The GRE Argument Essay does not need to be difficult. It certainly does not need to inordinately tax you before you even begin the test itself (remember both the Argument and the Issue come before the verbal and math sections).
To make sure you finish the essays with confidence—and not a racing pulse and heavy breathing—you want to learn what to do, and what not to do, for the GRE Argument Essay.
1. Do not agree with the argument
The Argument essay gets its name not only from the fact that you must analyze an argument, but also because you must provide your own argument. Specifically, you are arguing how the argument is terrible (in a scholastic manner, of course!) and filled with logical fallacies. You must in no way agree with the argument. It is there for you to skewer with your logical and rhetorical abilities.
2. Don’t belabor the introduction
The intro should be short and sweet. Many forget this and instead try to craft an eloquent and attention-grabbing first sentence. Do not be seduced by such a temptation! Instead, be as dry and formulaic as possible (the Issue statement, it should be noted, allows for a little more flair).
3. Follow a rigid organizational scheme
Organization is key to scoring well on the GRE AWA. The good news is that the Argument has an even more cookie-cutter template than the Issue. Essentially, you want to open with a quick intro stating how the paragraph is weak for a variety of reasons. You can mention those issues, before elaborating on them in the body paragraphs.
Begin each body paragraph with a topic sentence that states the specific fallacy you are attacking. The second sentence should provide your reasoning. The third sentence can elaborate on the second sentence by providing specific examples. Your fourth sentence can be something like, “Had the argument taken into account…”, “Had the argument not assumed X…then….”
The final sentence can recap the paragraph (think of it as a mini-conclusion that is paragraph-specific).
4. Find the right balance
The GRE argument paragraph is a bar of Swiss cheese, the holes gaping logical fallacies. It is easy to get carried away and try to enumerate all of the logical inconsistencies in the paragraph. Doing so, however, detracts from your ability to develop your criticism of any one logical inconsistency or questionable assumption.
At the same time, you could just as easily pick out one of these glaring assumptions and write a really long paragraph, describing why an assumption is unwarranted and ways to make the argument stronger.
The key is finding the right balance between highlighting specific fallacies and developing a thoughtful and sustained (but not too sustained) dismantling of one of the holes in the bar of Swiss cheese.
The magical number is three. Make sure you find three separate logical fallacies in the paragraph. These fallacies of course should be the ones that you feel detract most from the legitimacy of the argument.
5. Brainstorm/outline before you write
Simply rushing through the paragraph and writing whatever comes to mind is probably not going to end well. Take a few minutes to digest what the argument is saying. Often, one of the most glaring assumptions, the one that the argument really hinges on, might escape you on first reading.
Once you’ve written down a few of the logical fallacies think to yourself how you might develop a sustained attack. One great way is to consider how the argument would have been made stronger had it not assumed X, Y, and Z.
Finally, thinking about what you write before you write will help you score big points for organization—a critical part of your AWA score.
Check out this breakdown of a sample argument essay.
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