The "Analyze an Argument" task assesses your ability to understand, analyze and evaluate arguments according to specific instructions and to convey your evaluation clearly in your writing. Each topic consists of a brief passage in which the author makes a case for some course of action or interpretation of events by presenting claims backed by reasons and evidence.
Your task is to discuss the logical soundness of the author's case by critically examining the line of reasoning and the use of evidence. This task requires you to read the argument and instructions carefully. You might want to read the argument more than once and make brief notes about points you want to develop more fully in your response. In reading the argument, you should pay special attention to:
- what is offered as evidence, support or proof
- what is explicitly stated, claimed or concluded
- what is assumed or supposed, perhaps without justification or proof
- what is not stated, but necessarily follows from or underlies what is stated
In addition, you should consider the structure of the argument — the way in which these elements are linked together to form a line of reasoning; i.e., you should recognize the separate, sometimes implicit steps in the thinking process and consider whether the movement from each step to the next is logically sound. In tracing this line, look for transition words and phrases that suggest the author is attempting to make a logical connection (e.g., however, thus, therefore, evidently, hence, in conclusion).
An important part of performing well on the Argument task is remembering what you are not being asked to do:
- You are not being asked to discuss whether the statements in the argument are true or accurate.
- You are not being asked to agree or disagree with the position stated.
- You are not being asked to express your own views on the subject being discussed (as you were in the Issue task).
Instead, you are being asked to evaluate the logical soundness of an argument of another writer and, in doing so, to demonstrate the critical thinking, perceptive reading and analytical writing skills that university faculty consider important for success in graduate school.
It is important that you address the argument according to the specific instructions. Each task is accompanied by one of the following sets of instructions:
- Write a response in which you discuss what specific evidence is needed to evaluate the argument and explain how the evidence would weaken or strengthen the argument.
- 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 these assumptions, and what the implications are for the argument if the assumptions prove unwarranted.
- Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the recommendation and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the recommendation.
- Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the advice and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the advice.
- Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the recommendation is likely to have the predicted result. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the recommendation.
- Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the prediction and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the prediction.
- Write a response in which you discuss one or more alternative explanations that could rival the proposed explanation and explain how your explanation(s) can plausibly account for the facts presented in the argument.
- Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be addressed in order to decide whether the conclusion and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to the questions would help to evaluate the conclusion.
"Analyze an Argument" is a critical thinking task requiring a written response. Consequently, the analytical skills displayed in your evaluation carry great weight in determining your score; however, the clarity with which you convey ideas is also important to your overall score.
There's good news for those of us who require a little prep before churning out a stellar GRE essay in only 30 minutes.
The Educational Testing Service (ETS), a.k.a. the creator of the official GRE, publishes (overwhelmingly large) pools of all the prompts you may potentially face in the Analytical Writing section's "Analyze an Issue" and "Analyze an Argument" tasks on test day. That's right: the essay topics you see on test day are guaranteed to appear on these lists. Before you jump in and start writing practice essays, let's do a quick review of the GRE's Analytical Writing section.
The "Analyze an Issue" task
The “Analyze an Issue” task requires you to present and substantiate your own stance on a given issue. Make sure to read the accompanying instructions very carefully, as they will address the exact way in which the test is asking you to evaluate the issue you're given. There are six variations on these instructions, and they all ask for slightly different elements to be addressed in the resulting essay, so don’t skim! If you’re looking to get familiar, those varying instructions are all printed in their respective prompt pool as well.
The "Analyze an Argument" task
The “Analyze an Argument” task asks you to evaluate an argument that has already been provided, based on its logical validity rather than your personal opinion. These arguments are deceptively tricky: Logical fallacies, biased interpretations and incomplete analyses abound. It is important to read carefully for:
- what evidence is offered in the prompt passage
- what is explicitly stated or claimed in the prompt passage
- what is necessarily implied by the evidence given in the prompt passage
- what is presumed or presupposed, correctly or incorrectly, in the prompt passage
The instructions here also vary. There are eight versions of your exact “Analyze an Argument” essay writing directive, all available on the official ETS website (scroll to the bottom of this page to see the different instruction types) and all correlating to different sets of expectations.
Tips for GRE essay practice
The pools of prompts on ETS' site are extensive, so there’s no point in trying to write an essay for each one (unless you've got 160 hours to spare). That said, it’s good to be familiar with all the possibilities, so do go through a handful of the prompts and practice answering them to avoid that dreaded, paralyzing brain-freeze on test day.
30 minutes can feel like 30 seconds when you’ve got to organize, articulate and substantiate your thoughts on a topic you’ve read for the first time. To that end, try pulling a prompt at random and setting a timer for 5 minutes, during which you’ll come up with a position and counter-arguments (for “Issue” tasks) or assess an argument by listing all possible flaws (for “Argument” tasks). Don’t be discouraged if this seems beyond your abilities at first; the more you do this exercise, the faster you’ll be able marshal your thoughts. When you’ve got this down, try outlining your response and generating a topic sentence.
For those of you who want to prepare by getting expert assessments of full-length practice essays, essay grading is included in Economist GRE Tutor plans.
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