How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 24 (4th CAT test: 600)

A 600, for 38Q/38V corrected scores. Nowhere near. It’s odd that this week’s meltdown into depression is being reported so precisely; I’d never realised quite how debilitating the Black Dog could be. I may just scrape past 600 next week, some 160 points below my best. Still, it’s been an interesting month; pity it won’t lead anywhere. Today’s essay practice:

Analysis of an Issue

“It makes no sense for people with technological skills to go to college if they know they can earn a good salary without a college degree”

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement? Support your position by using reasons and examples from your reading, your own experience, or your observation of others.

To a technically skilled young person with excellent employment prospects, going to college may seem like a waste of time. Why spend four years in a classroom, when he could be earning money? And if his ambitions extend no further than performing a trade with competence, he may be right. But the value of a college degree extends beyond anything taught in the lecture theatre; the social networks and personal qualities developed at college will continue adding depth and colour over that person’s entire lifetime. So while I sympathise with the author’s tone, I disagree with his conclusion.

As an example, take a 19-year old computer programmer who learned his trade ‘hacking’ in his bedroom for a decade. He’s skilled, yes – and is capable of doing an excellent job at a software company. A job paying, perhaps, over £100,000 a year. If that’s all he wants, great – but even the most interesting jobs become routine. Perhaps in ten years, as he approaches 30, our programmer will feel restless and apply for promotion… but a requirement of progressing to managerial level is a degree. Like it or not, this is the reality of the employment market, and our 19-year old would do well to remember this maxim.

To go further, how much better could our programmer’s technological skills be if they were given a strong theoretical underpinning by a degree? By implanting in his mind the fundamental structures of his trade, he’ll be capable of learning faster, working harder, and doing better work. The best programmers aren’t merely twice as good as the average: they’re ten, a hundred times better. If our 19-year-old has ambitions to be the next Ray Ozzie, he’d be wise to consider taking a few years out for a degree before starting work.

This principle isn’t limited to professional, white collar trades either. The state of Alberta in Canada has low college enrolment figures despite its excellent educational infrastructure: it’s because young people are sucked up by a people-hungry oil industry, where driving a truck can pay a 17-year old over $60,000 a year. Great money for a teenager – but what happens in five years, when oil prices may be lower and the tar sands lie empty? That teenager may rue the day he decided to take the quick, easy money over the long but rewarding slog of college.

Finally, there are other benefits to college besides a degree certificate. The opportunity to play sports, build social networks, and make lifelong friends are a lot less ephemeral than a monthly paycheck. Being young doesn’t last very long; I believe the time is better spent reading and learning than in a striplit cubicle.

In summary, while I’d defend anyone’s right to take a job over college if they want, I strongly believe they should take that decision only after considering all the facts – not the immediate gratification of earning money, but the lifelong benefits a degree can bring.

FAULTS: howler of a typo in ‘opportunity…are’. Not too happy with this: I spent too long on the first para getting my thoughts straight, and had to rush the rest. Only a 4.

Analysis of an Argument

The following appeared as part of an article in a magazine on lifestyles.

“Two years ago, City L was listed 14th in an annual survey that ranks cities according to the quality of life that can be enjoyed by those living in them. This information will enable people who are moving to the state in which City L is located to confidently identify one place, at least, where schools are good, housing is affordable, people are friendly, the environment is safe, and the arts flourish.”

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.

If a town is ranked highly for quality of life, any local council can feel justly proud. But without any context for the lifestyle article, the argument is weak. Anyone considering a move to City L needs more information on the survey’s judging criteria, editorial slant, and sample size.

The judging criteria would be most important. That they covered schools, housing, the locals and the environment is assumed – but not made explicit. Was the lifestyle magazine aimed at (and scored for) young adults, whose current priorities in life may not include a top-ranked junior school nearby? The survey may well have given strong weighting to all the right points, but the argument needs to make this clear.

Secondly, how many cities were included in the survey? Was the poll commissioned for an international magazine, ranking City L against other commonly-cited cities offering a high quality of life such as Vancouver, Copenhagen, and Stockholm? Or did it appear in a local newspaper, comparing City L with the nearby commuter suburbs of Cities A to Z? If so, coming 14th may not represent anything to be proud of.

Further to this, the argument makes no mention of whether other towns in City L’s state are included in the survey…. or if they’re ranked above City L. If even one nearby city is on the list, the author’s claim to be the ‘one place’ in which people moving to the state can have confidence is undermined. If this is the case, the argument is not merely flawed; it is inaccurate.

Finally, the magazine article is two years old… and the survey was presumably conducted several months before that. A lot can happen in two and a half years, and City L may have suffered a budget collapse, natural disaster, or population crunch. We simply don’t know, and by referring to outdated information, the author weakens his argument.

However, with the above caveats, it’s likely that being mentioned in a magazine survey does represent some sort of achievement for City L; the author’s biggest fault is that he doesn’t make the most of the survey. By providing more information about City L’s school situation, social mix, and arts scene, the author could have made his case watertight, especially if City L ranked higher than nearby cities. Accordingly, we must conclude that the author has not made his case effectively. One survey doesn’t make a city great.

FAULTS: This one’s okay, but surprisingly hard to write; anything that makes a decent argument is of course harder. You should have seen the original last para: ‘especially if City L ranked higher than nearby cities not ranked in the survey’ – spotted and edited in the closing seconds, whew. No typos I can see; had five minutes to proofread, much better paced. A 5.

I just know it’s my fault

The correlation’s just too strong now: another huge fire down the road, to go with the Great Fire of Deptford and the Surrey Quays Geyser. It must be my brain doing this. With every last erg of energy and enthusiasm sucked out of me by the Black Dog, basic first-year physics principles suggest it must have gone somewhere; my own hope and potential is causing this stuff, all my lifeforce gurgling out of my broken brain-meat in search of somewhere better. I’m sleeping under the stars tonight, in the cool peace of Greenwich Park. Four walls and a roof aren’t what I need any more.

Black Dog takes over

Sometimes, you read something, and you just gasp as you realise, ‘that’s me.’ Inability to even… feel. The last thing I felt was my head finally going over the edge, on Morning morning, as the sooty clouds of oblivion closed in and the Black Dog just took hold of lfe’s gearstick. I ought to be better at dealing with this sort of stuff; the brain’s just another muscle, after all, and it can be fixed. What can you do, when you know something’s gone snap inside your skull but doing anything about it just sounds like an appalling self-indulgence?

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 23 (3rd CAT test: 570)

Ok, I’m in trouble. Possible reasons: a) I’m not approaching the CAT tests properly, b) the questions on the CAT are harder than on my paper practice tests, or c) my brain’s turned to mush. The most likely possibility is c), since my brain split apart on Monday and I spent twelve hours staring at the walls. Today’s essays:

Analysis of an Issue

“The safety of consumer goods can best be ensured not by way of government regulation but rather through voluntary efforts of the private businesses that produce those goods.” To what extent do you agree or disagree with the foregoing statement? Use reasons and/or examples from your experience, observation, and/or reading to explain your viewpoint.

Safety costs money, and businesses exist to make money. However good a ‘corporate citizen’, any enterprise subject to market forces has an obligation to maximise profits. This means that unless safety is a selling point of the product (and therefore worth investing in) it will always be treated as a cost to be minimised. Accordingly, I disagree with this statement.

Indeed, there’s plenty of evidence that no business will increase safety unless compelled by law. Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”, written many decades ago and detailed the appalling conditions in the meatpacking industry, did nothing to shame the meatpackers into improving the safety of the rancid, rotted products they shipped to America’s poor; the changes came when the US government enacted laws protecting food quality. Even today, meatpacking firms are among the biggest contributors to political candidates in meat-producing regions of the USA; they are spending money not on increasing safety voluntarily, but on influencing lawmakers to reduce the legislative burden.

The fact that some health and safety legislation is ludicrous – the European Union’s endless red tape aimed at the motor industry comes to mind – does not affect this basic argument. Selling a car in Europe is hard, yes… but some 80% of the vehicles sold in European showrooms score a ‘5’ in crash tests, the safest grade. Whereas in China, where laws are less developed, virtually no model scores above a ‘1’. Again, it seems clear that companies are motivated by money, not consumer safety.

Nor does the success of companies like Volvo, known for safe products, provide evidence to the contrary. Volvo’s brand (and hence the premium it can charge consumers) is all about safety; the carmaker treats safety as a brand asset worth investing in. Therefore in maximising the safety of its cars, Volvo is not making some ‘voluntary effort’ out of the goodness of its corporate heart: it is simply making a sound business decision.

In addition, some consumer products are to all practical purposes designed to cause harm, such as those of the alcohol and tobacco companies. It’s fair to say Philip Morris and Budweiser don’t have the best interests of their customers’ lungs and livers foremost in their business plans. The law here at least provides a regulatory framework for such harmful products; if no such standards existed, it’s fair to say cigarettes would be a lot more addictive, and there’d be a lot more blindness-inducing moonshine on the shop shelves.

Of course, none of this is to argue in favour of ever-increasing government legislation. The blunt instrument of the law should only be used where all else fails, as in a situation where the participants have no other obligation to act. But businesses – faceless machines for making money, with no sense of citizenship beyond that of their individual employees – are such a case. While no business plan thrives on causing harm to its buyers, harm caused by neglect can be equally damaging… meaning regulation to protect citizens has every place in a market-driven democracy.

FAULTS: Not my best; this was a hard one! Spent nearly 10 mins just getting past the first sentence to get my plan noted down. I wanted to develop the argument more along the lines that corporations aren’t supposed to be human; this essay makes me look anti-corporate, when I’m simply stating a reasonable fact about the realities of business. And ‘fair to say’ twice? I’m only giving myself a 4.

Analysis of an Argument

(NOTE added 21aug2012: GMAT expert Mark Stewart has asserted his right to be identified as the author of the essay prompt in italics below, and has requested this link to his original source material, which I’m happy to provide.)

The following appeared in a recent report by the Fern County planning commission:

“In light of the increasing percentage of our nation’s population turning to the Internet as a source of reference material, Fern County should close the ancillary branch of its public library, and convert that facility into a computer training center for use by county residents. The converted facility would fill what is certain to be a growing need among Fern residents for computer training. At the same time, since the county library’s main branch already contains more volumes per resident than any other county library in the state, it will adequately serve the needs of Fern County residents. Moreover, Fern residents are sure to support this plan; after all, in nearby Mesa County only a few residents have objected to that county’s plan to close all but one of its public libraries in the near future.”

Discuss how logically convincing you find this argument. In your discussion, you should analyze the argument’s line of reasoning and use of evidence. It may be appropriate in your critique to call into question certain assumptions underlying the argument and/or to indicate what evidence might weaken or strengthen the argument. It may also be appropriate to discuss how you would alter the argument to make it more convincing and/or discuss what additional evidence, if any, would aid in evaluating the argument.

My answer:

This argument seems well-meant, but short-sighted. Computer training may well be useful for the denizens of Fern County… but libraries are more than stockhouses for books. The commission relies on evidence that seems little better than guesswork, and uses evidence selectively to support its specific viewpoint. Accordingly, the commission’s case for closure is unsupportable without further evidence.

The commission’s report assumes that Fern County residents are representative of the country as a whole. Is this true? If Fern contains a great many older people with time on their hands, they may strongly oppose the closure of a library, regarding a library as a social focus as well as a place of learning. In addition, the ‘increasing percentage’ quoted for the country as a whole does not include a base figure; even if the percentage turning to the Internet has doubled in the last year, that might mean 2% increasing to 4%. New technologies are often adopted first by specific demographics, such as the young; to strengthen its argument, the commission needs to demonstrate that Fern County represents a slice of society for which closing a library carries more benefits than disadvantages.

Furthermore, by mentioning the county library, the commission displays fuzzy logic – it seeks to close the local library since people are turning to the Internet, yet sees a continued need for the larger establishment. To present its case logically (pro- or con- library) the commission should present a unified view. The uncharitable view of this argument, of course, is that the main motive for closing the library may not be to respect a sea change in citizens’ learning styles, and is more about cost-cutting. If so, the commission should make this clear.

The commission cites another county’s library-closing plans as evidence, but again fails to give any information regarding the demographic makeup of Mesa County. Is Fern County a retirement community and Mesa County full of college students? The ‘few complaints’ from Mesa residents do not necessarily indicate support for the closure; there may be a silent majority of people who simply don’t know about the closure plans.

Nor has the commission made its case that this is an ‘either/or’ situation. Is there a need for both a library and a computer training facility? If computer training would be valuable to the community, it deserves to be considered on its own merits, not solely in conjunction with the loss of a library.

Of course, the need for computer training has not been established in any case. If a ‘growing percentage’ of citizens are turning to the Internet, doesn’t that suggest the nation’s computer skills are already quite strong? The commission does not make a strong business case for setting up a computer training facility, and again this makes the argument too fuzzy to be convincing.

In summary, while there may be a perfectly justifiable case for closing the local library, the commission’s report suggests Fern County should try the new at the expense of the old – when the library closure and the proposed computer training facility should each be considered separately. Libraries are not shops or warehouses; they are an ancient and respected part of a nation’s intellectual and social fabric, dating back to the establishment of democracy itself in the Greek public square, and the case for closing such an important civic institution must be made with greater depth than the argument achieves.

FAULTS: Too wordy, but I think this is ok; although it doesn’t 100% answer the issue of whether Fern commissioners have a reasonable case in wanting to open a training centre. I’ll give myself a 5.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 22 (2nd CAT test: 560)

Ok, my second CAT practice hit an all-time low of 560, with raws of 36V/32Q, barely above average. With a week before the test to make up a sudden 200-point drop in my simulated score, this is serious. Do I have time to recover?

Analysis of an Issue

“In any large business organization, teamwork is the ultimate key to the organization’s success.”

In your view, how accurate is the foregoing statement? Use reasons and/or examples from your experience, observation, and/or reading to explain your viewpoint.

Any large business is a mix of hard and soft skills: solid technical competence in its area of work, combined with the web of relationships between its people. That’s why I agree that teamwork is the ultimate key to business success: I believe that spirit of co-operation between people is the key to effective delivery. Why?

It’s because effective delivery means an effective business. Even the greatest products will languish in the lab without a motivated sales team to get them into the market. Of course, the most motivated sales executives will be those who have a relationship with the white-coated R&D people, who genuinely care about their company’s products and want them to be successful. Contrast this with the situation IBM found itself in during the 1980s: terrific products, yet a train-wreck of a balance sheet, largely due to a dysfunctional culture, sequestered in departmental silos, that didn’t value selling or engagement with the market. As one commentator wrote, “At IBM, products don’t get launched; they escape.”

So what’s the corollary? For the answer, just look inside any government office. An organisation where people’s loyalties are to their pension entitlements and a quiet life, rather than driving themselves and their team forward to greater achievement. In a environment of high job security and little excitement, subject to the whims of politicians who bear no loyalty to them, it’s hardly surprising that government offices are low on teamwork. This shows up in the lack of success shown by many government departments – which are among the largest organisations of all.

To add yet more evidence: over half of large mergers and acquisitions fail, despite some of the world’s top financial brains working on them to make sure every business case and budget allocation makes sense. It’s reasonable to assume that these experts haven’t made many mistakes in their costings or forecasts. So perhaps these mega-mergers fail because the people don’t feel part of a team. Newly merged divisions don’t co-operate, new managers don’t build relationships with their staff, and morale nosedives, leading to a wave of resignations by the company’s top workers.

In sum, teamwork matters because it’s fundamentally about taking responsibility: understanding that you have an obligation to others, that people are counting on you. These bonds matter, and they’re key not just to large businesses, but to every structure involving groups of human beings: family, tribe, village. Teamwork is the mechanism by which knowledge and skills ‘make it to market’, the tacit understanding and mutual trust that let products and services move from the basement lab to the bottom line.

It may not appear on any balance sheet, but strong teamwork is the most valuable asset any business can own, because in the end, any business is just the sum of its people.

FAULTS: I started slow on this one: one of those prompts that you know is important, but can’t immediately imagine how to articulate. Despite this, it’s a worthwhile effort, and follows a good structure. A 5/6.

Analysis of an Argument

(NOTE added 21aug2012: GMAT expert Mark Stewart has asserted his right to be identified as the author of the essay prompt in italics below, and has requested this link to his original source material, which I’m happy to provide.)

The following appeared in a memo from the sales director of Aura Cosmetics Company:
“The best way to reverse Aura Cosmetic’s recent decline in profitability is to require each new employee in Aura’s sales division to enroll in the popular SureSale seminar. Last year, the software company TechAide began incorporating SureSale’s week-long seminar into its training program for all new sales employees, and since that time TechAide’s total sales have increased dramatically. Also, according to a recent article in a reputable business magazine, the SureSale sales system has been widely adopted among the nation’s twenty largest companies, and the employee turnover rate at these companies is lower today than five years ago. Therefore, by enrolling Aura sales employees in the SureSale seminar Aura will also retain its highest caliber salespeople.”

Discuss how logically convincing you find this argument. In your discussion, you should analyze the argument’s line of reasoning and use of evidence. It may be appropriate in your critique to call into question certain assumptions underlying the argument and/or to indicate what evidence might weaken or strengthen the argument. It may also be appropriate to discuss how you would alter the argument to make it more convincing and/or discuss what additional evidence, if any, would aid in evaluating the argument.

My answer:

The Sales Director makes a reasonable assumption: that sales training for sales staff will increase their effectiveness. He backs up his assertion with evidence, citing SureSale’s track record in boosting sales and reducing staff turnover. However, by supporting his argument with examples of first a software vendor and then the top 20 blue-chips, he may be making unwarranted assumptions about whether the same approach will work for a cosmetics company – while his conclusion about retaining the highest calibre salespeople seems totally unsupported.

In the context of Aura’s decline in profitability, the Director’s argument seems strong. If the SureSale system has been effective for a software company, it may well be effective for a cosmetics group. However, it’s unclear whether Aura’s sales force (or, indeed, the software company) sells principally business-to-business, or directly to consumers. Is Aura’s sales department a squad of housewives selling to their friends at sponsored parties? This isn’t how software is sold, so the Director needs to produce evidence that the sales model of SureSale (not necessarily the products it has sold) is a good fit for Aura.

In addition, the Director talks about ‘profitability’, not ‘sales’. Have Aura’s sales actually risen, and the decline in profits is due to lower margins? If so, the problem may not lie in the sales department at all: perhaps the boffins in R&D need to use cheaper raw materials, or Marketing may need to examine its pricing model. To support his argument, the Director needs to back it up with a balance sheet as well as sales forecasts.

Furthermore, relying on a magazine article to support a major change in departmental strategy is a weak support for the argument. The article may have been advertorial (sponsored space) or have been placed by a PR firm, rather than being the output of a dispassionate journalist. The source of the article – and the evidence it contains – needs to be checked if the Director wishes to strengthen his case.

Finally, his conclusion about retaining his top sales staff seems illogical. A week-long seminar for all staff may lead to some improvement across the board, but five days won’t turn mediocrities into sales stars. Nor will it lead to any improvement in the people who matter most – the top sales people. In addition the prospect of a large number of newly-trained sales people all chasing the same leads may reduce opportunities for these top performers. Top sales people are motivated by having a thick stack of hot prospects to sell to, and the adoption of SureSale may demotivate the stars.

However, none of the above means the adoption of SureSale is definitely a bad idea. Indeed, the director may already have answers to all these issues. SureSale may be perfect for Aura’s business model, the magazine article may be a shining example of unbiased journalism, and the market for Aura’s products may be so huge that even a hundred better-trained sales staff would not exhaust its opportunities. The Director’s argument deserves further consideration. But approval of his plans must be tempered by a realistic evaluation of SureSale and Aura’s current finances, since desperation is not a great sales strategy.

FAULTS: Not bad: I’m now comfortable writing these. But this was a bit rushed towards the end: I only noticed the ‘profitability vs. sales’ point with a couple of minutes to spare, so the paragraph was hastily inserted. I’ll score myself a 5.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 21 (1st CAT test 590)

First time trying a practice GMAT onscreen, rather than on paper. As expected, a throwaway result: 33V/39Q giving 590. The problem: rushing. Doing it on a PC creates less tension when you’re choosing an answer, so I finished the Verbal section with over 30mins left, making 11 errors of the 41. On quant, I finished with 15mins plus left, and got 14 out of 37 wrong. Lesson learned: pace better.

Today’s essay practice:

Analysis of an Issue

“Graduate business courses with a technical component, such as accounting, marketing, or economics, should teach factual information and skills and should leave ethics to designated business ethics courses.”

Discuss whether you agree or disagree with the opinion above. Provide supporting evidence for your views and use reasons and/or examples from your own experiences, observations, or reading.

Ethics is an important subject, and should be part of every professional manager’s set of skills. But business ethics come into play during the application of knowledge, not the acquisition of it. That’s why I agree with this opinion. The learning of facts and methods is neither ethical nor unethical, since the manager has yet to apply them them to real situations … making ethics irrelevant.

Take accounting. A student working on a cost-benefit problem may face a situation where the figures support only one conclusion: that a factory must be closed for the business to remain profitable. In real life, many factors would contribute to a closure decision: public relations, market conditions, and simple human decency in wanting to help 400 workers keep their livelihoods. But in the trammelled world of the test paper, all the student needs is a Pass, and the correct answer is to close the factory doors. Applying ethics to this artificial situation clouds the issue.

In addition, including ethics in every course with a technical component – teaching the same values, repeatedly across courses – is a waste of resources. Accounting 101 should be about the hard facts of credits and debits, not a cocktail mixing numbers with the soft guidelines of business ethics. There are no ethics in addition and subtraction, and teaching time is too scarce a commodity to wander into other subject areas during a class on Macroeconomic Trends.

Furthermore, by teaching business ethics in a course of its own, it won’t be treated as an adjunct. Ethics 101 demonstrates that business ethic is a subject worthy of study in itself. And by making that course mandatory (as many colleges do) that course can give managers a broad base of ethical knowledge, applicable across all areas of their lives, not in a narrow context of a single subject.

In summary, I believe ethics should not be mixed into other courses … but not because the subject lacks importance; quite the opposite. Business Ethics deserves a course of its own, and stirring it into the curriculum as footnotes to other courses reduces its value. There is a time for acquiring knowledge, and a time for applying it, and ethics only become important at the application stage. Teach students the raw technical principles of each subject they study in detail, and they’ll be better equipped to apply business ethics at all times in their future careers, when the subjects they deal with are not on test papers, but are real people with real problems.

FAULTS: Typo in paragraph 4, but overall I think this is a pretty good essay. It makes an insightful point (application versus acquisition) and is well structured, with a nice balance between beginning and end. I’ll give myself a 6.

Analysis of an Argument

The following appeared as part of a letter to the editor in a local newspaper:

“The growth of radio, television, movies, and other forms of mass media has led to the loss of intellectual creativity and curiosity among average Americans. A few writers now tell stories to tens of millions of Americans through songs played on the radio, television shows, and popular movies. Where one hundred years ago average Americans used to actively tell their own stories to countless small audiences, most Americans are now passive members of a much greater audience, all mesmerized by the same mass media offerings and reduced to commenting on the quality of various movies, sporting events, pop songs, and reality TV shows.”

Examine this argument and present your judgement on how well reasoned it is. In your discussion, analyse the author’s position and how well the author uses evidence to support the argument. For example, you may need to question the author’s underlying assumptions or consider alternative explanations that may weaken the conclusion. You can also provide additional support for or arguments against the author’s position, describe how stating the argument differently may make it more reasonable, and discuss what provisions may equip you to evaluate its thesis.

The author raises a valid concern: that modern mass media has led to a decline in participation and creative interaction among Americans, substituting the shared experiences of a top-rated TV show for the private experiences of a few good friends. But his argument appears driven by emotion, not logic, and for this reason has several weaknesses.

For example, he argues that ‘average Americans used to actively tell their own stories’ – where is his evidence? It’s possible that the images we have of storytelling Americans – cowboys singing ballads around a campfire, travelling preachers, settlers of the Old West – seem ubiquitous because they are the most memorable, not the most common. A majority of Americans a century ago may well have demonstrated no deeper intellectual curiosity than most Americans today; working for a living, falling asleep at home, then repeating the cycle. The author’s romantic images of a bygone age may have involved far fewer people than he assumes, which weakens his main argument.

In addition, the author says nothing about new forms of media that have taken storytelling and personal experience to a new level: blogging on the Web, texting on mobile phones, telephone chatlines. Normal people are still telling their stories, and they have many more options for doing so; however, the author makes no comparisons and gives no evidence. It’s possible that intellectual curiosity – the desire to know how the world works -is, on average, even greater today than it was one hundred years ago.

Finally, the author assumes that the explosion of ‘pop culture’ – TV shows, pop music, movies – reduces the opportunity for the sharing of personal experience. This is questionable, on two counts. First, large-scale ‘media events’ may provide a platform for shared experience in a fragmented world – a platform that enables the telling of fresh stories, as people connect over the Web to discuss their experiences of last night’s stadium concert. Second, being a ‘passive member’ of one audience doesn’t preclude anyone from being an active member of another. Tom Trailer-Park may spend eight hours on Sunday watching SuperBowl reruns, but on Saturdays he may be the star of a barbecue cookout, swapping stories with dozens of friends. The author implies one activity makes the other less likely to happen, which is not a conclusion that can be easily drawn from available evidence.

Despite these weaknesses, the argument remains a valid concern, since if everyone spent eight hours a night watching TV from the sofa, today’s society would indeed be the poor relation of yesteryear the author envisages. But without hard data – from both today’s society and that of a century ago – his argument lacks solidity. In fact, the onslaught of mass media and shared experience may well make the average American’s life broader and more creative than ever before. Being part of one big audience doesn’t stop you also being part of many smaller ones, and when it’s unclear how many Americans ever participated in the constant intellectual exchanges the author imagines, his argument does not hold water.

FAULTS: A bit wordy – I think this is my longest practice essay! But again it makes some good points, and I think it’s worth a 6. One caveat: running away with evidence against the argument makes for long paragraphs that repeat things, and also less time for proofing at the end, although I can’t see any typos. But overall I’d be happy if I submitted this essay during the GMAT.

How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: ideal structure for Analysis of an Argument

Here’s my model for the 30-minute Analysis of an Argument question, arranged in the same five-paragraph structure I tend to use.

(Update 01 June 2007: I scored perfect 6’s for both my GMAT essays, which suggests these plans work!)

Write a topic sentence that sums up what the author is saying in a few words. State whether the argument is strong or weak, and state the main strength or weakness of the argument in plain simple language.

In the second paragraph, explore the strong side of the argument (if you think it’s strong) or the weak side (if you think it’s weak.) State the assumptions he makes, and whether it’s reasonable or not reasonable to draw his conclusion from these assumptions.

In the third paragraph, explore the use of evidence. State whether each piece of evidence directly supports, indirectly supports, or does not support the argument. Give counterexamples: could this evidence be used to support the opposite conclusion?

In the fourth paragraph, switch your viewpoint and explore the other side of the argument. How it could be stronger (if you think it’s weak) or what might make it weaker (if you think it’s strong.) State whether these reasons affect the ultimate strength or weakness of the argument and admit there’s room for doubt.

In the concluding paragraph, sum up why the argument is strong or weak. Finish with a pithy phrase, such as ‘beliefs are not evidence’, that sums up the main strength or weakness of the argument.