GRE® Argument Essay
Always poking holes in arguments? Learn how to structure your GRE Argument Essay, and you're well on your way to a high score.
The GRE Argument Essay asks for a different approach than the GRE Issue Essay. Instead of taking a position on a provided issue and constructing your own argument about it, you read someone else’s argument and comment on the flaws in its evidence, underlying assumptions, and conclusion. You do not take a side.
You’re asked to evaluate the logical soundness of the argument—not fix it. There is only one opinion you can have: the argument is flawed and the conclusion cannot be accepted based on the evidence and reasoning provided. Takeaway: you do not “fix” the argument by using the evidence to draw a new conclusion.
The Argument Essay, therefore, is about critiquing another author's argument.
How to structure the GRE Argument Essay
The GRE Argument Essay contains a short argument that may or may not be complete, followed by specific instructions on what to highlight in your response. You should always refer to those instructions in the sections of your writing that address them.
Your GRE Argument Essay should contain five to six paragraphs that:
- critique the author’s argument
- describe how the argument could be improved
- reiterate that the argument is overall weak and unconvincing
Here is one popular breakdown of how to structure each section of your essay.
Prewriting and introduction
Begin with your prewriting phase. Use this time to identify, among other things, the conclusion, evidence, and underlying assumptions of the argument that’s being presented.
After prewriting, construct an intro of three or four sentences to show the grader that you understand these parts of the argument. Your intro should:
- restate the author’s conclusion (opinion) and specifically identify it as a conclusion
- summarize the facts or proposals the author provides that lead to this conclusion, and specifically identify them as evidence; save your three examples of those specifics (and the time it takes to write them) for the body of your essay
- state unequivocally that the argument is flawed in the paragraph’s thesis, or final sentence
Each of your body paragraphs should:
- run between four and six sentences
- introduce one example of insufficient evidence, unsupported assumptions, or other flaws in the argument—and explain how that example is flawed
- offer alternative evidence to that presented; if there are other possibilities the author didn’t discuss, the argument is fallible
You should be spending the majority of each body paragraph doing the third step: showing how it fully supports your thesis.
Almost every argument has unsupported assumptions. Identify a primary assumption and give examples of evidence that, if it were true, would make the assumption unlikely to be true and therefore weaken the conclusion. You are not expected to disprove the conclusion; instead, you want to show that the author, if he did more research, might find that his conclusion isn’t a strong one.
Body paragraph 1 — Lack of evidence to support an assumption
Almost every argument has unsupported assumptions. In four to six sentences, identify a primary assumption the argument depends on in order for the conclusion to be true. Then give examples of alternative evidence that would weaken that conclusion. You are not expected to disprove the conclusion; you just want to show that the author didn’t do due diligence in proving it.
Body paragraph 2 — Weak evidence
After a transition word or phrase, identify another assumption or flaw in the author’s reasoning, and show how better reasoning or more (or different) evidence undermines the argument. Again, aim for four to six sentences.
Body paragraph 3 — Vague language
This is a “time valve” paragraph, which means you should only write it if you have plenty of time to spare. In it, you can go after the specific terminology the author uses in the argument. How many is “many”? Who exactly is “most”? Use the author’s own rhetorical construction against him.
Body paragraph 4 — How to strengthen the argument
Just because there are unsupported assumptions and flaws in the author’s argument doesn’t mean that the conclusion is, in itself, indefensible. In two to four sentences, point out the idea that there might be some merit to the author’s argument—and that the conclusion could be supported with different evidence or assumptions.
Your conclusion should only be one or two sentences and should make it clear to the grader that you understand your job was to analyze the argument—not to fix it. Briefly restate your original thesis, that the argument has too many assumptions and flaws in reasoning to be acceptable. Point out that the author has more work to do. You can also provide specific recommendations for changes that would strengthen the argument. Be sure to state what specific information would need to be included to bolster the argument.
Tips for a strong GRE Argument Essay
Keep these specific pointers in mind while writing your practice Argument Essays—as well as the real thing on Test Day.
- Look for false generalizations, inadequate evidence, and misleading surveys or statistics. The argument presented will ALWAYS have flaws. Point out sweeping statements and faulty conclusions. If data is provided at all, you can be sure it’s not 100% sound. Find out how, and expose it.
- Discuss two or three specific assumptions the author makes. There may be more than three assumptions, but it’s better to take the time to fully evaluate a few of them than simply make a list of all the problems you’ve discovered.
- Embrace the third person. While you should steer clear of first-person, you should absolutely feel comfortable using third person, openly referring to “the author” and “the author’s argument.”
- Make strong, declarative statements: Choose words with conviction. You want to convey confidence that you have found flaws within the presented argument.
GRE Argument Essay sample
Try this sample GRE Argument Essay prompt for practice. Remember that you’ll have 30 minutes to complete it on GRE Test Day. There are a few different ways ETS might present the argument, so it's best to practice a few different prompts.
In 1992, many farmers in Jalikistan began using a hormone designed to produce larger cows that would produce more milk. Since then, childhood obesity in Jalikistan has grown by 200 percent. The amount of milk and dairy consumed by children in this area has not increased or decreased. Children in the same area who are lactose intolerant, and who drink almond milk or soy milk, have not had the same increase in childhood obesity. The only clear explanation is that the introduction of the hormone is responsible for the increase in childhood obesity in that area.
Write a response in which you discuss one or more viable alternatives to the proposed explanation. Justify, with support, why the alternatives could rival the proposed explanation and explain how those explanation(s) can plausibly account for the facts presented in the argument.