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It's liberating and exciting when you learn there are tons of established structural patterns more interesting than five paragraph and you're expected to use and modify them.

Then you have to relearn the five paragraph essay for the GRE, and it's worse than the first time.

Pointers / links?

The mandatory writing courses at top schools generally have some structures that are forced adversarially on first year students, like the "lens" essay. They're not bad but the students have to shoehorn whatever they're writing into the specified format, regardless of what the writing ends up needing to be.

One of the best ways to really 'get it' is to make outlines of things that are already written, to learn how it flows from one topic to another and back, and if it actually works. You can also reverse outline things you've already written and get a good idea of what's happening or missing and how it could change.

This is a decent resource, if a bit unorganized: http://harvardwritingcenter.wordpress.com/

"Lens essay" is worth a web search, if you're curious.

the GRE doesn't look for a 5 paragraph essay format, I never use one and I repeatably score above the 95th percentile.

I used the 5 paragraph essay format for both the GRE and GMAT and never got anything other than perfect scores on them :/

You don't need that structure, but for what they are looking for, it does often make your life easier.

Then again the essay part is the most pointless part for those pointless tests.

Why do you take the GRE often??

That's good to hear, but all the guides and sample essays I've seen were based on it.

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