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practice GRE Issue Essay notebook

How to write a perfect GRE Issue Essay: Tips, Tricks, and Examples

The main question to answer when dealing with a GRE Issue Task is: Do you agree or disagree? In every exam, a controversial statement will be provided and you will need to write an essay explaining if you agree or disagree by providing support for your position. It is very important to have a strong argument as well as an effective counterargument. This essay must be composed with a 30 minute time limit.

GRE Essay Topics

There are many different questions that you will find on the exam, but they all revolve around a few core essay concepts which are listed and demonstrated below. It is important to be comfortable and knowledge about the possible topics, so any essay prompt they give you will be easy!
  1. Government and Power
    Example: “Governments must ensure that their major cities receive the financial support they need in order to thrive.”
  2. Education
    Example: “Educational institutions have a responsibility to dissuade students from pursuing fields of study in which they are unlikely to succeed.”
  3. Culture and Society
    Example: “The most effective way to understand contemporary culture is to analyze the trends of its youth.”
It is important to read sample prompts for the GRE issue essay prior to the test so that you know what type of questions to expect. But, make sure to randomly assign practice questions rather than hand pick questions. This is due to the fact that many students only focus on the topics that they excel in, but it is very important to also focus on the topics that don’t come easy to you. Many people only practice the topics they feel confident in and then receive a “harder” question on the test merely because they did not practice. This is a big mistake! Additionally, you can find every GRE issue prompt here.

Main Structure of Your Essay

Your essay length should be between 3-6 paragraphs. Keep in mind, you only have 30 minutes to write this essay therefore don’t try and go over the top. The main purpose of this essay is to measure your basic writing abilities.
Paragraph 1: Introduction – Introduce your point of view.
Paragraph 2: Main Argument – Give evidence as to why you believe that point of view.
Paragraph 3: Counterargument – Address the other side of the argument, but quickly refute it by giving evidence to prove your original side of the argument.
Paragraph 4: Conclusion – Conclude your essay. Do not merely summarize.

How To Write Your Thesis Statement

One of the most important concepts to keep in mind when writing the Issues GRE Essay is that the prompt normally says “to what extend do you agree or disagree.” Don’t ignore the “to what extent” part of the prompt. You don’t want to simply just agree or disagree. You want to make complicated thesis statement, which will award you more points.
For example, let’s say the prompt states “The best way to teach is to praise positive actions and ignore negative ones.” An incorrect response would be “I agree that the best way to teach is to praise positive actions and ignore negative ones”. However, a correct response would look like “I agree that praising positive actions is often more successful, but completely ignoring negative actions would be ill-advised.”
Notice how the author didn’t just completely agree or completely disagree with the prompt. The author created a complicated thesis that agreed to parts of the argument, but also disagreed with other components. A thesis statement like this would be awarded a higher score on the Issues GRE Essay.

10 Best GRE Essay Tips

  1. Make sure to use topic strong topic sentences to organize and introduce your paragraphs.
  2. Use varied sentence structure.
  3. Use transitional words and phrases such as: “however”, “therefore”, “consequence”, “on the contrary”, “while” “even though”, etc.
  4. Use proper grammar. This is a must!
  5. Use active voice when writing. For instance, instead of saying “The light bulb was invented by Thomas Edison”say “Thomas Edison invited the light bulb”.
  6. Avoid using slang and cliches.
  7. Instead of focusing on one single point, make sure you include a verity of examples. Don’t over-exhaust one example.
  8. PROOFREAD – make sure you leave a few minutes at the end to proofread your writing. This is key.
  9. Practice. You won’t become a better writer if you don’t write!
  10. If you are still having trouble after reading this blog, get help! Hiring a tutor for even one or two sessions can boost your score tremendously

GRE Essay Directions

“The best way to teach is to praise positive actions and ignore negative ones.”

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.

GRE Sample Essay

     The recommendation presents a view that I would agree is successful most of the time, but one that I cannot fully support due to the “all or nothing” impression it gives.
     Certainly as an educator I agree fully that the best way to elicit positive response from students is to make use of students’ positive energy and then encourage actions that you would like to see repeated. It is human nature that we all want to be accepted and achieve on some level, and when people in authority provide feedback that we have done something well, the drive to repeat the action that was praised is bound to be particularly strong.
     This blanket statement would obviously pay dividends in situations in which a teacher desires to have students repeat particular behaviors. For example, if an educator is attempting to teach students proper classroom etiquette, it would be appropriate to openly praise a student who raises his or her hand when wishing to speak or address the class. In such cases, the teacher may also help shape positive behaviors by ignoring a student who is trying to interject without approval from the teacher. In fact, the decision to ignore students who are exhibiting inappropriate behaviors of this type could work very well in this situation, as the stakes are not very high and the intended outcome can likely be achieved by such a method. However, it is important to note here that this tactic would only be effective in such a “low-stakes” situation, as when a student speaks without raising her hand first. As we will discuss below, ignoring a student who hits another student, or engages in more serious misbehaviors, would not be effective or prudent.
     To expand on this point, it is important for teachers to be careful when working with the second half of this statement, only ignoring negative actions that are not serious. Take for instance a student who is misbehaving just by chatting with a fellow classmate. This student might not be presenting much of a problem and may be simply seeking attention. Ignoring the student might, in fact, be the best solution. Now assume the negative action is the improper administering of chemicals in a science experiment or the bullying of a fellow student. To ignore these negative actions would be absurd and negligent. Now you are allowing a problem to persist, one that could potentially lead to much bigger and more dangerous issues. In a more serious situation, addressing the negative actions quickly and properly could stop the problem it in its tracks. It is for reasons like this that I do not advocate the idea that a teacher can be successful by simply ignoring negative actions.
     I do, however, greatly support the idea that the central focus of teaching should be to build on and encourage positive actions. However, the author’s all-encompasing statement leaves too many negative possibilities for the classroom. Perhaps a better way to phrase this statement would be to say, “The best way to teach is to praise positive actions and ignore negative ones that are not debilitating to class efficiency or the safety of any individual”.
     Thus, in the original statement, there are indeed some good intentions, and there could be a lot of merit in adopting its basic principles. Data proves that positive support can substantially increase motivation and desire in students and contribute to positive achievements. In fact, most studies of teaching efficacy indicate that praising positive actions and ignoring negative ones can create a more stable and efficient classroom. It needs to be stressed, however, that this tool is only effective at certain levels of misbehavior. As mentioned above, when the behavior is precipitated by feelings of revenge, power or total self-worthlessness, this methodology will likely not work. It is likely to be very successful, however, when the drive behind the misbehavior is simple attention seeking. In many of these instances, if the teacher demonstrates clearly that inappropriate behavior does not result in the gaining of attention, students are more likely to seek attention by behaving properly. Should the student choose this path, then the ignoring has worked and when the positive behavior is exhibited, then the teacher can utilize the first part of the theory and support or praise this behavior. Now it is much more likely to be repeated. If the student does not choose this path and instead elects to raise the actions to a higher level that presents a more serious issue, then ignorance alone cannot work and other methods must be employed.
     In conclusion, one can appreciate the credo expressed in this instance, but surely we all can see the potential error of following it through to the extreme.

CITATION: The above sample essay is adapted from the ETS website. For the direct source click here.

About the Author

Samantha is the co-founder and COO of Prep For Success Tutors! She has been tutoring in the GRE for over 10 years and is passionate about helping her students. Never hesitate to reach out to her to get support in your GRE studies. She would love to teach you her tips and tricks! You can reach out at or (973) 922-0818.

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