Critical Reasoning on the AWA Section of the GMAT

Have you taken the time to really read the Directions for AWA Analysis of an Argument? The directions read like a list of critical reasoning question types! Anything that you can do in critical reasoning you are seemingly encouraged to do on the AWA.

Here are the directions. Can you spot the references to various critical reasoning question types?

“Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.”

Here are the critical reasoning question types followed by the reference found in the directions:

Assumption: “you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking”

Weaken: “what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion”

Strengthen: “You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen …the argument”

Flaw: “what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound”

Most Useful to Know: “what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion”

Plan: While not mentioned in the directions, many arguments involve a plan of some kind, such as transferring investments or raising the price of college residential units.

About the only critical reasoning question types not really covered by the AWA are inference and paradox. This is interesting since the inference and the paradox questions are the two types of questions that are based on a set of facts rather than an argument. An inference question, for example, may be a list of premises and not have a conclusion at all. A paradox also does not feature a conclusion but rather consists of two facts that do not appear to be compatible.

This points the way to a strong position from which to approach the Analysis of an Argument. Approach it like an “Argument!” In critical reasoning you identify the evidence and the main conclusion so that you can analyze the argument. Do the same on the AWA. You will find that the evidence always falls short of fully supporting the conclusion and that is why you have so many options when writing your AWA essay. You can simply expose the Assumptions in the argument. You can offer examples that would Weaken the argument. You can choose to give advice for how to Strengthen it. You can simply point out the existing Flaws. You can indicate the evidence that would be Most Useful to Know. And you can demonstrate how the Plan falls short of the goals.

In sum, you can do anything that you would be asked to do with an argument in the critical reasoning section. The great thing about the AWA is that the choice is yours! Have fun!

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David Newland has been teaching for Veritas Prep since 2006, and he won the Veritas Prep Instructor of the Year award in 2008. Students’ friends often call in asking when he will be teaching next because he really is a Veritas Prep and a GMAT rock star!

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