GRE Argument Essay

Analyze an Argument

The Analyze an Argument task gives you 30 minutes to plan and write a critique of an argument presented in the form of a short passage. A critique of any other argument will receive a score of zero. To score well, you need to do three things. First, analyze the line of reasoning in the argument (which will always be faulty). Then, explain the logical flaws and assumptions that underlie that reasoning. Finally, you must discuss what the author could add in order to make the conclusion of the argument more logically sound.

It is absolutely critical that you recognize that you are not being asked to present your own views on the subject matter of the argument. You are being asked only to discuss how well the author made his argument.

Argument Essay Ground Rules

In the Official Guide, ETS lists eight possible sets of instructions that could accompany an Argument essay prompt. However, the eight of them are even less interesting than the six provided for the Issue essay! Not one of them demands anything that would n’ t be featured in any successful Argument essay on the given prompt. Here they are, from The official Guide to the GRE revised General Test. You would be given an argument followed by one of these:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 if the assumptions prove unwarranted.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Write a response in which you discuss one or more alternative explanation that could rival the proposed explanation and explain how your explanation(s) can plausibly account for the facts presented in the argument.
  8. 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.

A well-written essay in which you locate logical flaws in the argument and then explain how they could be fixed will likely score highly. That said, you should, of course, read the specific instructions and make sure that they are addressed, just to be on safe side.

Once you have properly read the argument, it’ s time to brainstorm the flaws. How do you find them? Fortunately, most of the mistakes have been made before……

Argument Essay: Flaws to Watch Out For

The following is a list of common fallacies found in GRE arguments.

Unjustified Assumption-The argument is based on a questionable assumption. That is, in order for the argument to be true, the author is depending on a premise that he or she did n’ t  write down and has n’ t proven. Thus, the conclusion can’ t be validated unless the assumption(s) can be proved to be true.

The Urban Apartment Towers complex has seen a number of police visits to the property recently, resulting in the police breaking up loud parties held by young residents and attended by other young people. These police visits and the reputation for loud parties are hurting Urban Apartment Towers’ reputation and ability to attract new residents. To reduce the number of police visits and improve profitability. Urban Apartment Towers plans to advertise its vacant apartments in a local publication for people age 50 and up.

What is this argument assuming but not proving? That people age 50 and up are less likely to have loud parties or attract police visits. That does n’ t sound like a totally unreasonable assumption, but it is an assumption nevertheless, and it is the job of the arguer to prove it (and your job to point out that the arguer has n’ t done so). Perhaps older residents would attract visits of another type (e.g., healthcare personnel) that could also impact the reputation of the complex.

Skill & Work– The argument assumes that people have the ability (skill) to do something or the motivation (will) do it, when this has not been proven to be the case. The recommendation that “Everyone should exercise two hours per day,” and “Children should be offered green vegetables three times daily” run into problems regarding the ability of people to exercise that much (what about people who are already ill?) and the desire o children to eat the vegetables.

The Urban Apartment Towers argument above also has both a “skill” problem and a “will” problem. Maybe over-50 people in the local area are largely on a fixed income and cannot afford to live in the Towers. And why would they want to? It’ s not clear that people over 50 have much motivation to live in an apartment complex where the police are always raiding loud parties.

Extreme Language- The argument (usually the conclusion) uses language so extreme that the premises cannot justify the conclusion.

People who jog more than 10 miles per week have a lower incidence of heart disease than people who exercise the same amount on stationary bicycles. Therefore, jogging is the best method of exercise for reducing heart disease.

The conclusion is the final sentence: Jogging is the best method of exercise heart disease. The word “best” is quite extreme! The best method ever? Better than swimming, tennis, and a million other things? Proving that jogging is better than stationary bicycling (and there are some problems with that as well) just proves that jogging is “better” than one thing, not the “best.”

Other extreme words to watch out for include the following: only, never, always, cannot, certainly

Terms are Too vague- Just as you are on the lookout for language that is too extreme, you’ re also on the lookout for language that is too vague.

The people who jog argument above has this problem. What on earth does it mean to “exercise the same amount” as someone who is jogging 10 miles? Does it mean biking for the same amount of time or the same distance? The same number of calories burned? Since it’ s much faster to ride 10 miles on a stationary bike than to jog 10 miles, if the arguer means that the distances are the same, then there’ s another reason (besides the author’ s conclusion) that the joggers have less heart disease: they are exercising more hours per week.

Predicting the future– There’ s nothing wrong with trying to predict the future, of course; it’ s hard to run a government (or anything) without doing so. However, whenever an argument tries to predict the future, that’ s your opportunity to point out that the future could actually turn out some other way. Anyone who tries to predict the future is automatically introducing a level of uncertainty into his or her argument.

The police chief in Rand city, a major urban metropolis, has proposed cutting down on speeding by doubling the fines levied on those who are caught. Speeding has been a major problem in Rand City, where over 5,000 tickets are issued each month. Of those who are issued tickets, over 95% mail in the fines, while less than 1% contest the charges in court, thus indicating the offender’ s admission of guilt. Doubling the fines for speeding will substantially reduce speeding in Rand City.

The arguer is trying to predict the future: Doubling the fines will substantially reduce speeding. To find a weak link in this chain of events, ask yourself what could happen in between “the fines double” and “people speed less.” What else could happen? What about “the fines double” and then “people speed just the same but don’ t pay their tickets”? What if the fines are so low already (hence the lack of motivation to contest the charges) that doubling them won’ t make a difference? You can think of lots of ways that the first part of the conclusion could lead to something other than the second part of the conclusion.

What’ s their Motivation? – whenever an argument is in the form of an advertisement or company announcement, you get to ask, “What’ s the Speaker’ s motivation?” Is the speaker trying to promote a medication, make a company look good, sell something, or get elected?

The Police Chief in Rand City argument above potentially has this problem. What motivation does the police have in doubling traffic fines? Probably an honest desire to reduce speeding-but maybe a desire to increase the police budget by increasing what has historically been a reliable source of funding.

The Troubled Analogy- There’ s nothing wrong with a good analogy, of course, but analogies in GRE arguments are never good. Every time you make an analogy, you’ re saying that something is like something else- except that it is n’ t exactly like that, or you’ d just be talking about the original topic. It’ s your job to find and exploit the dissimilarities.

Bowbridge University, a prestigious institution with a long history of educating great scholars and national leaders, launched a distance learning program five years ago. Bowbridge students were very happy with the flexibility afforded to them by the program: for instance, they could continue studying with professors on the Bowbridge campus while conducting, research, traveling, or volunteering anywhere in the world. A study showed that the quality of education, as measured by students’ grades, did not decrease. Thus, if the tuition-free Local City College implements a distance learning program, student satisfaction will increase without compromising quality of education.

Is Bowbridge University similar to Local City College? There are a lot of assumptions there. You’ re told that Bowbridge is prestigious, and that its students travel, volunteer, and conduct research around the world. They sound like a wealthy bunch! The students at the free Local City College? Probably not as wealthy. Maybe they don’ t even own computers. Do they need distance learning? It’ s not clear that someone who attends a “local” college would want – or have the means – attend that college from halfway around the world.

In the end, you don’ t know that much about Local City College. It’ s not your job to prove that distance learning won’ t work there; it’ s your job to point out that the arguer has not established enough similarities to make a good analogy between the two institutions.

Confusing Signs of a Thing for the Thing Itself- This effect is especially acute when people have an incentive (such as money) to over-report something, or an incentive (such as fear or laziness) to under-report something. For instance, reports of crimes such as littering and jaywalking are extremely low, but that does n’ t mean people are n’ t committing those crimes all the time. Reports of whiplash from car accidents tend to be highly inflated, since victims are often in a position to gain money from insurance companies. Reports of workplace harassment may be lower than actual incidents of harassment because workers fear losing their jobs or worsening the problem.

Another common variation on this problem assumes that, because a law exists, people must be following it. A law is not the same as compliance with a law.

Short Term vs. Long Term- Something that’ s good in the short term, under certain circumstances (antibiotics, for instance) may not be good for you in the long term.

Similarly, something that’ s good or possible long term may not be good or possible short term.

Sample Isn’ t Representative- If the GRE mentions a study, chances are that the sample is not representative. One in the argument pool refers to “French women in their eighties who were nursing-home residents.” Wow, what a very specific group! It’ s your job to point out that what works for French female octogenarians (A person who is between 80 and 89 years old) might not work for non-French people, men and people under 80.

Sample Is Too Small- If a GRE argument mentions how many people were in a study, it’ s your job to say that the study should have been bigger or sample size should be bigger.

No control group– A good study should have a control group- that is, a group of people who are as similar as possible in every way, and differ from the test group by only one variable.

You can’ t just give people a new medicine and measure whether their condition improves; you have to get together a big enough group of people who meet certain conditions (such as having a particular illness at a particular stage), divide the people into two groups (balanced  by gender, age and a host of other factors), and give the drug to only one group. It’ s important to make sure that the people receiving the drug do not just get better, but better than the other group. After all, what if it’ s the sort of illness that goes away on its own? Maybe some outside force (the changing seasons?) will cause improvement in both groups. It’ s your job to point out when a study lacks a control group, and what impact this might have on the study’ s findings.

The Ever-Changing Pool- Most groups of people have a rotating cast of members. If a civic club voted in favor of something yesterday and against it 20 years ago, you would n’ t automatically conclude that people in the club changed their minds over time; it’ s pretty likely that the club includes different people than it did back then.

Correlation Does Not Equal Causation- Just because two things are happening at the same time does n’ t mean one cause the other.

Researchers have noted that cats that eat Premium Cat Food have healthier coats and less shedding. While Premium Cat Food costs more, the time saved cleaning up pet hair from furniture and rugs makes Premium Cat Food a wise choice.

Two things are happening at the same time: cats are eating Premium food, and they are shedding less. Does that mean the food causes the reduced shedding?

A third factor could be causing both A and B. In this case, perhaps a pet owner who is willing to pay for Premium Cat Food is also willing to pay for regular grooming, or for a dietary supplement that helps create healthy skin and fur, or… let your imagine run wild! Perhaps people who pay for Premium Cat Food are also more likely to own special breeds of cats that naturally shed less. This kind of setup-a third factor that could cause both A and B- is very common when as an argument makes a causation claim based solely on the fact that two things are correlated.

Nothing in Quantified- Sometimes, you can get away with failing to attach numbers to things. Most people would be happy to be “healthier” or “richer,” even if you can’ t measure that exactly.

The argument Premium Cat Food has this problem. “Healthier coats and less shedding” sounds like a nice enough benefit without needing to have numbers attached, but you run into problems with “the time saved cleaning up pet hair from furniture and rugs makes Premium Cat Food a wise choice.”

Really? To validate this claim, you would need to know 1) how much more the cat food costs than the cat food the pet owner currently buys, 2) how much time the pet owner spends cleaning up cat hair, and 3) the monetary value of the pet owner’ s time.

Of course, all of these factors vary from pet owner to pet owner to pet owner, so even if you could get all the facts and figures, it would certainly not be true that the premium food would be a “wise choice” for everyone.

How Was It Before?

A youth group applied for and received a permit to use the city park for a Culture Festival, which took place last weekend. On Wednesday, the Environmental Club, a group of local volunteers, visited the park and picked up 435 pieces of trash. The presence of such a quantity of rubbish signals a clear lack of respect for the park. Clearly, the youth group should be denied permits to use the park for any future events.

Here, it is unclear whether the 435 pieces of trash were left by the youth group, or whether they were there beforehand. Who counts trash like that anyway? (At least they’ re quantifying).

Just because two things happened in a certain order does n’ t mean one caused the other. Could some outside force be the cause?

The 435 pieces of trash argument above has this problem. Maybe the trash was left by other groups that used the park (perhaps on Monday or Tuesday before the Environmental Club arrived?). There are many possible scenarios. Perhaps the trash was blown in by the wind.

Alike Does n’ t Mean Identical – People who (or things that) are alike in some ways are undoubtedly different in others.

Cetadone, a new therapy for the treatment of addiction to the illegal drug tarocaine, has been proven effective in a study centered around Regis Hospital in the western part of the state of New Portsmouth. The study involved local tarocaine addicts who responded to a newspaper and offering free treatment. Participants who received cetadone and counseling were 40% more likely to recover than were patients assigned to a control group, who received only counseling. Conventional therapies have only a 20% recovery rate. Therefore, the best way to reduce deaths from tarocaine overdose throughout all of New Portsmouth would be to fund cetadone therapy for all tarocaine addicts.

Are tarocaine addicts in western New Portsmouth the same as tarocaine addicts in the rest of the state? Perhaps one area is rural and one is urban, or the demographics of different parts of the state vary. Furthermore, the addicts in this study seem pretty functional and motivated- they managed to successfully respond to a newspaper ad, and apparently were n’ t paid, so their motivation seems to have been to recover from addiction. Maybe the addicts who do well on cetadone are not the same addicts in danger of a fatal overdose.

While drug addiction may seem to be a defining feature, the only thing that you can assume is uniform about tarocaine addicts is that they are addicted to tarocaine- anything else is up to the speaker to prove.

Percents vs. Real Numbers (and Other Mathematical Confusion) – If David pays 28% of his income in taxes and Marie pays 33% of her income in taxes, who pays more money to the government? Without knowing how much the two people make, it’ s impossible to say. Don’ t confuse percents with actual numbers of dollars, people etc.

In sum, if any numbers are presented in an Argument topic, see whether they are being cited in a logical way.

Don’ t Forget to strengthen the Argument: Just Flip the Flaw

Some sets of Argument essay instructions ask you to strengthen the argument. To discuss in your essay how the argument might be strengthened, just flip the flaw around. For instance:

Nothing is quantified?

This argument could be improved by quantifying X, Y, and Z . . . . . .

Possible alternate causes?

   This argument could be improved by investigating and ruling out alternate causes such as . . . . . .

Correlation does not equal causation?

This argument could be improved by proving that X causes Y through a controlled study . . . . .

No control group, non-representative sample, too-small sample?

This argument could possibly be validated by a new study having the following qualities . . . . . .

Brainstorming the Argument Essay

Look back at the list of flaws and try to find several that apply to the following argument:

Invoice Regulators, Inc. (IRC) can make your company more profitable. IRI examines our client firms’ outgoing invoices and vendor receipts to help clients recoup money owed and refunds due. One client, a family firm with a 100-year history, discovered $75,000 worth of uncashed checks in an employee’ s desk drawer, and others have also made large gains. 80% of our client firms have experienced an increase in sales during the quarter our services were acquired. Hire IRI to improve your firm’ s profitability.

Did you make your own list of flaws? Jot some down before you keep reading.

Here’ s an example for this argument:

Correlation does not equal Causation: so, 80% of client firms had a sales increase around the time IRI was hired. So, what? Firms often have sales increases; one thing did not necessarily cause the other.

Alike does not Mean Identical/Unjustified Assumptions – The argument assumes that other businesses have outgoing invoices in the first place, and that, quite frankly, the business owners are a bit incompetent. It does not seem likely that the family firm with a 100-year history and a drawer full of forgotten money is representative of other companies. There are Small Sample/Unrepresentative Sample issues here as well.

Short Term vs. Long Term- The promise to make your company more profitable implies an ongoing financial improvement. The two cases cited seem temporary- the $75,000 is a one-shot deal, and the increase in sales during the quarter makes no mention of some improved, systematic way to enhance ongoing profitability.

Terms Are Too Vague/Nothing Is Quantified- Other clients have made large gains. How large? Big enough to offset the cost (which was never mentioned) of IRI’ s services? What percent of clients experience the large gains?

What’ s Their Motivation? – obviously, this is an advertisement. But it does n’ t hurt to point out that IRI clearly has its own financial interests in mind here.

There is also another big problem that is n’ t named in this chapter, but is specific to this argument:

Confusing Sales with Profitability – Here, the argument confuses increased profitability (which is at least temporarily achievable by cashing a drawer full of checks or chasing refunds) with sales. Perhaps IRI costs more than the sales increase, and would thus hurt profitability.

Once you have identified the flaws, make a quick outline. (Don’ t use the names for the flaws- just write down what you’ re going to say.)

If you have more than four or so flaws to write about, you may wish to group any that are very similar, or simply omit the weakest.

You also want to put your ideas in a logical order so that your argument is persuasive and so that you can write nice transitions from one idea to the next.

Here is one sample outline:

the “checks in the drawer” client ≠ representative of other potential clients idiots!

          even if not idiots, one biz is unsufficient evidence

          not all biz even having outgoing invoices

claims of “other biz” are vague, nothing quantified

       gains big enough to outweigh costs of IRI? (what ARE costs of IRI?)

claims of enhanced profitability even for existing clients are suspect

       sales ≠ profitability

       sales “in same quarter” – not even clear it’ s AFTER IRI

       even if it were, correlation ≠ causation!

“profitability” implies ongoing

Make sure that you’ re not just throwing disconnected ideas on the page. Make sure that, in deconstructing a bad argument, you yourself are making a good argument.

Your outline should reflect a coherent argument that you’ have formed mentally before you begin to write:

  • Just because hiring IRI has been profitable for some clients does n’ t mean it would be profitable for others.
  • However, it’ s not even clear that IRI has been profitable for anyone, since we don’ t have any actual numbers to quantify most of the firms’ gains, and we don’ t know what it costs to hire IRI.
  • The claims of profitability for existing clients are also suspect because IRI has confused sales with profitability, taking credit for something that is irrelevant to IRI’ s services and that possibly even began before IRI was hired.
  • Profitability implies an ongoing financial improvement. IRI fails to define the period. A one-shot cash infusion is not the same thing as enhanced profitability.

The above statements are the parts of the argument each body paragraph will make. Note how the order seems “right”-its goes from arguing that IRI won’ t be profit-enhancing for everyone, to questioning whether it’ s profit enhancing for anyone at all. Statements II and III make the same point from different angles and clearly should come one after the other.

Note that there is no thesis written down. The thesis for an Argument essay will pretty much always be something like, “The argument rests on questionable assumptions, suffers from vaguely-defined terms, and contains numerous logical flaws that make it impossible to validate the conclusion.”

About Timing: On the real test, you should spend 2-3 minutes on the entire process of diagramming, brainstorming flaws, and organizing your thoughts into a coherent and persuasive outline. However, for now, it would be reasonable to take a bit more time (say, 5 or 6 minutes), knowing that with practice you’ ll get better and faster at spotting flaws.

Argument Essay Outline

Introduction: In the intro, summarize the argument at hand and give your “take.” Do not repeat the argument; the grader is already very familiar with it.
You are then going to establish your “take” or thesis. It’s pretty much always going to say that the argument has some serious problems.

Body: Explain one main point in each of 2-4 paragraphs.
Each of the flaws you decided to write about should become the main point of a body paragraph. Or, if you decide to group more than one flaw into a paragraph, make sure that the two flaws are very closely and logically related; for instance, “the sample size is too small” and “the sample is not a representative” are good candidates to be grouped into a single paragraph. Generally, though, keep it to one main point per paragraph. GRE graders have given high scores to Argument essays that include as many as six body paragraphs- in such cases, many of the body paragraphs are quite short.

Arrange your main points in a logical way, and use transitions to segue from paragraph to paragraph. Transitions are usually located in the first sentence of a new body paragraph. For instance, if you have just written a paragraph about how a study’ s sample size was too small and not representative, you might begin the next paragraph with something like:

Not only should it be apparent that a study based on a sample of 80 Korean women is not necessarily applicable to humanity at large, it is also the case that, due to the lack of a control group, we are unable to evaluate the results of the study for even this extremely limited sample.This is a logical progression of ideas; the use of such transitions throughout an essay creates a sense of coherence and fluency.

Don’ t forget to improve the argument. There are (at least) three possible ways to arrange your argument to incorporate this component:

  1. Each time you mention a flaw, follow up with how to fix it. The “improve the argument” component would therefore be part of each body paragraph.
  2. Write two or more body paragraphs about the argument’ s flaws, and follow up with one body paragraph on how to fix those flaws.
  3. Use the body paragraphs entirely to discuss the flaws, and save the discussion of how to fix those flaws for the conclusion. This may be the best plan for anyone frequently stuck for a conclusion. Keeping the “improve the argument” component brief is also a good way to keep from sounding repetitive.

Don’ t spend too much time making a single point or you will run out of time!

Conclusion: In the conclusion, resummarize your critique. The conclusion does not have to be lengthy: restate your thesis or main idea in different words, and state or restate what would need to be done to improve the argument. Ending with ideas for improvement give a nice, positive note at the end.
Ideally, the conclusion should sum things up while offering some special perspective or insight. In any case, try to avoid having your conclusion sound repetitive. If in doubt, keep it short.

Style Points

Debate team persuasion tactics: It’ s possible to say something in a way that is not very persuasive, or in a way that is. Say you are trying to argue against the school superintendent’ s plan for year-round school:

  1. The superintendent’ s has not proven that her plan will achieve the goal of improving academic performance. However, it may serve the function of reducing crime.
  2. While the superintendent’ s plan may indeed reduce crime, she has not proven that her plan will achieve the stated goal of improving academic performance.

Which version sounds verse for the superintendent? The last one, right? If you have two opposing things to say, put the one that’ s on your side last. This makes the one that is not on your side seem less important. The order should be 1) Concession, then 2) Your assertion.
If you have a fairly weak point, use that point’ s weakness to your advantage to emphasize how strong your next point is. For instance, say you were only able to come up with three flaws for a particular argument, and one of them is pretty weak, but you can’ t toss it out because then you won’ t have enough to write about. Put the weakest point in the middle (if that won’ t disrupt the flow of the argument), and use it to underscore the final, biggest point.

Tone: There’ s no rule against saying “I,” but don’ t be too informal. Avoid conversational asides, and don’ t try to be funny. Keep the tone serious and academic. When you’ re referring to an argument and it’ s not clear who’ s talking, you can refer to that person as “the speaker.”

Varied direction: Throughout the essay, you will say the same thing several times. Don’ t use the exact same words. That is, paraphrase yourself. If in the introduction, you wrote:

While it is indisputable that a new train line would create some new jobs in Arrin City, the mayor’ s argument that the train line will improve the city’ s overall financial health is flawed due to a variety of counterfactors, including financial losses, that the mayor has neglected to take into account.

Then in your conclusion, you might write:

The mayor’ s contention that a new train line would improve the city’ s financial health is sadly misguided; while undoubtedly there would be some benefits, such as new jobs directly serving the train line, the financial benefit of those jobs would likely be dwarfed by other financial losses sustained in the wake of the train line’ s implementation.

Note that “undoubtedly” has been switched in for “indisputable,” and the three ideas in the sentence have been shuffled (“some new jobs, mayor is wrong, other factors” vs. “mayor is wrong, some new jobs, other factors”).

However, while you do want to avoid saying “indisputable” over and over when there are so many other good words (undeniable, unquestionable, irrefutable, incontrovertible, indubitable) you could use in its place, don’ t worry about repeating words such as “train” and “mayor.”
You must have learnt words in groups for GRE sentence equivalence questions. If you have learnt words in groups, you can use different words for varying diction. You can download android app on GRE vocabulary using word groups for learning words in groups. For downloading app, Just click here.

Varied sentence structure: Aim for a mix of long and short sentences. Throw in an occasional semicolon, hyphen, colon, or rhetorical question. For example:
Is it the case that sacrifice is the noblest of all virtues? Even a cursory analysis ought to indicate that it is not; the greatest of all virtues can hardly be said to be the one with, typically the least utilitarian value.
Make sure you know how to correctly use any punctuation you decide to include, of course.

Vocabulary: Use GRE-type words in your writing (but only if you are sure you can use them correctly). Some good vocab words to think about are those about arguments themselves, since those will work in nearly any essay. Some examples are:
Aver, extrapolate, contend, underpin, hypothesize, rebuttal, postulate, propound, concur
Transitions: A top-scoring essay has body paragraphs that lead logically into one other. You can create this chain of logic by arranging your examples or reasons in a progressive way, and by using transition phrases and similar signals. The simplest transitions involve phrases such as “” or “” A more sophisticated transition might take the form:

The obstacles towards international cooperation include not only [the stuff I discussed in my last paragraph], but also [the stuff I’ m about to discuss in this paragraph].
Transitions are usually located in the first sentence of a new body paragraph.

Finally, as a reminder: length on the GRE essay is highly correlated with scores. Write as much as you can in the time allotted. If you had a choice between painstakingly checking your spelling and writing another paragraph, it would probably be best to write another paragraph.

Trouble Getting started?
Remember, you are writing on a computer. If you “freeze” when trying to start your introduction, write something else first! Just pick whichever example seems easiest to write and dive in! You can certainly cut and paste as needed.
Just keep an eye on the clock and make sure you leave enough time for both an intro and a conclusion.

Sample Essays


Sample Essay
Last month, National Issues ran an article about the decline- as measured by shrinking populations and the flight of young people-of small towns in Ganadia. Here in Lemmontown, a small resort town on the ocean, we are seeing just the opposite: citizens from the neighboring towns of Armontown and Gurdy City are moving here at a record rate. Furthermore, greater than ever number of high school graduates in Lemmontown are choosing to stay in Lemmontown, as the building of new hotels has created a significant number of jobs. All along the eastern seaboard are similar stories. Small towns in Ganadia are not in decline.

A letter to the editor of National issues magazine takes issue with the magazine’ s claim that small towns in Ganadia are declining. Of course, the magazines’ s contention was almost certainly that small towns, on average, are declining; a single counterexample does not disprove that claim. The arguments’ other flaws stem from the same central problem: Lemmontown is just one town, and not necessarily a very representative one.
The writer explains that Lemmontown is a resort town on the ocean. Resort towns depend on income flowing in from visitors, and the seaside (or whatever else visitors are there to see) is an asset that most towns do not have. These atypical resort assets are directly cited as the driver behind the jobs that are keeping young people in Lemmontown. Non-resort towns would not likely experience a similar effect. To set the argument on more sound footing, the writer would need to demonstrate that Lemmontown is typical of other Ganadian towns.
Of course, the writer does mention two other towns: Armontown and Gurdy City. While the writer means to cite those towns as evidence that Lemmontown is doing well, he or she inadvertently weakens the argument by giving two counterexamples: both Armontown and Gurdy City are losing residents, in accordance with the trend cited by National Issues. In fact, of the three towns the writer references, two of them are losing people. To strengthen the argument, the writer would have to prove that there are more Lemmontowns (so to speak) than Armontowns and Gurdy Cities, or that Armontown and Gurdy City are not small towns.
Finally, the writer points out that “all along the eastern seaboard are similar stories.” This assertion is vague. Are there enough stories of non-declining small towns to outweigh accounts of declining small towns? The claim lacks quantification. Also, the eastern seaboard is not necessarily representative of the rest of Ganadia. Perhaps the seaboard is full of thriving resort towns, but the bulk of Ganadia’ s small towns exist in the interior and on the west coast, where conditions are worse. To validate his or her claims, the writer would need to quantify the claim that eastern seaboard success stories are more numerous than accounts of small towns in decline.
The letter to the editor takes exception to a general claim by providing a specific exception. One anecdote does not make an argument. The argument as written fails to establish that Lemmontown’ s happy situation is representative of Ganadian towns at large.







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