English Proficiency Test Solutions

GMAT Analytical Writing Essay Guide

BY

JOSEPH THIONG’O

INTRODUCTION

The GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) takes 30-minutes. One is provided with a writing task, which involves analysis of an argument. The GMAT AWA measures one’s competence to think critically, communicate ideas, and formulate applicable and positive critique of an issue. it is always a computer based exam where one is required to type their essay.

In response to the writing task, it is prudent to avoid the following errors which one may commit consciously or unconsciously as one develops his or her essay. Constantly question the ASSUMPTIONS informing your assertions can help in writing an essay that is acceptable. When developing your analysis, avoid the following fallacies.

  1. Fallacies of Induction

Accident – this is a wide generalization which may be employed in a situation that warrant an exception. Example: Visitors are supposed to seek direction at the reception, so your mother should ask the receptionist for the direction to your office even if she has been here before and she knows your office. Explain the error in this form of reasoning by pointing at exemptions to the general rule, and show that this is an example of such an exception.

Biased Sample Example. 60% of six-year-old kids can do simple addition. Therefore, all six-year-old kids do simple addition. Interrogate this statement by showing that the difference can arise between the sample and the total population and how this could change the final outcome of the survey.

Circular Argument – this is an argument with two premises, yet the second premise is erroneously presented as a conclusion of the first premise. Example. Eating grass is bad, so people shouldn’t eat grass, because it is bad. The writer in this case has not provided any facts as to whether eating grass is good or bad. You can therefore decide to agree or to disagree with the statement. If you disagree with the statement, it does not present any facts to convince you to believe in it. If you believe in it, it does not provide facts to back what you are believing in. If you decide to disagree, the statement does not present facts that can convince you to accept it. If you aren’t sure whether to agree or to disagree, the statement does not provide facts to help you to decide.

Converse Accident – In this case an exception is used in a situation that demands a generalization. Example. If it’s okay for her to come to work with her child, then we should all be allowed to come to work with our children. In this case you need to interrogate the exception and indicate why it should not replace the generalization.

False Analogy A is like B. B has property C. Therefore, A has property C. This becomes a mistake if A and B have a difference that affects C.) Example. A Dog is a mammal; a horse is a mammal. Therefore, we should ride dogs the way we ride horses. This analogy is not perfect because it hinges on a fact that is defeated by other conditions that are not common in A and B.The power of an analogy to convince is based on the strength of the similarity breeding the presumed equivalences. This mistake arises when the writer ignores other facts about the subjects. You can point at these other facts and show how they affect the analogy to disqualify the analogy. Example. Mary is a woman. Mary is a smoker. Mary’s novel became a bestseller. Susan is a woman. Susan is writing her first novel. Susan’s novel will be a bestseller if she starts smoking like Mary. Interrogate the assumptions one is using to draw the analogy.

Hasty Generalization – this error arises when the actions of a small sample is used to draw conclusions about a larger sample. Example: My daughter learnt how to read at the age of three. Therefore, all girls can learn how to read at the age of three. This may apply to the girls who have the same characteristics that enabled my daughter to read, but not to all girls in general. This argument can be disqualified by pointing at other conditions that invalidate the assumptions relied upon in the creation of the statement. Example: My son could ride a bicycle at the age of three, therefore all boys can learn how to cycle at the age of three.

(Fallacy of Exclusion) One-Sidedness – this error arises when the facts of one side of the argument are presented and the facts about the other side are ignored. Example. There is enough oil in the world so there’s no need to drill more. It is not good for the environment. This assumption ignores the fact that the oil that has already been drilled is still being used. To invalidate this statement, present the facts that have been ignored. In addition, explain how the ignored facts can change the conclusion.

  1. Fallacies of Distraction – Misuse of an Operator

Argument from Ignorance – this is the assumption that a situation is true (or false.) if there is no evidence. This error of reason results from misuse of NOT. Example. There is no evidence proving that planet called Joe after Pluto doesn’t exist, therefore planet Joe exists. You can pinpoint the error by observing that the conclusion may either be true or false.

False Dilemma – Either A or B. Not-A. Therefore, B. Example. You are either our friend or our enemy. You are not our friend; therefore, you are our enemy. Question: what if I am a stranger? Example 2. You are either an American or a Chinese. Question: what if one is a Japanese?This error results from misuse of the OR. In this case, Contraries are treated as if they are contradictories.

Contraries mean, two statements, where one may be true, but both can also be false. Example: Laura is 24 years old, or she is 26 years old.

Contradictories are two statements exactly one of which must be true. (You are 24 years old, or you are not 24 years old.) You can point at this error by pointing at a third alternative. What if Laura is 25 years old?

Slippery Slope – this is an error of reason that results from misuse of the IF-THEN condition. If X is permitted, then slowly Y, and Z. Example: if intermarriages are allowed, then finally people will be marrying even trees. This is a common error of reasoning employed to fight against social change, which the majority may find uncomfortable. The distance, and the proportion from X to Y weakensthe argument.

Loaded or Complex Question – This is a question that pools two questions, and assumes them to be one. One presupposes an answer to the first question and assumes it to be a fact. This error of reason results from misuse of AND.  Example: Have you stopped smoking? If you say yes, you are accepting you used to smoke. If you say no it means you are still smoking. The question does not present one with an option to say they are nonsmokers. Such questions do not have direct answers. These are common questions especially with journalists and they are intended to yield false answers. Example 2 are you still beating your husband? A yes to this question acknowledges you beat him; a no answer means you used to beat him. The question doesn’t however present the alternative that one is single, or married but doesn’t beat the husband. 

  1. Syllogistic Errors, Fallacies of Propositional Logic, and Non-Sequiturs

Affirmative Conclusion from a Negative Premise – this is an error that results from three statements that lead to a conclusion in spite of having one negative premise. Suzanne is a woman. Some women don’t plait their hair. Therefore, Suzanne doesn’t plait her hair.

Affirming the Consequent – if M Then N. N. Therefore, M. Example. If hunger is as a result of government policies, there can be an increase in it. There is hunger in the country, therefore, hunger is the result of government policies. Example 2. Failure to pick a call is a sign of rudeness. She hasn’t picked her call after called twice. Therefore, she is rude. To pinpoint this error, cite other possibilities that can lead to one not picking their call, which may not necessarily be construed as rudeness. This is one of the common ways in which people reason in order to control others. You can counter this argument by citing other possibilities other than what is being alleged.

Affirming a Disjunct M or N. M. Therefore, Not-Q. Example. You are hungry or satisfied. You are satisfied therefore you are not hungry. In this condition, “or” separates two contradictories; i.e. two declarations which both cannot be true, but one of which need be true. To pinpoint the error, show how the two can coexist together. Example, you are a pagan or a Sinner. You are a pagan therefore; you are not a sinner. Disjunct means a substitute.

Commutation of Conditionals – If P then Q. Therefore, if Q Then P. Example. If you know how to talk to people nicely you are a conman. You are a conman because you talk to people nicely. Explain the error in this by pointing at possible exceptions. Example 2. You cannot be a president if you are not 35 ears and above. You are over 35 years therefore you are a president. It does not necessarily follow can be a good way of remedying this error of reason.   

Denying the Antecedent – If A then B. Not A. Therefore, not-B. Ex. – If you use powder on your face you will be beautiful. You don’t use powder on your face, therefore you are ugly. Counter-Ex. If you are a scientist, you are good at mathematics. You are not a scientist; therefore, you are not good at mathematics. This is a common fallacy in advertisement. Invalidate it by showing that B can happen independent of A.

Denying a Conjunct – Not both A and B. Not A. Therefore, B. Example. You cannot be a critic of the government and a traitor. You aren’t a government critic; therefore, you are a traitor. You can invalidate this argument by showing that there are possibilities besides A or B. Example 2. The tea cannot be hot and cold at the same time. The tea is not cold; therefore, it is hot. Question: What if it is only warm?

Exclusive Premises – This is a fallacy that uses two negative premises to arrive at a conclusion. No X are Y. No Y are Z. Therefore, no X are Z. Example. X – no rich people are lazy. Y – no hard working people are poor. Z –  no hard working people are rich. Prove it a fallacy by citing an example of x who are z. For this argument to be valid, at least one of the premises should be affirmative.

Inconsistency – This is an argument whose premises contradict or are contrary. Example. Daniel is a better dancer than Charles. Francis is a better dancer than Charles. Therefore, Daniel is a better dancer than Francis. To explain this fallacy, show the inconsistency by displaying that although one is true, it is not a fact that it is also a fact in the second case. So, Daniel must not be a better dancer than Francis because he is a better dancer than Charles.

Illicit Conversion – All A are B. Therefore, all B are A. (or Some A are not B, Therefore, some B are not A.) Example. All Catholics are Christians. Therefore, all Christians are Catholics. You can explain this fallacy by citing an assumption such as. All Scholars love books. Therefore, all book lovers are scholars. You can proveit a fallacy by showing examples which don’t necessarily follow the conclusion. Example.  All Luos are Africans, All Africans are Luos.

Illicit Major – All M are N. No O are M. Therefore, no O are N. Example: All Democrats are religious. No Republicans are Democrats. Therefore, no Republicans are religious. Detect this error by observing that the error results in a premise that refers to some members of a group, while the conclusion refers to all the groups. To prove that this is a fallacy, show that it is possible for some people to belong to two groups. Example: All Luos are People. No Hindu are a Luos, therefore no Hindu are people. 

Illicit Minor – All X are Y. All Y are Z. Therefore, all Z are X. Example. All Fanatics are extremists. All extremists are Religious therefore all Religious people are Fanatics. This can be countered as follows by giving an example such as; All cows are mammals. All mammals are animals, Therefore, all mammals are cows. To prove that this is a fallacy, show that a variable can be Z but not X. Example. All Oranges are fruits. All fruits are plants; therefore, all plants are Oranges.

Improper Transposition – If J then K. Therefore, if not J then not K. Example. If you take oranges at night you will be intelligent. So if you don’t take oranges at night you will not be intelligent. Explain this fallacy by showing a way K can exist without J.

Undistributed Middle Term – All J are L. All K are L. Therefore, all J are K. Example. All readers use books. All students use books. Therefore, all readers are students. Counter-Ex. All donkeys have four legs. All horses have four legs. Therefore, donkeys are horses. This fallacy assumes a connection between two unconnected categories because of a different trait which they share. You can prove this fallacy by explaining that the two categories are unconnected in significant ways that do not warrant the conclusion.

  1. Fallacies of Ambiguity

Accent – this is a statement that makes one interpret the opposite of what is stated. Example. This time Mr Politician won the election fairly. Supposed to mean there are times when he won unfairly. This is used as an insult to someone. The speaker feigns they were only telling the truth.

Equivocation – this is a statement that suggests the opposite of what it suggests.  Example I trust my Lord. The word Lord in this context can have different connotations.It is therefore necessary to seek clarification of the definition one is attaching to the terms. There is an assumption that one person’s interpretation also applies to the others while this could not be the case.

Ambiguous Middle – this is an argument whose middle term is ambiguous Example. Birds are wild animals. Chicken are related to birds. Therefore, chicken are wild animals. Counter- Example. All life is holy. Cockroaches are God’s creation. Therefore, it would be wrong to kill them. Asking for the definition of the middle term can provide a counter to this fallacious argument.

Amphiboly – this is a fallacy that results from ambiguous grammar, not necessarily from ambiguous words. Example. He was using a fallacious argument to sell me the watch, but finally I didn’t buy it. There I need to clarify what the writer did not buy. Is it the watch or the argument? This can be countered by asking for clarity of the definition of the ambiguous term.

Quoting Out of Context – example Psalm 1:1, which actually says, “Blessed is the man who walketh not in the councils of the ungodly…”so I will not walk, I will use the bike. This can be countered by finding the quote, and reading the original intended meaning in context.

  1. Misdirection or Changing the Subject

Appeal to Authority – Authority A believes X is true, therefore X is true. This results from mistaking the authority; often has it has been in the past. The name of an authority is used to rubberstamp what is being alleged, but the information under examination doesn’t belong to the authority. This can be countered by examining if the authority being quoted is an authority on the topic at hand. And if other authorities accept what is being stated. Example According to Prof. So-n-so, A Verb is a doing word. The verb sing doesn’t sing; the verb jump doesn’t jump. This is therefore wrong, regardless of who the authority is. This is because a verb is not a doing word but a word that describes an action.

Appeal to Force – Not really an argument at all, not even a fallacious one. Is compelling the other party to accept one’s argument but without attaching logical facts that can support what one is forcing the other to accept or believe. Example. You have three minutes to make it to my office. Failure to which you shouldn’t regret the consequences. This can be countered by identifying the threat, and explaining that the threat has nothing to do with the main issue at hand.

Appeal to Popularity – Idea A is popular. Therefore, A is correct. Example. 90 out of 100 agree that a verb is a doing word… 90 can, in fact, be wrong.

Argument ad Hominem – This is an introduction of irrelevant personal remarks about your challenger, instead of addressing the issue at hand. You cheat on your wife, go away. We can’t accept what you are saying. May be what the person was saying is a fact. E.g. water boils at 100 degrees Celsius at sea level.

Bad Company or Guilt by Association A accepts idea B, therefore B must be wrong. Example. Thieves use herbal medicine; therefore, herbal medicine is bad. This can be countered by showing there is no relationship between the person A and the presumed facts B Example Idi Amin Dada was courageous; therefore, courage is bad. This can be countered by showing that the two have nothing to do with each other.

Red Herring – this is the introduction of an irrelevant argument to distract the other party. Example. Why do always come home late? Answer, Bur this is my house I can come anytime I want? The reason why one comes late and the issue of ownership of the house are not related.

Straw Man – This is a fallacy that results from a false and most often weak and/or risky position is attributed to an opponent, to defeat their position and the speaker claims victory. Example poor people are also the laziest. So they shouldn’t cry to the government for aid. In the meantime, the opponent’s real argument is ignored. Maybe their argument was, there are no equal opportunities for all in the policies informing distribution of resources. This can be countered by finding or explaining the real opponent’s real positions.

Tu Quoque – this is turning criticism back on the challenger, instead of addressing the point they have raised. The intention of the respondent is to make the challenger to be defensive. This can be countered by showing that the second remark leveled against the challenger has nothing to do this the issue the challenger had raised. Example: John why did you steal the old woman’s mangoes? John responds, “Aren’t you a drug peddler yourself? Notice that John is taking defense by criticizing the challenger instead of answering the question he has been asked. 

Two Wrongs Make a Right – this is justifying a wrong by pointing at someone else’s wrong. Example. I kept the watch Tom left at my house because he cheats on his wife. This is common with people who want to take revenge. In the claim that they are justified in committing a wrong because the other party did something wrong. It can be countered by pointing out that the second wrong action does not remedy the first wrong.

  1. Fallacies of Causality

Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc – Event A and B both happened at once. Therefore, A caused B. Example he always visit when we fry chicken. It could be a case of coincidence. This can be countered by asking for explanation or by looking for other causal factors other than what is alleged.

Post Hoc – Event C happened immediately before even D. Therefore, C caused D. Example The kid died after watching the TV Program. So the TV program made the child to die. This is attaching an unrelated issue to a situation.

Wrong Direction – This fallacy occurs when the effect is confused for the cause. We saw the light in the morning, then we saw the sun. So the light we saw caused the sun.

THE FOLLOWING TEN POINTS CAN GUIDE IN COUNTERCHECKING ONES IDEAS IN ORDER TO AVOID THE ABOVE ERRORS WHEN WRITING

  1. What exactly is the main issue?
  2. How can I best approach the issue?
  3. I’m I agreeing with all or sections of the issue? Why or why not?
  4. Is the claim based on logical reason? And if so what are the informing assumptions?
  5. Is the fact sound under certain conditions? If yes, which ones?
  6. How can I explain some of the terms and concepts used in the claim?
  7. If I defend one side of the issue how can I defend my position?
  8. What evidence can I present to back defense?
  9. What counter argument could opposing ideas and views present?

How can I defend my position against such opposing views?

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