Just like the assumptions themselves, the trepidation people have of The Argument Task on the Analytical Writing Assessment section of the GRE is unwarranted. Below is a sample argument prompt. Below the prompt is the first step in the process of approach the Argument Task: Brainstorm.
Supercorp recently moved its headquarters to Corporateville. The recent surge in the number of homeowners in Corporateville prove that Corporateville is a superior place to live than Middlesburg, the home of Corporateville’s current headquarters. Moreover, Middlesburg is a predominately urban area and according to an employee survey, Supercorp has determined that its workers prefer to live in an area that is not urban. Finally, Corporateville has lower taxes than Middlesburg, making it not only a safer place to work but also a cheaper one. Therefore, Supercorp clearly made the best decision.
“Write a response in which you examine the stated and/or unstated assumptions of the argument. Be sure to explain how the argument depends on the assumptions and what the implications are if the assumptions prove unwarranted.” – ETS
Step One – Attacking the Assumptions
Do not agree with any part of the argument. Instead, show that the argument is making a series of unwarranted assumptions by highlighting each one. Of course, you do not only want to cite what is wrong with the argument, you want to discuss also how the argument can be improved.
The first step of course is to list the assumptions (you can think of this as the brainstorming part). This step is crucial – don’t just rush into the essay. Planning before you write will, in the end, save you time.
In this post we will only be concerned with the brainstorming part. The follow-up post will have a sample essay, followed by a score and feedback, including how to improve the essay.
The argument assumes that the increase in homeowners is directly correlated with improved living, or, as the argument states, “a superior place to live.” Housing could simply be cheaper, causing an influx of people. That is the increase of population does not mean that everybody wants to live in Corporateville because it is such a great place.
Even if everybody wants to move to Corporateville because it is a superior place to live, that doesn’t mean what is “superior” for residents is “superior” for a corporation. Remember working and living are two very different things.
We do not know anything about the survey. Is it really indicative of how employees feel? Perhaps the survey only asked upper management. Maybe only the engineering department was questioned. Basically, there is no way for us to know whether the sample was representative. Anyhow, the survey – even if it is representative – found that Supercorp’s workers preferred to live, not to work, in areas that are not urban.
There is nothing in the argument that says that Corporateville is not urban. Perhaps Corporateville is also somewhat urban. We do not know. And be careful not to assume that people typically leave urban areas for the suburbs. Never bring your own preconceived notions into the argument.
Towards the end, the argument mentions that Corporateville is safer. The argument never mentioned that – thus it conflates superior and safe. In this same sentence, you will also find mention of lower taxes. If the argument is setting out to prove that Corporateville is a superior place to work than Middlesburg, it has to be more specific about how lower taxes will improve quality of work place.
The argument ends by saying that Supercorp clearly made the right decision. Even if Corporateville is a better place for Supercorp to say that the company made “the best decision” is stretching it. Perhaps Supercorp could have moved to a different city, one even better suited to its needs.
The goal of the brainstorming session is not to see how many assumptions you can find. Instead, you want to choose the few that you think best invalidate the argument.
This post was written by Chris Lele, GRE Expert, and originally posted at the Magoosh GRE Blog.