Mastering The GRE Argumentative Essay

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) includes a section known as the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), which assesses your ability to analyse and evaluate arguments and to communicate complex ideas effectively. This Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) portion is made up of two parts – Issue essays and argument essay and each of them has a designated 30-minute duration and is evaluated on a scale ranging from 0 to 6.: 

  • Issue essays : States an opinion on an issue and provides response instructions. You must assess the issue, explore its complexities, and construct an argument supported by reasons and examples.
  • Argument essays : Mandates evaluating an argument based on specific instructions. Focus on the logical soundness of the argument rather than expressing agreement or disagreement with its position.

Let’s understand the argumentative essays in a little depth in this article. They are commonly used in academic settings, especially in disciplines like philosophy, sociology, political science, and literature. The importance lies in developing critical thinking skills, the ability to articulate and defend a viewpoint, and the capacity to engage in persuasive writing.

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What Is An Argumentative Essay?

An argumentative essay is a genre of writing that presents a claim and provides evidence to support that claim. The goal is to convince the reader of the validity of the argument through logical reasoning, evidence, and analysis. It involves taking a stance on a specific issue and defending it with well-reasoned arguments. In an argumentative essay, making your point strongly comes from using real facts and solid logic. To convince the reader to see things your way, it’s crucial to back up your ideas with clear evidence and sound reasoning. By using provable facts and strong logic, you not only make your argument stronger but also make your essay more trustworthy and convincing. This ensures that the reader is more likely to agree with what you’re saying.

How to Structure a Good Argumentative Essay?

Structuring a good argumentative essay for the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) requires a clear and organized approach. The GRE Argument Task involves analysing an argument and writing a response within a 30-minute time frame and the recommended length is usually around 400-500 words.. Here’s a guide on how to structure a strong argumentative essay for the GRE:

  1. Start with an Strong and Crisp Introduction of your argument with Thesis Statements : It is very important to grab and to hold the readers interest with your introductory paragraph. Use a great hook and start with a captivating opening to grab the reader’s attention. Inculcate your thesis statement as it represents a brief, one-sentence summary encapsulating your central point and assertion. Also, provide a brief context or background related to the argument presented in the prompt and clearly state your evaluation of the argument and preview the main points you’ll address all in the introduction. 
  2. Construct and develop a well and thoroughly thought body paragraphs for your argument: Begin each body paragraph with a clear topic sentence that identifies a specific flaw or strength in the argument. Then analyse the argument by discussing its logical structure, assumptions, evidence, and any other relevant aspects. It is imperative that you support your analysis with specific examples from the provided argument. Use concrete evidence to illustrate your points. You can also use transitions to connect your analysis of different aspects of the argument.
  3. Counterargument and Rebuttal: It is essential to address potential counterarguments or alternative perspectives related to the presented argument. A strategic incorporation of counterarguments enhances the depth of analysis. When addressing potential counterarguments or alternative perspectives linked to the presented argument, it is essential to maintain a fair and respectful tone. You also need to provide a well-reasoned rebuttal to the counterargument, reinforcing your original evaluation. This dynamic interplay between counterarguments and rebuttals elevates the overall persuasiveness and coherence of the essay.
  4. Concluding your essay: Summarize your evaluation of the argument by restating your thesis and give a quick recap of the key flaws or strengths you’ve identified in the argument. End with a strong concluding statement that reinforces the overall assessment and significance of your analysis.

Additionally check for clarity and ensure that your ideas are presented clearly and logically and review your essay for grammatical errors and refine your writing style and use precise and impactful language. Lastly, ensure that your argument is consistent throughout the essay. Remember, a well-structured argumentative essay presents a clear, logical progression of ideas, effectively supporting its main points with evidence, and persuasively communicates the author’s stance on the topic.

Types of Arguments

In an argumentative essay, various types of arguments can be employed to effectively convey a point of view and persuade the audience. Here are the three primary categories, each with distinct approaches for effective application:

Classical/ Aristotelian Structure:

Method: Begin by presenting your main argument, stating your opinion, and compellingly advocating why your stance is correct. This straightforward approach is ideal when your audience lacks extensive information or a strong opinion on the topic. It effectively outlines facts in a clear and concise manner.

Rogerian Structure:

Method: Start by presenting the problem, acknowledging the opposing side of the argument, stating your perspective, and then explaining why your viewpoint is the most beneficial for the reader. This approach is particularly effective for contentious topics, as it recognizes both sides and seeks to find a middle ground.

Toulmin Structure:

Method: Introduce your claim, provide grounds to support that claim, and then justify the connection between the grounds and the claim. Particularly effective for polarizing subjects, the Toulmin method doesn’t present both sides but rather focuses on presenting one side, relying heavily on facts to make the claim challenging to dispute.

Knowing how to correctly structure your point of view is the key to a good argumentative essay and choosing the right structure depends on your audience, the nature of the topic, and the desired impact of your argument. You may also consider blending elements from different structures to create a nuanced and compelling persuasive essay.

How Are The Essays Scored?

The recorded Analytical Writing score spans from 0 to 6, with gradations in half-point intervals and a score above 4 is considered to be decent and accepted by most. In standardized tests like the GRE, essays are typically scored by trained human raters who is usually an university literature/writing professor. They evaluate the overall quality of your writing, including your ability to articulate and support an argument, use of evidence, and organizational skills. Additionally, there is an ‘E-rater’ which is an automated essay grader. Two graders evaluate both your argument and issue essays, with a third grader assessing if there’s a significant scoring discrepancy. Scores are holistic, reflecting overall impressions rather than penalizing specific errors. The reported GRE essay score is the average of the two essays, rounded to the nearest half-point, contributing to your overall GRE score.

6OutstandingProvides a skilfully conveyed, well-articulated examination of the argument.
5StrongOffers a clear, well-developed analysis of the argument with generally thoughtful exploration, conveying meaning clearly.
4AdequateReflects a competent analysis of the argument, conveying meaning with acceptable clarity, and adhering to task directions.
3LimitedShows some competence in addressing task directions, examining the argument, and conveying meaning, but is noticeably flawed.
2Seriously FlawedFails to follow task directions, showing serious weaknesses in analytical writing.
1Fundamentally DeficientShows fundamental shortcomings in analytical writing.
0Off topicShows no attempt to respond to the assigned topic.

What Do Graders Look For?

Both the Issue Essay and Argument Essay sections of the GRE seem to be similar, but they are two different tasks and are graded differently. For the Argument task, the graders look for the following:

  • When your essays undergoes evaluation, graders focus on three fundamental pillars—clarity, coherence, and cogency—to determine your score.
  • Graders check for a well-organized essay with clear transitions between paragraphs and a cohesive flow of ideas..
  • Whether or not your claims are supported your substantial and sustainable evidence and examples.
  • They assess your ability to critically evaluate the presented argument, identifying strengths and weaknesses.

Your GRE General Test scores will be accessible in your ETS account within 8–10 days post your test date, and you’ll be notified via email when they are ready.

Tips For Writing A Good Argumentative Essay

  • Craft a robust thesis that clearly states your position on the given argument.
  • Carefully read and comprehend the given prompt to ensure a clear understanding of the task.
  • Plan your essay with a clear introduction, body paragraphs addressing key points, and a strong conclusion.
  • Stick to the assigned task and avoid veering off-topic. Maintain a clear and concise argument.
  • Acknowledge potential counterarguments and incorporate a well-reasoned rebuttal to strengthen your position.
  • Support your claims with concrete examples, evidence, or facts to bolster the persuasiveness of your argument.
  • Ensure a logical flow between paragraphs and ideas. Use clear transitions for a cohesive essay.
  • Choose precise and impactful language to convey your ideas. Avoid unnecessary complexity.
  • Allocate time wisely during the 30-minute limit, leaving ample time for revision.
  • Review your essay for grammatical errors and clarity. A well-proofread essay enhances overall coherence.
  • Familiarize yourself with various argument prompts and practice writing essays to improve your skills and efficiency.

References For Writing An Argumentative Essay

One can login on to the ETS website where they publish pools of Sample Argument Essays from ETS. You can also find a huge list of argumentative essay topics to refer here and sample here.

Here are a couple of sample questions for the Analyse an Argument task of the GRE:

Example 1:

Prompt: The following appeared in an editorial in a business magazine:

“To reverse the declining profitability of our newspaper, we should reduce the number of published articles. By doing so, we can allocate more resources to high-impact investigative journalism, which has proven to attract a larger readership and increase revenue.”

Question: Evaluate the argument presented. Discuss the logical soundness of the proposed strategy and provide evidence to support your analysis. Consider any potential assumptions and their implications.

Example 2:

Prompt: The city council has recently proposed building a new sports stadium, claiming it will bring economic benefits to the community. However, opponents argue that the costs of construction and maintenance outweigh the potential gains.

Question: Examine the argument for building the sports stadium and assess the validity of the economic benefits claimed by the city council. Provide a well-reasoned analysis considering potential drawbacks, costs, and the overall impact on the community’s well-being.

Remember, in your response, you need to analyse the logical structure of the argument, identify any assumptions, and present a well-reasoned critique, supported by evidence and examples.

Apart from the above, you can find a whole lot of various videos on YouTube where the entire process is explained in depth by various authors like here and here

Good Vs Bad Argument:

Let us now have look at a couple of examples with a good response of the argument and one with a bad response to the argument and why

Good Argument Example:

Prompt: The city council proposes to implement a bike-sharing program to reduce traffic congestion and promote environmentally friendly transportation.

Question: Evaluate the argument for the bike-sharing program. Assess the logic behind the claim that it will reduce traffic congestion and analyse potential benefits and drawbacks. Provide evidence and reasoning to support your analysis.

Good Response:

The proposal for a bike-sharing program offers a compelling solution to address traffic congestion and promote eco-friendly commuting. A study by the Department of Urban Planning found that cities with successful bike-sharing programs experienced a notable decrease in traffic congestion. Furthermore, the environmental benefits of reducing carbon emissions align with the city’s commitment to sustainability. However, the argument could be strengthened by addressing potential challenges, such as safety concerns for cyclists and the need for sufficient bike infrastructure. Overall, the proposal presents a well-supported strategy to enhance urban mobility.

Bad Argument Example:

Prompt: The company plans to cut employee benefits to improve profitability.

Question: Evaluate the argument for cutting employee benefits. Assess the logic behind the claim that it will enhance profitability and analyse potential consequences. Provide evidence and reasoning to support your analysis.

Bad Response:

Cutting employee benefits is a bad idea because it’s not fair to employees. I know someone who works there, and they’re already struggling, so this will make it worse. The company should find other ways to make more money.

In the second example, the response lacks structure, fails to provide evidence, and relies solely on personal opinions and anecdotes. A more effective critique would involve considering the financial aspects, examining potential alternatives, and offering evidence to substantiate the claim that cutting employee benefits is not a viable solution for improving profitability.

Mastering the GRE argumentative essay is not only about showcasing your writing skills but also about demonstrating your ability to analyse and evaluate arguments critically. Practice, perseverance, and a solid understanding of argumentative writing will undoubtedly elevate your performance on test day. Happy writing!