Scoring
Scoring
In a word, GRE essays are scored quickly. Essay graders are instructed to spend no more than three minutes reading an essay before giving it a score from “0” (awful) to “6” (awesome—the highest possible grade) in half-point increments. Just three minutes!
Every essay is actually read by at least two graders, who each assign the essay a score. If these scores differ by more than one point—an essay gets a “3” and a “5,” for example—the essay will be read by another grader. The final score for one particular essay is an average of these individual scores. You’ll receive a single score for the Essay section: an average of the scores you received on the Issue and Argument essays.
For example, say your Issue essay receives a “4” and a “5” from the two graders. Your Issue essay score would be a “4.5.” If your Argument essay gets a “6” and a “6,” you’d receive a “6” for the Argument essay. The graders will then average your two scores: . Your final score, however, would be “5.5”, since the test makers round up to the nearest half point. That’s the only number reported for the Essay section. Your 0-to-6 Essay score is completely independent from, and has no impact on, either your Math or Verbal score.
The 0-to-6 Scale
Let’s take a look at the 0-to-6 score in more detail. GRE essay graders are told to grade holistically. That is, although the graders are looking for specific elements in your essays, no element is assigned a particular weight. The score you receive is based on an overall impression of your essay. That’s great news: It means that you can make a few mistakes and still get a good score.
The graders must refer to a set-in-stone list of criteria when evaluating each essay and deciding what grade (“0”–“6”) it deserves. The following chart is our explanation of the grading criteria that the test makers give the graders.
By the way, you might recognize these criteria from the SAT—the criteria used to grade the essays are essentially the same. What’s different is the level of writing. Later, we’ll analyze a couple of different essays to show you the difference between essays that receive so-so scores and essays that receive great scores, in the chapters on the Issue and Argument essays.
SCORE DESCRIPTION OF ESSAY
6 A “6” essay is superior and demonstrates a strong and consistent command of the language throughout the entire essay, with at most a few small errors. A “6” essay:
  • shows a firm grasp of critical thinking and takes a powerful and interesting position on the topic
  • supports and develops its position with appropriate and insightful examples, arguments, and evidence
  • is tightly organized and focused, with a smooth and coherent progression of ideas
  • demonstrates a facility with language through the use of descriptive and appropriate vocabulary
  • uses intelligent variation in sentence structure
  • contains, at most, a few errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation
5 A “5” essay is strong and demonstrates a generally consistent command of language throughout the entire essay, with no more than a few significant flaws and errors. A “5” essay:
  • shows well-developed critical-thinking skills by taking a solid position on the topic
  • supports and develops its position on the topic with appropriate examples, arguments, and evidence
  • is organized and focused and features a coherent progression of ideas
  • demonstrates competence with language throughout by using appropriate vocabulary
  • uses varied sentence structure
  • contains few errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation
4 A “4” essay is competent and demonstrates a basic command of the language throughout the entire essay. A “4” essay:
  • shows adequate critical-thinking skills by taking a position on the topic and supporting that position with generally appropriate examples, arguments, and evidence
  • is mostly organized and focused, with a progression of ideas that is mostly coherent
  • demonstrates inconsistent facility with language and uses mostly appropriate vocabulary
  • uses some variation in sentence structure
  • contains some errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation
3 A “3” essay shows developing competence and contains one or more of the following:
  • some critical-thinking skills, as demonstrated by its position on the topic
  • inadequate support or development of its position based on deficiencies in examples, arguments, or evidence presented
  • lapses in organization and focus, including ideas that are not always coherent
  • a capacity for competent use of language, with occasional use of vague or inappropriate vocabulary
  • only minor variation in sentence structure
  • a variety of errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation
2 A “2” essay is seriously flawed and demonstrates a poor command of the language throughout the entire essay. A “2” essay contains one or more of the following:
  • poor critical-thinking skills as shown by an inconsistent or unclear position on the topic
  • insufficient support for the position on the topic as a result of faulty or nonexistent examples, arguments, and evidence
  • weak organization and focus, including ideas that are frequently incoherent
  • poor language skills through use of limited or wrong vocabulary
  • errors in sentence structure
  • errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other rules of writing that make the meaning hard to understand
1 A “1” essay is profoundly flawed and demonstrates a very poor command of the language throughout the entire essay. A “1” essay contains one or more of the following:
  • no position on the topic or almost no support or development of the position
  • poor organization and focus that makes the essay incoherent
  • numerous vocabulary errors
  • fundamental errors in sentence structure
  • errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation that make parts of the essay unintelligible
0 Essays written on a topic other than the one assigned will receive a score of 0.
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