First, you need to understand the difference between various essay forms (i.e. argument essay versus issue essay). From my understanding, the two types of essays I mentioned above are part of the writing portion of the GRE testing. Let's look at the aspects of an issue essay. An issue essay is comprised of a specific topic and one that may or may not be controversial. Each issue topic consists of an issue statement or statements followed by specific task instructions that tell you how to respond to the issue. Also, because there may be multiple versions of some topics with similar or identical wording but with different task instructions, it is very important to read your test topic and its specific task directions carefully and respond to the wording as it appears in the actual test.
Some great hints on practicing this form of issue essay writing would be to practice with published topics and time yourself. Suppose, for instance, that an issue topic asks you to consider a policy that would require government financial support for art museums and the implications of implementing the policy. With this example, you would need to determine your position on whether the government should fund art museums, you might support your position by discussing the reasons art is important and explain that government funding would make access to museums available to everyone. On the other hand, if your position is that government should not support museums, you might point out that art museums are not as deserving of limited governmental funding as are others, more socially important institutions, which would suffer if the policy were implemented. Or, if you are in favor of government funding for art museums only under certain conditions, you might focus on the artistic criteria, cultural concerns or political conditions that you think should determine how, or whether, art museums receive government funds. It is not your position that matters as much as the critical thinking skills you display in developing your position.
It is always a good rule of thumb to ask yourself questions regarding the issue topic at hand. Some examples of questions to ask yourself would include but not limited to:
* What, precisely, is the central issue?
* What precisely are the instructions asking me to do?
* Do I agree with all or any part of the claim? Why or why not?
* Does the claim make certain assumptions? If so, are they reasonable?
* Is the claim valid only under certain conditions? If so, what are they?
* Do I need to explain how I interpret certain terms or concepts used in the claim?
* If I take a certain position on the issue, what reasons support my position?
* What examples — either real or hypothetical — could I use to illustrate those reasons and advance my point of view? Which examples are most compelling?
Once you have decided on a position to defend, consider the perspectives of others who might not agree with your position. Ask yourself:
* What reasons might someone use to refute or undermine my position?
* How should I acknowledge or defend against those views in my essay?
To plan your response, you might want to summarize your position and make notes about how you will support it. When you've done this, look over your notes and decide how you will organize your response. Then write a response developing your position on the issue. Even if you don't write a full response, you should find it helpful to practice with a few of the Issue topics and to sketch out your possible responses.
Okay now on the flip side of the writing essay portion of the GRE test, which is the argument essay; you need to understand what this type of essay entails. The purposes of the argument essay task are to see how well equipped you are to insightfully evaluate an argument written by someone else and to effectively communicate your evaluation in writing to an academic audience. Although you do not need to know special analytical techniques and terminology, you should be familiar with the directions for the Argument task and with certain key concepts, including the following:
* alternative explanation — a competing version of what might have caused the events in question that undercuts or qualifies the original explanation because it too can account for the observed facts
* analysis — the process of breaking something (e.g., an argument) down into its component parts in order to understand how they work together to make up the whole
* argument — a claim or a set of claims with reasons and evidence offered as support; a line of reasoning meant to demonstrate the truth or falsehood of something
* assumption — a belief, often unstated or unexamined, that someone must hold in order to maintain a particular position; something that is taken for granted but that must be true in order for the conclusion to be true
* conclusion — the end point reached by a line of reasoning, valid if the reasoning is sound; the resulting assertion
* counterexample — an example, real or hypothetical, that refutes or disproves a statement in the argument
* evaluation — an assessment of the quality of evidence and reasons in an argument and of the 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 Argument topics. There is no one way to practice that is best for everyone. Some prefer to start practicing without adhering to the 30-minute time limit. If you follow this approach, take all the time you need to evaluate the argument. Regardless of the approach you take, consider the following steps:
* Carefully read the argument and the specific instructions — you might want to read them more than once.
* Identify as many of the argument's claims, conclusions and underlying assumptions as possible and evaluate their quality.
* Think of as many alternative explanations and counterexamples as you can.
* Think of what specific additional evidence might weaken or lend support to the claims.
* Ask yourself what changes in the argument would make the reasoning more sound.
Write down each of these thoughts. When you've gone as far as you can with your evaluation, look over the notes and put them in a good order for discussion (perhaps by numbering them). Then write an evaluation according to the specific instructions by fully developing each point that is relevant to those instructions. Even if you choose not to write a full essay response, you should find it helpful to practice evaluating a few of the arguments and sketching out your responses. When you become quicker and more confident, you should practice writing some Argument responses within the 30-minute time limit so that you will have a good sense of how to pace yourself in the actual test. For example, you will not want to discuss one point so exhaustively or to provide so many equivalent examples that you run out of time to make your other main points. I hope this will help you!
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