AWA Issue Task Step 1: Brainstorming

For many, the Issue essay is tough. In a short 30 minutes, you are expected to come up with a persuasive essay on a topic you may know little about. And your readers aren’t your peers (who would probably be somewhat lenient in any omissions in logic). Instead, the GRE test graders are standing by, ready with their red pens.

To do a convincing job on the Issue, you must focus on how your content relates to your thesis. Or to put it another way: Are you able to develop examples that effectively back up your point of view, while showing a high degree of critical thinking? It is one thing to come up with an apt example; it is another to critically evaluate the different aspects of the issue, using examples to back up this analysis.

Okay, I may have actually scared you more than anything. So to put this theory into practice, let’s take an actual issue from the website. I am going to come up with different ways of analyzing the issue, and a few examples to back up my thoughts.

Specifically, I have provided three different examples. One is to provide scope, and to reach more blog readers in terms of the topics covered (at least a few of the people mentioned below should be familiar to you).

Secondly, I have backed up each point with a supporting example and an opposing example. For the Issue essay, you will want a concession point, so during the brainstorming exercise it is a good idea to come up with an exposing example as well.

The prompt I’ll be examining is the 7th one from the ETS pool of issue topics (which begins with “In any field of”).

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Even the most radical breakthroughs in science result from questioning—and sometimes subverting—past achievements.

Example #1a: Einstein’s space relativity

Einstein had to have a solid grasp of Newtonian physics in order to describe how Newton’s model of the universe broke down in extreme conditions.

Example #1b: (Counter) Copernicus’s heliocentric universe

For centuries the Ptolemaic conception, which postulated that the earth was the center of the universe, went unchallenged. Kepler, using his knowledge of mathematics, challenged this view. Had he been influenced by Ptolemy he would have relied on the common-sense observation that heavenly bodies appear to rotate around the world. Instead, Kepler used the scientific method to guide him.

In Art, significant breakthroughs are only possible by building on past refinements.

Example #2a: Rafael

By drawing on the perspective refined by Giotto, Rafael was able to produce some of the Renaissance’s greatest works.

Example #2b: (Counter) Pollock

There was no precedent, no influence to draw from, for Jackson Pollock to arrive at his breakthrough in Art: throwing paint, seemingly at random, at a blank canvas on the wall, effectively throwing the artistic tradition out the window.

Significant breakthroughs in business have resulted from taking influences in the past.

Example #3a: Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs did not invent the computer; he did not even come up with the desktop. He did, however, make it a whole lot better.

Example #3b: (Counter) Ford

Ford’s assembly was not derived from any other business practice, but instead was a revolutionary way to create machines. Without Ford’s breakthrough the pace of technological innovation would have been held back by decades.

The examples above are an extended brainstorm. From these examples I can craft an essay by choosing two points that support my case, and then, as a concession point, show one side that does not. Understandably none of these examples provide a sustained analysis; I will need an entire paragraph to do so. But above is the “meat and bones” of your essay.



In the next post, I will take one of these examples and turn it into a full length paragraph. I will then take a concession point and turn that into a full-length paragraph as well. In doing so, I hope to provide examples that provide a sustained analysis while cogently proving my point: Issue essay

For the Argument essay version of this post, click here.

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  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!