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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BK4Ie-aeBQ <--- click the link.(or don't if you don't have much of a sense of humor) :-D
Issue and Argument Analysis
Here’s a little help for the General GRE Issue and Argument Analysis tasks. This should also help you with similar SAT questions, or any test question where you are asked to argue an issue or analyze an argument.
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One way to do such an essay is to use the IRAC (Issue; Rule; Analysis;Counteranalysis/Conclusion) model, often used to answer bar exam questions.
Here’s a prompt from The Official Guide to the GRE Revised General Test (2nd Edition), p. 16:
As people rely more and more on technology to solve problems, the ability of people to think for themselves will surely deteriorate.
Issue: What is/are the issue(s)? State them explicitly at the beginning: “The issue presented here is: Does technology that can ‘think’ for us diminish our ability to think?” [This is a response to
Rule: State the “rule” you will use, which can simply be your position (in which case the acronym might be IPAC). A statement of a “rule” might be “The ability to think may best be defined as the ability to perceive and analyze arguments and data, and to plan responses and actions based on analyses of those arguments and data. In other words, I define ‘ability to think’ as the ability to think critically, not the rote memorization of data (the names of all 44 U.S. presidents, listed in order) or algorithms for processing data (e.g. trigonometric function values).”
A statement of a position would be something like “I do not believe information technology diminishes our ability to think.” Perhaps the best approach would be to state “My definition of the ability to think leads me to conclude that information technology does not interfere with our ability to think, but rather enhances it.”
Analysis: State your examples; your specific reasons why you believe your analysis is correct.
For example, we can elaborate on the “rule” stated above:
I believe that information technology allows us to have facts available instantaneously, through Google, which allows us search the vast repository of information that is the World Wide Web, and to make mathematical calculations instantaneously and accurately with inexpensive electronic calculators. Word processors can instantly spell-check our writing and even make suggestions regarding style and grammar. These calculation and spell-check abilities exist even on our cell phones. These allow us to quickly focus on more important topics – the substance of the messages we send to others, rather than the spelling of the words, or the applicability of our mathematical formulas and models to reality, instead of the accuracy of our multiplication. Camera systems on our cars show us rear views with outlines to allow us to park and steer without hitting objects behind us, saving untold time, negative emotions and money, and allowing us to focus on more positive pursuits.
Address the possible objections people might have – the “other side” of your argument. Arguments often have more than two sides, so there may be more than just one “other side.” Take a few minutes to address the strongest arguments against your position. For example, returning to our technology example.
While some fear that instant access to information will cause our mental abilities (e.g. the ability to do math without a calculator, to spell correctly without a spell-checker, and to remember historical facts) to atrophy and make us lazy and dependent slaves to technology controlled by a few technological overlords, I believe the automation of calculation and storage of trivial details is best left to machines suited for that purpose. Even history is better recorded on electronic and mechanical storage devices, which are not subject to the vagaries of human memory, than left to oral tradition.
Certainly, mechanical algorithms, by definition, are best left to machines. However, not having to be able to perform long division with a pencil and paper does not relieve us of the task of knowing when to perform long division, the appropriate mathematical formula to use to solve a given problem – i.e., how to “Set up the problem.” Similarly, freedom from the task of memorizing historical facts, or of remembering how to spell the word “relieve” correctly, does not relieve us of the responsibility to learn the broad lessons of history in order to avoid repeating mistakes of the past, or the ability use words correctly in clear coherent writing.
We have all seen “spell-check errors” in word-processed documents, where a similarly-spelled word is inadvertently substituted for another – e.g., “relive” for “relieve.” Smartphone “autocorrect” errors are a source of everyday annoyance and humor. The existence of computers and graphing calculators have not made the latest generations into brilliant mathematicians, scientists, and engineers, since having computing machines does not mean they know how to use them. People still believe old political lies and vote for charismatic candidates who work against the people’s best interests. These situations all illustrate that some people will be wise critical thinkers, whereas others will not, regardless of technology.
Conclusion: Sum up the point of your argument in one paragraph.
While technology can relieve us of some of our mental burdens, it cannot relieve us of the responsibility to think for ourselves, as we see every day. Therefore, even with technological advances, we still have to remain mentally “sharp,” and our critical thinking faculties will not deteriorate any more than people already allow, regardless of technology.
From The Official Guide to the GRE Revised General Test (2nd Edition), p. 16:
In surveys Mason City residents rank water sports (swimming, boating, and fishing) among their favorite recreational activities. The Mason River following through the city is rarely used for these pursuits, however, and the city park department dedicates 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.
We can also use the IRAC model here. There are multiple issues to analyze here, so we can break it up, either by issue-by-issue, or simply by grouping all the issues together, and by analyzing them together. I will choose the latter method. Here’s a sample response, using IRAC.
This argument assumes the following : (1) that the survey results are representative of the opinions of Mason City residents; (2); that the water’s poor quality and smell keeps Mason City’s people from using the Mason River for water sports; (3) that Mason City residents will actually use the Mason River for water sports if it is cleaned up; (4) that the state cleanup will actually happen, and improve the water quality and smell by next year; (5) that riverside recreational facilities are necessary for water sports in the Mason River; and (6) that greater expenditures are necessary to maintain such facilities.
Survey results are only as good as the questions asked in them, the people who asked them, and the people who answered them. Therefore, we don’t know if we can rely on the survey results without asking further questions, as I will discuss below.
Correlation is not causation. We don’t know that the poor water quality and smell, or the lack of city expenditure on riverside recreational facilities, causes people not to play water sports in the Mason River, for the reasons I will state below.
The fact that something is planned or announced does not guarantee it will happen, and both projects and natural processes can take longer than we would like. Therefore, it makes no sense to plan next year’s municipal expenditures based on a cleanup that may or may not have the river in better shape by next year, a fact on which I will elaborate.
We don’t know if the survey regarding water sports is accurate, since we do not know how, or to whom, the questions were asked. People often overstate the number and scope of activities in which they engage, in order to make themselves look more active and interesting to survey interviewers. We also don’t know how the survey was conducted- for example, a survey done by telephone on landlines will eliminate people who don’t own landline phones, or a survey done through the Internet may be answered inaccurately by someone who thinks it would be fun to pull a prank on the interviewer, who can’t tell if the answers were meant to be serious or not. We need to see if the people’s reported recreational preferences comport with reality – i.e., are the beaches, rivers, lakes, ponds, and pools that do not suffer from the same water quality problems used by the people of Mason City and nearby towns to a greater extent than people use the Mason River? If not, city funds may be better spent on facilities actually used by the public (e.g., athletic fields, schools, public libraries) general maintenance (e.g., roads, sewers), or public services (e.g., the fire department, police).
Even assuming that watersports are popular in Mason City, water pollution may not be the reason the river is not a popular site for such sports: there may be another body of water more suited to boating; local swimmers may prefer swimming pools to natural bodies of water; the fishing may be poor in the Mason River for reasons unrelated to water quality and smell. Therefore, a cleanup of the Mason River may do nothing to increase water sports activity along the riverfront. As stated above need to know if Mason City residents currently use other, less-polluted bodies of water, or swimming pools, for water sports at this time. If not, there is no point in spending more money on riverfront facilities that will not be used.
For the sake of argument, if we assume that watersports in the Mason River are unpopular because of the poor water quality, there is no reason to assume that current expenditures, if any, on riverside recreational facilities are inadequate. People often use natural bodies of water for boating, fishing, and swimming with very few improvements other than a basic marina, park, and parking lot, which may require very little funding.
Finally, even assuming, arguendo, that all water sports in the Mason River would be popular if the water quality and smell were improved, and current riverside recreational facility funding is not adequate to handle the increased demand, there is no guarantee that the state government will actually clean up the river, or that the cleanup will significantly reduce the problems by next year. Projects announced by governments (or private actors) can be cancelled because of last-minute budget cuts, natural disasters, or other events. The natural or human processes involved in river cleanup may take longer than a year to have any effect, no matter how effective they eventually are. Therefore, increased municipal expenditures on riverside recreational facilities could very well be premature and wasteful, using money that would best be spent elsewhere.
[Given the nature of this sort of question, there is really no need for a counteranalysis: we are being asked to make a counterargument to the argument given to us in the prompt. Therefore, a conclusion is all we need to finish this question. For example:]
The proposal to increase expenditures on riverside recreational facilities in Mason City is well-intentioned, but seriously flawed. One study and an optimistic state announcement of the cleanup of the Mason River should not be the basis for a decision to increase next year’s spending on riverside recreational facilities until we know the cleanup will happen, how long it will take, and if such facilities will be used more often after the cleanup.
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Don't Go to the SPA!
What’s wrong with a nice, rejuvenating day of relaxing massage, hot tubs, saunas, and skin treatments, you ask? Nothing. I don’t mean that kind of spa. I mean the “Sucker Punch Answer.” A sucker-punch answer (“SPA”) is a wrong answer choice that looks right for just long enough for you to pick it, feel confident enough not to check the other answers, and go merrily on your way, having picked the wrong answer.
SPAs are often Answer A. For example, when I took the PSAT (NMSQT), the first math question was – 23 = ? I picked “6” because it was the first answer. Don’t worry; I still qualified for a National Merit Scholarship, but still, it’s a stupid mistake that haunts me to this day. (*shakes fist to sky and yells “Why six? WHY? ;-)”*) Basically, just look at all the answers and double-check your work. It doesn’t take much time (you can shave time off by memorizing the instructions for sections ahead of time and knowing the math facts at the beginning of math sections, along with other things), and can gain you extra points.
For a verbal question, a SPA is often a fact you know is true about the subject of a passage you just read, but is not actually IN the passage. Perhaps a passage on geology mentions metamorphic rock, but doesn’t mention how it is formed, but an answer choice says “pressure is key to the formation of metamorphic rock” is an answer choice. Answers that aren’t stated or obviously implied in the passage(s) mentioned in the questions are NEVER the right answers, even if they are factually correct. This is how knowing something about a question topic can hurt you.
Remember, the makers of the SATs and other standardized tests cannot afford to be seen as asking questions that are unfairly biased against students from different social classes, ethnicities, and the like. That means they really can’t assume any particular student has read any particular author, has had any particular life experience (other than perhaps school attendance or retail shopping), or knows any particular subject other than the grammar of Standard American English and the mathematics covered by the end of 10th grade in most U.S. high schools. Therefore, they can’t ask you anything that you can’t get from the passage. Make sure your answer is in the passage, not just correct.
Don’t Listen to SKA. No, I don’t mean ska music – get as skanky as you want! I mean the Smart Kid Answer, or SKA. One popular SKA for math questions is “It cannot be determined from the information provided.” This one is a popular choice for students who don’t know how to solve a problem, but figure “Ooh! I’ll bet the smart kids know why there’s not enough information to solve this problem! It’s like when I BS-ed my math teacher by saying a step in my proof was ‘for obvious reasons!’ Wooohoo!” Most of the time, you’ll be wrong when you choose this answer, unless you know for sure that the other answers are wrong or exactly what information you need that you don’t have. In other words, it’s a really bad guess; if you think another answer might be right, choose that one instead.
For a verbal question, a SKA may be something that you’ve read or heard before, that you vaguely remember having some connection to the subject of a passage. For example, one review book for the SSAT, ISEE, etc. had a short passage question where the author wrote of his search for an emotional connection, one he later found with his wife, then his fear the emotional connection would end if she died before him (how cheery!). One question asked what the main subject of the passage was, and the SKA was basically “the author’s fear of intimacy.” Now that’s something a young student may have heard of on TV, seen in the press, or on the Internet, etc., so he or she would be tempted to pick that one. However, from reading the passage, we know that’s the exact opposite of the right answer, which would have to be that the author sought, found, and fears LOSING intimacy (the right answer was something like “the author’s desire for a personal connection” – they can make right answers look wrong, too!).
For a sentence completion or other vocabulary question (it depends on the test you’re taking), the SKA is the word you don’t understand. I know it’s tempting to think “Ah, it’s the word I don’t know, so the smart kids know this one’s the right answer!” That may be correct, but more likely, it’s a SKA, and it’s a trap. Don’t pick it unless you’re sure that none of the words you recognize (including secondary, less-often-used meanings) are wrong.
The best way to avoid verbal-question SPAs and SKAs is to learn as much vocabulary as you can before the test, and to read the passages very carefully. If it’s not in the passage, it’s not right. If it’s not a word you know, make sure none of the words you DO know are all completely wrong. That should keep you out of the SPA and away from the SKA!
Panicked Over the Upcoming SAT?
Are you taking the SAT coming up on Saturday? Did you not study enough? Don’t panic. Close the “1001 Great Jobs You Can Get With No College Degree” webpage. I have some advice that may help you, as long as you have an SAT review book, such as Barron’s SAT or any SAT review book.
A Little Advice on Advice.
I'm doing the best I can to give you the best advice. However, I am by no means the final authority on test taking, studying, or school admissions. Please check with the college, grad school, high school to which you are applying for information on deadlines, what tests to take, what courses to take, etc. The same goes for the SAT, ACT, LSAT advice. While I’m happy to give you advice about answering questions, you should check with the test makers and administrators their sites for fees, application deadlines, test dates, etc. I can’t be responsible for your missing a deadline, taking the wrong test, etc.
To put it another way, did you ever have a brother or sister tell you “Mom said you have to do the dishes?” If you were smart, you went and asked your mom. If you weren’t so smart, you ended up doing a chore your brother or sister was supposed to do. I received similar bad advice from my high school guidance counselor, who, when I asked him about applying for Achievement Tests (what they called SAT Subject Tests back then), replied “You take those only for placement once you’re already accepted into college, when you are at the peak [emphasis his] of your knowledge.” Fortunately, I’d read the applications to the colleges I wanted to attend, and thought “But that’s past the peak of the application deadline, and they’re required.” So I just got my own application and followed the instructions.
The lesson here is, if you read anything here that contradicts what a school or test maker says about deadlines, test dates, or application fees, don’t take MY advice; listen to what the school says! It’s really easy to find out the information directly from the source, whether it’s a test date, if your calculator can be used on the SAT, whether you’re allowed to bring/will be provided scrap paper, or what you need to do if you need a reasonable accommodation for a disability – just go to their website, and email or call if you can’t get an answer from the site.
For example, here’s a great site for information regarding the questions I just listed, and more, at least regarding the SAT: http://sat.collegeboard.org/register/sat-test-day-tips
However, if the advice about test-taking techniques, study habits, etc., you can take much of what the test makers say “with a grain of salt.” Test makers don’t want to give away their secrets, and often are rather defensive about valid criticisms of their tests’ methods, validity, usefulness as a predictor of college success, and the like. It’s a great idea to use Google to look at what major test prep companies (e.g., Kaplan, The Princeton Review, Varsity Tutors), solid local ones (Think Tank Learning, Elite Educational Institute), or independent college admissions counselors have to say about the tests, in addition to reading my opinions on this blog or contacting me with your questions.
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.