Your GRE Issue Essay on TV: The West Wing
Writing the GRE issue essay can be a daunting task for the unprepared test-taker. Not only do you have to put together an organized essay in thirty minutes, but you also have to be ready to craft a compelling, persuasive stance on a variety of topics. The most common question that I get from my students about the issue essay is, “How am I supposed to be able to speak knowledgably on all of the topics that I could possibly see?”
In fact, the pool of GRE issue essays consists of variations on several recurring topics, such as education and government. And luckily, almost every common prompt topic is discussed in depth on at least one episode of one of the best shows in recent memory: The West Wing. Over the course of their eight-year stint in the White House, President Bartlet and his staff had many spirited debates on the same multifaceted topics that the GRE loves to test. When you think about it, the connection between this particular television show and a standardized test is a logical one: The broad issues featured in the show have convincing points to support each side and don’t have “right” answers, which make them ideal candidates for an exam that tests your ability to develop a persuasive essay. Here are a few examples of GRE issues, and the episodes of The West Wing that will allow you to discuss each one like a pro:
- Prompt: “Governments should not fund any scientific research whose consequences are unclear.”
- West Wing episode: “Eppur Si Muove” (season 5, episode 16). The president’s daughter is targeted for her work at the National Institutes of Health, sparking discussions about what types of research are useful to society and should be federally funded.
- Prompt: “Governments should offer a free university education to any student who has been admitted to a university but who cannot afford the tuition.”
- West Wing episode: “20 Hours in America” (season 4, episode 1). After being stranded in Indiana, two of the president’s staffers have a chance encounter with a man who is touring colleges with his daughter and are inspired to rethink how the costs of a university education should be distributed.
- Prompt: “Some people believe that government funding of the arts is necessary to ensure that the arts can flourish and be available to all people. Others believe that government funding of the arts threatens the integrity of the arts.
- West Wing episode: “Gone Quiet” (season 3, episode 6). The president’s team opposes a political group that wants to cut the National Endowment for the Arts’ funding, spurring a debate about the relationship between a society’s culture and its government.
If you’re already a fan of The West Wing, then start re-watching your favorite episodes. If you haven’t yet become an honorary member of the “Bartlet for America” campaign, it’s never too late to discover a show that will both entertain and help you ace the GRE essay portion.