Verbal > Analytical Writing

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The Analytical Writing measure assesses your critical thinking and analytical writing skills.

The Analytical Writing measure consists of two separately timed analytical writing tasks:

  • a 30-minute "Analyze an Issue" task
  • a 30-minute "Analyze an Argument" task

The two tasks are complementary in that one requires you to construct your own

argument by taking a position and providing evidence supporting your views on the issue, whereas the other requires you to evaluate someone else's argument by assessing its claims and evaluating the evidence it provides.

General Strategies

  • It is important to budget your time.
  • Save a few minutes at the end of each timed task to check for obvious errors.

Analyze an Issue Task

Each issue topic makes a claim that test takers can discuss from various perspectives and apply to many different situations or conditions. The issue statement is followed by specific instructions. Your task is to present a compelling case for your own position on the issue according to the specific instructions. It is important that you address the central issue according to the specific instructions.

Instead of looking for "right" answers, the readers are evaluating the skill with which you address the specific instructions and articulate and develop an argument to support your evaluation of the issue.

As you prepare for the Issue task, ask yourself

  • What precisely is the central issue?
  • What precisely are the instructions asking me to do?
  • Do I agree with all or with any part of the claim? Why or why not?
  • Does the claim make certain assumptions? If so, are they reasonable?
  • Is the claim valid only under certain conditions? If so, what are they?
  • Do I need to explain how I interpret certain terms or concepts used in the claim?
  • If I take a certain position on the issue, what reasons support my position?
  • What examples — either real or hypothetical — could I use to illustrate those reasons and advance my point of view?
  • Which examples are most compelling?
  • Once you have decided on a position to defend, consider the perspective of others who might not agree with your position.
  • Ask yourself:
    • What reasons might someone use to refute or undermine my position?
    • How should I acknowledge or defend against those views in my essay?

Then, make notes about the position you want to develop and list the main reasons and examples that you could use to support that position.

Sample Issue Task

  • As people rely more and more on technology to solve problems, the ability of humans to think for themselves will surely deteriorate.

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.

Score 6 Response:

The statement linking technology negatively with free thinking plays on recent human experience over the past century. Surely there has been no time in history where the lived lives of people have changed more dramatically. A quick reflection on a typical day reveals how technology has revolutionized the world. Most people commute to work in an automobile that runs on an internal combustion engine. During the workday, chances are high that the employee will interact with a computer that processes information on silicon bridges that are .09 microns wide. Upon leaving home, family members will be reached through wireless networks that utilize satellites orbiting the earth. Each of these common occurrences would have been inconceivable at the turn of the 19th century.

The statement attempts to bridge these dramatic changes to a reduction in the ability for humans to think for themselves. The assumption is that an increased reliance on technology negates the need for people to think creatively to solve previous quandaries. Looking back at the introduction, one could argue that without a car, computer, or mobile phone, the hypothetical worker would need to find alternate methods of transport, information processing, and communication. Technology short circuits this thinking by making the problems obsolete.

However, this reliance on technology does not necessarily preclude the creativity that marks the human species. The prior examples reveal that technology allows for convenience. The car, computer, and phone all release additional time for people to live more efficiently. This efficiency does not preclude the need for humans to think for themselves. In fact, technology frees humanity to not only tackle new problems, but may itself create new issues that did not exist without technology. For example, the proliferation of automobiles has introduced a need for fuel conservation on a global scale. With increasing energy demands from emerging markets, global warming becomes a concern inconceivable to the horse-and-buggy generation. Likewise dependence on oil has created nation-states that are not dependent on taxation, allowing ruling parties to oppress minority groups such as women. Solutions to these complex problems require the unfettered imaginations of maverick scientists and politicians.

Score 3 Response

There is no current proof that advancing technology will deteriorate the ability of humans to think. On the contrary, advancements in technology had advanced our vast knowledge in many fields, opening opportunities for further understanding and achievement. For example, the problem of debilitating illnesses and diseases such as Alzheimer's disease is slowing being solved by the technological advancements in stem cell research. The future ability of growing new brain cells and the possibility to reverse the onset of Alzheimer's is now becoming a reality. This shows our initiative as humans to better our health demonstrates greater ability of humans to think.

One aspect where the ability of humans may initially be seen as an example of deteriorating minds is the use of internet and cell phones. In the past humans had to seek out information in many different environments and aspects of life. Now humans can sit in a chair and type anything into a computer and get an answer. Our reliance on this type of technology can be detrimental if not regulated and regularly substituted for other information sources such as human interactions and hands on learning. I think if humans understand that we should not have such a reliance on computer technology that we as a species will advance further by utilizing the opportunity of computer technology as well as the other sources of information outside of a computer. Supplementing our knowledge with internet access is surely a way for technology to solve problems while continually advancing the human race.

Analyze an Argument:

The question:

A brief passage in which the author makes a case for some course of action or interpretation of events by presenting claims backed by reasons and evidence.

The task:

To discuss the logical soundness of the author's case according to the specific instructions by critically examining the line of reasoning.

In reading the argument, you should pay special attention to    

  • What is offered as evidence, support, or proof
  • What is explicitly stated, claimed, or concluded
  • What is assumed or supposed, perhaps without justification or proof
  • What is not stated, but necessarily follows from what is stated

 

An excellent way to prepare for the Analyze an Argument task is to practice writing on some of the published Argument topics.

You should:

  • Carefully read the argument and the specific instructions — you might want to read them over more than once.
  • Identify as many of the argument's claims, conclusions, and underlying assumptions as possible and evaluate their quality.
  • Think of as many alternative explanations and counterexamples as you can.
  • Think of what specific additional evidence might weaken or lend support to the claims.
  • Ask yourself what changes in the argument would make the reasoning more sound.
  • Write down each of these thoughts as a brief note.
  • Don't discuss one point so exhaustively or to provide so many equivalent examples that you run out of time to make your other main points.
  • Don't do a mathematical task with the numbers, percentages, or statistics provided in the question, instead you should evaluate these as evidence intended to support the conclusion.

Sample Argument Task:

In surveys Mason City residents rank water sports (swimming, boating, and fishing) among their favorite recreational activities. The Mason River flowing through the city is rarely used for these pursuits, however, and the city park department devotes little of its budget to maintaining riverside recreational facilities. For years there have been complaints from residents about the quality of the river's water and the river's smell. In response, the state has recently announced plans to clean up Mason River. Use of the river for water sports is, therefore, sure to increase. The city government should for that reason devote more money in this year's budget to riverside recreational facilities.

Write a response in which you examine the stated and/or unstated assumptions of the argument. Be sure to explain how the argument depends on the assumptions and what the implications are if the assumptions prove unwarranted.

Score 6 response:

While it may be true that the Mason City government ought to devote more money to riverside recreational facilities, this author's argument does not make a cogent case for increased resources based on river use. It is easy to understand why city residents would want a cleaner river, but this argument is rife with holes and assumptions, and thus, not strong enough to lead to increased funding.

Citing surveys of city residents, the author reports city resident's love of water sports. It is not clear, however, the scope and validity of that survey. For example, the survey could have asked residents if they prefer using the river for water sports or would like to see a hydroelectric dam built, which may have swayed residents toward river sports. The sample may not have been representative of city residents, asking only those residents who live upon the river. The survey may have been 10 pages long, with 2 questions dedicated to river sports. We just do not know. Unless the survey is fully representative, valid, and reliable, it cannot be used to effectively back the author's argument.

Additionally, the author implies that residents do not use the river for swimming, boating, and fishing, despite their professed interest, because the water is polluted and smelly. While a polluted, smelly river would likely cut down on river sports, a concrete connection between the resident's lack of river use and the river's current state is not effectively made. Though there have been complaints, we do not know if there have been numerous complaints from a wide range of people, or perhaps from one or two individuals who made numerous complaints. To strengthen his/her argument, the author would benefit from implementing a normed survey asking a wide range of residents why they do not currently use the river.

Building upon the implication that residents do not use the river due to the quality of the river's water and the smell, the author suggests that a river clean-up will result in increased river usage. If the river's water quality and smell result from problems which can be cleaned, this may be true. For example, if the decreased water quality and aroma is caused by pollution by factories along the river, this conceivably could be remedied. But if the quality and aroma results from the natural mineral deposits in the water or surrounding rock, this may not be true. There are some bodies of water which emit a strong smell of sulphur due to the geography of the area. This is not something likely to be affected by a clean-up. Consequently, a river clean up may have no impact upon river usage. Regardless of whether the river's quality is able to be improved or not, the author does not effectively show a connection between water quality and river usage.

A clean, beautiful, safe river often adds to a city's property values, leads to increased tourism and revenue from those who come to take advantage of the river, and a better overall quality of life for residents. For these reasons, city government may decide to invest in improving riverside recreational facilities. However, this author's argument is not likely significantly persuading the city government to allocate increased funding.

Score 3 response:

Surveys are created to speak for the people; however, surveys do not always speak for the whole community. A survey completed by Mason City residents concluded that the residents enjoy water sports as a form of recreation. If that is so evident, why has the river not been used? The blame cannot be solely being placed on the city park department. The city park department can only do as much as they observe. The real issue is not the resident's use of the river, but their desire for a more pleasant smell and a more pleasant sight. If the city government cleans the river, it might take years for the smell to go away. If the budget is changed to accommodate the clean-up of the Mason River, other problems will arise. The residents will then begin to complain about other issues in their city that will be ignored because of the great emphasis being placed on Mason River. If more money is taken out of the budget to clean the river an assumption can be made. This assumption is that the budget for another part of city maintenance or building will be tapped into to. In addition, to the budget being used to clean up Mason River, it will also be allocated in increasing riverside recreational facilities. The government is trying to appease its residents, and one can warrant that the role of the government is to please the people. There are many assumptions being made; however, the government can not make the assumption that people want the river to be cleaned so that they can use it for recreational water activities. The government has to realize the long term effects that their decision will have on the monetary value of their budget.

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