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Top 5 Strategies for the GRE Argument Essay

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 paragraph 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.

About the Author

Chris Lele has been helping students excel on the GRE, GMAT, and SAT for the last 10 years. He is the Lead Content Developer and Tutor for Magoosh. His favorite food is wasabi-flavored almonds. Follow him on Google+!

15 Responses to Top 5 Strategies for the GRE Argument Essay

  1. Lasha December 6, 2014 at 10:57 am #


    I’ve got a GRE exam very soon, however, I have one question about an argument essay:
    In all preparing materials I have found in the internet or in books so far, it is said, that I have to find several fallacies and discus them. However, during the practicing test, I was instructed to “Write a response in which you discuss specific evidence that could be used to decide between the proposed explanations above.” What can I do if I have such case on the exam? shall I still look for fallacies or just bring any evidence I like to support one of the explanations?

    Thanks in advance for your time and attention!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele December 9, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

      Hi Lasha,

      Great question!

      It seems that a lot of the current books on the market are dated, and don’t mention the specific instructions the GRE is asking for. So yes: make sure to address what the directions are asking for.

      Yet, in addressing those directions, you will inevitably have to mention the fallacies. Or, to put it another way, always discuss the fallacies but make sure to discuss whatever the directions are asking.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Nivedita July 25, 2014 at 11:15 pm #

    Hi Chris, I have a question which may seem silly but I’m just curious.

    I’ve been reading all the sample ETS GRE AWA i can get my hands on and one major thing i notice is that most of the examples used are American. That seems logical since it is an American exam mainly to get into an American institute, but my question is this-

    Since i come from India, if i gave examples of Businesses and Leaders from India, would i lose out on marks as compared to maybe an American student. When i say examples i mean global examples that should hopefully be known all around the world. and would still be easier for me to write about since i can relate with them better.

    I recently read an Issue task where they used an example of Tiger Wood and his overreaching sensibilities which caused his personal and professional life to go haywire. While this seems fine, i can think of at least 10 different examples from back home which would not only be more relevant but less scandalous and gossip based.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 28, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

      That’s a great question! You can definitely use examples from India, or for any country for that matter. Make sure that you give enough context instead of taking it for granted that the grader knows who you are talking about (as you noted, they most likely don’t). What they are looking for is how your example supports your point, and how you develop your ideas throughout the paragraph. In other words, an eloquent, heartfelt summary of Tiger Wood’s transgressions a great paragraph do not make. You’ll need analytical rigor

      Hope that helps :)

  3. Rachel November 18, 2013 at 8:25 am #

    Hi Chris,

    For both the argument and issue, I struggle with whether I should be paraphrasing the statement from the prompt in my introduction. Is it sufficient enough to say “the above argument…?” Or should I pretend like whoever is reading the essay would not have any idea what the prompt was as I go about writing it and therefore try to reword the issue at hand into my essay?

    Thanks for your help!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele November 18, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

      Good question! For the argument, I think saying the above argument–instead of trying to paraphrase it–works just fine.

      The Issue has far fewer words and by just saying the “above argument”, you take an unnecessary shortcut. Also by paraphrasing the issue in your own words, it gives what you say a little more integrity (though this last part is just my opinion :)).

      Regardless, the person reading your essay will know the prompts you are responding to.

      Hope that helps :)

  4. Laura September 6, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    What do you think is a good strategy for the writing section? Is it better to write the entire essay on scratch paper first and then re-type it onto the answer screen, or is it better to just highlight the main points and brainstorm on scratch paper, then type the completed version onto the answer screen?
    Thanks for all your insight.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele September 6, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

      Hi Laura,

      I’ve never heard of this strategy, but it seems a little time-consuming :). In other words, do not write the essay on scratch paper. The scratch paper should only be used for brainstorming (you can even brainstorm on the computer, as long as you delete it).

      The only reason I can think of writing on paper is if your ideas just flow much, much better. If you have found this to be the case, then maybe–though I say this very reluctantly–write the essay on scratch paper. Even then, if you don’t write well on computer, I would get in the habit of using this medium to write the essay. In the long run, it will save you time and allow you to write more.

      Hope that helps!

  5. suji August 22, 2013 at 3:31 am #

    I want to know if we need to write an argument both in support and against of the statement?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele August 23, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

      Hi Suji,

      Only the Issue task requires you to consider both sides of the argument (or a gap in your own argument). The Argument task requires that you only argue against the paragraph. Do not try to support any aspect of the paragraph.

      Hope that helps!

      • Christina October 9, 2014 at 5:19 pm #

        How should we acknowledge the other side without taking away from our own argument? Something along the lines of : “Although Chris’ thoughts on global warming raise concern, a much more thorough investigation should be conducted before the city cancels its plans for the harbor.” (I have no idea, just trying to think of something). Also, placement? Around the conclusion?

        I scored a three (A THREE!?) last time because I completely froze up during the writing part despite studying. Do you have any tips for panic attacks/crying yourself into the next section?

  6. Gurpreet July 27, 2013 at 3:21 am #

    Hi Chris,

    I am pressed for time and only have about 60 plus days to prepare for the GRE. How many essays for each question type is recommended for practice? Please advise. Any form of advice or suggestion would be of great help. Thank you!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 30, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

      Hi Gurpreet,

      It depends where you are starting in terms of score, and what your target score is. I would recommend doing three practice essays a week, for both the Issue and the Argument. Try to get feedback from the forums, if possible. You should also use ETS service a couple of times to make sure you are improving. In tandem, you should be improving your grammar and writing style by reading writing books, such as William Zissner’s On Writing.

      Hope that helps, and good luck!

  7. David Zeglen June 16, 2013 at 8:57 am #


    Thanks for the helpful summary of the logical fallacies; I found it very useful when analyzing an argument paragraph.

    I’d like to know if you think it’s okay to use the same kind of fallacy twice in a response. My experience in having done a few ETS practice argument essays is that the assumed cause/effect fallacy is sometimes used twice in two different parts of the argument paragraph. That is, there are different claims being made to support the argument, but both claims make use of a cause/effect fallacy.

    Do you think ETS is looking for a variety of logical fallacies in the response, or do you think it would be okay to have two of the body paragraphs use the cause/effect fallacy for two different claims?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 18, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

      Hi David,

      That is a great question! I think the key is to address the major flaws in the argument. If there are two of the same fallacies, you can even address that in the topic sentence of a new paragraph (e.g., the argument also assumes without basis another…”. I guess that implicitly answers your question about having a fresh paragraph for a similar logical fallacy that deals with a different part of the argument :).

      However, if you think one of the fallacies is not as major as the other one, then you might want to find a different and more salient fallacy. Of course, if doing so costs you too much time, you can go with the original–though less central to the argument–fallacy.

      Hope that helps!

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