Don’t State the Obvious: How to Keep the Analytical Writing Section Interesting

Recognize this man? He's William Wells Brown, an abolitionist and the first African American published playwright and novelist

Pop quiz:What historical or contemporary examples would you use to support an argument agreeing or disagreeing with the topics below?

“Scandals are useful because they focus our attention on problems in ways that no speaker or reformer ever  could.”

“The well-being of a society is enhanced when many of its people question authority.”

“In any situation, progress requires discussion among people who have contrasting points of view.”

Did your examples include Martin Luther King, Ghandi, World War II, Steve Jobs, or Mother Teresa? If so, keep reading because you fell into the same trap as thousands of other test-takers.  These examples are nearly guaranteed to lower your score on the Analytical Writing section.  Here’s why:

MLK, Ghandi, WWII, Steve Jobs, and Mother  Teresa are some of the most common examples test-takers use to support their Issue essays on the GRE.  No matter how well these examples support your argument, and no matter how well you write that argument, using common examples such as these is definitely going to hurt your score.  Imagine reading 30 essays in one day on how Martin Luther King inspired discussion among people with contrasting points of view? You would be bored to tears!!

Remember, essay graders have a very boring job.  They have to spend days on end reading essays on the same topics over and over again.  If you can do any small thing to make your essay stand out, a grader will be far more likely to see your essay in a positive light.  This can make a big difference when they’re on the fence between two scores, thereby giving you a higher grade.

So, how do you make your essay stand out? Use uncommon examples!  Why are Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Steve Jobs, and Mother Teresa so popular on essays? They are all very well-known figures from the past century who made a positive impact on society.  Nearly everyone has heard of them.  What’s all the fuss about World War II?  It is, arguably, the most influential event that shaped global history in the past century.  Everyone has studied it.

When you’re searching for supporting examples, try to find something a little more unconventional.  In need of a major event that changed the world as we know it drastically?  How about witch-hunts in early modern history? Or the Spanish Inquisition?  Looking for an inspirational historical figure? Why not talk about Victoria Woodhull, the first American woman to run for president, or John Beeson, an early champion of Native American Indian rights?  Remember, the more you can impress a grader with an unusual example, the more likely he will be to give you a higher grade on your essay.

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