How to Evaluate GRE Analytical Writing Argument?

Takers of GRE practice tests must be aware that in addition to the multiple-choice quant and verbal sections, they also must write two essays that are called the Analytical Writing Assignment (AWA) Issue and Argument.

When you consider GRE mock questions In the Analytical Writing Argument, the argument is usually flawed. You must find the flaws and write an essay pointing out the flaws and ways of correcting those flaws.

The AWA Argument assignment is an extension of the CR Weaken question. In a typical CR Weaken question, you need to point out a single flaw. In the essay assignment, the given argument may have several flaws. Once you identify those flaws, you must write an essay pointing out the three biggest flaws.

In order to evaluate the argument, you need to ask the right questions. Arguments are usually of three types. There are data-based, cause-effect or goal-plan argument formats. The given argument may have components of all three.

Evaluation questions for a data-based argument

Is the sample representative?

For instance, an argument states that an opinion poll shows that most voters in a state are likely to vote for candidate X as governor. Opinion polls are surveys of sample respondents. The accuracy of the survey would depend on the accuracy of the sample. So, we would need answers to some relevant questions before we can decide if the sample is representative.

For instance, what is the population of the state? What is the size of the sample? In other words, how many people were surveyed? If the favored gubernatorial candidate is either a Republican or a Democrat, we would also need to ask what proportion of the sample are registered Republicans? What proportion are registered Democrats? What percentage call themselves Independent? What percentage of the sample are women? What proportion of the sample are white? What proportion are college- educated? What proportion are from rural areas? What proportion are from cities and other urban areas?

Are we comparing comparable things?

A certain argument describes a company engaged in the catering of food. The catering company is planning to celebrate its 25th anniversary. On the occasion, the CEO of the company claims that the company has a bright future ahead thanks to its long tenure in the industry. Such length of tenure has helped the company provide a better service at a cheaper price. Thus, the company has a winning edge over the competition.

To bolster his argument, the CEO cites the example of a film processing company in New York. The film processing business charged 50 cents for processing a spool of film with a five-day delivery period, back in 1970, when it began operations. Fourteen years later, in 1984, the company was charging only 20 cents while guaranteeing delivery in two days. Thus, the company was offering better service at a cheaper price, both of which were made possible by its many years in the business.

The flaw here is that we are not comparing comparable things. For instance, a food processing company can have many variables such as shelf-life of food and spoilage, variables that are absent in the field of film processing.

Are the data points valid in the given context?

Non-contextual use of data can create flaws in an argument. An argument assumed that fewer tickets sold to a tourist attraction in a tourist town in a certain year implied that fewer tourists had visited the town that year.

Based on the above assumption, the argument offers many solutions to bring more tourists to the town. Among these suggested solutions, the author suggests that all businesses in the town should shift their offices to the area of the tourist attraction (a sun dial). This is an example of non-contextual use of data. For instance, why would a business, such as real estate, that caters to the local population of the town, need to shift to the touristy area?

Evaluation questions for a cause-effect-based argument

Is this the real cause leading to this result?

This is a typical question that we ask in solving CR Weaken questions. For instance, in a certain argument, leaded petrol began to be sold in a town. During the same period, pollution levels in that town rose. Based on these facts, the argument concludes that leaded petrol is the cause of the rising pollution levels. It can be shown that pollution is not caused by leaded petrol if, for instance, we can establish that most cars in the said town are diesel driven.

Can there be any other causes?

In the argument described in the above paragraph, we can weaken the cause-effect and rule out the given reason by revealing any other plausible cause of the rising pollution level in the town. For instance, if we establish that most cars in the said town have faulty carburetors, that would rule leaded petrol out as the cause of pollution. Another possible cause could be the opening of several pollutant industries in the town during the period that leaded petrol began to be sold there.

Has the cause-effect been understood correctly?

In some cases, the authors of arguments assume that there is a cause-effect relationship whereas there may be none. For instance, an argument states that most professional footballers own luxury cars. Based on this premise, the argument concludes that in order to score more goals, footballers should buy luxury cars. In fact, there is no cause-effect connection between the scoring of goals and ownership of luxury cars.

Can the cause-effect be reversed in reality?

An argument states that according to a study finding, high-earning executives own luxury cars. The argument concludes that therefore in order to get a high-paying job, a prospective job seeker should buy a luxury car. This is a clear case of reversal of reality. The argument would be better stated as a high-paying job will allow you to buy a luxury car, and not the other way around.

Evaluation questions for a goal-plan-based argument

Can this plan really achieve this goal?

A given argument talks about a cosmetic manufacturing company whose Research and Development department has devised a new facial cleanser. The unique selling proposition of the product is that it is non-carcinogenic, i.e., it does not cause cancer. The directors of the company are excited by the new product and are planning an advertisement blitz aimed at publicizing the new product.

They plan to advertise through every form of media, including newspapers, television, and the Internet. They have multiple goals: recapture the number one position in the market, woo back old customers, woo new customers, and nullify negative publicity about the company in the media.

Clearly, there are many questions that need to be answered before the company can implement the plan.

·      For instance, does the competition have the new technology? If yes, then the plan is dead on arrival, as the company would not get an early-mover marketing advantage.

·      Even if the competition didn’t have the new technology, the company would need answers to some other questions. For instance, why did the company lose its leadership position in the market?

·      Why did the company lose customers? Was any previous product flawed? Why do media have a negative perception about the company?

·      Is such negative perception justifiable?

Unless the company can get answers to these questions, the plan may not achieve its goal.

Will people cooperate in implementing this plan?

In the goal-plan referred to in the above paragraph, the company planned to spend money on an advertising campaign. The success of the plan did not depend on involving staff members in its implementation. But some goal-plans may need to factor staff involvement. For instance,

A company has decided that its future revenues would depend on opening representative offices in rural areas. However, such offices would need to have experienced staff members to run them. In such cases, the success of the plan could depend on how well staff cooperate. The company may decide to transfer staff from its city operations to rural areas where it plans to open offices. But the plan would fail if staff members refused to cooperate. The company should have taken staff members into confidence before making such a plan.

Are the benefits greater than the drawbacks?

Consider the goal-plan described in the paragraph titled Can this plan really achieve this goal: the company was planning to advertise the benefit of its new facial cleanser in that the cosmetic product was non-carcinogenic. However, the company is silent about any drawbacks of the product. If it turns out later that the product has a drawback that the company had failed to reveal, it could hurt the reputation of the company and cause the marketing plan to fail.

Are the benefits long-term/sustainable?

There are some products or services whose benefits last only as long as you are using them. For instance, there are weight loss programs whose benefits last only if their subscribers participate in the programs.  If the benefits are not sustainable in the long term, the marketing plan could suffer.

How practical is the plan?

In the goal-plan described in serial number eight, the cosmetic company plans an ad blitz in all media, including the Internet. If the product is being launched only in the US, or in a state, or smaller local area, why spend on advertising to the whole world (such as on the Internet).

When you ask the above questions, they may help you to discover five to six flaws. You need to pick the three biggest flaws and write your essay pointing out those flaws. You can have an introduction, a conclusion, and three body paragraphs, one each for each flaw you point out.


Evaluate the argument by asking twelve questions:

·      Is the sample representative?

·      Are we comparing comparable things?

·      Are the data points valid in the given context?

·      Is this the real cause leading to this result?

·      Can there be any other causes?

·      Has the cause-effect been understood correctly?

·      Can the cause-effect be reversed in reality?

·      Can this plan really achieve this goal?

·      Will people cooperate in implementing this plan?

·      Are the benefits greater than the drawbacks?

·      Are the benefits long-term/sustainable?

·      How practical is the plan?

These GRE practice tips are meant to help you crack the AWA Argument assignment. But the best GRE tip we can give you is to ask you to solve as many GRE practice tests as you can. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect.