What is the optimal word count for a GRE essay?

Santa Rosa, California
EducationData Science
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About This Project

I'm studying the analytical writing section on the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). For this exam, you are given 30 minutes to write an essay. The essay is scored on a 0 to 6 scale in half-point increments. The exam writers do not publish a rubric, but I hypothesize that word count correlates highly with scores. I will build a dataset of scored essays and conduct a statistical analysis to determine correlations.

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What is the context of this research?

The ETS has an automated e-grader that scores essays, but it is proprietary and no one knows how it works. Human tutors have different scoring standards which they are largely unable to quantify, but by analyzing scored essays across multiple graders, we should be able to uncover trends in the data to generate a quantitative rubric, even if only used as a guide.

What is the significance of this project?

With approximately half a million people taking the GRE each year, it is difficult to get a top percentile score. The rubric for the analytical writing section of the GRE is incredibly value. By reverse engineering parts of the rubric, we will learn to write essays that are likely to score higher.

What are the goals of the project?

We will undercover correlations between quantifiable essay metrics and resulting scores.


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Independently graded essay data is necessary for analysis. A standard quote from a GRE tutor to score an essay, giving no qualitative feedback, is $5 per essay. I would like to get at least 400 essays scored, split between two different tutors, to have enough data to make statistically significant calculations. Experiment.com charges an 8% fee plus 3-5% for payment processing which comes out to about $300.

Endorsed by

Justin leads our research efforts at Achievable and is incredibly well versed in user research and education technology. Justin graduated with dual majors in Computer Science and Human Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon University, one of the best undergraduate universities for those two disciplines in the world. He has since worked at Google and as an early employee in multiple education technology startups. He has taken the GRE himself and is dedicated to determining how to maximize scores on this important exam.

Project Timeline

I have already solicited quotes from tutors interested in conducting the essay scoring. They will need approximately a month to score the essays, and I will need another month to conduct the analysis.

Jan 13, 2023

Project Launched

Jan 27, 2023

200 essays graded by Tutor B

Jan 27, 2023

200 essays graded by Tutor A

Feb 24, 2023

Finish statistical analysis

Meet the Team

Justin Pincar
Justin Pincar

Justin Pincar

Justin is the co-founder of Achievable exam preparation, a company that uses adaptive learning techniques to power a GRE prep course and an SIE exam prep course.

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