GRE Essay Sample Prompts

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GRE Essay Sample Prompts

The best way to get some GRE essay practice is to sit down and actually respond to some GRE essay sample prompts at home. Here are our favorite GRE essay sample prompts to get you started, along with some tips on how to write. For more, check out the Verbal Strategy Guide once you’re done!

GRE Issue Essay Sample Prompts

The issue essay asks you to discuss a real-world issue. Here’s what you can expect:

  • The issue will be a little controversial: it’s something that could go either way. For instance, should all university students be required to take writing classes?
  • The issue won’t be very controversial, though. You won’t have to write about hot-button topics.
  • The issue will probably be something that you have experience with. Many of the issues relate to education, human behavior, or the laws and regulations that affect your daily life.

While most official GRE questions are kept secret until test day, the test writers actually publish all of the GRE essay sample prompts online ahead of time. That’s right—your GRE essay prompt will be one of the ones from this link.

There are more than a hundred essay prompts on that page, though—way too many to practice on your own. So we’ve picked a few of our favorites to share here. If you practice with the GRE essay sample prompts below, you’ll have a good sense of how to attack the issue essay.

GRE Issue Essay Sample Prompt 1: Study Abroad

All college and university students would benefit from spending at least one semester studying in a foreign country.

Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.

Education is a common theme in GRE issue essay prompts, since almost all of us are taking the GRE to pursue higher education. If you see a prompt like this one, think back to your own experience in college or university. What arguments have you heard in favor of or against study abroad? Did you study abroad? Did you want to? What experiences did your friends and classmates have with studying abroad?

GRE Issue Essay Sample Prompt 2: Struggle

We learn our most valuable lessons in life from struggling with our limitations rather than from enjoying our successes.

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.

Some GRE issue essay prompts are very broad. If you see one of these prompts, don’t get overwhelmed! Narrow down the possibilities by thinking of specific scenarios in which you might struggle with your limitations. For instance, think about a specific sport, such as running. Does a runner improve more by winning races and staying motivated to keep succeeding? Or does she improve by struggling with her weaknesses and overcoming them?

Avoid the temptation to start with overly-broad, sweeping generalizations if you see a prompt like this. It’s okay to start with something small and specific, and then see where that takes you! And it’s fine if you end up writing an essay that disagrees with your personal take on the issue—it’s even fine if you don’t know what your personal take is.

GRE Issue Essay Sample Prompt 3: Waste Limits

The best way to solve environmental problems caused by consumer-generated waste is for towns and cities to impose strict limits on the amount of trash they will accept from each household.

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.

Many GRE issue essay prompts deal with politics or government. However, they won’t touch on contemporary hot-button issues: they’re more likely to ask about the general responsibilities of government or how long-term problems could be addressed.

You can approach a prompt like this from multiple angles. If you’re familiar with the issue, you might start your brainstorming with specific cases you can think of, from the news or from your own experiences. But if the prompt asks about something you haven’t personally experienced, it’s fine to imagine hypothetical scenarios as well. Even if you don’t know anything about waste management, imagine what might happen if your town imposed a limit on trash from each household. What could go right, and what could go wrong?

GRE Argument Essay Sample Prompts

The other GRE essay topic is the argument essay. Instead of asking you to construct your own argument, this GRE essay sample prompt asks you to analyze someone else’s reasoning. Here’s what to expect:

  • You’ll see an argument that’s about three or four sentences long.
  • This argument will have a main point, or conclusion. It’ll also have some support for that conclusion.
  • The argument always has serious holes in it! If you’ve done Logical Reading Comprehension problems, you know what a weak argument looks like. The ones in the argument essay task always have a lot of problems.

Different GRE essay sample prompts will ask you for different types of responses. You’ll always have to analyze the reasoning of the argument. However, the prompt might ask you to focus on something specific. For instance, some prompts ask you to focus on the assumptions underlying the argument, while others ask you to describe the questions that would need to be answered in order to settle the argument. Make sure that you read the entire prompt before writing, so you’ll know how to structure your response.

GRE Argument Essay Sample Prompt 1: Unstated Assumptions

The following appeared in a memo from a vice president of Quiot Manufacturing.

“During the past year, Quiot Manufacturing had 30 percent more on-the-job accidents than at the nearby Panoply Industries plant, where the work shifts are one hour shorter than ours. Experts say that significant contributing factors in many on-the-job accidents are fatigue and sleep deprivation among workers. Therefore, to reduce the number of on-the-job accidents at Quiot and thereby increase productivity, we should shorten each of our three work shifts by one hour so that employees will get adequate amounts of sleep.”

Write a response in which you examine the stated and/or unstated assumptions of the argument. Be sure to explain how the argument depends on these assumptions and what the implications are for the argument if the assumptions prove unwarranted.

This GRE essay sample prompt asks you to examine the stated and/or unstated assumptions of the argument. The easiest way to brainstorm for a task like this is to think about things that could go wrong with the argument’s reasoning. For instance, maybe Panoply Industries has fewer accidents because its employees are better trained, not because of extra sleep. Maybe employees will use the extra time to play video games or read the news instead of sleeping! Or maybe reducing the length of shifts will force employees to rush through their work, causing more accidents in the long run.

Once you’ve thought of a few things that could go wrong, figure out how they relate to assumptions. For example:

  • The author assumes that Panoply and Quiot are similar in every relevant way, except for shift length.
  • The author assumes that employees will actually use their extra time away from work to catch up on sleep.
  • The author assumes that having shorter shifts won’t cause on-the-job accidents.

GRE Argument Essay Sample Prompt 2: Specific Evidence

The following appeared in a memo from the new vice president of Sartorian, a company that manufactures men’s clothing.

“Five years ago, at a time when we had difficulties in obtaining reliable supplies of high quality wool fabric, we discontinued production of our alpaca overcoat. Now that we have a new fabric supplier, we should resume production. This coat should sell very well: since we have not offered an alpaca overcoat for five years and since our major competitor no longer makes an alpaca overcoat, there will be pent-up customer demand. Also, since the price of most types of clothing has increased in each of the past five years, customers should be willing to pay significantly higher prices for alpaca overcoats than they did five years ago, and our company profits will increase.”

Write a response in which you discuss what specific evidence is needed to evaluate the argument and explain how the evidence would weaken or strengthen the argument.

This argument prompt asks you for something slightly different. Instead of discussing assumptions, you should focus on specific evidence. However, you can start your brainstorming in the same way! What could go wrong with this argument?

  • What if the new fabric supplier is extremely expensive?
  • What if fashion trends have changed, and people no longer demand alpaca overcoats?
  • What if the price of coats has decreased, even though the price of other types of clothing has increased?

Since you’re asked to discuss specific evidence, take each of these ideas and frame it in those terms. Make sure you explain exactly how it might weaken or strengthen the argument. For instance:

  • If you found that the new fabric supplier charged significantly more money than previous suppliers, this might weaken the argument, because producing the overcoat would cut into profits.
  • If market research showed that consumer interest in alpaca overcoats had increased dramatically over the last five years, this would strengthen the argument, because rates of purchase would be high.
  • If historical data showed that the price of coats generally increased and decreased at the same time as the price of other types of clothing, this would strengthen the argument, because the price for coats would likely be higher now than it was in the past.

GRE Argument Essay Sample Prompt 3: Asking Questions

The following appeared in a letter from a firm providing investment advice to a client.

“Homes in the northeastern United States, where winters are typically cold, have traditionally used oil as their major fuel for heating. Last year that region experienced twenty days with below-average temperatures, and local weather forecasters throughout the region predict that this weather pattern will continue for several more years. Furthermore, many new homes have been built in this region during the past year. Based on these developments, we predict a large increase in the demand for heating oil. Therefore, we recommend investment in Consolidated Industries, one of whose major business operations is the retail sale of home heating oil.”

Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the recommendation and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the recommendation.

This type of essay prompt asks you to focus on questions that need to be answered. But the brainstorming process is the same! Let’s try it one more time:

  • What if the weather forecasters are wrong?
  • What if people switch to heating their homes with electric heat?
  • What if Consolidated Industries is a bad investment for other reasons?

Since you’re supposed to focus on questions, here are the main points you might include in your essay. Be sure to include possible answers to these questions, and explain why they’re useful!

  • Are long-term weather forecasts in this region typically correct with regards to trends in temperature? If not, the argument is weakened, because rising temperatures might reduce demand for heating oil.
  • Are people likely to continue to heat their homes with oil in the future, or is there a trend towards other methods of heating? If oil heating is likely to dominate, the argument is more likely to be correct, since heating oil will retain its value as an investment.
  • Is Consolidated Industries generally healthy as a company? If it’s likely to go bankrupt in the next year due to poor management, the health of the heating oil industry in general doesn’t matter!

Next Steps: GRE Essay Practice

Are you looking for more GRE essay practice? The full list of GRE essay sample prompts is available online. The ETS also offers a product called ScoreItNow!. For $20, you can practice writing a total of eight GRE essays online. You’ll receive a score for each essay from the same algorithm that scores official GRE essays. Finally, don’t just dive into the essay unprepared! Read our best GRE essay tips if you want to make your essay experience as easy as possible. ?


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Chelsey CooleyChelsey Cooley Manhattan Prep GRE Instructor is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Seattle, Washington. Chelsey always followed her heart when it came to her education. Luckily, her heart led her straight to the perfect background for GMAT and GRE teaching: she has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and history, a master’s degree in linguistics, a 790 on the GMAT, and a perfect 170Q/170V on the GRE. Check out Chelsey’s upcoming GRE prep offerings here.

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