argument essay step method
argument essay step method
As with the Issue essay, there are five steps to scoring a “6” on the Argument essay. Here’s a preview, along with the amount of time you should spend on each step on test day.
Step 1: Understand the Topic and Find its Conclusion. 1 minute
Step 2: Identify the Topic’s Assumptions. 5 minutes
Step 3: Create an Outline. 4–6 minutes
Step 4: Write the Essay. 15 minutes
Step 5: Proof the Essay. 3 minutes
Total 30 minutes
Now let’s go through each step in slow motion.
Step 1: Understand the Topic and Find Its Conclusion (1 minute). The first thing you must do before you can even think about your essay is read the argument topic very carefully. Let’s look at our sample again.

Studies show that as we’ve become more technically advanced, our health has deteriorated rapidly. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and virtually every major ailment are far more common today than they were thirty years ago. The primary reason for this deterioration is the sedentary lifestyle associated with today’s high-tech jobs. Clearly, our health will continue to decline as long as we persist in our technological advances.

As you read the argument topic, ask yourself, “What’s the author’s point?” This will help you identify the topic’s conclusion. As we previously discussed, look for the conclusion in the first or last sentence. Here the conclusion is the last sentence: Clearly, our health will continue to decline as long as we persist in our technological advances.
Figuring out the conclusion will help you with Step 2, identifying the topic’s assumptions.
Step 2: Identify the Topic’s Assumptions (5 minutes). The assumptions you identify will provide the foundation for the three reasons you employ for why or why not the argument’s conclusion works.
As we discussed earlier, assumptions are additional beliefs the author must have to reach the conclusion. Assumptions are never stated; you’ll have to read between the lines to figure them out. As you read the argument, ask yourself, “What else must the author believe? What’s stated in the premises but not the conclusion? What’s stated in the conclusion but not the premises?” The answer to these questions will lead you to the assumptions. Coming up with assumptions can be time consuming, and you don’t want to waste time thinking of more assumptions than you have to. Just pick three, which you’ll then discuss in the three Act II body paragraphs.
We came up with these assumptions:
  1. Past and present trends are indicative of the future.
  2. Advances in medicine won’t counteract the effect of a sedentary lifestyle.
  3. Diet is not as important as exercise in determining health.
Could we have thought of others? Yup, we sure could have. But you have just 30 minutes to craft and write the Argument essay, so choosing three ensures you have what you need to craft your essay.
You can and should use the topics in the argument pool of the GRE website to practice spotting the kinds of assumptions these arguments contain. Practice with these sample topics by weeding out their assumptions and then thinking through how you would exploit those assumptions in your essay. For example, you might show how the assumption you noticed is questionable, thus weakening the argument; or, conversely, you may come up with a specific instance in which the assumption doesn’t apply, thus highlighting a circumstance in which the argument is more valid.
Step 3: Create an Outline (4–6 minutes). Don’t forget that the essay graders reward conformity. Use our three-act Argument essay template to create a map of your essay that will please the essay graders. You need an intro (Act I), three hearty body paragraphs (Act II), and a conclusion (Act III). Creating an outline reinforces this structure, makes sure you conform to this structure, and helps you organize your essay appropriately before you begin writing. Here’s a summary of our template before we begin.
Act Purpose Description
I Set the stage Thesis statement: Three examples: 1. 2. 3.
II Tell the story Topic sentence for example 1: Explanation for example 1:
Topic sentence for example 2: Explanation for example 2:
Topic sentence for example 3: Explanation for example 3:
III Wrap it up Recap thesis: Expand your position:
Get familiar with this template now so that you don’t even need to think about it come test day. It will just be automatic. As you fill in the outline, remember that what matters is that you convey your ideas clearly to yourself. Don’t worry about being articulate or even comprehensible to anyone other than you. Just make sure that you’ve got down the raw material that will become your thesis statement, topic sentences, and concluding statement when you write your essay.
Here’s a sample outline we’ve written based on the topic and assumptions we’ve already discussed.
Act Purpose Description
I Set the stage Thesis statement & topic’s conclusion: Argument weakened by three unstated assumptions; argument claims that our health will continue to decline as long as we persist in our technological advances Three reasons: 1. medical advances 2. diet vs. exercise 3. past/present → future
II Tell the story Topic sentence for reason 1: Assumes advances in medicine won’t counteract effect of sedentary lifestyle Analysis of reason 1: Consider implications if this weren’t true: Medicine could advance as high–tech does. If so, might have more effect than exercise; could be good
Topic sentence for reason 2: Assumes diet not as important as exercise in determining health Analysis of reason 2: Consider implications if this weren’t true: Diet could improve as exercise declines. If diet is determining factor, health won’t decline
Topic sentence for reason 3: Assumes past and present trends indicative of the future Analysis of reason 3: Consider implications if this weren’t true: Even though tech. has improved and health has declined so far, this doesn’t necessarily mean anything about future; example of how tech has improved???
III Wrap it up Recap thesis: Conc (health in jeopardy) relies on these three questionable assumptions; argument doesn’t really work Expand your position: Author needs to address these issues to strengthen the argument and more evidence
We wrote our outline in a note-taking style, using abbreviations. When we couldn’t think of an example for the third paragraph of Act II, we wrote ??? to remind ourselves to think of something later. Feel free to do the same on your own outline. Write just enough in the outline to remind yourself of what you want to write in the essay. If it helps you to write in complete sentences, great— do that. But don’t feel obligated, since no one but you will ever see your outline.
Developing the Reasons. As you can see from our template, each Act II paragraph identifies and analyzes an assumption that underlies the topic’s conclusion. Your critique of these three assumptions forms the basis of the argument set forth in your thesis statement. Each paragraph will need to carefully consider what would happen to the argument’s conclusion if the assumption under discussion were false.
We might have also chosen to structure our essay around additional information that would be necessary to evaluate the argument’s validity or specific restricted contexts in which the argument might carry more weight. When outlining your response, try to settle on points that will be easiest for you to defend.
Step 4: Write the Essay (15 minutes). Once you have the outline down, the essay naturally flows from there. All you’ll need to do is flesh out your ideas. If you’ve written a thorough outline according to our template, you only need to add about ten more sentences. After all, your outline should already contain a basic version of the argument’s conclusion, rough topic sentences for the three supporting reasons you will develop, and a conclusion that wraps it up.
As you write, remember your old friends, the cast of characters (see chapter 11 for a full explanation of these fundamental writing elements):
  • An Argument
  • Evidence
  • Varied Sentence Structure
  • Facility with Language
It should be pretty clear by now that the argument you make in your Argument essay should be related to the topic’s conclusion. Basically, you’ll be arguing that either the conclusion works or it doesn’t work. Your thoughts during the crucial Step 2 will form the backbone of your essay’s Act II. Make sure that every sentence in the essay serves the greater goal of showing how your thesis depends on each reason you develop and analyze.
Remember that your evidence will come from your understanding of the argument’s assumptions. Unlike the Issue essay, which is based on examples you think up, the Argument essay relies on evidence taken directly from the topic given by the test makers. In our sample essay, we’re arguing that the conclusion is weakened by its three unstated assumptions.
Try to jazz up your writing with varied sentence structure and a few polysyllabic words. Instead of writing sentences that rely on the subject-verb, subject-verb pattern, try to shake things up by using a mix of dependent and independent clauses. Now’s not the time to experiment with semicolons or fancy vocab, though. Use only the words and punctuation that you absolutely know how to use correctly. Above all, state your points clearly and coherently: Making an articulate argument is the surest way of demonstrating your facility with language to the essay graders.
Don’t panic if you start to run out of time. Ignore the clock, take a deep breath, and say “So long” to the third Act II paragraph. You can still get a pretty good score with a strong Act I, two Act II paragraphs, and a thoughtful Act III. Three Act II paragraphs is definitely the strongest and safest way to go, but if you just can’t get through three, take your two best assumptions and go with them. Just be sure to include an introduction and a conclusion in both essays you write for the GRE.
Step 5: Proof the Essay (3 minutes). Proofing your essay means reading it over one last time to fix typos, correct grammar errors, check spelling, and just make sure that everything looks okay. If you don’t have a full three minutes after you’ve finished writing the essay (Step 4), spend whatever time you do have left proofing. Read over your essay and search for rough writing, bad transitions, grammatical errors, repetitive sentence structure, and all that stuff that often spells the difference between a score of “4” and a score of “6.”
That said, if you run out of time, skip this step. The test makers instruct the essay graders to look for patterns of errors, so the occasional misspelled word or awkward turn of phrase won’t kill you.
Help | Feedback | Make a request | Report an error