How Is The Gre Essay Graded

How do I score my GRE essay?

Plenty of students want to improve their writing, and the only real way to do so is writing, and writing a lot.

But there is a catch-22 here: how do you improve your writing if you aren’t a good writer? How can you identify places to improve if you don’t know what needs improvement? How can you identify an error if you commit the error? These are all valid concerns, but trust me, you just need to start writing.

But we won’t send you out to sea without a life vest. We now have an essay rubric that breaks down the four aspects of writing that count towards your score—Quality of Ideas, Organization, Writing Style, and Grammar & Usage.

If you don’t know what those are now, you will soon. Each column represents one aspect of writing and each row represents a level from 0 to 6. Each cell of the rubric describes a specific aspect of writing at a specific level.

Download the Magoosh Essay Rubric (you can also download the printable PDF by clicking the image below) and get started!

How to Use the GRE Essay Grading Rubric

After completing the essay, you’ll need to check the four aspects of your writing. Even better, ask a friend to look over the essay and provide you a score. Give each aspect of your essay a score ranging from zero to six.

Total all four scores and find the average. Now you have a sense of your writing score. Round scores up as follows: Round a score of 4.25 to 4.5 and a score of 3.75 to 4.

Of course evaluating your own writing will be hard if you don’t know what to look for, but this is a perfect time to improve and practice. Taking a break between writing your essay and evaluating it will help to give you a more objective eye. Also, reading the essay aloud will help you to hear errors.

If you are unsure about your style, grammar, and usage, plug your essay into the Hemingway App. This is not a perfect piece of software, but it’s better than nothing and will catch a lot of grammar and usage errors.

Quality of Ideas:

  • Are the ideas creative, compelling, and relevant?
  • Did you use an expected, typical example?
  • Did you talk about two sides of the issue or just one?
  • Were you attacking the major components of the argument or just the minor ones?
  • Were the reasons feasible, believable, and relevant to the topic?



  • Is there an introduction and conclusion?
  • Does the response flow from paragraph to paragraph?
  • Are there a lot of structure words to guide the reader, such as “for example,” “first,” or “further”?
  • Is it easy to find the main idea of a paragraph and determine what the specific details supporting that idea are?
  • Is it easy to understand the development of an idea and how it relates to the passage as a whole?


Writing Style:

  • Are there a mix of short sentences and long sentences?
  • Are there a variety of sentence structures—simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex?
  • Are the same words often repeated or are there a lot of synonyms and rephrasing?
  • Are the sentences easy to read?
  • Can the reader understand the ideas in a sentence?
  • Do readers have to re-read a sentence multiple times to understand it?


Grammar and Usage:

  • Are there misspelled words?
  • Are the lists and comparisons parallel in structure?
  • Are there any subject-verb agreement errors or pronoun-antecedent errors?
  • Are there any run-on sentences or sentence fragments?
  • Are commas, dashes, and semi-colons used correctly?
  • Are there any modification problems—dangling modifiers or ambiguous ones?


Go to the Source

All the information that you see in our rubric is based on information published by ETS. If you need sample essays at different score levels or want to read more about the AWA and how it is graded, I highly recommend reading through An Introduction to the Analytical Writing Section of the GRE.

This is a long document and contains a lot of detail. If you want to see the different scoring level descriptions used to create our rubric, here they are:

I recommend taking the time to become familiar with the difference between a “3” essay and a “4” essay. To truly become a better self-grader, or to even become a better grader for someone else, you need to become more familiar with the particular grading requirements of ETS.



If you don’t know a lot of the phrases and questions above, you’ll have a lot of practice and learning to do. But better to do it now, then wait until you have to write a paper in your grad school class.

Most people fired from a job aren’t surprised. They know where they have slacked and why they lost their job. I am sure that you can read your writing and know that there are problems (or that everything is great). I hope the rubric gives you a little more traction for evaluating your writing so that you know what you need to work on to improve.


Note: Some students might wonder why the rubric is for the GRE and GMAT. Both test evaluate essays in the same way, so the rubric will work for either test. 🙂


Most Popular Resources

Given the sheer number of students who ask me this question, I am surprised that there are so few resources that offer such a service. So what do you do when you’re desperate? Well you have a few options to consider.


ETS ScoreItNow!

For $13 dollars, the ETS ScoreItNow! Essay Grader will grade two of your essays. While I have never used the service myself—nor, for that matter known anyone who has—I’m sure the score is pretty accurate. The only downside is that’s all you get—ETS does not provide any feedback on the essays themselves. Nonetheless, if you feel that you are not improving on the essay, then you should definitely consider the service offered by ETS.

For those who don’t necessarily want to part with their money, or who actually want more than just a score, here are a few other options.


Find a friend

I know, I know, this may seem like a cop out answer. But the truth is that having a second pair of eyes, even untrained, can be really beneficial to finding your flaws. First, you need to have a friend with a pretty strong essay writing skills. Next, you need to ask them nicely, or at least offer them a cup of coffee. You should let them know that you only had 30 minutes to write your essay, and so the GRE people aren’t expecting Pulitzer Prize-winning material.

You should also tell them to pay attention to the following: structure, logical flow of ideas, and persuasiveness of examples. They should not be looking for fancy-sound GRE words. At the same time, your writing should be relatively sophisticated and should vary up the sentence structure so it doesn’t sound choppy.


Compare your work

I have a mock essay on our blog. There are a few essays in our product as well. Many test prep books have mock essays out there. Usually these essays cover the spectrum of grades, from a ‘2’ to a ‘6’. (A ‘0’ is essentially passing out and drooling on the keyboard; or typing away in Swahili).

See which essays your essays are similar to in terms of score. Since mock essays usually have an explanation for their respective scores, you should see if your essay is lacking in similar ways.


The kindness of strangers is a popular GRE forum, which thousands of GRE aspirants visit each day. If you post your essay and ask for some feedback, someone may provide some (I’ve seen this happen before). While this someone may not be an expert, often a second pair of eyes can be helpful.


Other resources

One way to check your writing is to cut and paste the text into a Word doc. Are there many green lines (Word’s only slightly intrusive way of indicating that something may be grammatically awry)? By going into ‘Tools’ on the menu bar, you can get an explanation for what is wrong with your sentence.

Of course such analysis will tell you nothing of structure or logical flow of your ideas. Still, knowing that your grammar and spelling are not up to snuff can help you work to improve your score by as much as a point.



Though getting feedback on your AWA essays may be tough, don’t lose heart. Most likely one (if not more!) of the resources above will pan out. And don’t forget: nothing makes you a better writer than practice, feedback, practice, feedback.


Most Popular Resources

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