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The GRE® General Test

One test for graduate, business and law school

Select a step to learn more about your GRE® General Test journey.
 

Analyze an Argument Task

The "Analyze an Argument" task assesses your ability to:

  • understand, analyze and insightfully evaluate an argument written by someone else according to specific instructions
  • effectively communicate your evaluation in writing

Each topic consists of a brief passage in which the author makes a case for some course of action or interpretation of events by presenting claims backed by reasons and evidence.

Your task is to discuss the logical soundness of the author's case by critically examining the line of reasoning and the use of evidence. This task requires you to read the argument and instructions carefully. Read the argument more than once and make brief notes about points you want to develop more fully in your response. Pay special attention to what is:

  • offered as evidence, support or proof
  • explicitly stated, claimed or concluded
  • assumed or supposed, perhaps without justification or proof
  • not stated, but necessarily follows from or underlies what is stated

In addition, consider the structure of the argument — the way in which these elements are linked together to form a line of reasoning. You should recognize the separate, sometimes implicit steps in the thinking process and consider whether the movement from each step to the next is logically sound. In tracing this line, look for transition words and phrases that suggest the author is attempting to make a logical connection (e.g., however, thus, therefore, evidently, hence, in conclusion).
 

What you aren’t being asked to do

An important part of performing well on the Argument task is remembering what you are not being asked to do. You aren’t being asked to:

  • discuss whether the statements in the argument are true or accurate
  • agree or disagree with the position stated
  • express your own views on the subject being discussed (as you were in the Issue task)

Instead, you’re being asked to evaluate the logical soundness of an argument of another writer and, in doing so, to demonstrate the critical thinking, perceptive reading and analytical writing skills that university faculty consider important for success in graduate school.

Each task is accompanied by one of the following sets of instructions that you must be sure to address when writing your response:

  • Write a response in which you discuss what specific evidence is needed to evaluate the argument and explain how the evidence would weaken or strengthen the argument.
  • 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 these assumptions, and what the implications are for the argument if the assumptions prove unwarranted.
  • Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the recommendation and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the recommendation.
  • Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the advice and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the advice.
  • Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the recommendation is likely to have the predicted result. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the recommendation.
  • Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the prediction and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the prediction.
  • Write a response in which you discuss one or more alternative explanations that could rival the proposed explanation and explain how your explanation(s) can plausibly account for the facts presented in the argument.
  • Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be addressed in order to decide whether the conclusion and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to the questions would help to evaluate the conclusion.

"Analyze an Argument" is a critical thinking task requiring a written response. Consequently, the analytical skills displayed in your evaluation carry great weight in determining your score; however, the clarity with which you convey ideas is also important to your overall score.

The purposes of the 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. Your audience consists of GRE raters carefully trained to apply the scoring criteria identified in the scoring guide for the "Analyze an Argument" task. To get a clearer idea of how GRE raters apply the Argument scoring criteria to actual essays, you should review scored sample Argument essay responses and rater commentary. The sample responses, particularly those at 5 and 6 score levels, will show you a variety of successful strategies for organizing and developing an insightful evaluation. The rater commentary discusses specific aspects of analytical writing, such as: cogency of ideas; development and support; organization; syntactic variety; and facility with language. The commentary points out aspects that are particularly effective and insightful as well as any that detract from the overall effectiveness of the responses.

The Argument task is meant to assess analytical writing and informal reasoning skills you’ve developed throughout your education. You won’t be expected to know specific methods of analysis or technical terms.
 

Understand key concepts

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 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 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
     

Published topic pools

An excellent way to prepare for the "Analyze an Argument" task is to practice writing on some of the published Argument topics (PDF). 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.

There’s no one way to practice that’s best for everyone. Some prefer to start practicing without adhering to the 30-minute time limit, so they have all the time they need to evaluate the argument and craft their response. Others prefer to take a “timed test” right away.
 

Plan your response

Regardless of which 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.

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.
 

Evaluate your response

When you’re finished writing your practice response, assess how you did to see how and where you can improve.

  • Get feedback on your response(s) from a writing instructor, philosophy teacher or someone who emphasizes critical thinking in their course
  • Trade papers on the same topic with fellow students and discuss each other's responses in terms of the scoring guide. Focus less on the "right scores" and more on seeing how the responses meet or miss the performance standards for each score point and what you need to do to improve.
  • Look at the scoring guide for the Argument topic and try to determine how your essay meets or misses the criteria for each score point in the guide. Comparing your own response to the scoring guide will help you see how and where to improve.

Some arguments contain numbers, percentages or statistics offered only as evidence in support of the argument's conclusion. For example, an argument might claim that a certain community event is less popular this year than it was last year because only 100 people attended this year as compared with 150 last year, a 33% decline in attendance.

It is important to remember that you are not being asked to do a mathematical task with the numbers, percentages or statistics. Instead, you should evaluate these as evidence intended to support the conclusion. In the example above, the conclusion is that a community event has become less popular. You should ask yourself, "Does the difference between 100 people and 150 people support that conclusion?" In this case, there are other possible explanations, e.g., the weather might have been much worse this year, this year's event might have been held at an inconvenient time, etc.

Any one of these could explain the difference in attendance and weaken the conclusion that the event was "less popular." Similarly, percentages might support or weaken a conclusion depending on what actual numbers the percentages represent. Consider the claim that the drama club at a school deserves more funding because its membership has increased by 100%. This 100% increase could be significant if there had been 100 members and now there are 200 members, whereas the increase would be much less significant if there had been five members and now there are 10.

Remember that any numbers, percentages or statistics in Argument tasks are used only as evidence in support of a conclusion, and you should always consider whether they actually support the conclusion.

Keep the following tips in mind:

  • You’re free to organize and develop your response in any way that will enable you to effectively communicate your position.
  • You can incorporate writing strategies you learned in English composition or writing-intensive college courses.
  • GRE raters will not be looking for a particular developmental strategy or mode of writing. In fact, when GRE raters are trained, they review hundreds of Argument responses that, although highly diverse in content and form, display similar levels of critical thinking and persuasive writing.
  • For example, raters will see some essays at the 6 score level that begin by briefly summarizing the argument and then explicitly stating and developing the main points of the evaluation. The raters know that a writer can earn a high score by developing several points in an evaluation or by identifying a central feature in the argument and developing that evaluation extensively. You might want to look at the sample Argument responses, particularly those at the 5 and 6 score levels, to see how other writers have successfully developed and organized their responses.
  • Make choices about format and organization that you think support and enhance the overall effectiveness of your evaluation. This means using as many or as few paragraphs as you consider appropriate for your response, e.g., create a new paragraph when your discussion shifts to a new point of evaluation.
  • You might want to organize your evaluation around the structure of the argument itself, discussing it line by line. Or you might want to first point out a central questionable assumption and then move on to discuss related weaknesses in the argument's line of reasoning.
  • Using examples can help illustrate an important point in your evaluation or move your discussion forward. However, remember that it’s your critical thinking and analytical writing that is being assessed, not your ability to come up with examples. What matters is not the form your response takes, but how insightfully you evaluate the argument and how articulately you communicate your evaluation to academic raters within the context of the task.

For more information, review a sample Argument task, including strategies for the topic and essay responses with rater commentary at each score level.

The sample responses, particularly those at 5 and 6 score levels, will show you a variety of successful strategies for organizing and developing an insightful evaluation. The rater commentary discusses specific aspects of analytical writing, such as:

  • cogency of ideas
  • development and support
  • organization
  • syntactic variety
  • facility with language

The commentary also points out aspects that are particularly effective and insightful, as well as any that detract from the overall effectiveness of the responses.

 

When you take the GRE General Test, you’ll be presented with one Argument topic from the pool. To help you prepare, we’ve published the entire pool of tasks from which your issue will be selected.