Argument Analysis on the GRE Verbal Essay Test — Practice Questions

By Ron Woldoff, Joseph Kraynak

When you take the GRE Verbal test, one of the essay questions will ask you to analyze an argument. You must read the argument, look at its underlying assumptions, and then explain how these assumptions affect the argument.

The following practice question is similar to what you will find on the test.

Practice question

Time: 30 minutes

The following appeared in a letter to the editor of the Flint Herald newspaper.

“School board elections are coming up in a few months. Voters should vote for Martinez Westwood for school board member rather than for the incumbent, Harris Blankford, because the current school board is doing a poor job. In the two years since the current board was elected, the dropout rate has increased by 30 percent, voters did not approve the necessary tax increase to raise teacher salaries, and the morale of both educators and students is down. By electing Martinez Westwood, these problems will be resolved quickly and correctly.”

Directions: Write a response in which you examine the unstated assumptions of the argument. Be sure to explain how the argument depends on the assumptions and what the implications are if the assumptions prove unwarranted.

Writing the essay

Essay writing (and scoring) is subjective to some degree. There’s no right or wrong answer, and every essay is slightly different. Evaluators, however, have a checklist of specific criteria for grading your essay. To check your own essay, consider the following questions:

  • Did you follow the instructions? The prompt tells you what to do. For example, an Argument Analysis prompt may ask you to consider ways in which the argument relies on certain unstated assumptions, or it may instruct you to describe circumstances in which taking a certain course of action would or would not be best. To score well, you need to follow those instructions and write about what the prompt asks for.

  • Have you taken a clear stand in your essay? Although arguing both sides of an issue or discussing strengths and weaknesses is fine, you must make your opinion or position clear. Don’t expect the evaluators to infer your position. Be sure to declare your opinion in your introduction and be consistent throughout your essay.

  • Did you back up your stance with specific examples? Anyone can state a position, but you must support your position with specific examples. You don’t have to be right, but you do need to provide solid support for your claim. Also make sure your examples aren’t easily refutable.

  • How quickly did you get to the point in each paragraph? The evaluator will always look for your point in the first two lines of each paragraph, so don’t try to be clever and write a paragraph with a surprise ending or twist. State clearly and unequivocally in the first line of each paragraph the point of that paragraph. Then spend the rest of the paragraph supporting that point.

  • Have you stayed on topic? After stating your position in the introductory paragraph, make sure each succeeding paragraph supports that position instead of wandering off topic. Each paragraph should have a sentence (preferably at the end) that ties the paragraph directly to your position statement.

  • Did you avoid fluff? Though longer essays typically earn higher scores, the higher scores are due to the fact that the essay provides sufficient support, not because it rambles on and on. Your essay won’t be judged on word count; it will be judged on how sufficiently you explore the topic.

  • Does your essay maintain a professional tone? The essay section isn’t for creative writing. It’s more like business writing, so avoid off-color language, slang, and inappropriate humor.