Doing well on the Analysis of Argument section of GMAT will ensure you do well overall. Watch the video below to learn more.
Analysis of Argument on the GMAT Test [Transcrip]
In the last lesson, we learned the general strategy for tackling the analysis of an argument essay. In this lesson, we’ll look at some tips for handling the first three steps of this strategy. Here, we are essentially identifying some points to discuss in our essay. Let’s begin by taking a closer look at each of these steps, and then we’ll apply some new strategies to some specific argument.
So, our first step here is to identify and summarize the evidence used in the argument and to also identify the conclusion. This is a crucial step since our task is to critique how well the author’s conclusion follows from the evidence, and we cannot do that if we have not identified the key parts of the argument. Now, once we have deconstructed the argument, we’re ready for the second step, which is listing the flaws in the argument. To help us identify flaws, we should first determine whether the author uses any of the common argumentative strategies to draw his or her conclusion. The three most common strategies are cause and effect, statistical, and analogy. With each strategy, watch out for common mistakes associated with that strategy.
For example, with cause and effect arguments, a common mistake is to conclude that X causes Y when it could be the case that Y causes X. Or perhaps some other factor causes Y. For our statistical arguments, a common flaw is that the sample is not representative of the entire population. Or sometimes the, conclusion does not match the statistics. For analogy arguments, the author takes two things that share a certain set of characteristics, and then makes conclusions about additional characteristics that the two things should share. For analogy arguments, there just may not be enough similarity between the two analogous things to draw reasonable conclusions.
Now, in addition to watching out for the flaws associated with the three most common argumentative strategies, you should also watch out for common flaws. For example, watch out for any unsubstantiated assumptions the author makes in drawing a conclusion. Also watch out for the use of vague or ambiguous words. For example, words like “some,” “many” and “few” can have many meanings. So, an argument that uses these words may not provide the evidence required to justify the author’s conclusion.
Another common flaw is failing to consider the fundamentals of supply and demand. So, if an argument is related to business, which many are, see if the author has failed to consider supply and demand when drawing a conclusion.
Finally, one of the most common mistakes is taking weak evidence and drawing a strong conclusion. All right, so these are the kinds of flaws we should be looking for in an argument. Now, let’s see what flaws we can find with this argument.
Well, our first step before looking for any flaws is to identify the evidence and the conclusion. Beginning with the evidence, we are told that color photographs are more true to life, magazines use color photographs more than black and white ones, many newspapers are starting to use color photographs, portrait studios use more color photographs, and there are more types of color film than black and white film available. Given this evidence, the author concludes that photographers working in color have an advantage over those working in black and white.
At this point, let’s move our information off to the side and start looking for flaws. Now, please remember that we’re looking for points that suggest the author’s conclusion does not necessarily follow from the evidence. So, when we’re doing this, we must not question the truth of the evidence. For example, in this argument we cannot question the fact that magazines use more color photographs than black and white photographs. We must assume that this information is true. All we can do is critique the conclusion the author makes based on the information.
Okay, given that, let’s find some flaws. Well, to begin, although the author does not supply any specific numbers, there is an informal statistical argument here since the author uses the incidence of color photography in magazines, newspapers, and portrait studios to make a conclusion about the entire market for color photography. Now when it comes to any statistical argument, we should determine whether the sample accurately represents the entire population.
So in this example, is the demand for color photographs among magazines, newspapers, and portrait studios representative of the overall demand for color photographs? Well, since photographs are also used in books, journals, packaging, catalogs, billboards to name a few, it’s possible that the sample of media the author uses doesn’t accurately represent the overall demand for color photographs. So this is one flaw. What are some others?
Another flaw is the ambiguous words the author uses in the argument. For example, the author prefaces the argument by stating that the following information is important for photographers who wish to be successful. But this word can have different meanings for different people. For example, if by “success,” the author means artistic recognition, then it’s quite possible that photographers working in black and white have an advantage over those working in color. If on the other hand, “success” means strictly financial gains, then that could mean something else. Since we do not have clear reason to accept one definition over another, it is difficult to draw a reasonable conclusion.
Similarly, the author states that of the thousands of newspapers across the world, many are starting to use color photographs. But what does the word “many” mean here? For example, many could mean five or six, in which case there is little reason to believe that working in color is a good idea. Since this and other terms are so ambiguous, it’s difficult to use the information to draw a reasonable conclusion.
Now, another flaw in this argument is related to supply and demand. The author suggests that since there appears to be a high demand for color photographs, it can be concluded that photographers will be successful if they work in color. But what about the supply side of this argument? How many photographers are working in color? If there are millions of photographers already working in color, then the competition might make it very difficult to be successful working in color.
Conversely, if there are very few photographers working in black and white, then a photographer working in black and white might be very successful even if the demand for black and white photographs is not as great as the demand for color photographs. Since the author does not provide any information about the supply a photographers working in color and in black and white, it is impossible to determine whether working in color will be as advantageous as the author concludes.
Now, another flaw in the argument is here, where the author notes that there are more types of color film than black and white film available. Here the author assumes that to be successful, photographers require several different types of film, but there is no reason to believe this. Furthermore, even if it were true that photographers do require several different types of film to be successful, all we are told is that there are more types of color film than black and white film. There is no reason to believe that the supply of black and white film is not sufficient. In fact, given the vagueness of the word “more,” it is possible that there are 500 types of black and white film and 501 types of color film, in which case the variety of film types has no bearing on success here.
Now, another flaw we could mention is that the author’s conclusion is too strong. The author concludes that the photographers who work in color have an advantage over those who work in black and white. But given the somewhat limited evidence, we really can’t make this conclusion with any certainty.
Okay, we could go on, but at this point we already have five flaws, which is more than enough for an essay. Now, before we write the essay however, we should identify some ways to strengthen the argument. When it comes to strengthening arguments, we should examine the flaws we have already identified and see what we might do to fix those flaws. For example, if the author’s conclusion is too strong, we might suggest that the author reduce the force of the conclusion.
So, in our example, the argument could be strengthened if the author were to conclude that working in color may give a photographer an advantage. When it comes to this flaw, regarding the unknown supply of photographers working in color, we can suggest that the argument could be improved by providing this information. The problem regarding the use of vague or ambiguous terms can be fixed by using more specific terms. Now, keep in mind that you need not suggest a fix for every flaw; One or two fixes for your essay will suffice.
All right, at this point, we have enough discussion points for our essay. In the next lesson, we’ll learn how to use these points to write the essay.