After learning all the possible fallacies and how to spot them, it’s time to look at a real possible argument task. When I say “real,” I mean this could possibly be on your actual GRE, though the chances are very slim–approximately 1 out of 245. That statistic should not deter you, and you probably shouldn’t take it upon yourself to write practice essays for each and every prompt. For one thing, such a task would take a long time (don’t you have more important things to do?). Secondly, though these argument prompts are all ostensibly different, they repeat many of the same fallacies. To confirm this, just check out a hearty sample of prompts (perhaps twenty or thirty, or whatever you realistically have time for) and think about how your arguments against the prompts might overlap. The similarities will pleasantly surprise you. Here is one such prompt to get us started:
The speaker claims that Nature’s Way, a health food store, should open in Plainsville, where “residents are highly concerned with leading healthy lives.” How did we gather this profile of Plainsville’s inhabitants? According to our speaker, three facts account for this description: 1. Increase in sales of exercise shoes and clothing; 2. The local health club is experiencing its highest rates of attendance, and 3. Plainsville’s schools are now mandating a fitness program.
The Problems with the Argument
There are numerous potential problems that can be spotted in the speaker’s argument and reasoning. Here is a list of the flaws, in no particular order, so to mimic your thought process and note-taking when you first come across an argument prompt:
False correlation between exercise and health food: The speaker fallaciously correlates exercise with healthy eating habits. Nature’s Way is neither a health club nor a sporting goods store, but a health food store. While, ideally, a healthy lifestyle entails both exercise and healthy eating habits, the two are not mutually inclusive. With the convenience of fast food, our national eating habits, on average, are at their worst in history. Often, this guilt about eating habits encourages fast-food patrons to exercise, but not necessarily change their eating habits.
Does buying exercise clothing necessarily cause exercise?: The speaker assumes that the increase in health-related items suggests that the residents of Plainsville are “highly concerned with leading healthy lives,” but there are other possible sources of these increases. The sale of running shoes and exercise clothing could be attributed to a fashion trend that prizes the aesthetic value–rather than the functional value–of such clothes; or, more simply, exercise clothes may be an inexpensive alternative to other clothing styles.
An increase in health club attendance does not guarantee profits for Nature’s Way: Perhaps the local health club is full because of a lack of competition. The speaker refers to the club as “the local health club,” suggesting it’s the only one of its kind in Plainsville. If this is true, then high rates of attendance do not suggest an overwhelming increase in the citizens’ exercise.
The compulsory exercise program is a poor indicator of future healthy lifestyles: The speaker mistakenly assumes that the compulsory “fitness for life” program enacted by schools will foster a new generation of health conscious individuals. Though we may applaud the efforts of schools to introduce such a program, we cannot assume that the program will have any lasting effect on the children’s lifestyles. In fact, mandating exercise in school, much like making beloved classics of literature “required texts,” may cause unintended opposition to exercise. Many children often willfully oppose orders given by parents and school teachers, not out of any sound reasoning, but because of sheer childhood obstinacy.
Future interest in exercise?: Even if Plainsville residents are interested in health foods, how do we know the interest will continue in the future? After all, these changes in lifestyle habits are relatively recent; why shouldn’t we assume that they can easily revert back to unhealthy lifestyles?
Competition?: The speaker fails to mention the possibility or lack of competing health food stores. How can we be sure that Nature’s Way will thrive despite its potential new competition?
Suggestions for Improvement: To improve the argument, the speaker must show a correlation between exercise habits and healthy eating habits, perhaps through a survey or study. Also, the speaker should investigate the popularity of Plainsville’s health club and explain how Nature’s Way will plan to beat the competition.
What we have here is an abundance of information, not quite an essay. To write the essay, choose the best examples and develop them into coherent paragraphs. Don’t be afraid to integrate smaller fallacies into paragraphs: an abundance of information is not a bad thing, and, in fact, longer essays tend to receive higher scores. For practice, you may want to give yourself 30 minutes and write this essay, using your own words and, if you have them, your own arguments.
The following is a sample prompt, similar to the prompts you will encounter on the GRE. Carefully read the directions and write your essay using the strategies outlined previously. After you have written your essay, read the graded sample essays that follow. You can compare your essay to the samples to get a sense of how your essay stacks up. You should also compare the samples to one another to understand better what the GRE readers are looking for. Finally, try to show your essay to an English professor or other qualified person for an evaluation, like one of Chegg’s online GRE tutors. Remember that many different essays can earn high scores.
Tips: Use a word processor with the spell-checker and grammar checker turned off. You may cut, copy, and paste parts of your essay. Take a few minutes to plan your response and write an outline before you begin your essay. In your assessment, analyze the line of reasoning used in the argument. Consider what, if any, questionable assumptions underlie the reasoning and how well any evidence given supports the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of additional evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes would make the conclusion more logically sound, and what additional information might be needed to better evaluate the argument. Note that you are NOT being asked to present your views on the subject.
Directions: You have 30 minutes to read the prompt below and write an evaluation of the argument. An evaluation of any other topic will earn a score of zero.
Prompt: “The following appeared in a letter to the editor of a local newspaper: “‘Too much emphasis is placed on the development of math skills in high school. Many students who are discouraged by the difficulty of the content turn away from schoolwork merely because they lack basic math skills. But practice questions and content review on the Internet provide an important alternative for students at this crucial stage in their education, an alternative that the school board should not reject merely because of the expense involved. After all, many studies attest to the value of using Internet-based math review. Thus, allowing students to practice basic math skills and review relevant math content on the Internet can only make students more eager to study and learn math. Therefore, the school board should encourage schools to purchase computers and permit high school students to access the Internet.’”
Argument Task Sample Essay: Score of 6
The following essay received a score of 6 because it correctly identifies and supports its position, discusses the structure of the argument, and contains compelling logic and persuasive examples. Any errors are minor and do not affect the logic of the essay.
The argument is not persuasive for several reasons. It contains unexamined assumptions, fails to sufficiently address the issue of cost, and fails to consider potentially negative unintended consequences.
The argument begins by stating that, “Too much emphasis is placed on the development of math skills in high school.” It then goes on to discuss a major expenditure that could only serve to place emphasis on math skills as educators seek to justify the expense of new equipment by focusing more energy and time on math. Furthermore, the author of the argument must be assuming that the students at this particular school will have access to the same Internet-based math review that was included in the studies that were cited. Additionally, the studies refer to “review” which may or may not be synonymous with “basic skill” acquisition.
In addition, the argument fails to make a valid comparison between the current methods of math instruction and the Internet method that is proposed. The argument states only that the Internet is an “important alternative” and neglects to provide any level of description of current methods.
Because the argument absolutely lacks even the most rudimentary cost-benefit analysis, it should not be considered valid. The expenditure should be justified by increased levels of achievement by students, or by increased efficiency, or both. There is simply insufficient evidence upon which the reader can base a decision.
The argument also ignores the fact that there are many distractions on the Internet as well as a large volume of content, including math review content, that may be unedited, unfiltered, and incorrect. The distractions alone should give one pause. At best, Internet access in the schools would provide a whole new level of supervision challenges for the faculty and staff. Students could easily be spending time communicating with each other, playing games, or viewing material that is completely irrelevant and perhaps even harmful to their development process.
All in all, the argument lacks merit due to its lack of completeness and its failure to provide a strong connection between the evidence provided and its conclusion.
Argument Task Sample Essay: Score of 4
The following essay received a score of 4 because it shows an adequate grasp of the argument and is reasonably clear. However, it includes some errors in logic and construction that reduce its overall clarity.
The argument presented lacks any serious support, and fails to consider some problems that might come up if high school students use the Internet in school. The argument does not address any financial issues that might arise from encouraging schools to purchase more computers.
First, because the argument doesn’t say whether the Internet use would be monitored in any way, it is likely that students would abuse the privilege. Teenagers have too much access to the Internet in the home and would most likely just use the Internet at school to chat with friends and look at information that is not appropriate, like games or movies. This would not help a student to learn anything about math.
Also, the argument does not cover the additional cost of putting computers in the schools. Although computers are relatively inexpensive these days, a high school would probably need to install many computers in order to give students access to the Internet. There is no evidence provided to support any additional cost to the schools. Many schools are facing budget crunches right now, and may not be able to afford computers or be able to pay for the cost of Internet access.
Finally, if high school students had access to the Internet in school, it might take away from their other studies. There is no gurantee that students would learn the right math skills or if they would be able to spend enough time away from the computer to focus on other classes. Therefore, I believe that the argument is not sufficient and does not completely answer all of the questions necessary to make a good decision.
Argument Task Sample Essay: Score of 2
The following essay received a score of 2 because it lacks analysis of the argument, is vague, and contains pervasive structural and grammatical errors.
I support the argument that the Internet should be available to high schoolers, especially math students. Despite that putting computers into high schools will be expensive, it is a good investment. Not enough high school students focus on math, and being able to access the Internet and be exposed to different learning tools and practice tests will be a good thing.
Also, the school board should encourage schools to purchase computers, because many students don’t have computers at home. So, they can’t get online and learn important math skills. If they could access the Internet at school, in the classroom even, there time would be spent more effectively learning. Because math is an important skill to have—even if some people would disagree – being able to learn more math more easily should be supported.
The argument is a good one that the school board should encourage high schools to purchase computers and permit high schoolers to access the Internet. There are many good reasons for it.
Dulan, Steven W. McGraw-Hill’s GRE: Graduate Record Examination General Test, 2014 Edition. Copyright © 2013 by The McGraw-Hill Education, LLC. All rights reserved.