You are smart to prepare for the Graduate Record Examinations test. The GRE test is a mandatory admission requirement at many graduate schools. While the test is only one factor in your application packet, your scores are an important consideration. You will be assessed, in part, on how well you perform on two writing tasks: an issue task and an argument task. You will have 30 minutes to complete each one, and you should take a few minutes of that time to brainstorm and jot down ideas before writing -- just like you learned in college. In fact, marshal the other good habits and skills you learned in college and practice writing some essays before the test and you should be able to confront the GRE essays with confidence.
Read the statement and the instructions carefully. Educational Testing Service supplies this sample issue statement: “As people rely more and more on technology to solve problems, the ability of humans to think for themselves will surely deteriorate.” ETS also provides the instructions: “Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.”
Seize upon the key points. For example, it would be incorrect to focus on the dependent clause in the statement, which is not in dispute. The claim resides in the second clause: “…the ability of humans to think for themselves will surely deteriorate.” Likewise, in the instructions, you should focus on the “ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.”
Formulate your position. For example, you may agree with the statement and list ways in which technology “thinks” for us, such as by doing basic mathematical computations, thereby reducing our ability to do them ourselves. Or you may disagree with the statement and frame your list of reasons in terms of student research and how technology has given you greater access to materials.
Be specific in your examples and reasons. Provide illustrations from your personal experience. Do not paraphrase or repeat words in either the statement or instructions; demonstrate your ability for innovative and critical thinking. All of your points should support your position with clarity and purpose. Remember that your grade will not be determined on whether you agree or disagree with the statement but how well you support and provide evidence for your position on the issue.
Read the argument, thinking of it as a portion of a larger argumentative paper. My GRE Tutor offers the following example: “Speed limits on our state's highways should be eliminated in order to increase our state's prosperity. Because greater speed means more efficient travel, commercial deliveries will be faster, increasing business profits. Elimination of speed limits will also make driving more attractive to motorists so that more people will use the highways, providing more highway toll revenues for the state. At the same time, safety on our highways will not be affected. Daytime speed limits were eliminated last year in the western states of our country and no significant increase in the number of accidents in these states has been reported.”
Compare this argument example to the standard format for a reasoned argument: the introduction; the writer’s stance; support and evidence for the writer’s stance; presentation of opposing views; the writer’s response to these views (acknowledging and refuting them, or both); and the conclusion.
Determine how reasoned, sound and logical the argument is and illuminate the inconsistencies and flaws. For example, the “writer” makes the assumption that “the elimination of speed limits will also make driving more attractive to motorists.” You may question this assertion, making the good point that not everyone likes to drive fast. Also look for points that may prevent the argument from being persuasive. In this example, the introduction is missing, which may be a minor point because the “writer” does not present opposing views -- nor does he acknowledge or refute them. Finally, the “writer” refers to highway toll revenues and fewer accidents, but “the writer” fails to provide statistics.
Strive for clarity with both writing tasks. According to My GRE Tutor, you will be graded on your ability to “clearly and effectively articulate complex ideas; examine claims and discuss accompanying evidence; provide examples to help support your claims; sustain a well-focused discussion; and control the elements of standard written English.”
- Budget your time during the test so that you can proofread and edit your work. Your ability to use good grammar, spelling and punctuation is important, but “it's much more important that you concentrate on writing a coherent, complete and persuasive essay,” according to My GRE Tutor.
- Practice writing issue and argument essays until you are thoroughly comfortable with the methodologies. Eliminating the sense of surprise should help bolster your confidence.
- My GRE Tutor: GRE Essays: Issue and Argument
- Major Tests.com: GRE Essays
- Educational Testing Service: Introduction to the Argument Task
- Purdue University Online Writing Lab: Expository Essays
- U.S. News: Test Prep: 6 Tips for GRE Success
- Writing Arguments; John Ramage, John Bean and June Johnson; 2001
- The New St. Martin’s Handbook; Andrea Lunsford and Robert Connors; 1999.
- Eduers.com: GRE Frequently Asked Questions
- The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers; Maxine Hairston and John Ruszkiewicz; 1991.
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