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Mastering the GRE Issue Essay

The issue essay is one of two writing tasks on the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), designed to assess your ability to articulate complex ideas and opinions. Given its importance, it can be understandably intimidating, but with the right tools and strategies, it can also be conquered. In this guide, we’ll break down the key components of the issue essay and provide actionable tips for achieving success.

Key Components of the GRE Issue Essay

Before diving into strategies, it’s important to understand the key components of the issue essay. You’ll be presented with a general statement on a topic of interest, and asked to take a position and argue it in a persuasive essay. Your essay should include the following elements:

  • An introduction that presents your position and sets the tone for your argument
  • A thesis statement that clearly states your position
  • Multiple paragraphs that develop your argument, with each paragraph centered on a clear and concise point
  • Evidence and examples that support your argument
  • A conclusion that restates your thesis and summarizes your main points

Tips and Strategies for Succeeding on the Issue Essay

With a clear understanding of what the issue essay entails, let’s explore some strategies for approaching it with confidence:

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1. Read the prompt carefully and brainstorm before writing

Take time to thoroughly read and understand the statement before diving into writing. Brainstorm possible positions and supporting evidence, and consider the implications and counterarguments of each.

2. Create a clear and compelling thesis statement

Your thesis statement should convey your position on the issue in a clear and concise manner. Avoid vague language, and make sure it can be easily identified by the reader.

3. Stay focused on the task at hand

It can be tempting to digress into related topics or ideas, but remember that the issue essay is specifically designed to evaluate your ability to argue a specific point. Stay focused on your thesis and supporting evidence.

4. Incorporate varied and specific evidence

Use a variety of evidence and examples to support your argument, including personal anecdotes, historical examples, and current events. Be specific and avoid overly general statements.

5. Edit and proofread

Allow time to review and revise your essay, paying special attention to grammar, punctuation, and word choice. Consider seeking feedback from others to ensure your argument is clear and convincing.

Sample GRE Issue Essay Prompts and Potential Responses

To further illustrate the concepts discussed above, let’s examine a sample prompt and potential response:

Prompt: “The best way for a society to prepare its young people for leadership in government, industry, or other fields is by instilling in them a sense of cooperation, not competition.”

Response: While competition is often cited as a motivating factor for success, cooperation is essential for effective leadership. A society that values teamwork and collaboration instills in its young people the ability to work together towards a common goal, and encourages them to seek input and support from others. This cooperative spirit translates directly into effective leadership, where the ability to synthesize diverse perspectives and build consensus is paramount. While competition may offer short-term gains, it ultimately leads to a win-lose mentality that inhibits long-term success.

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Common Mistakes to Avoid in Writing the Issue Essay

To ensure you’re set up for success on the issue essay, be sure to avoid the following common mistakes:

  • Failing to identify a clear and compelling thesis statement
  • Using overly general or vague language
  • Ignoring counterarguments or alternative perspectives
  • Repeating the same evidence or examples throughout the essay
  • Focusing too much on word count or excessively flowery language

By avoiding these pitfalls and following the tips and strategies outlined above, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the GRE issue essay.

Key Takeaways

  • The issue essay is designed to assess your ability to argue a specific point in a persuasive essay.
  • Key components of the issue essay include a clear and compelling thesis statement, evidence and examples, and a conclusion that summarizes your main points.
  • Strategies for success include careful reading and brainstorming before writing, staying focused on your thesis, and incorporating varied and specific evidence.
  • Common mistakes to avoid include failing to identify a clear thesis statement, using vague or general language, ignoring counterarguments, repeating evidence, and focusing too much on word count or flowery language.


Q: How long is the issue essay on the GRE?

A: The issue essay is a 30-minute task on the GRE, and should be around 500-600 words in length.

Q: Can I use personal examples in my essay?

A: Yes! Personal examples can be a powerful way to support your argument, as long as they are relevant and clearly tied back to your thesis.

Q: Can I change my thesis halfway through writing?

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A: While it’s important to remain flexible and open to new ideas, changing your thesis halfway through writing can make it difficult to stay on track and can lead to a disjointed essay. It’s best to take the time to brainstorm and plan before beginning to write.

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