FORMAT OF THE GRE WRITING SECTION
The analytical writing section is 60 minutes long and requires you to respond to two essay questions. The Present Your Perspective on an Issue essay comes first and is 30 minutes long. Then the Analyze an Argument essay is presented and is 30 minutes long.
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GENERAL TIPS ON WRITING YOUR GRE ESSAYS
We begin by looking at the proper structure for the introduction and for the conclusion of your essay.
Your introduction should serve two structural purposes: It should restate your topic so that the reader need not review the given question, and it should offer a clear thesis so the reader knows what your purpose is. Simply defined, a thesis states the main idea of your essay. Because the strategy you need to employ for developing your thesis differs for each type of essay, however, we will discuss it in further detail later on in this chapter.
Your introduction should, in effect, restate the given topic. In other words, your reader should be able to ascertain the issue or argument without reading the given topic. Suppose the GRE gives you this argument:
The following letter was sent by a group of homeowners from the Rivermill Subdivision to all homeowners in that subdivision.
“Providence Golf Community down the street has a homeowner’s association. Part of the role of this association is to develop bylaws, which dictate the outside appearance of all homes in the community. For example, according to the rules set forth in the covenant, homeowners may only build privacy fences around their yard; no chain link is permitted. Property values in this community are double property values in our subdivision. In order to raise our property values, we need to improve the look of our neighborhood. Therefore, we should start an association and develop a covenant.”
Your initial reaction to this prompt may be to begin your essay with a direct response such as This letter presents a faulty argument. However, this introductory sentence does not provide adequate information because it does not specify which letter and therefore it would leave the reader confused. Following is the beginning of an introduction that does give adequate information to the reader:
Does the adoption of covenants in housing communities result in rising property values? In a letter to the residents of Rivermill Subdivision, a small group of homeowners stated that property values in nearby Providence were double the property values in Rivermill because of such a covenant.
Not only should you restate the topic, but you should also do so in a way that will spark interest. It may seem like a tall order to restate your topic, create a thesis, AND make it captivating, but if you don’t grab your reader’s attention in the introduction, it doesn’t matter how interesting the body of your essay is because he won’t feel compelled to read on. Think of your introduction as the worm on a fishhook, just dangling there enticing the fish to bite. There are several techniques you can employ to get your reader to “bite” and, thus, read on.
* Begin your introduction with a question. Naturally, when a question is posed to your reader, he or she will want to keep reading to find out the answer.
* Begin your introduction with a quote. Because you will not have time to research your topic for the GRE test, this may not be as feasible as, say, on a term paper for a graduate class; however, if you can remember a specific quote pertinent to your topic, use it.
* Begin with an anecdote. An anecdote is entertaining and will thus draw in the reader.
* Begin with an illustration or a hypothetical example based on the topic you are going to discuss.
* Begin with a true-to-life example.
* Begin with vivid description of something pertaining to your topic.
It is particularly important that, in the context of the GRE, you make a concerted effort to create a captivating introduction. Keep in mind that the scorers of your essays are the scorers of everyone else’s essays. They read hundreds of responses to the same issues and arguments. You must make your essay stand out. What better way to make it stand out than to make it exceptional from the beginning?
The conclusion of your essay is just as important as the introduction because it wraps up your thoughts and evidence and should leave your reader satisfied that a convincing discussion has just taken place. Your conclusion should include a restatement of your thesis and then end with a more general statement, perhaps a warning or a call for action. Tip: If time is running out and you get stuck trying to formulate a conclusion, try beginning with “In conclusion” or “In summary.” Then continue by restating your thesis.
We have examined the rules that govern the English language, and we have learned some techniques on structure. But how does a writer make a piece of writing his own? And how does a writer add interest to his essays? The way a writer uses words and phrases to add personality to his writing is called style. A writer is to style as a figure skater is to skating. A writer can learn all the rules that make his writing correct, just as a figure skater can learn how to accomplish her jumps and footwork. But just learning the rules of grammar is not enough to create a well-written essay; learning just the rules of skating is not enough to earn a gold medal. The writer must bring his own methods and personality to his writing just as a skater must invest her own personality and flair to her performance.
Many elements combine to form a writer’s style, and, even though many of these elements can be identified, each is unique to a writer. Moreover, a good writer does not allow any elements of his style to stagnate. Rather, he continues to practice writing in order to continually improve and develop his style. We will touch briefly on how you can develop your writing style, but first let’s look at some specific elements of style.
Transitional phrases are an important element of style because they create coherence. They guide the reader from point A to point B. On the GRE, the reader will read through your essay quickly, scoring according to his first impression of what you wrote. If your essay is choppy and does not flow well, the reader will not gain a good first impression. Therefore, it is imperative that your essay exhibits solid cohesiveness. Look at the lists below for some examples of transitional words and phrases that will help you write a smooth, coherent essay.
Agreement: also, plus, in addition, further, furthermore, moreover, additionally, to add to that, next, in accordance with, accordingly, in agreement, finally, for instance, for example, in exemplification, exemplifying that, in fact, factually speaking, in terms of, and so forth, in coordination with, along those lines, collectively speaking, generally speaking, indeed, undoubtedly, obviously, to be sure, equally
Contrast: however, in contrast, on the contrary, on the other hand, from a different angle, nonetheless, nevertheless, but, yet, a catch to this is, sadly enough, as a hindrance, oddly enough, instead, in direct opposition, still, rather
Result: as a result, as a consequence, consequently, thus, therefore, hence, thereby, resulting in, ultimately, in the end, finally, in the overall analysis, in hindsight, in retrospect, retrospectively, vicariously, the long term effect, as a short term result, significantly, as a major effect, effectively, heretofore, hereafter, thereafter, in short, generally, over all, concluding
Transitional words and phrases are helpful not only in linking your ideas between sentences, but also in providing cohesiveness from paragraph to paragraph. Each paragraph of your essay should include a topic sentence, which can also act as a transitional sentence. This transitional sentence should link your paragraphs by relating to some element in the preceding paragraph. Take a look at the following example:
The size of your house will probably be a factor in how you decide to decorate. If you have a large house, you may opt for a grand, sophisticated look. Over-sized furniture and ornate fixtures will complement solid-colored walls accented with artwork. On the other hand, a cozy look suits a smaller home. This look can be achieved by choosing less formal furniture, simple accents and warm colors. Equally, patterned wall-coverings add a lovely touch to a small home.
Regardless of the size of your house, your financial situation will also likely play a large role in the style of décor you choose. Limited funds may force you to make some of your own decorations, like curtains and knick knacks. However, unlimited funds may offer the option of hiring an interior decorator to do all the work for you.
The first sentence of the second paragraph is not only the topic sentence of the paragraph (it lets the reader know what the paragraph will be about), but also the transitional sentence that links the two paragraphs. Notice that the phrase “Regardless of the size of your house” refers to the topic of the first paragraph, thereby tying together the topics of both paragraphs. In addition, the word “also” in this sentence indicates that a second factor of decorating is being introduced.
Other more subtle transitions occur in the first paragraph. For example, “over-sized furniture” in the third sentence refers to the “large house” in the preceding sentence. This provides a transition without using a transitional word. Notice further that “large” is part of the subordinate clause in the second sentence but “over-sized” is part of the main subject in the third sentence, thus providing transition while also giving the reader some variety in sentence pattern. (We will discuss varying your sentences later on.)
More obvious are the transitional words we discussed previously. In the first paragraph, for example, the phrase “On the other hand” depicts the contrast between a large and a small house while “equally” continues the thoughts pertaining to a cozy home. In the second paragraph, “However” is used to show contrast in a pattern much like in the first paragraph.
Using transitions, both subtle and obvious, in your sentences and between paragraphs is essential in creating cohesiveness in your essay. Without this clarity, your essay will likely be choppy and difficult for the scorer to read and understand. A word of caution, however, before we move on: Since time is limited on the writing assessment sections, you must be concise and to the point. Be careful not to overuse transitional words and phrases because overuse can make you sound like a pedantic writer rather than an intelligent one.
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