GMAT: How to Write Your Analysis of an Argument

One portion of the GMAT CAT Analytical Writing Assessment requires you to critique a given argument. Analyzing an argument on the GMAT means to identify and explain the flaws in reasoning of the argument that's presented on the exam.

Directions for analyzing an argument on the GMAT

Some possible approaches to your analysis of an argument include

  • Questioning underlying assumptions
  • Finding alternative explanations or counterexamples
  • Delineating evidence to strengthen or weaken the argument

The actual directions will read something like this: "Write an essay in which you discuss how convincing you find the given argument. Your essay should consider the argument's line of reasoning and how well it uses evidence. You may wish to discuss any doubtful assumptions and how other possible explanations could affect the argument's conclusions. Your essay may also consider how one could make the argument more persuasive and its conclusion more convincing."

Read the argument and directions carefully. Make any notes or do any prewriting (clustering, outlining, and so forth) on your scratch paper. Then type your response into the computer.

Suggested approach for GMAT argument analysis

In the analysis of an argument section, your analysis plays a more important role than your style. In fact, you may use the "bullet format"-you might use asterisks (*) or dashes (—) preceding each of your points - and still score in the upper half of the scale if your analysis is cogent. You will score even better if you combine the "bullet format" with conventional prose paragraphs.

The argument you must analyze will never be strong. Don't waste your time trying to find something good to say about it. Common errors in the argument's line of reasoning likely resemble one or more of the following:

  • Assuming because x happened before y, that x was the cause of y. (Post hoc, ergo propter hoc — after that, therefore because of that.) For example, "Last night there was a full moon, and this morning my cat was sick. Therefore, a full moon makes my cat sick."
  • Drawing a conclusion from a failure to respond or act — assuming, for example, that because no hostile response existed, the response was favorable.
  • Trusting a survey without looking at complete information about the people questioned and the questions asked.

The weakest responses are usually those in which students write about the subject of the quotation (how a restaurant should be run, why television advertising is a good idea, why student fees should be reduced), but never analyze the weakness in the reasoning of the argument.

Even well-written responses that fail to analyze the argument receive low scores, while essays in broken but understandable English with twice as many errors in grammar and spelling that do explain the flaws in reasoning receive scores in the upper half of the six-point scale.