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Analysis of an Argument Essay

Today’s GMAT article comes from Manhattan Review GMAT Prep UAE, a provider of GMAT Prep courses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, among others. In this article, they reveal Manhattan Review’s six best points on the GMAT essay.

The GMAT is an odd test. Unlike in the LSAT, the least important section, the essay, comes first, not last. However, though it’s true that business schools don’t pay as much attention to the essay score as to the overall verbal and quantitative score, this doesn’t mean that the essay is of no importance at all. You need to take it seriously and write as good an essay as you can.  Here are six points to guide you:

WHY THE ESSAY?

It is important to keep in mind what the essay is and what it isn’t. The essay isn’t a newspaper Op-Ed. It isn’t a definitive statement on a critical issue of the hour. It isn’t even an essay that you write for your professor. Consider: You only have 30 minutes to think about, plan out, write and proof your essay. So there’s a limit to what you can say and how effectively you can say it. The purpose of the essay is to enable the schools to verify that you really wrote the essays that you submitted with your application. If you sent in a beautifully crafted, eloquent essay but only managed an illiterate, ungrammatical and perfunctory essay in the GMAT the school will wonder whether someone other than you wrote your application essays. The GMAT essay does not have to astound anyone with its brilliance. It just has to be good enough to make sure that the school admissions officers don’t start to entertain doubts as to your authenticity as a writer. Keep this in mind though: While a poorly written essay could harm your cause, a well-written, perhaps even outstanding one won’t advance it very much. The score the business schools continue to be guided by is the main quantitative and verbal score. An adequate score for the essay will suffice. An inadequate score will hurt.

AN ESSAY, NOT A GROCERY LIST

This is an essay, not an office memorandum, an e-mail or a grocery list. It has to read like a narrative, like a logical progression of an argument. There can be no bullet points; numbered paragraphs; headings; underlined words; abbreviations such as w/out or b/c; colloquialisms; acronyms; Internet slang such as LOL, IMHO, P2P, B2B, FWIW and OTOH. All sentences must include at least one noun and one verb. Memorize words that allow you to transition from one paragraph to another such as “however,” “on the one hand” and “on the other hand,” “moreover,” “furthermore,” “in addition,” “consequently,” and “it is possible.”

Avoid inserting yourself into the essay as much as possible. There is no need for such expressions as “I think” on “In my opinion,” or “I don’t agree.” Such terms are redundant. You are the one writing the essay. The reader knows this; he or she doesn’t need to be told.

CRITICAL REASONING WITHOUT THE MULTIPLE CHOICE

Approach the essay as you would the Critical Reasoning questions, particularly the so-called Weaken questions. There’s a stimulus—a passage that arrives at a conclusion: usually a business plan, a policy prescription, a recommended course of action. There are also factual and axiomatic premises and a number of implicit assumptions, of which one is key. In the Critical Reasoning exercises, the Weaken questions ask you to select the statement that does the most to undermine the key assumption. As we have pointed out before, answering the question requires you to follow a careful strategy. First, you identify the conclusion. Then you identify the evidence on which it is based. Then you tease out the key assumption that enabled the author to go from the reach the conclusion from the evidence.

The same strategy applies to the essay. You must be taking a critical, aggressive approach to the stimulus. As in the Weaken questions, first identify the conclusion. You don’t necessarily have to disagree with it, but you do have to take issue with how it was reached.  The essay must show why the conclusion isn’t warranted by the evidence. Was the sample partial or inadequate? Was the author’s use of the evidence inappropriate? Does the logic of the argument permit us to infer the conclusion? What logical fallacies has the author perpetrated? After you have taken the author’s argument apart, you should suggest what kind of evidence might have helped to strengthen his argument.

CLASSIC FALLACIES

Become familiar with classic fallacies. We spend much of our time putting forward arguments and criticizing the ones put forward by others. Therefore, it’s important to know the most frequently deployed fallacious arguments. The passage stimulus could be based on one or more of them. There is no shortage of fallacies. Here is a very partial list: using unrepresentative or insufficient samples; false analogies; confusing causation with correlation; confusing cause with effect; ascribing a single cause to an event that had many causes; cherry-picking the evidence; post hoc ergo propter hoc (because one event preceded another, the earlier event must have caused the later event); false dichotomies; appeal to ignorance (a claim is true if it has not been proven to be false); appeal to authority or to a majority; affirming the consequent; denying the antecedent.

KEEP AN EYE ON THE CLOCK

Keep your eye on the clock. As soon as 30 minutes are up, the screen will disappear. You don’t want to be in the middle of a sentence when that happens. Organize your time with a view to getting everything done within 30 minutes. That means you must stop writing once 25 minutes are up because you must leave yourself at least five minutes at the end for proofing. The test center provides you with a rudimentary word processing program that allows you to type, delete, cut, paste and nothing else. There is no spell-check, no grammar check. No matter how good a writer you think you are or how good a typist you think you are, you will make mistakes, particularly as you are writing under a time constraint. Therefore, it is imperative that you leave yourself time to clean up your essay to get rid of typos, misspellings, repetitions, dangling participles, incorrect punctuation and missing words. It is stupid to lose points over silly errors. You should also use this time to make the essay tighter and more cogent.

Don’t get carried away by the rhetorical power of your own arguments. It is good of course to offer as many criticisms of the author’s argument as possible. However, the more you pile on, the less time you are leaving for proofing. If you have come up with two reasons for calling into question the essay stimulus’s claim, don’t reach for a third if it means that you won’t be able to finish the essay. Two reasons and a completed essay is better than three reasons and an incomplete essay.

KEEP THE STRUCTURE SIMPLE

The structure of the essay should be as straightforward as possible. It should start with a paragraph outlining your basic objection to the way the author has reached his or her conclusion. There is no need to go into details in the opening paragraph. It should serve as a brief summary of what you intend to argue. It’s bad form in general to step on the points you will make later. You want to keep the reader reading; so hold stuff back. Moreover, as likely as not, your main point may not be entirely clear to you when you start writing. The more you write the clearer will your argument become to you. Therefore, leave your opening paragraph as a draft and come back to it at the end to ensure that it conveys the main point you want to make.

Start by jotting down all of the ways the author’s argument fails to convince. Then select the two or three strongest reasons for doubting the logic of his argument. Your second paragraph should focus on the most important reason why the author’s argument is inadequate. Your third paragraph should focus on the second reason. Your fourth paragraph on the third. Make sure you mention what evidence you would like to see adduced in order to make the argument more compelling. That could be your fifth paragraph. The last paragraph should be reserved for the conclusion. This is usually a restatement of the opening paragraph. That’s why it’s good at the end to go back to the beginning and redraft the opening sentences.

Don’t forget: It’s only 30 minutes. A good essay will put you into the right frame of mind for the rest of the test.

Stay tuned for more tips and tricks from Manhattan Review next month. In the meantime, you can start studying immediately by downloading the well known Manhattan Review Sentence Correction Guide from the Manhattan Review website.

Posted in: GMAT - AWA, GMAT Tips

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