gre-argument-writing-sample

GRE Argument Writing Sample

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 Prompt

The following appeared in a memorandum written by the vice president of Nature’s Way, a chain of stores selling health food and other health-related products.

“Previous experience has shown that our stores are most profitable in areas where residents are highly concerned with leading healthy lives. We should therefore build our next new store in Plainsville, which has many such residents. Plainsville merchants report that sales of running shoes and exercise clothing are at all-time highs. The local health club, which nearly closed five years ago due to lack of business, has more members than ever, and the weight training and aerobics classes are always full. We can even anticipate a new generation of customers: Plainsville’s schoolchildren are required to participate in a ‘fitness for life’ program, which emphasizes the benefits of regular exercise at an early age.”

What’s the Argument?

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.