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Paragraph Argument Writing Workshop – Part II


In the previous installment—Paragraph Argument Workshop – Part I—I introduced the question type, along with general strategies. I also dissected the first kind of Paragraph Argument: the Weaken question. In this segment, I’m going to delve into two different—but similar—question types: the Strengthen and the Assumption question.

Strengthen question

The strengthen question is the other side of the coin as the weaken question. Both questions are identifying the gap in an argument. Whereas in the weaken question you have to identify the gap, with the strengthen question you have to choose an answer that “plugs up” the gap. Let’s take a look at the weaken question from Part I. I will reproduce the paragraph, word for word. As for the question itself, I will change it into a strengthen question. The answer choices will differ slightly, sometimes by only as much a word.

Downtown Greensborough is a major financial center, in which many citizens either drive or rely on public transportation to get to work. This setup has led up to a spate in the number of pedestrians who have been struck and killed by vehicles. In an effort to curb the number of pedestrian-related fatalities, Greensborough has installed speed reduction signs at the six city intersections in which the highest numbers of fatalities have occurred in the last year. The Greensborough city government predicts that the number of pedestrian fatalities will significantly decrease once the speed reduction signs have been installed.

Which of the following, if true, most strengthens the validity of the conclusion?

(A)  Some of those who drive to work in downtown Greensborough have a valid driver’s license.

(B)  The number of annual pedestrian fatalities outside the downtown area is far less than in the downtown area.

(C)  The six intersections in which the signs are installed are responsible for a majority of pedestrian deaths in downtown Greensborough

(D) The new speed reduction signs will be in neon orange and prominently placed.

(E)  Red light cameras, which are used to catch motorists running red lights, were installed yet the number of pedestrian fatalities did not decrease.

In this case, what the test writers are doing is anticipating a possible weakness in the argument. Essentially, they are defusing a potential objection by showing how that objection is no longer valid. For example, if someone said, “hey your argument has a gap in it because it is only based on six intersections, which isn’t the same as the entire downtown area.” The correct answer, (C), retorts, “Well, most of pedestrian deaths happen at those six intersections.”

Assumption question

Another question type, the Assumption question, is very similar to the Strengthen and Weaken question types. It is even more straightforward because it directly identifies the gap, though it doesn’t strengthen or weaken the argument. If the question above had asked to identify the assumption a correct answer would like the following:

(C) The six intersections cited in the study account for a significant number of pedestrian deaths in downtown Greensborough.

One key to becoming better at Paragraph Argument questions is to identify the gap. Doing so will take lots of practice. It is okay, at first, to take more time than is necessary to answer a Paragraph Argument question. Try to identify the gap before just diving into the answer choices.

The second key is to become adept at eliminating wrong answer choices because they fail to adequately answer the question. In the next installment, I will talk about what makes wrong answer choices wrong.


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5 Responses to Paragraph Argument Writing Workshop – Part II

  1. mine sak September 9, 2015 at 1:01 am #

    I couldn’t understand how C strengthens the argument since the six intersections are said have the highest number of fatalities.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele September 9, 2015 at 1:51 pm #

      Hi Mine Sak,

      So it’s a little tricky. But imagine that we had 100 intersections in a city center (basically a 10×10 grid). The deadliest six intersections could account for 10,9,9,9,8, and 8 deaths respectively. That still leaves 94 roads. Even if the average deaths at those intersections is 1, you still have more deaths happening elsewhere in the city. However, by specifying that the majority of deaths happen in those six intersections, you are removing the aforementioned possibility.

      Hope that helps!

      • Sumanth Mehatha June 20, 2016 at 8:03 pm #

        I too had the same doubt

        I wrongly assumed that highest number in particular intersection = majority , I was soo dumb.

        Thank you for enlightening me to notice subtle difference, I will be more careful

  2. Rahul May 24, 2013 at 7:33 am #

    Hi Chris,
    say what should be the average word count for an issue or an argument?
    I find myself elaborating unnecessarily sometimes.

    • Rachel Wisuri
      Rachel May 24, 2013 at 11:34 am #

      Hi Rahul,

      Good question! As I’m sure you know, there isn’t a word limit for the essays. When writing your essay, it’s most important to build a coherent argument; the content of your essay is much more important than its length. However, if you still need a word-length guideline, you can take a look a look at these sample essays on the ETS website:

      If you’ll notice, the essay that scored a 6 is around 500 words. 🙂


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