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Tips for Writing GRE Essays — Analyze an Argument

Following is a list of tips for the Analyze-an-Argument writing task — one of two you'll perform during the GRE Analytical Writing section. (The time limit for each writing task is 30 minutes.)

  1. Address the specific directive. Be sure to tailor your response to the specific directive (description of your analytic task). There are seven different Argument directives, and you'll respond to whichever one the test presents to you.

  2. Ferret out at least three major flaws in the argument. Built into each GRE Argument are at least three or four reasoning problems such as the following three (this list is by no means exhaustive):

    • Drawing an unfair analogy (ignoring relevant dissimilarities between two things when comparing them)

    • False cause (overlooking one or more alternative or contributing explanations for particular facts or events)

    • Generalizing from particulars (relying on a small number of particular cases — too small to reach a reliable general conclusion)

    Regardless of the specific directive, your essential task is to recognize and address each such problem. Unless you do so, you're unlikely to attain a top score even if your essay is outstanding in other respects.

  3. Think in terms of underlying assumptions. Most deficiencies in GRE arguments have to do with certain unstated assumptions — conditions or facts assumed but not shown to be true — upon which the argument relies. Regardless of the specific directive, the key to analyzing any GRE argument is to recognize its unproven or unsubstantiated assumptions.

  4. Avoid relying on the terminology of formal logic. Latin terms such as ipso facto and post hoc may very well apply to the reasoning flaws in a GRE Argument. But you won't score extra points just for using these terms. So leave them out of your essay and describe the argument's problems in plain English.

  5. Devote no more than 4-5 sentences to each major point of critique. Budget your time to be sure that you cover every point rather than dwell on just one. As a rule of thumb, four or five sentences on any major point should suffice.

  6. Don't rehash the stated argument. It's perfectly acceptable, though entirely optional, to begin your response with a brief (one- or two-sentence) introduction indicating the argument's conclusion and describing the sorts of evidence the argument relies on. But avoid restating the entire argument. Your time is far better spent critiquing it according to the specific directive.

  7. A closing, summary paragraph is optional. If you have time to compose one, keep it brief: simply reiterate your main points in a few sentences.