Now, if you’ve ever taken the GRE or a practice test, you are hopefully familiar with the Analytical Writing portion. This section of the test gives you one of the great mysteries of the universe in a statement and asks you to argue for or against it using all the stores of knowledge you’ve accumulated in college.
What it is supposed to test is your ability to analyze a highly debatable statement and articulate a response quickly with pointed examples. Contemplating the issue, planning your response, and then actually writing it must all be completed within 30 minutes.
The analytical writing portion is essentially a philosophy paper written in the time span in which someone in the business world might craft a hasty response to an angry client. Descartes might have sat in meditation for a very long time to come up with “I think, therefore I am,” but you will have 30 minutes to BS your way to a 6.0 on the Analytical Writing GRE.
Based on the practice tests, I expected a lofty, distant statement that is so broadly controversial that one could come up with any number of examples in favor or against it, but not political enough to ruffle any feathers (i.e. you’re not going to see a political issue like: “Abortion should be illegal because…”). I assume the reason why they do this is because with specific political issues it’s harder to set aside biases and focus on writing the most strictly logical prose possible.
I was expecting to see something along the lines of:
“The meaning of a piece of art lies only in the viewer’s interpretation, the artist’s intention is irrelevant.”
(I made this one up myself, feel free to hire me if you see this ETS)
The defining characteristic of a GRE question is that the “truth” probably lies somewhere in between the statement and its anthesis, which is what makes it so arguable. However, for the purposes of this essay you can’t be wishy-washy. You have to set aside your personal feelings, pretend your in the debate team state finals, and argue for the sake of arguing.
This is why the “issue” I got is such utter crap. I first took the GRE when I was just a couple days away from moving away from my family to spend the summer studying in Spain. I had just finished a stressful semester of undergrad and had no time to relax before I needed to cram in some last minute studying for the GRE and pack for Spain. I was also deep in the throes of a quarter-life crisis over whether I should be going to graduate school or reconsidering my life and doing something more practical.
I don’t make any claims that this is an exact replication of the wording, but this is the gist of what I saw when the time started for my first section of the GRE.
“Professors are expected to be experts in their subjects, but without any real-world work experience necessary for their degrees, they grow increasingly disconnected from their students’ goals in receiving an education.”
Chances are if you are taking the GRE, you are pretty serious about going to GRADUATE SCHOOL. If you were going to law school, medical school, or getting your MBA, you would not be taking the GRE. Therefore, based on this fact alone, you probably find some value in the type of education you would be receiving in a graduate program. The GRE took the pivotal question of my quarter-life crisis and threw it in my face.
Now, the problem was not that I did not want or feel able to answer this question. It’s that the most crucial mistake a good writer can make on the Analytical Writing is feeling the need to supply an answer to the question that they believe is “right.” The reason I say this is because the answer to these philosophical questions is almost certainly in the middle of any extreme position you might take; sure, most subjects could really benefit from an instructor who has a wide variety of life experiences and perspectives, but what is the “real world”…corporate America? the big city? the Siberian wilderness?
Not taking a firm stance on one side or the other is a big mistake on the Analytical Writing. Forget the correct answer. Your job is to produce a logical and well-articulated answer. And this is where I miserably failed with this issue. I contemplated it for far too long. Then I took a judicial pro/con stance. I questioned the question. And then it cut me off in the middle of my final paragraph.
The second time I took the GRE, I did not have this problem. I tackled the issue without any personal investment whatsoever. That is the way it’s done, folks. Don’t let the GRE get you down.