GMAT AWA Topics – Sample Prompts

Before You Start

Remember that the AWA is testing your ability to effectively critique an argument being presented. There will be some common fallacies used in the prompts that you will need to address. Familiarize yourself with these flawed arguments so that you can quickly identify them as you write your essay:

  • Inappropriate Comparisons – comparing two things which are not necessarily similar, thus leading to a flawed conclusion. You will notice that in an inappropriate comparison, the argument will only note the similarities between two things with no explanation of why the differences do not change the outcome.

    Example: "Dogs are highly motivated by food, which is a useful tool for training. Using this same method, you can help to encourage your children to repeat positive behaviors." This argument does not address early childhood development, nor does it address dog psychology – the person assumes that if a solution worked in one situation, it will work in the other.

  • Vague Language – using words such as "many", "few", "some", "more", or "less" without further qualification is often too vague to make a cogent point.

    Example: "In Chicago, more people voted to add bike lanes than people did in Aurora, so it is clear that the citizens in Chicago are more pro-bike than the citizens in Aurora." This argument does not explain what 'more' means. Is it by percentage? Does it refer to raw number of votes, and if so, does it take into account the number of voters in Chicago vs. the number of voters in Aurora?

  • Correlation vs Causation – this common fallacy asserts that because something occurred, it must be a consequence of some specific variable observed before the result.

    Example: "Students in Neighborhood A have higher test scores on average that students in Neighborhood B. Therefore, it is clear that the schools in Neighborhood A are better than the schools in Neighborhood B." This argument is flawed because it assumes the only meaningful variable in test scores was the school the children attend. This argument does not consider other various factors, such as poverty, school resources, home situations, and the parents' abilility to supplement educational opportunities, etc.

  • Sampling Issues – a case in which statistics are used inappropriately to compare unlike populations or to draw broad conclusions using a small sample.

    Example: "56% of the reviews of Company A are negative, which shows that most customers are very unhappy with the service provided." The problem with this argument is that it does not address the percentage of overall customers who have written reviews. How do we know that this is representative of all customers vs. those who are upset about an issue and take the time to write a review?

Now that you have reviewed some common flawed arguments you may encounter, it is time to get started practicing!

Sample Prompt 1

The following appeared in the health section of a magazine on trends and lifestyles:

"People who use the artificial sweetener aspartame are better off consuming sugar, since aspartame can actually contribute to weight gain rather than weight loss. For example, high levels of aspartame have been shown to trigger a craving for food by depleting the brain of a chemical that registers satiety, or the sense of being full. Furthermore, studies suggest that sugars, if consumed after at least 45 minutes of continuous exercise, actually enhance the body’s ability to burn fat. Consequently, those who drink aspartame-sweetened juices after exercise will also lose this calorie-burning benefit. Thus, it appears that people consuming aspartame rather than sugar are unlikely to achieve their dietary goals."

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion, be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

Sample Prompt 2

The following appeared in the opinion column of a financial magazine:

"On average, middle-aged consumers devote 39 percent of their retail expenditure to department store products and services, while for younger consumers the average is only 25 percent. Since the number of middle-aged people will increase dramatically within the next decade, department stores can expect retail sales to increase significantly during that period. Furthermore, to take advantage of the trend, these stores should begin to replace some of those products intended to attract the younger consumer with products intended to attract the middle-aged consumer."

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion, be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

Sample Prompt 3

The following appeared as part of an editorial in an industry newsletter:

"While trucking companies that deliver goods pay only a portion of highway maintenance costs and no property tax on the highways they use, railways spend billions per year maintaining and upgrading their facilities. The government should lower the railroad companies’ property taxes, since sending goods by rail is clearly a more appropriate mode of ground transportation than highway shipping. For one thing, trains consume only a third of the fuel a truck would use to carry the same load, making them a more cost-effective and environmentally sound mode of transport. Furthermore, since rail lines already exist, increases in rail traffic would not require building new lines at the expense of taxpaying citizens."

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion, be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

Sample Prompt 4

The following was excerpted from the speech of a spokesperson for Synthetic Farm Products, Inc.:

"Many farmers who invested in the equipment needed to make the switch from synthetic to organic fertilizers and pesticides feel that it would be too expensive to resume synthetic farming at this point. But studies of farmers who switched to organic farming last year indicate that their current crop yields are lower. Hence their purchase of organic farming equipment, a relatively minor investment compared to the losses that would result from continued lower crop yields, cannot justify persisting on an unwise course. And the choice to farm organically is financially unwise, given that it was motivated by environmental rather than economic concerns."

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion, be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

Sample Prompt 5

The following is part of a business plan created by the management of the Megamart grocery store:

"Our total sales have increased this year by 20 percent since we added a pharmacy section to our grocery store. Clearly, the customer’s main concern is the convenience afforded by one-stop shopping. The surest way to increase our profits over the next couple of years, therefore, is to add a clothing department along with an automotive supplies and repair shop. We should also plan to continue adding new departments and services, such as a restaurant and a garden shop, in subsequent years. Being the only store in the area that offers such a range of services will give us a competitive advantage over other local stores."

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion, be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.