When you sit down at the computer on test day, the first thing you’ll face is the GRE analytical writing section (AWA). After you complete the GRE Issue essay, you’ll go on to the GRE Argument essay. Don’t be fooled—while you have a 30-minute time limit for each task, you’ll focus on entirely different strategies in these writing exercises!
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 Argument task.
In the GRE Argument essay, your goal is to pick a side and create an argument. As you’ll see below, your argument should always be that the essay is flawed! Then, you’ll pick apart the flaws in logic that you find.
To find out what the Argument tasks asks you to do in more detail, check out Magoosh’s Argument essay lesson video! Then, read on for Magoosh’s expert tips and sample essay (with analysis) to see how to get a top score on the GRE Argument task.
Table of Contents
- Top 6 GRE Argument Essay Strategies
- Sample GRE Argument Task Essay
- Analysis of the Sample Student Response
- Recap of GRE Argument Task Strategies
Top 6 GRE Argument Essay Strategies
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. How well you are able to make this argument depends on how well you are able to break down the assumptions of the argument prompts. Here are our top tips for creating a compelling argument.
1. Disagree with the Argument
If you’ve written an essay for the SAT or ACT, you might make the mistake of approaching the GRE Argument task the same way: that is, in assuming that there’s “no wrong answer.” For the GRE Argument task, there is always one single correct answer to the prompt. In brief? That the author’s argument is faulty.
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.
It’s key to disagree with the argument. When scoring essays, both the human grader and the e-rater will look to see that you can write a response in which you examine why the argument is wrong—not argue that it’s perfect!
2. Identify Logical Fallacies
Each and every GRE Argument task prompt will be filled with unstated assumptions that the author makes—otherwise known as logical fallacies. It’s your job to use the body paragraphs of your essay to explain how the argument relies on these fallacies and thus fails to achieve its goal.
You can think of logical fallacies as holes in the argument. There are many different ways that these holes can appear in Argument essay prompts, depending on what the author is arguing: things can change over time, for example, or they may be assuming a cause and effect relationship that isn’t really there.
Take a look at Magoosh’s logical fallacies lesson video to get a thorough overview of the types of logical fallacies you should be looking for in these essays—and how you can pick them apart!
3. Balance the Number of Fallacies You Work With
The GRE argument paragraph is a block 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 block 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.
4. Brainstorm/Outline the Essay
We’ve all been tempted, but let’s face it: 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.
You’ll need to use specific evidence from the essay, along with solid analysis, in order to make your points—but don’t fall into the trap of thinking these fallacies need to be answered in order! Use the strongest points you can make first. Also, be sure to combine concrete examples with thorough analysis. Having one without the other will weaken your essay.
Finally, thinking about what you write before you write will help you score big points for organization—a critical part of your AWA score.
5. Make Your Intro Short + Sweet
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).
Wondering what this looks like? Take a look at the sample introduction for the essay below.
6. Follow a Rigid Organizational Structure
Organization is key to scoring well on the GRE AWA. The good news is that the GRE Argument task 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 sentence 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).
Check out this video’s sample essay to see what you need to achieve your GRE writing score goal—or read on to see an Argument task essay!
Sample GRE Argument Task Essay
Now that you know the best practices for writing a GRE Argument task essay, it’s time to see how they play out in an example. For this essay, we’ll be using the following prompt:
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.
Sample Student Response
The argument makes a number of unwarranted assumptions regarding the corporation’s proposed move from Middlesburg to Corporateville. Taken as a whole, these unstated assumptions render the argument highly suspect. Indeed, if these unstated assumptions do not hold true, then the argument totally falls apart.
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. Indeed low-priced housing and overcrowding clearly would make Corporatville a less superior place to live.
Another unstated assumption the argument makes is that what is superior for residents is the same as what is superior for corporations. Thus, even if everybody wants to move to Corporateville because it is a superior place to live, that doesn’t mean it is a superior place for a company to move its headquarters. For instance, perhaps Corporateville has an excellent public school system and/or natural parks. Neither of these would make Corporateville a superior place for a corporation. Unless the argument can show that there is clear reason that Corporateville is superior to Middletown for a corporation, then the corporation could be making the wrong decision in moving to Corporateville.
The argument makes a number of unstated assumptions that seriously undermine its validity. Unless these assumptions are addressed the argument falls apart, and the corporation could very well make a major mistake shifting operations from Middleburg to Corporateville.
Analysis of the Sample Student Response
Let’s start with the Intro. The Intro should be short and sweet, as it is here. In fact, the intro for the Argument should really not contain any novel ideas. You simply want to say that the argument is unwarranted for a number of reasons.
If you find yourself hung up on the intro, write it at the end. The key to the essay is the body, in which you identify the unwarranted assumptions. You do not want to waste precious minutes fiddling about with the Intro.
Next we have the body paragraphs, in which you will point out the unstated assumptions that render the argument invalid. You can lump all into one massive paragraph or you can—as the writer does here—spread them into three paragraphs, one for each unstated assumption.
Within this first body paragraph, notice how the writer ended the argument by referring back to what the instructions asked us to do: “Be sure to explain how the argument depends on the assumptions and what the implications are if the assumptions prove unwarranted.”
Would this essay be better with another body paragraph? Absolutely—if the writer had time. For the third body paragraph, I would focus on the survey. This is probably the strongest unstated assumption remaining (the survey is a valid measure). However, you can choose to focus on taxes or urban vs. non-urban.
Do not, however, try to jam in all the assumptions. Your focus is to show that the essay makes many unproven assumptions and is thus invalid. Pointing out several assumptions—as this essay does—is enough. Unless you have time, do not be exhaustive.
Recap of GRE Argument Task Strategies
That may all sound complicated, but it gets easier with practice. As you do, here’s a simple visual you can use to make sure you’re doing everything you can to get a high score on your GRE Argument essay!
|Introduction||The argument is unwarranted for reasons x, y, & z|| |
|Body Paragraphs||Point out 2-3 unstated assumptions that invalidate argument|| |
|Conclusion||Briefly summarize what you've already said|| |
Next Steps for a High-Scoring GRE Argument Essay
You’ve read through top tips from experts on how to ace the GRE Argument task. You’ve read through a sample student essay and read our analysis of it, and bookmarked/taken a screenshot of the table of key tips for the essay. What next?
First, try your hand at writing a response to the essay prompt above. Take a look at our writing tips for the GRE AWA before starting. Then, challenge yourself to write an essay that relies on totally different logical fallacies than those the student above found. Next, you can check out the pool of Argument topics on the ETS website (that’s the official test-maker) for all of the practice you could ever want!
As you write your practice essays, come back to the above tips and analysis as needed to ensure that you’re hitting all of the key points for the Argument essay. Good luck!
Bonus! Speaking of arguments, when you’re ready to move onto GRE vocab practice, check out our video on fighting/conflict-related words you may encounter on the test.
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