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The Argument Task — Directions, Example Prompt, the Seven Possible Directives

The Analyze an Argument writing task is one of two you'll perform during the GRE Analytical Writing section. This page provides the general test directions for this task, describes and shows what a typical Argument essay prompt looks like, and lists the seven different Argument directives (specific tasks).

General Directions for the Analyze-an-Argument Task

The following directions are similar to the ones that will appear on your screen when the timed Argument writing task begins. You'll dismiss these directions to view the essay prompt by clicking on the DISMISS DIRECTIONS button.

Directions: In this portion of the exam you will need to write a critique of the argument presented. You are NOT being asked to present your own views on the subject.

Writing Your Response: Take a few minutes to think about the argument and plan a response before you begin writing. Be sure to organize your ideas and develop them fully, but leave time to reread you response and make any revisions that you think are necessary.

Evaluation of Your Response: College and university faculty members from various subject-matter areas will evaluate the overall quality of your thinking and writing. They will consider how well you:

  • organize, develop, and express your ideas about the argument presented
  • provide relevant supporting reasons and examples
  • control the elements of standard written English

To review these directions at any time during this section, click on HELP.

The Analyze-an-Argument Writing Prompt

A GRE Argument writing prompt consists of two components:

  • a paragraph-length argument from a fictitious source. The source might be a sales brochure, committee memorandum, or political speech, to list just a few possibilities. The prompt might also indicate the source of the argument.

  • a directive (instructions) for responding to the stated argument.

Following is a GRE-style Argument prompt. This one is from a fictitious business memorandum.

The following appeared in a memo from the sales director of Aura Cosmetics Company:

"The best way to reverse Aura Cosmetic's recent decline in profitability is to require each new employee in Aura's sales division to enroll in the popular SureSale seminar. After all, apparel company DressRite recently incorporated SureSale's week-long seminar into its training program for all new retail sales staff, and DressRite's total retail sales have increased dramatically since then. Besides, the SureSale sales system has been widely adopted among the nation's twenty largest companies."

Identify the argument's stated and/or unstated assumptions, explain how the argument depends on them, and discuss what the implications might be if those assumptions prove unwarranted.

The Seven Different Argument Directives

The Argument directive will ask you to perform one of the seven different tasks listed below. The specific directive will depend on the nature of the argument — for example, whether it provides a recommendation, a prediction, or an explanation.

In examining these seven directives, observe that each one focuses on one aspect of a more general critical-reasoning directive: to recognize problems in an argument's line of reasoning from evidence (premises) to conclusion.

(NOTE: The directives listed here are based on the ones provided at the official GRE website, but their wording may differ slightly.)

  1. Discuss what evidence you would need to properly evaluate the argument, and explain how that evidence might strengthen or weaken the argument.

  2. Identify the argument's stated and/or unstated assumptions, explain how the argument depends on them, and discuss what the implications might be if those assumptions prove unwarranted.

  3. Discuss what additional information is needed in order to determine whether the prediction and the argument on which it is based are reasonable.

  4. Discuss what questions must be answered in order to determine whether the recommendation and the argument on which it is based are reasonable.

  5. Discuss what you would need to know in order to decide whether the advice and the argument on which it is based are reasonable.

  6. Discuss what additional information is needed in order to determine how likely the recommendation will carry the predicted result.

  7. Discuss alternatives to the proposed explanation for the facts presented in the argument, and explain how your alternative explanations could plausibly account for those facts.