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Grad School Feed - Jul 13th, 2008
Conquering the GRE for Your GRE-aduate DeGREe: Part II
By Steve Ander
Who doesn't like a good argument once in a while? Certainly, the GRE folks do. They devote 30 minutes of the entire GRE to making sure you can analyze argumentation. Although shorter than the "issue" essay, the "argument" essay is equally important, so you really have to be thorough, complete, and clever about it. Unfortunately, due not only to this time constraint but also to having no choice in your essay and needing more mental energy to breakdown someone else's argument, I would say that the “argument" essay is more difficult than the "issue" essay. The best solution is preparation and iteration. In this article, I will provide beaucoup tips that will enhance your performance and improve your GRE AWA score.

First, we must answer the question, "what is the essay all about?" Simply put, you have a 150-world prompt that describes some sort of argument with conditions and a conclusion. Be aware that in many instances the "argument" concerns something to do with business. My guess is that they choose this topic because with business, there can be many different explanations for certain outcomes or there can be many different plans. Next, for thirty allotted minutes, you outline your thoughts on the argument, produce an essay critiquing the reasoning, and review your response. After that you are finished with the "argument" essay. I assure you the time will fly.

Second, let me pass on some quick tips to really prepare for the essay.

  • Most of the arguments they present have gaps in logic, what are called "logical fallacies." Although many of these are intuitive, many of them involve mental traps. Here's an example: cakes need flour, and you have flour, thus you must be making a cake. Well no, you could be making muffins. Etc. My advice would be to go to this wikipedia link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies and really look through the formal fallacies. In fact, you may want to have flash cards to review. 
    • WARNING: if you really understand the terms and make them part of your vocabulary, be careful about writing using the terms. Not everyone knows those terms. Consider this essay written for an eighth grader.
    • Start slow with learning these so that you can really incorporate them into your thought processes. I'd recommend reviewing them for a month before the test, and going through them with examples regularly.
  • If you are unaware of business language and operations, get a basic understanding of business strategies. Talking the business talk may give you some extra points. I would consult this site for some nomenclature: www.businessdictionary.com/most-popular-terms.php
  • Arguments are all around us - news, sports, business, etc. See if you can poke holes in their arguments. Question their evidence and their reasoning. The more mental practice you get, the better you'll be, come test-time.
  • Practice makes perfect. I would recommend finding prompts online, getting a friend to create one, or making ones yourself. Do one once a week for four weeks. The first week, don't worry about time, then once you start moving to the next weeks, clock yourself.
  • Share your work and accept the feedback. If you're the embarrassed sort, now is the time to overcome your fears. Other people can catch things that you have overlooked. Moreover, your essay is probably only 500-750 words long. It would take the person less than 15 minutes to read and critique. Keep in mind that this is more than you will receive from the actual essay grader. Once you have asked for their feedback, take it to heart. People want you to do well.

Last of all, here are some key tips for when you're seated and ready to start writing.

  • Read the prompt. Re-read the prompt. Understand the prompt and what the protagonist is claiming. If you forget or misread what's in the prompt, your essay may go astray.
  • Budget your time accordingly. Remember: only 30 minutes! Here's how I would budget time:
    • 3 minutes: Read the prompt, re-read the prompt, paraphrase the prompt in your head.
    • 5 minutes: Brainstorm and perform a total mental dump of everything that comes to your mind. If you have followed the logical fallacies studying, this might come easily. If you did not get a chance to consult the fallacies list, figure out what is suspect in the argument. Is it reasonable? Why not? Is its evidence valid?
    • 2-4 minutes: Outline, outline, outline. Drafting an article skeleton that you can later fill out will be invaluable as you write in such a crunched period.
    • 14-16 minutes: Type away. With your argument sketched out both in your head and on paper, you should be able to produce the essay with ease.
    • 2 seconds: Take a deep breath.
    • 2-6 minutes: Re-read your essay, fix the typos (these can hurt you!), fill in words you left out, and take it all in to see if it lives up to your outline.
  • Forget about it. You finished. Congratulations! You now have even more things to think about - math and verbal tests. Get focused on the next tests and block the essay out of your head. I would recommend utilizing the break after the tests. By this time, your mind has been working on overdrive, it needs a rest. In your break, go to the bathroom, do some jumping jacks, and eat some brain food (e.g. nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chunks) to give your body some fuel for the next sections.

With these preparation and day-of tips, the 30 minute "argument" essay should not scare you. Inarguably, you can conquer this. Good luck!

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