves and saving time for other important things in our day. Think of the brain power and genius that was used to come up with and improve on every single invention that has conceptualized across the globe.

Using technology to solve our continually more complicated problems as a human race is definitely a good thing. Our ability to think for ourselves isn't deteriorating, it's continuing to grow, moving on to higher though functions and more ingenious ideas. The ability to use what technology we have is an example.

The 6.0 scoring essay presents a very insightful position on the issue and follows the instructions by presenting reasons to support the position. The essay also effectively links ideas effortlessly and substantiates all clams with relevant examples. The essay makes use of grammatically correct, idiomatic English, and has a logical structure. The second essay too develops a clear position and supports it with simple but relevant examples. The essay as a whole flows smoothly and errors are minor, however, being more concise, the ideas aren't as elaborately presented as in the first essay and the linking of ideas isn't as seamless as the first essay. Moreover, the conclusion seems abrupt and leaves a lot to the imagination.

Sample Argument Topics and Essays

Argument topics consist of a passage which presents an argument followed by specific task instructions. Once again let us look at an essay capable of scoring a perfect 6.0 and compare it with one that would be likely to score around 4.0:

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.

Essay response- Score 6
While it may be true that the Mason City government ought to devote more money to riverside recreational facilities, this author's argument does not make a cogent case for increased resources based on river use. It is easy to understand why city residents would want a cleaner river, but this argument is rife with holes and assumptions, and thus, not strong enough to lead to increased funding.

Citing surveys of city residents, the author reports city resident's love of water sports. It is not clear, however, the scope and validity of that survey. For example, the survey could have asked residents if they prefer using the river for water sports or would like to see a hydroelectric dam built, which may have swayed residents toward river sports. The sample may not have been representative of city residents, asking only those residents who live upon the river. The survey may have been 10 pages long, with 2 questions dedicated to river sports. We just do not know. Unless the survey is fully representative, valid, and reliable, it can not be used to effectively back the author's argument.

Additionally, the author implies that residents do not use the river for swimming, boating, and fishing, despite their professed interest, because the water is polluted and smelly. While a polluted, smelly river would likely cut down on river sports, a concrete connection between the resident's lack of river use and the river's current state is not effectively made. Though there have been complaints, we do not know if there have been numerous complaints from a wide range of people, or perhaps from one or two individuals who made numerous complaints. To strengthen his/her argument, the author would benefit from implementing a normed survey asking a wide range of residents why they do not currently use the river.

Building upon the implication that residents do not use the river due to the quality of the river's water and the smell, the author suggests that a river clean up will result in increased river usage. If the river's water quality and smell result from problems which can be cleaned, this may be true. For example, if the decreased water quality and aroma is caused by pollution by factories along the river, this conceivably could be remedied. But if the quality and aroma result from the natural mineral deposits in the water or surrounding rock, this may not be true. There are some bodies of water which emit a strong smell of sulphur due to the geography of the area. This is not something likely to be affected by a clean-up. Consequently, a river clean up may have no impact upon river usage. Regardless of whether the river's quality is able to be improved or not, the author does not effectively show a connection between water quality and river usage.

A clean, beautiful, safe river often adds to a city's property values, leads to increased tourism and revenue from those who come to take advantage of the river, and a better overall quality of life for residents. For these reasons, the city government may decide to invest in improving riverside recreational facilities. However, this author's argument is not likely significantly persuade the city government to allocate increased funding.

Essay response- Score 4
The problem with the argument is the assumption that if the Mason River were cleaned up, that people would use it for water sports and recreation. This is not necessarily true, as people may rank water sports among their favorite recreational activities, but that does not mean that those same people have the financial ability, time or equipment to pursue those interests.

However, even if the writer of the argument is correct in assuming that the Mason River will be used more by the city's residents, the argument does not say why the recreational facilities need more money. If recreational facilities already exist along the Mason River, why should the city allot more money to fund them? If the recreational facilities already in existence will be used more in the coming years, then they will be making more money for themselves, eliminating the need for the city government to devote more money to them.

According to the argument, the reason people are not using the Mason River for water sports is because of the smell and the quality of water, not because the recreational facilities are unacceptable.

If the city government alloted more money to the recreational facilities, then the budget is being cut from some other important city project. Also, if the assumptions proved unwarranted, and more people did not use the river for recreation, then much money has been wasted, not only the money for the recreational facilities, but also the money that was used to clean up the river to attract more people in the first place.

If you compare both the essays, the perfect 6.0 scoring essay shows that each assumption is highly suspect. In addition to this, the essay itself is very carefully organized. And although there are minor errors, they don’t obstruct the writer’s ideas. On the other hand, the second essay, despite being well-written on the whole, identifies two unstated assumptions and makes some extraneous, unsupported assertions of its own.

We hope you have developed a clear idea of how to write perfectly worded essays from the samples provided above.

To know some important tips of writing issue and argument essays, click here.
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