1. Welcome
2. Vocabulary approach
3. Quantitative reasoning
4. Verbal reasoning
5. Analytical writing
5.1 Writing intro
5.2 Issue essay
6. Wrapping up
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5.2 Issue essay
Achievable GRE
5. Analytical writing

Issue essay

The issue essay prompt will ask you to present your opinion on a polarizing topic. As you can imagine, you have an abundance of freedom with this essay. You can choose which side you would like to defend, and which points you would like to use to defend your position. We’ll teach you a well-organized and effective way to approach any issue topic essay with confidence.

Start by organizing your thoughts

The issue essay always requires you to write your opinion on some controversial topic. It doesn’t matter which side you argue for; it only matters that your arguments defend your point of view effectively and that the essay is well written. Before starting to write a GRE essay, it’s important to plan your approach by making an outline. For the issue essay, you should read the prompt and quickly draw a table listing points that support or discredit the viewpoint.

Even if you already know which side you’ll choose, it’s still helpful to fill out both sides to collect your thoughts. Understanding the opposing side is crucial to writing a good essay, and the other side’s point of view should still be addressed in your arguments.

Let’s try it with this simple prompt:

Soccer (football) is a great sport to help keep you in shape.

Write a response in which you discuss why or why not you agree with this statement.

+ Pros + - Cons -
It can make exercising fun You can get injured
It involves lots of running You can only play when there are other people available
No gym membership required You need special equipment (shoes, ball, goals)

Getting organized will make it much simpler when it comes to writing the actual essay!

The 5-paragraph essay format

After filling out the table, look through both sides and decide which stance you feel you can defend the best. Choose the strongest two points you feel you can most eloquently argue for. Then, choose a point on the other side that you feel you can most effectively dispute. You’ll use these three points to write body paragraphs that make up the bulk of your essay.

Your essay should follow this five-paragraph format.

  1. Introduction
    State your opinion and introduce your reasoning.

  2. Argument 1
    Lead with your best argument and describe it in detail.

  3. Argument 2
    Discuss your second-best argument in detail.

  4. Counterpoint with dispute
    Bring up an opposing opinion and discuss how although the counterpoint makes some agreeable claims, your opinion is ultimately stronger.

  5. Conclusion
    Restate your opinion.

Practice making your pro/con tables and outlines with a few of the practice essay prompts. No need to write an entire essay at the moment - just practice making a few outlines for now.

The real prompts will often be more specific than a simple state your opinion. The prompt may ask something like, Imagine if you have never played soccer. How might that shape your position? In that case, you might further discuss why finding a group of people to play, or having the equipment might be especially difficult.

Overcome writer's block

Limit your brainstorming phase to about 6 minutes, and after that, get writing! If you’re having trouble putting your virtual pen to paper, start by just writing an intro sentence for each of the paragraphs. You just want to get into the groove of writing, and you can always come back and do another pass to clean things up.

Example high-scoring issue essay

Here’s an example of an issue essay that received a 6.0 score from ETS.

Issue essay prompt

The surest indicator of a great nation is not the achievements of its rulers, artists, or scientists, but the general well-being of all its people.

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.

Issue essay response

The names of the greatest rulers, artists, and scientists is what is taught in most history classes. Little attention is given to the common people. Despite the fact that the most prolific and talented members of a society have a profound effect on their nations, it is the common people that truly embody the nation and it is them who keep it running. From the plumber, to the lawyer, to the homeless person; they all contribute their grain of salt to the identity and strength of the nation. The purpose of a nation is to create a just society in which every individual can enjoy the wealth and resources of the nation. A nation without a solid base will never be able to allow artists and scientists to create their most innovative and creative master pieces. Without the combined effort of all its people, there will be no Albert Einstein or Mozart, because there will be no resources to encourage these geniuses to develop their talents to their highest potential. The only way a nation can have a solid base is by guaranteeing the well-being of all its citizens. With happy citizens, nations have the solid foundation needed to produce the greatest achievements humanity can accomplish. Thus, the greatest of all nations are those in which the general well-being of its population is at its highest because happy citizens are more productive, more generous to each other, and more knowledgeable.

First, citizens living in a society that ensures their well being become much more productive than in a nation in which their well-being is not guaranteed. Dr. Friedman, in Berlin in the year 1975, conducted a controlled random experiment in which he tested the effects that well-being had in the production level of the subjects of the experiment. He created a control group and an experimental group, and assigned members to each group randomly. The experimental group was in a room that was very hot, whereas the control group was in a well ventilated room. Next, both groups were given simple tasks such as cutting squares out of circles and coloring an image. After 30 minutes had passes, Dr. Friedman evaluated who was able to complete most tasks in the 30 minute time window. He noticed that the experimental group completed only 80% of the tasks compared to the control group, which completed 100% of the tasks. As per Dr. Friedman: “the results of this experiment show how well-being has a negative effect on the productivity of individuals”. Less productive individuals are going to achieve less at work, meaning companies in general will be less productive and less competitive in the global market. In an increasingly competitive world, less productive companies will bring less resources to the nation, making it less likely to invest in the talent of its people.

Second, well-being is directly related to generosity. The more generous citizens of a nation are to each other, the more likely they are to help those in need around them. This, in turn, leads to a collective effort to lift each other up, making the nation more productive and wealthy. Thomas Frank and Imelda Seo developed a randomized experiment in which they tested the relationship between well-being and generosity. The study was conducted in Seoul in 1994 in a public university. The subjects of the test were randomly selected from different levels of the class in an effort to eliminate as many confounding variables as possible. The experimental group was told the very bad news that they had just failed their most recent test. After receiving this news, they were given a limited amount of chocolate and they were told to pick as much as they needed but to think that someone else will come after them and pick what is left from the chocolate. The person that will come later will not know how much chocolate was in the box originally. In contrast, the control group was told the same regarding taking as much chocolate as needed and to be mindful of the person coming behind them, but they were not given the initial bad news that they had failed their test. The results of the experiment show that the experimental group was 70% more likely to take all of the chocolate in the box than the control group. As per Imelda Ser: “this is indicative that when a person’s well-being is jeopardized, they are less likely to be generous.” This study shows how well-being can have a positive impact on the citizens of a nation, and this generosity can lead to citizens helping each other out more and creating a more cohesive and productive society and nation.

Third, citizens living in a nation in which their well-being is adequate are more knowledgeable. More knowledge can lead to greater discoveries. Great artists, scientists, and rulers all require proper education during their early years to achieve the success. If society as a whole is more educated, it is much more likely for a nation to be able to cultivate the talents of their next genius. For example, Amadeus Mozart was the son of a talented musical father that lived in Vienna, the classical music capital of the world at the time of this life. If Mozart would have been born in an empoverished family with no resources and no knowledge of music, who is to tell Austria would have produced such a notable musical expert. The father of Mozart lived a comfortable life that allowed him to develop his own talents, and later pass his new found knowledge to his son, who later took this knowledge to never before seen levels of musical prowess. To guarantee that the knowledge is passed on to the greatest individuals of a nation, it is necessary to ensure the general well-being of its citizens. Only then will a great nation be able to produce a Mozart, an Albert Einstein, or a Napoleon.

In conclusion, a nation can only be great if it can guarantee the well-being of all its citizenry. This is the only way a nation can ensure that the individual talents of certain prolific people can flourish. These individuals require a strong enough safety net that will allow them to pursue their dreams without having to worry about heating the house or finding the next meal. Also, citizens that are happy and living comfortable can produce more for the nation as a whole, and lift each other out of poverty, thus creating a great nation.

This essay has some significant strengths:

  • It’s well-structured and follows the 5-paragraph format
  • It’s a perfect length at about 1,100 words
  • It’s written in a slightly formal yet natural tone

Yet there are still many opportunities for improvement:

  • There are a handful of grammatical and spelling errors
  • There are some instances of awkward and repetitive wording
  • The arguments it makes could be more closely related to the thesis

Writing an essay that gets a perfect 6.0 score is challenging, but as you can see from this example, it doesn’t require you to write perfectly.

Essay writing is a skill you can practice and improve. Fortunately, you don’t need to write dozens of unique, critically acclaimed essays for the GRE. In fact, it’s quite the opposite - you basically only need to write one good essay and then swap out some of the content to make different versions depending on the topic. Your practice essays may seem very similar and maybe even boring to you, and that’s ok. The goal is to build good essay writing habits, training yourself to write in a consistent and formulaic way. Regardless of the topics you encounter on exam day, you’ll be able to use the same overall structure, sentence patterns, and vocabulary you’ve practiced while studying.

When you’re ready, you can write full-length essays and submit them to our AI-based essay grader for instant scoring and actionable feedback on how to improve your score.