Argument Analysis: GRE Overview

Yes, I’m a teacher.  Yes, I’m 32.  And, yes, I’m one of the lowest paid 32-year-old teachers I know.  However, this isn’t because of my district’s pay scale or the economy-induced pay freezes.  It is because I don’t have anything but a Bachelor’s degree.  It’s not that I didn’t want a Master’s degree during my last 9 years of teacher or that I was too busy.  I just didn’t know what field I wanted to pursue.  After debating various degrees (including a brief glimpse into Library Sciences), I finally settled on Curriculum/Instruction.  I was relieved to have finally have an avenue to pursue.  There’s no turning back!

Then I found out I had to take the GRE, and I experienced one of the worst 3 months of my life.  I hadn’t studied math since I was 18.  I have a hard time multiplying past 7 X 5 (true story).  However, there was a bright spot in my exam preparation:  the writing section.  The GRE asks students to write two essays on argument prompts.  Eureka! I found my GRE niche.  Since I basically spend the entire year asking my students to analyze arguments, evaluate arguments, and construct arguments these were the perfect prompts for me.

Then, on a cold Chicago day while taking the exam and writing the essays, my attention began to wane.  Not because of my self-diagnosed ADD, but because my teacher brain never shuts off.  Instead of focusing on the writing itself, I began thinking about how great the prompts would be for my AP students.  Then I realized that these argument prompts would be great for any students of all abilities and really all age levels.   In the past, when I have given sample arguments for my students they haven’t been as developed as I would like and typically the class discussion would taper off after 15 minutes.  Yet, these prompts are critical and complex and evoke deep and meaningful discussion.  They make students think about what is truly at stake when making seemingly minute decisions.  Finally, I had found amazing argument analysis prompts.

On the GRE there are two types of prompts referred to as the “Analyze an Argument,” which asks students to determine the soundness of an argument, and “Analyze an Issue,” which asks students to evaluate the complexity of an argument.  Both are described on the ETS page where you can also find a lengthy pool of sample prompts for the “Analyze an Argument” and “Analyze an Issue” writing tasks.

In an effort to raise critical thinking and demonstrate my mastery of the GRE (okay, just the writing section because it still takes me at least 4 seconds to figure out what 8 X 9 is) this week I’ll be providing specific prompts and suggestions on how to incorporate argument analysis in the classroom, whether it is 6th grade or 12th grade.


Sample “Analyze an Argument” prompt:

  • The following appeared as a recommendation by a committee planning a ten-year budget for the city of Calatrava:  “The birthrate in our city is declining: in fact, last year’s birthrate was only one-half that of five years ago. Thus the number of students enrolled in our public schools will soon decrease dramatically, and we can safely reduce the funds budgeted for education during the next decade. At the same time, we can reduce funding for athletic playing fields and other recreational facilities. As a result, we will have sufficient money to fund city facilities and programs used primarily by adults, since we can expect the adult population of the city to increase.”  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.


Sample “Analyze an Issue” prompt:

  • The best way for a society to prepare its young people for leadership in government, industry, or other fields is by instilling in them a sense of cooperation, not competition.  Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim. In developing and supporting your position, be sure to address the most compelling reasons and/or examples that could be used to challenge your position.

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