GRE Analytical Writing - Argument Task
The Analyze an Argument task tests your ability to understand, analyze, and evaluate arguments according to specific instructions and to communicate your thoughts in writing. The task will contain a brief passage in which the author makes a case for a course of action or interpretation of events by presenting claims backed by reasons and evidence. Your assignment will be to discuss the logical soundness of the author's argument, according to the provided instructions, by critically examining the line of reasoning and use of evidence. You will need to read the argument and instructions very carefully, perhaps more than once, and you may even want to make brief notes about the points that you want to respond to. You should pay special attention to what is offered as evidence, what is explicitly stated, what is assumed, and what is not stated but logically follows from what was stated.
It is also important to avoid making simple mistakes caused by getting distracted from the task's instructions. You do not need to evaluate the accuracy of the essay prompt, or to agree or disagree with the position; the views that are critical for the Issue Task are irrelevant for the Argument Task. You are being asked only to evaluate the logical soundness of an argument according to specific instructions and, in doing so, to demonstrate your critical thinking and analytical writing skills.
The Analyze an Argument task is intended to assess persuasive writing skills that have been developed throughout a student's education, and is not intended to require any particular course of study or to advantage students with particular training. Rather than using any specific critical thinking or writing strategies, you should be able to respond to specific instructions to respond to an argument written by someone else and to communicate your evaluation to an academic audience.
It is also useful to consider the structure of the argument, and the way pieces of evidence are linked together to form a causal chain of reasoning. Be able to recognize the separate steps in the argument's thought progression, and consider whether each development follows logically – in tracing the argument, look for transition keywords, which signal that the author is trying to connect multiple ideas.
The Analyze an Argument task challenges students to apply skills that they have developed over a lifetime, to deconstruct and evaluate an established position. Although no particular background should have an advantage on the Analytical Writing sections, courses on rhetoric and composition may cover concepts or strategies that could be useful to students practicing for the exam. Some of the analytical skills that successful writing students display include alternative explanations, detailed analyses, alternative arguments, revealing assumptions, disputing conclusions, offering counterexamples, or evaluating the evidence or overall merit of an argument.
An excellent way to prepare for the Analyze an Argument task is to practice writing on some of the published topics, especially those topics for which detailed scores and critiques are available. While preparing your essay, it may be helpful to identify the arguments claims, conclusions, underlying assumptions, alternative explanations or examples, what evidence may be missing or could strengthen or weaken the argument, or any other changes to the argument that might improve or detract from it.
In addition to listing every writing topic for both the Issue and Argument tasks, ETS also lists sample essays of every score level for several writing topics, helping students understand the depth of thought, sophistication of style, and quantity of content that are expected for meritable performance on the Analytical Writing section. While students are free to structure their essay in whatever manner is most productive for them, the best essays will respond to or complement the nature of the argument that prompts them.
Manhattan Review offers one free computer-based practice test to all students preparing for the GRE, and additional practice tests to all students who enroll in one of our programs. In addition to practicing writing essays from the pool of essay prompts provided by ETS, taking practice tests is the best way to gauge your strengths and weaknesses, by simulating testing conditions. In addition, ETS offers a service called "ScoreItNow," which enables students to have two essays graded by a computer program that is especially designed for individual essay prompts.