Gre Awa Argument Essay Prompts
After learning all the possible fallacies and how to spot them, it’s time to look at a real possible argument task. When I say “real,” I mean this could possibly be on your actual GRE, though the chances are very slim–approximately 1 out of 245. That statistic should not deter you, and you probably shouldn’t take it upon yourself to write practice essays for each and every prompt. For one thing, such a task would take a long time (don’t you have more important things to do?). Secondly, though these argument prompts are all ostensibly different, they repeat many of the same fallacies. To confirm this, just check out a hearty sample of prompts (perhaps twenty or thirty, or whatever you realistically have time for) and think about how your arguments against the prompts might overlap. The similarities will pleasantly surprise you. Here is one such prompt to get us started:
The speaker claims that Nature’s Way, a health food store, should open in Plainsville, where “residents are highly concerned with leading healthy lives.” How did we gather this profile of Plainsville’s inhabitants? According to our speaker, three facts account for this description: 1. Increase in sales of exercise shoes and clothing; 2. The local health club is experiencing its highest rates of attendance, and 3. Plainsville’s schools are now mandating a fitness program.
The Problems with the Argument
There are numerous potential problems that can be spotted in the speaker’s argument and reasoning. Here is a list of the flaws, in no particular order, so to mimic your thought process and note-taking when you first come across an argument prompt:
False correlation between exercise and health food: The speaker fallaciously correlates exercise with healthy eating habits. Nature’s Way is neither a health club nor a sporting goods store, but a health food store. While, ideally, a healthy lifestyle entails both exercise and healthy eating habits, the two are not mutually inclusive. With the convenience of fast food, our national eating habits, on average, are at their worst in history. Often, this guilt about eating habits encourages fast-food patrons to exercise, but not necessarily change their eating habits.
Does buying exercise clothing necessarily cause exercise?: The speaker assumes that the increase in health-related items suggests that the residents of Plainsville are “highly concerned with leading healthy lives,” but there are other possible sources of these increases. The sale of running shoes and exercise clothing could be attributed to a fashion trend that prizes the aesthetic value–rather than the functional value–of such clothes; or, more simply, exercise clothes may be an inexpensive alternative to other clothing styles.
An increase in health club attendance does not guarantee profits for Nature’s Way: Perhaps the local health club is full because of a lack of competition. The speaker refers to the club as “the local health club,” suggesting it’s the only one of its kind in Plainsville. If this is true, then high rates of attendance do not suggest an overwhelming increase in the citizens’ exercise.
The compulsory exercise program is a poor indicator of future healthy lifestyles: The speaker mistakenly assumes that the compulsory “fitness for life” program enacted by schools will foster a new generation of health conscious individuals. Though we may applaud the efforts of schools to introduce such a program, we cannot assume that the program will have any lasting effect on the children’s lifestyles. In fact, mandating exercise in school, much like making beloved classics of literature “required texts,” may cause unintended opposition to exercise. Many children often willfully oppose orders given by parents and school teachers, not out of any sound reasoning, but because of sheer childhood obstinacy.
Future interest in exercise?: Even if Plainsville residents are interested in health foods, how do we know the interest will continue in the future? After all, these changes in lifestyle habits are relatively recent; why shouldn’t we assume that they can easily revert back to unhealthy lifestyles?
Competition?: The speaker fails to mention the possibility or lack of competing health food stores. How can we be sure that Nature’s Way will thrive despite its potential new competition?
Suggestions for Improvement: To improve the argument, the speaker must show a correlation between exercise habits and healthy eating habits, perhaps through a survey or study. Also, the speaker should investigate the popularity of Plainsville’s health club and explain how Nature’s Way will plan to beat the competition.
What we have here is an abundance of information, not quite an essay. To write the essay, choose the best examples and develop them into coherent paragraphs. Don’t be afraid to integrate smaller fallacies into paragraphs: an abundance of information is not a bad thing, and, in fact, longer essays tend to receive higher scores. For practice, you may want to give yourself 30 minutes and write this essay, using your own words and, if you have them, your own arguments.
The GRE Argument Essay does not need to be difficult. It certainly does not need to inordinately tax you before you even begin the test itself (remember both the Argument and the Issue come before the verbal and math sections).
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 GRE Argument Essay.
1. Do not agree with the argument
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. 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.
2. Don’t belabor the introduction
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).
3. Follow a rigid organizational scheme
Organization is key to scoring well on the GRE AWA. The good news is that the Argument 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).
4. Find the right balance
The GRE argument paragraph is a bar 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 bar 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.
5. Brainstorm/outline before you write
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.
Finally, thinking about what you write before you write will help you score big points for organization—a critical part of your AWA score.
Check out this breakdown of a sample argument essay.