Some Techniques for Developing a Critical Argument

Analyzing an Issue: Writing Tips for the first GRE essay

Read the prompt carefully and critically, even skeptically. Seek the central issue and the tension in it. Note in the instructions what narrowing of the topic is indicated or what is indicated that focuses the topic. Every additional prompt in italics implies that you should consider both sides of, or the advantages and disadvantages of, both sides of the issue. An example of an additional prompt:

Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim. In developing and supporting your position, be sure to address the most compelling reasons and/or examples that could be used to challenge your position.

Meeting these instructions while staying on your mission to defend your position on the issue is key to your score!

  • Choose a side of the issue that promises to create the most writing, regardless of the more nuanced or balanced personal opinions you may hold.
  • Reach afar for almost any direct or indirect justifications of your side. Jot these if there are several, and prioritize them. Find at least three big ones and a few small ones.
  • Conjure also at least two of the counterarguments to your intended position. Each one presents an opportunity to argue more for your position while undermining the opposite. Showing awareness of the “cons” enhances your “pro” argument and the prompts for issues emphasize your consideration of the opposites of the view you are espousing.
  • Any specific, strong, relevant examples, from reading, movies, TV, internet, personal experience (adorned as you need), life observation, and academic studies can be of help with making your point. If all else fails you can construct your own example with the start-in words: “Consider the person who…” Build your story of the case-person (or entity) who would act a certain way in the situation or circumstances being discussed — this strengthens your argument as if you referred to a specific example in a movie, book or the news.
  • Create a thesis statement (that doesn’t just re-quote the prompt): a summarizing assertion of what, overall, you are setting out to defend. Make sure it is truly addressing the prompt! This will be an important part of your introductory paragraph that will include also such things as a hook, some narrowing definitions of terms, and a taste of argument to come.

The GRE Test — A Seriously Blunt Instrument!

The GRE has a spotty record actually quite poor at predicting graduate school performance. An internal analysis of 12,000 GRE-takers by Educational Testing Service, the test maker, shows that only 9% (!) of the differences in first year grad grades (the statistic often used to declare grad school a “success”) can be explained by GRE score differences. An independent study found that just 6% (!!) of the differences (i.e., grad school successes) could be explained (i.e., predicted only by) GRE scores! This accuracy is akin to that gained by using a hammer to open an egg! Yet many departments believe accepting only high GRE scores will give them assurance of the success of their graduate students! There’s a disconnect here! The reality is that many students who mull math or readings slowly and deliberately, see multiple answers as having merit and partial rightness at their deepest level of meaning, are creative in their choice of responses, or who write slowly but brilliantly, are golden grad school material who will bomb the GRE. (That is, these valid, productive student styles are 180 degrees from the skills the GRE test demands.) My online GRE prep course shows such students how to, adjust these skills and even apply them in different ways than usual to still cut a good score! Read more