Grade My Gre Essay Format

Every so often when I’m writing the GRE essays, I’ll think: Should I really be writing so much?

I tend to get carried away. And when that happens, it would be great to know if all this extra writing is actually helping me score better or hurting my AWA score. Of course, I want to impress the essay graders, but I want to do it the right way.

Students often ask me, how long their GRE essays should be because there is no concrete information out there about the “perfect” length of a GRE essay, and even if there is, much of that data is conflicting.

Some say essays aren’t graded mostly on length but the higher grades for a longer essay is a mere correlation between essay length and grades.

When it comes to the Analytical Writing section, essay length is very important, so if you are planning to get a perfect score, you might as well do it right.

But before we come down to the ideal length for an essay, let’s first crush this shocking myth that has been around for sometime:

Myth #1: Longer essays are the only way!

On the GRE, essay length is not only one of the factors taken into consideration. You have to check a host of other factors, if you are looking to get a perfect score. All the following factors affect your overall AWA score:

Clarity in Ideas – This is the most basic of all considerations. What are you trying to say? What’s your main point? This should be very clear by the time the grader finishes off reading the essay. Substance and content of your essay matters more than any other factor. Also, every logically supporting reason or example that you make use of should ultimately connect to this main idea. If it isn’t explicit, you are losing points!

Structure – The way an article is formatted, has a massive impact upon its readability. It’s important to break up your essay into paragraphs so the essay graders can easily scan it.

The general structure is to start with an introductory paragraph followed by 3-4 body paragraphs and finish off with a conclusion paragraph. So, make sure there are at least 5-6 paragraphs in your essay.

Sentence Variety – Consecutive sentences with the same structure and length can sound monotonous and lifeless. Instead of sounding repetitive and boring, use sentence style skillfully.

You should vary the sentence flow and the rhythm by switching between short and long sentences. You should also make use of transitional and signal words to vary sentence openings.

Vocabulary – Another myth about GRE essays is that the usage of GRE words in the essay has a correlation with the essay score. Not really! As long as you use proper grammar and defend your point intelligently and use precise vocabulary to convey meaning effectively, you should be alright. It is not needed that you use heavy vocabulary or GRE words.

Language and Grammar –  Though ETS says you may have minor errors in the essay copy that do not interfere with overall meaning and coherence, the time you make your first error, the grader will notice it and this can have a negative impact on your AWA score. So, make sure your essay is as spotless as possible, and eliminate all errors before submitting.

Reasoning – You should include as many logically compelling reasons as you can to support your stance.

One of the most important aspects about a compelling essay is its ability to convince the reader by means of sound logical reasoning. So, you should be able to connect your ideas properly to the central theme or idea of the essay, and convince the reader to agree to your point of view. If the essay doesn’t sound logical or reasonable, you will pay the penalty, no matter how long the essay is.

By no means am I saying that essay length isn’t important. I am only saying that essay length on the GRE isn’t the only thing you should be concerned about. I am also saying that essay length is just one of the factors out of many others that influence your AWA score.

Myth #2: ETS uses e-Rater software which grades essays on their content length

This is the most egregious of the myths, and it’s been around for a long time.

Recently, I read a post on Quora which asks “Do humans readers grade my GRE essays?” The top answer said, “They don’t.” His/her point was that a computer software called ‘e-rater’ scans your essay based on preset rules (natural language processing algorithms) and prints out a score, using a 6-point holistic scale.

That’s just not true.

In fact, E.T.S. claims this grading software is used today, along with human raters, to grade GRE and TOEFL examinations, and without human raters in various practice tests.

I want you to understand that if ETS were to use an automated essay grader to evaluate your essay then don’t you think gaming a software would be too easy? You must keep in mind that there is a human reader who will also grade your essay along with the e-rater, and both their scores are averaged to obtain the final AWA score. So, even if you try and game the software, the human reader will give you the actual score you deserve, which will bring down the average. So, there is no point in trying to game the e-rater. Instead, you should try other tactics, such as using impressive AWA quotes, or writing coherent paragraphs, which will naturally raise your score.

So to sum things up, both of these myths should be shunned in favor of a more strategic approach to essay length. Longer is not necessarily better. Shorter is not necessarily better. And human readers do actually read your essays.

So what’s the ideal length?

I see students wondering about this all the time and I am sure you are here to find out the same.

ETS has written about the ideal length nowhere, and still remains tight lipped on this. Also, there is no word limit as such. But there seems to be a pattern that appears on GRE sample essays that come along with the ETS official guide to the GRE.

When closely observed, there is a significant increase in the number of words from a 5.0 graded essay and a 6.0 graded essay.

Longer is usually better

To analyze further on this topic, we have done a bit of research, and found out an interesting relation between essay length and the final score. If you look at the statistics below, you will have to concur with me. Longer essays usually score better on every essay topic.

If you are a long-essay fan and insist to pen a high scoring AWA essay on the GRE, you should write anywhere between 500-600 words. Don’t ask me why. The research shows that’s how it is, and if it true for a sample of 500 students, it must be true on a larger scale as well.

A column chart with average word count for essays from 500 students

As you can see, the longer the essay, the higher the grades. Notice that a 5+ point essay has length exceeding 500 words. Another interesting fact is, it seems as if 600 is an upper limit for word count. If you go beyond 600 words, you can see how the scores go down. This isn’t surprising, though. Almost no student on this planet can write a perfect 800 word essay under pressure in 30 minutes. If someone is shooting for a high word count, they are surely sacrificing on quality. So, it’s safe to say that 500-600 is what you should be looking at.

Now It’s Your Turn

In the end, I warn you against getting stuck up on essay length. If you focus on word count only, then you would be scribbling gibberish and unnecessary sentences hoping to get a perfect 6.0 score. The essay substance and content matters more than the essay’s length.

There’s no magic number on word count that’s going to get you the perfect AWA score. At the same time, the statistics from the above analysis proves that longer essays tend to get higher scores.

If you’re still looking for word count, an essay that has around 500 – 600 words with around 5 paragraphs, and quality content, seems to be the ideal GRE essay length.

How long are your regular essays? What differences have you noticed between a long essay and short ones? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

Your GRE Writing score is a kind of cyborg measurement that averages together both human and machine ratings and melds them into an Analytical Writing score on a scale of 0-6. But how does a human grade the essay? Is the computer grader trustworthy?

In this article, we’ll explain the details of the GRE essay scoring process and the rubrics used by the human graders to derive your two essay scores.

Feature image credit: Seems Legit – panel 3 of 6/used under CC BY-SA 4.0/Cropped and resized from original.

 

GRE Writing Scores: A Roadmap

The GRE essay scoring process is a little complicated because it involves both human and computer graders. Each essay (analyze an issue and analyze an argument) is first graded by a trained human grader on a scale of 1-6. The scale used for essay scoring is holistic, which means you won’t automatically get points off after a certain number of errors. Instead, you’ll be graded on the overall quality of your essays.

Your essay is next sent through the e-rater, which is described on the GRE website as “a computerized program developed by ETS that is capable of identifying essay features related to writing proficiency.” The e-rater program likely grades essays on quantifiable metrics like level of vocabulary difficulty, sentence structure, length of essay (word count and number of paragraphs), and so on. Because it’s pretty difficult to write a program that can judge an essay based on content, it’s possible you could fool the e-rater with a long off-topic essay that uses high-level vocabulary.

But that’s where the human essay graders come in. If the human and computer graders “closely agree,” then the average of their two scores is the score you receive for that essay task. However, if the two scores do not “closely agree,” then a second human is brought in to grade and the final score is the average of the two human-assigned scores. So if you tried to sneak an off-topic essay by the e-rater, it would be caught by the human grader and a second human grader would be brought in. Even if the human grader scored your essay way higher than the e-rater, you’d still end up with two human graders.

After both of your essays have been scored by e-rater and human grader(s), your overall GRE Writing score is then calculated. To get this number, your scores on the Issue and Argument task are averaged together to give you a final Analytical Writing score on a scale of 0-6 (with 0.5 increments). For instance, if you got a 4/6 on the Issues essay but a 5/6 on the Argument essay, your total GRE Analytical Writing score would be 4.5.

 

GRE Essay Scoring: Issue Task

The Analyze an Issue task on GRE Writing asks test takers to read a statement about an issue, take a position, and develop and support that position with evidence and reasoning. For your essay to score highly, you’ll need a clear thesis statement presenting your point of view and multiple examples that back up your claims. How well you accomplish this task dictates how well you’ll do on the Issue essay.

Fortunately, ETS is very up front about what specific benchmarks Issue essays need to meet to reach each score level. Below, I’ve listed the descriptions for 6-, 4-, and 2-scoring Issue essays.

 

Score LevelOverviewSpecific Items
6 (Outstanding)In addressing the specific task directions, a 6 response presents a cogent, well-articulated analysis of the issue and conveys meaning skillfully.
  • articulates a clear and insightful position on the issue in accordance with the assigned task
  • develops the position fully with compelling reasons and/or persuasive examples
  • sustains a well-focused, well-organized analysis, connecting ideas logically
  • conveys ideas fluently and precisely, using effective vocabulary and sentence variety
  • demonstrates superior facility with the conventions of standard written English (i.e., grammar, usage and mechanics), but may have minor errors
4 (Adequate)In addressing the specific task directions, a 4 response presents a competent analysis of the issue and conveys meaning with acceptable clarity.
  • presents a clear position on the issue in accordance with the assigned task
  • develops the position with relevant reasons and/or examples
  • is adequately focused and organized
  • demonstrates sufficient control of language to express ideas with acceptable clarity
  • generally demonstrates control of the conventions of standard written English, but may have some errors
2 (Seriously Flawed)A 2 response largely disregards the specific task directions and/or demonstrates serious weaknesses in analytical writing.
  • is unclear or seriously limited in addressing the specific task directions and in presenting or developing a position on the issue or both
  • provides few, if any, relevant reasons or examples in support of its claims
  • is poorly focused and/or poorly organized
  • has serious problems in language and sentence structure that frequently interfere with meaning
  • contains serious errors in grammar, usage or mechanics that frequently obscure meaning

 

As the above table shows, the holistic GRE Writing score is arrived at by assessing an essay’s quality across many different dimensions: analysis, ideas, development, support, organization, vocabulary & sentence structure. The guiding principle that is used to differentiate between different score levels across all areas, however, is precision.

The more precise you are in formulating an opinion on the issue, in developing and supporting your thinking, in organizing your thinking, and in choosing your words to convey your thinking, the better GRE Writing score you’ll get.

 

 

GRE Essay Scoring: Argument Task

The GRE argumentative essay task requires test takers to read an argument and analyze it. The specifics of how this analysis should be done varies from task to task (read more about the eight different kinds of argumentative essay prompts in this article), but basically you’ll have to evaluate the position or recommendation put forward and decide whether or not it’s reasonable.

Below are the different characteristics of essays scoring a 6, 4, or 2 on the Argument task. As you go through, you may notice some similarities between it and the rubric for the Issue task.

 

Score LevelOverviewSpecific Items
6 (Outstanding)In addressing the specific task directions, a 6 response presents a cogent, well-articulated examination of the argument and conveys meaning skillfully.
  • clearly identifies aspects of the argument relevant to the assigned task and examines them insightfully
  • develops ideas cogently, organizes them logically and connects them with clear transitions
  • provides compelling and thorough support for its main points
  • conveys ideas fluently and precisely, using effective vocabulary and sentence variety
  • demonstrates superior facility with the conventions of standard written English (i.e., grammar, usage and mechanics), but may have minor errors
4 (Adequate)In addressing the specific task directions, a 4 response presents a competent examination of the argument and conveys meaning with acceptable clarity.
  • identifies and examines aspects of the argument relevant to the assigned task, but may also discuss some extraneous points
  • develops and organizes ideas satisfactorily, but may not connect them with transitions
  • supports its main points adequately, but may be uneven in its support
  • demonstrates sufficient control of language to convey ideas with reasonable clarity
  • generally demonstrates control of the conventions of standard written English, but may have some errors
2 (Seriously Flawed)A 2 response largely disregards the specific task directions and/or demonstrates serious weaknesses in analytical writing.
  • does not present an examination based on logical analysis, but may instead present the writer’s own views on the subject
  • does not follow the directions for the assigned task
  • does not develop ideas, or is poorly organized and illogical
  • provides little, if any, relevant or reasonable support for its main points
  • has serious problems in language and sentence structure that frequently interfere with meaning
  • contains serious errors in grammar, usage or mechanics that frequently obscure meaning

 

Again, as with the Issue task, the main dimension that separates different score points for the GRE Argument task is level of precision. Instead of being judged on precision in formulating an opinion on an issue, your essay will be judged on precision in analyzing and explaining your analysis of the given argument. Similar to the Issues essay, however, high-scoring Argument essays will still need to demonstrate precision in ideas, development, support, organization, and vocabulary.

 

 

How Are GRE Writing Scores Evaluated by Grad Schools?

Now that you understand how the GRE essay scoring works, the question becomes how much grad schools care about GRE Writing scores. The near-unanimous answer, based on the number of schools and programs I researched, seems to be a resounding “not much.”

If schools really want applicants to have specific test scores, they’ll list GRE Writing score cutoffs on their websites (more about what a good GRE Writing score is here). For the most part, though, as long as you get a 4.0 or above, you’ll be fine, even for the most competitive programs. Find out more about how your GRE score plays into graduate school admissions here.

 

 

What’s Next?

Want to learn more about how scoring works on the GRE? Try our complete guide to GRE scoring. If you took the old GRE, you can follow our instructions to learn how to convert your old GRE score to its equivalent new GRE score.

Hoping for more essay-specific scoring advice? We tell you how to get a perfect six on the Issue and Argument essays here.

Need some quick tips to boost your GRE Writing score? Then you should be sure to read our collection of the best strategies and tips to improve your score here.

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Author: Laura Staffaroni

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel and fulfill their college and grad school dreams. View all posts by Laura Staffaroni

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