Argument Essay X-Ray
Here’s a sample Argument topic with the actual directions you’ll see on
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
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
- organize, develop, and express your critique of the
- support your critique with relevant reasons and
- control the elements of standard written
|| 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
||time to reread what you have written and make any revisions that
||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
||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
||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.