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AWA Issue Sample Topic: Setting Up Pro and Con Points

Today, I will take apart a prompt from the Issue task. That is I’ll brainstorm, coming up with pros and cons and specific examples to back up each side.

I’ve taken an example from the ETS website. If you don’t know already, their website offers hundreds of sample essay prompts. Now if you’re not convinced and think, “Hey, I already have a book with sample essay prompts,” then consider this: test day the prompt you get will be one of the prompts on this site. It may very well be the following prompt:

To understand the most important characteristics of a society, one must study its major cities.

Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.

First off, make sure you not only read the issue, but that you read the directions. You must establish a position, and tell us your rationale for choosing this position. Your position should fall somewhere along the spectrum of disagree/agree. You probably don’t want to be too neutral (defending a default position is never that compelling), nor do you want to be too extreme: Unless you study the cities of a major society you will be forever doomed in trying to understand that society.

The first step is come up with positions for and against the prompt. Then you will want to choose the side you feel you have the best reasoning for, keeping in mind that you should, “consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true…”



  • All great civilizations have had a flourishing city. The government/king/queen have been here. To understand most of its people, the way in which it is ruled, we must understand the city.
  • ‘Most important characteristics’ shows that life outside of a city can still help illuminate the society, but not as much as city life can.
  • Learning centers/colleges/universities are typically in a city. Understanding the intellectual output is key to understanding a society.
  • In post-agrarian societies, most jobs are contained within cities. That is commerce is conducted in the cities.



  • Many societies have been agricultural. That society’s customs, rituals can only be understood in the context of a rural backdrop.
  • Even a modern society depends on agriculture to sustain it. Surely, to understand the important characteristics of a society, we need to understand the people who live in rural areas.
  • ‘Major cities’ is a stretch. Even smaller cities can help us understand a society, especially if the culture/values tend to be different in the smaller cities/more rural areas.


For your actual essay, your For/Against should not be so long. Find some shorthand way of expressing your thoughts (I wrote everything out because my shorthand wouldn’t look very good in a blog post).

Perhaps you’ve come up with a different list of For/Against. Regardless, the next step is to figure out where you fall on the Agree/Disagree spectrum. That is what position, based on your brainstorming, are you taking.

I’ll choose For, stating that my position was predicated on modern societies, most of which have a majority of their population living in major cities. I’ll concede at some point in the essay that even smaller cities can offer insight into a society.

To effectively support and develop these points, I would want to think of relevant examples. For the last point, I would offer up the United States. The culture between large cities and small cities can be very different. There is the Red State vs. Blue State dichotomy that can also pertain to small cities vs. large cities. To understand the religious political divide in the U.S. we would need to also study life in small cities and rural areas. This would be my concession point, which basically shows that my position is not 100% for the prompt, but is more balanced and nuanced.


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