Analyzing an Argument When Taking the GRE

Of the two GRE writing sections, the argument essay demands the most of test-takers by testing their abilities to analyze reason and logic. When gearing up for the GRE writing sections, future graduate students need to prepare for both the Issue Task and the Argument Task. As the essay writing service, KingEssays assumes that the latter, however, requires more preparation, because this section exists to test students’ abilities for deconstructing a fallacious argument. And if they’re not used to doing so, this can prove to be a harrowing task.

What is the GRE Argument Essay?

The GRE Argument Task is a writing section in which test-takers have presented a declaration of some kind, often in the form of office memos, press-release-type statements, and other statements that come to some conclusion too abruptly or with many logic flaws.

All prompts will ask test-takers whether or not they find the argument “well-reasoned” or not. While it seems this question allows some room for “yes, I find it well-reasoned,” there will usually be at least 3 or 4 major flaws in the logic within the statement presented.

After considering the prompt, test-takers must write out – in a sound and well-organized fashion – how the speaker of the statement has misled his or her audience. Because this requires a bit of pre-writing thinking, it’s important not to jump in writing before working out what to say.

How to Write the GRE Argument Essays?

First and foremost, the test-taker must carefully read the prompt that’s presented to him. Prompts will always be making claims that, on the surface, make a bit of sense. However, once the test-taker has read through it, he must identify the logic flaws (again, 3 or 4 of them).

This is where pre-writing comes in. Since there are only 30 minutes allotted to this task, this portion shouldn’t take up more than 3 minutes or so, so there’s enough time to construct the essay and proofread it at the end. The test-taker should jot down all the argument flaws, and try and keep the points and counter-points organized.

Here’s a sample prompt from the GRE Argument Task:

  • “Our nation’s new college graduates will have better success obtaining jobs if they do not pursue advanced degrees after graduation. After all, more than 80 percent of State X’s undergraduate students are employed full-time within one year after they graduate, while less than half of State X’s graduate-level students find employment within one year after receiving their graduate degrees.”

Go through sentence by sentence, if that helps. In this argument, the speaker automatically assumes that State X is representative of the nation as a whole, which is a generalization that may jump to an irrational conclusion. Motivation from a state-to-state basis could be different, too, between graduates and undergraduates.

This argument is susceptible to unreliable statistic samples, which is a common logic problem in GRE argument essay prompts. The architects of the GRE are looking for students who can deconstruct an argument and find its flaws.

Other Types of Argument Flaws

There are many other kinds of argument flaws that students can run into in the GRE Argument Task section.

  • Unreliable polling techniques
  • Weak analogies
  • Correlation vs. cause and effect (calling something a cause or an effect when there is an only correlation)
  • Over-generalizing
  • Drawing a too-broad conclusion
  • Circular reasoning
  • Reliance on vague or ill-defined terminology

These are only a few logic flaws test-takers may run across when taking the GRE. It’s important to practice finding flaws in arguments before going in to take the test because, without practice, this skill will not come easily. With a bit of GRE writing preparation, that high score of 6 should come a lot more easily.

The Issue Essay

Taking the GRE is stressful enough for most, simply with the thoughts of the “math” and verbal sections. However, with the bonus of two timed writing sections, it’s enough to stress out the most stoic of students. But really, it isn’t just the math and verbal sections students should prepare for, but also the writing sections.

GRE Writing Sections

Two separate sections are designed to test the taker’s writing ability, line of reasoning, and effective and practical use of logic. These sections are scored differently than the rest of the test, with a maximum score of 6. The two sections aren’t always presented in the same order, so prepare to be flexible.

One essay is the argument task. In this section, test-takers are presented with a single prompt. This prompt often takes the form of some sort of memo or news-type article, and the claims presented within are riddled with fallacies. The test-takers job is to pull apart the fallacious arguments and explain why they’re unreasonable. Only 30 minutes are allotted to this assignment.

The second section, the one that will be discussed in further detail, is the issue task essay. Here, test-takers are presented with two prompts to choose between, both making certain statements that are easily arguable (much like entry-level college writing exams). The student’s job is to choose one of the two prompts, pick a side to present, and write. This section takes up to 45 minutes.

GRE Writing: Issue Task Essay

The first item at hand when approaching the issue task section is to read – carefully – the prompts that are given. Remember, there will be two separate prompts for this section (versus the singular prompt in the argument task section), so read both of them over and commit to one as soon as possible.

A typical prompt might look like this:

  • Present your perspective on the issue below, using relevant reasons and/or examples to support your views: What most human beings want to attain is not knowledge, but certainty. Gaining real knowledge requires taking risks and keeping the mind open – but most people prefer to be reassured rather than to learn the complex and often unsettling truth about anything.

So, the first order of business is choosing aside. Is it easy or difficult to agree with the statement? Unlike the other GRE writing section, this essay is asking for opinion but doesn’t care what that opinion is, as long as it’s well structured and argued.

Outlining and quick prewriting can potentially make or break a GRE writing score. Once the test-taker chooses aside, it’s a good idea to write down all thoughts on the subject, and try to group them in some reasonable organizational form. The GRE reviewers aren’t too concerned with specific types of organization, just that the format used is logical.

After taking a minute or two outlining his initial thoughts in response to the prompt he chooses, the test-taker should then begin to write, spending the majority of his time on the body itself, not so much the introduction and conclusion. These two paragraphs are important, but if time is running out, it’s better to have a fully developed body with a sub-par intro and conclusion than a great intro and conclusion and messy body.

Finally, don’t neglect to proofread. The people who will be reviewing the essays won’t be too concerned with typos and typing-too-quickly mistakes; they will be concerned if the misuse of grammar deeply affects the readability of the essay.

Buy a Good GRE Help Book/Program

Even the strongest writers would be wise to prepare for the writing portion of the GRE. There is too much to outline in a single article, so a good investment for any GRE-takers is a preparation book or computer program. Some are better than others, but the most important thing to look for is that it works for the test-taker. So try a few out, pick one, and get studying.

The writing sections of the GRE can be extremely stressful, especially if the test-taker plans to apply to a school that weighs the writing score heavily. Remaining calm is key when tackling these sections, so be sure to study beforehand, gain some pre-test confidence, and then dominating the essays will be like second nature.

We hope you found this article insightful.

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