Argument Essay X-Ray
Argument Essay X-Ray
Here’s a sample Argument topic with the actual directions you’ll see on the GRE:

Directions: You will have 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.

Analyze the line of reasoning in the argument. Be sure to consider what, if any, questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and, if evidence is cited, how well it supports the conclusion.

You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what additional information might help you better evaluate its conclusion. Note that you are NOT being asked to present your views on the subject.

GRE readers, who are college and university faculty, will read your critique and evaluate its overall quality, based on how well you

  • identify and analyze important features of the argument
  • organize, develop, and express your critique of the argument
  • support your critique with relevant reasons and examples
  • control the elements of standard written English
         Before you begin writing, you may want to take a few minutes
    to evaluate the argument and to plan a response. Be sure to
    develop your ideas fully and organize them coherently, but leave
Line    time to reread what you have written and make any revisions that
(5)    you think are necessary.
         Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument.
         Global warming has not and will not have the disastrous
    consequences predicted by the scientific community. Although
    experts claim that temperatures have risen dramatically, with
(10)    detrimental effects, these claims are largely exaggerated. For
    example, the mean global temperature has only risen 0.4 degrees
    Fahrenheit in twenty-five years. Further, Arctic sea ice has
    decreased less than 0.3 percent since 1996, indicating that the
    polar ice caps have not melted significantly. Thus, we need not
(15)    take any measures to reverse the alleged effects of global
You’re asked to analyze the “line of reasoning in the argument,” and fortunately, the test makers go on to spell out exactly what they mean by that. The first key feature they mention is “questionable assumptions that underlie the argument.” We’ll talk more about “assumptions” below, but essentially they’re looking to see whether you recognize things the argument writer takes for granted—that is, doesn’t state explicitly—and are required for the argument to be valid.
But you are also given another related task, which concerns evaluating how well the evidence supports the conclusion. Notice that you’re given free rein to mess with the argument—that is, to say what changes you would suggest to make the argument better or to state what kinds of evidence might blow it to pieces. You can even go as far as discussing extra information you would need to better evaluate the conclusion.
In a nutshell, then, there’s a lot of leeway as to the ground you can cover. However, do not expect the argument to be airtight; you can’t get away with writing “It’s all good—I’m cool with it.” Regardless of the topic, the Argument essay will always ask you to analyze the given argument, talking about what’s good and not so good about the argument’s conclusion, premises, and assumptions. There will always be a possibility for legitimate and cogent analysis based on the argumentative components highlighted in the directions.
Since the Argument essay tests not only your ability to write but also your ability to analyze arguments, we’ll spend the next section explaining how to identify the conclusion, premises, and assumptions behind any argument. We’ll then provide you with a step method that shows you how to apply these essential concepts to a GRE argument.
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