In my last post I looked at the GRE’s Issue Essay. Today we’ll take a look at the Argument Essay. There is a clear difference between the two essays, so it’s important to note the differences because each task will require a different approach.
The Argument Essay is all about critiquing someone else’s argument and conclusion. As with the Issue Essay, the pool of potential writing prompts are available here. The instructions that you’ll see going along with each prompt differ a little bit but the basic idea is the same: Find the logical flaws with the original argument and point how the author’s conclusion may be incorrect.
One of the biggest problems that students have in writing these essays is that they are not used to reading critically. By that I mean that much of the reading you’ve been doing has been assigned by teachers and comes with an implied stamp of correctness. You are inclined to agree with the conclusions that the author presents. To successfully complete this task on the GRE, you need to do the exact opposite. You need to figure out why the author is wrong.
The best way to do that is to seek out assumptions that the author has made. An assumption is an unstated piece of evidence that must be true in order for the author’s conclusion to be true. The failure of the author’s assumptions may lead to the failure of her argument. Your job is to find and point out those assumptions in order to reveal the logical weakness.
To find an assumption, you’re looking for a way in which the evidence can be true and yet still not lead to the conclusion. Finding assumptions can be a nuanced skill, but the most basic skills are to approach the argument looking for flaws and find assumptions where the conclusion and evidence don’t match up.
Keep those ideas in mind as you start crafting your own essays and don’t forget to read some graded samples to see these ideas in action!