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AWA Essay Help: Brainstorming for the Argument Prompt

Just like the assumptions themselves, the trepidation people have of The Argument Task  on the Analytical Writing Assessment Section of the GRE is unwarranted. Below is a sample argument prompt and the first step in approaching the Argument Task:  Brainstorm.


Sample task

SuperCorp recently moved its headquarters to Corporateville. The recent surge in the number of homeowners in Corporateville prove that Corporateville is a superior place to live then Middlesburg, the home of SuperCorp’s current headquarters. Moreover, Middleburg is a predominately urban area and according to an employee survey, SuperCorp has determined that its workers prefer to live in an area that is not urban. Finally, Corporateville has lower taxes than Middlesburg, making it not only a safer place to work but also a cheaper one. Therefore, Supercorp clearly made the best decision.

“Write a response in which you examine the stated and/or unstated assumptions of the argument. Be sure to explain how the argument depends on the assumptions and what the implications are if the assumptions prove unwarranted.” – ETS


Step One – Attacking the Assumptions

Do not agree with any part of the argument. Instead, show that the argument is making a series of unwarranted assumptions by highlighting each one. Of course, you do not only want to cite what is wrong with the argument, you want to discuss also how the argument can be improved.

The first step of course is to list the assumptions (you can think of this as the brainstorming part). This step is crucial – don’t just rush into the essay. Planning before you write will, in the end, save you time.

In this post we will only be concerned with the brainstorming part. The follow up post will have a sample essay, followed by a score and feedback, including how to improve the essay.

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Assumption #1

The argument assumes that the increase in homeowners is directly correlated with improved living, or, as the argument states, “a superior place to live.” Housing could simply be cheaper, causing an influx of people. That is the increase of population does not mean that everybody wants to live in Corporateville because it is such a great place.


Assumption #2

Even if everybody wants to move to Corporateville because it is a superior place to live, that doesn’t mean what is “superior” for residents is “superior” for a corporation. Remember working and living are two very different things.


Assumption #3

We do not know anything about the survey. Is it really indicative of how employees feel? Perhaps the survey only asked upper management. Maybe only the engineering department was questioned. Basically, there is no way for us to know whether the sample was representative. Anyhow, the survey – even if it is representative – found that Supercorp’s workers preferred to live, not to work, in areas that are not urban.


Assumption #4

There is nothing in the argument that says that Corporateville is not urban. Perhaps Corporateville is also somewhat urban. We do not know. And be careful not to assume that people typically leave urban areas for the suburbs. Never bring your own preconceived notions into the argument.


Assumption #5

Towards the end, the argument mentions that Corporateville is safer. In this same sentence, you will also find mention of lower taxes. If the argument is setting out to prove that Corporateville is a superior place to work than Middlesburg, it has to be more specific about how lower taxes will improve quality of work place.


Assumption #6

The argument ends by saying that Supercorp clearly made the right decision. Even if Corporateville is a better place for Supercorp, to say that the company made “the best decision” is stretching it. Perhaps Supercorp could have moved to a different city, one even better suited to its needs.



The goal of the brainstorming session is not to see how many assumptions you can find. Instead, you want to choose the few that you think best invalidate the argument. See AWA Argument: Sample Essay Breakdown to see how to structure your paragraphs after brainstorming.


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11 Responses to AWA Essay Help: Brainstorming for the Argument Prompt

  1. Adie March 11, 2018 at 1:03 pm #

    I enrolled for Magoosh GRE Prep.It is completely awesome.Each topic is discussed very well,with nice structured manner.I like it very much.Thanks Chris and Your whole team.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 13, 2018 at 11:37 am #

      I’m glad a GRE Premium subscription is working well for you, Adie. Thanks back at you from me, Chris, and the whole team. 🙂

  2. Nikita Malhotra October 16, 2016 at 3:39 pm #

    This article is so helpful! Thank you Chris!

  3. Arseny September 25, 2016 at 4:45 am #

    Thank you, Chris, the article is very helpful!

    I have a question, however: how do we know whether Corporateville and Middlesburg are different cities or only different districts?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 25, 2016 at 7:55 am #

      Hi Arseny,

      For this prompt, we know that Corporateville and Middlesburg are two different locations that SuperCorp is deciding between. The focus of the task is to evaluate the stated and unstated assumptions. So, it will be okay to approach this prompt with either city or district in mind, but typically it’ll be city, unless otherwise clarified.

  4. Justin October 24, 2015 at 5:15 pm #

    Chris, in the argument task pool there are several instructions that say something like, “What questions would need to be answered in order do decide if the argument is….?” How should we approach instructions like these? Thanks.

  5. Rashmi Sharma September 29, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    Hi Magoosh,

    The guidelines provided above, are extremely useful. They have helped me gather a better understanding about how an AWA should be approached. Thanks!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 1, 2013 at 10:59 am #

      You are welcome!

  6. abhay July 11, 2012 at 7:51 am #

    Thanks Chris. It is very helpful.
    However I have a doubt regarding argument task instructions. There are 7 types of instructions for an argument task as suggested by ETS site. Lets say if the topic is same, how should the structure of essay change with respect to different argument task instructions.
    I have consulted a couple of sources ( ARCO/Barron etc) however none of them address that how best to handle different argument prompts and am confused on that one.

  7. Syam February 26, 2012 at 11:33 pm #

    A very good article. Eagerly waiting for the follow up:)

    • Chris Lele
      Chris February 27, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

      Great! I am happy it was helpful. Working on the follow-up as we speak!

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