GRE Argument Essay: Top 6 Strategies & Sample Essay

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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.

magoosh-lesson-video-iconTo 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

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.

magoosh-lesson-video-iconTake 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 author of the argument concludes that Supercorp has made the best decision in moving its headquarters to Corporateville. However, that conclusion is based on a number of inadequately supported assumptions. Without further information, we do not have sufficient evidence to determine whether the author’s conclusion is valid.

To begin the argument, the author claims that the recent surge in homeownership in Corporateville proves that Corporateville is superior to Middleburg. However, that evidence relies on the assumption that a new trend in one demographic, homeownership, is enough to claim that one city is superior to another. There are numerous other factors that have not been taken into account. For example, the crime rate in Corporateville might be much higher than Middlesburg. If that’s the case, the claim of superiority could be called into question. On the other hand, if the author were to provide a much more comprehensive list of factors where Corporateville outhines Middlesburg then the claim of superiority would be more convincing. Without a more comprehensive list of factors that have been compared, we cannot fully evaluate the claim of superiority as evidence that Supercorp made the best decision.

Another weakness in the argument is the survey the author references as proof that Supercorp has made the best decision. Without information on how many employees were surveyed, the author is relying on the unsupported assumption that the opinions of the employees who were surveyed represent the majority of employees who work at Supercorp. If the survey results do represent the majority of employees across the entire company, then the evidence is more credible. However, if the survey was only given to a small sample of employees who all work in the same department, then it would hurt the author’s claim. Without more information about how many employees were surveyed, we are not able to fully evaluate how it supports the conclusion.

One more spurious claim is that lower taxes in Coporateville make it a safer place to work than Middlesburg. Here the author is assuming that lower taxes will lead to improved workplace safety. Unfortunately, there is not enough detail to reasonably conclude that lower taxes will results in safer working conditions. If a third factor, like really strict protocols or high fines for violating those protocols are the real cause of improved workplace safety, or if Coporateville turns out to have a very poor workplace safety score, then the author is mistaking correlation for causation.

Ultimately, unless the assumptions are addressed, the author’s argument that Supercorp made the best decision in moving fails to be convincing.


 

Analysis of the Sample Student Response

This is an example of a strong essay. The overall structure is well-organized with appropriate transitions throughout. The discussion of unstated assumptions within the author’s argument reflects the language of the prompt. Furthermore the analysis is relevant, with well-developed hypotheticals of what additional evidence would support strengthening or weakening the evidence. The writing uses an appropriate mix of simple and complex sentence-structures and effective use of vocabulary. There are a few sentence-level errors, but nothing that diminishes clarity.

Let’s break it down:

  1. The introduction is short and sweet and checks the important boxes. Namely, restating the conclusion made in the argument and clearly establishing that the conclusion was based on insufficient evidence in a number of ways.
  2. The first body paragraph is an example of putting your best foot forward. The topic sentence clearly states that the writer will analyze the problem with linking one factor, homeownership, to an overall claim of superiority. The second and third sentences explain why doing so is flawed reasoning. Then the analysis is expanded through hypothetical details that would both strengthen and weaken the argument. Finally, the paragraph closes with what is needed to make the evidence reasonably convincing.
  3. The second body paragraph begins with a solid transition that indicates the second flaw up for analysis is the survey. Staying consistent with the structure of the first body paragraph, after the topic is introduced, the author explains why the survey evidence is flawed, provides hypotheticals that would both strengthen and weaken the evidence, and closes out the paragraph with a sentence that indicates what’s needed to make the evidence sufficient.
  4. The third body paragraph is not exactly consistent with the first two, but that’s not going to dramatically change the strength of the overall analysis. Remember these essays are graded holistically. The graders are not hyper-focused on evaluating the strength of each and every sentence. The last body paragraph still has a clear transition, no question about what flaw will be analyzed, and a sentence that explains why suggesting low taxes are the cause of safer working conditions is flawed. There is some analysis; however, it is not as detailed as the analysis of the preceding paragraphs. The hypothetical example the writer sets up to weaken the argument slips into redundancy by restating the author’s flaw and also abruptly ends the paragraph. Fewer analytical details might indicate that the writer was running out of time and skipped elements like a closing sentence that clarifies what is needed to improve the evidence.
  5. Finally, the conclusion is incredibly short and that’s totally fine. It signals to the reader that the essay has come to a close, and that’s all it needs to do. Would it be improved with a couple more sentences? Sure. But, a short, direct conclusion is certainly not going to make a huge difference in the score an essay receives.


 

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!

SectionContentTips
IntroductionThe argument is unwarranted for reasons x, y, & z
  • Short & sweet (don't waste time on this)

  • If you get stuck, write it at the end

  • Don't add any novel ideas here
Body ParagraphsPoint out 2-3 unstated assumptions that invalidate argument
  • These are the most important paragraphs—spend time here

  • Either lump all assumptions into one paragraph or write 1 paragraph per assumption
ConclusionBriefly summarize what you've already said
  • Short & sweet

  • No new information

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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Authors

  • Rachel Kapelke-Dale

    Rachel is one of Magoosh’s Content Creators. She writes and updates content on our High School and GRE Blogs to ensure students are equipped with the best information during their test prep journey. As a test-prep instructor for more than five years in there different countries, Rachel has helped students around the world prepare for various standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, TOEFL, GRE, and GMAT, and she is one of the authors of our Magoosh ACT Prep Book. Rachel has a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature from Brown University, an MA in Cinematography from the Université de Paris VII, and a Ph.D. in Film Studies from University College London. For over a decade, Rachel has honed her craft as a fiction and memoir writer and public speaker. Her novel, THE BALLERINAS, is forthcoming in December 2021 from St. Martin's Press, while her memoir, GRADUATES IN WONDERLAND, co-written with Jessica Pan, was published in 2014 by Penguin Random House. Her work has appeared in over a dozen online and print publications, including Vanity Fair Hollywood. When she isn't strategically stringing words together at Magoosh, you can find Rachel riding horses or with her nose in a book. Join her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

  • Linnea Newman

    After graduating from CU Boulder with degrees in Literature and Women's Studies, Linnea Newman stumbled into the world of test prep and never looked back. Over the last 15 years, Linnea has worked with students of all ages and abilities in the U.S. and abroad, trained new teachers for the classroom, and written curricula for various test types. Her past experience includes tutoring for GRE, ACT, SAT, LSAT, and GMAT for The Princeton Review and working as the Director of Instruction Management for The Princeton Review Taipei. Her expertise runs the gamut of standardized tests, but there’s a special place in her heart for the verbal and essay components. Looking for a way to help more students, especially those who were unable to afford access to expensive test prep programs, Linnea joined Magoosh in 2019. She is a member of the Content & Instruction Team, who connects with students as an instructor for live classes, a blog contributor, and through various lessons and other content on the Magoosh platform.