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.

GRE Scores: What They Tell and Why They Are a Bit Kookie

  Forget the old 200-800 scale of GRE grades that held for decades and even now serves as SAT test grade scale. The revised GRE (now about 5 years old) has scores in math and verbal with a range between the uninteresting bounds of 130-170, maybe deliberately innocuous numbers that were chosen to avoid all previous associations with any grade scores anywhere! A 150 in math and in verbal was scaled to be the national average, also called the 50th percentile, meaning it would be the score just above that of the bottom half of all test takers. But there has always been “percentile creep” on the ETS tests, meaning that over time the same test grade means a lower percentile than used to, i.e., the same grade has fewer people scoring below it, thereby losing some of its value as a grade.

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Gender and the GRE


Both GRE and SAT have been well shown to underpredict the performance of females in college and university. That is, females of the same scholastic abilities as males score lower than males well beyond chance on these tests. Studies of the predictability of graduate school grades from GRE scores reveal that women who have been out of school for a while are underpredicted for grad school success by their GRE scores. Such findings have been annoying data that the test maker underplays. Read more

The Left and Right Brain in Testing

In my online GRE Prep course I want all students to appreciate the synergistic work their two hemispheres do. This gives more versitility to them as they test. Here is a summary: all of us have two major brain processors that work differently according to Nobel-prize-nominated research. We have a linear, rule-based, detail-oriented brain (usually […]