I will be taking the GRE test, which is an exam for students from non-English speaking countries who want to go to the US for graduate study. The test basically tests your English ability and your logic (math) and critical thinking (in writing), and I have a half year to prepare for this.

I don't know is would be appropriate to read books like "Ways to improve your English Writing", or to just read as much as you can. Someone thinks Russell's "The History of Western Philosophy" would be helpful for this exam - and indeed it is good - but I just think it's a bit hard and I might not have much time for it before the exam.

How can I study to improve my writing in these areas? Should I read books, or is there some other way I can improve? Is this a writing problem? How can I prioritize my learning?

  • Dylan, since you are talking about "analytical" writing and since you find "The History of Western Philosophy" is a bit hard, then I suggest you to read "The Principia Mathematica" written by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell. Reading only the Volume 1 is enough to the scope.
    – Carlo_R.
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 22:10
  • Don't tease him, Carlo. (Principia Mathematica is not written in English). Generally, the best thing to do is to read as widely in your field as you can, and wherever you disagree or are puzzled about something you read, practice putting your arguments or questions in clear English.
    – John Lawler
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 23:48
  • The GRE is for native speakers as well as non-native speakers. Most graduate programs require it for everyone.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Apr 9, 2013 at 12:31
  • @JohnLawler Whitehead & Russell's Principia Mathematica was written in English. Newton's Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica was in Latin. Commented Apr 9, 2013 at 12:47
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    Dylan, this question is currently asking for a list of books, which is not on-topic here on Writers. However, @Kit is correct in that this can be edited into a question that will work here. I'll try; please let me know if it's what you want. Commented Apr 9, 2013 at 16:58

1 Answer 1


To prepare specifically for the GRE essay portions, you can get test prep books which explain the rubric by which they are graded, or go online to the ETS web site. I found this link: http://www.ets.org/Media/Tests/GRE/pdf/awintro.pdf , which includes specific examples of essays with different scores.

Getting a good grade on the GRE essays is a skill that can be a little different from writing a good essay in general, because essays are graded rather quickly with a specific rubric. Writing that is poetic and beautiful but does not fit the rubric will likely receive a lower score (personally, I had trouble translating my writing style-- which always received excellent grades in college classes-- into a high-scoring GRE style). In my experience, writing that is "too" concise (and thus shorter than average) can actually hurt your score. Working on mastering the "formula" that the graders are looking for, and then making it your own and demonstrating good reasoning skills, is helpful. Again, the info provided by the ETS (they produce the test) in the above link helps with this.

You can practice reasoning and analyses in ways beyond mere essay writing. Read news articles and formulate pros and cons of the positions described. Discuss issues with intelligent people and think about what kinds of arguments are convincing, and what kind of knowledge would support those arguments. Practice thinking about both sides of an issue and trying to imagine how someone might argue against your own position, yet also practice explaining why one side of an argument is sounder than another.


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