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GRE Analytical Writing Example

The following appeared in a letter to the editor of a journal on environmental issues.

“Over the past year, the Crust Copper Company (CCC) has purchased over 10,000 square miles of land in the tropical nation of West Fredonia. Mining copper on this land will inevitably result in pollution and, since West Fredonia is the home of several endangered animal species, in environmental disaster. But such disasters can be prevented if consumers simply refuse to purchase products that are made with CCC’s copper unless the company abandons its mining plans.”

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 these assumptions and what the implications are for the argument if the assumptions prove unwarranted.

The author of this letter to the editor of a journal on environmental issues concludes that if consumers refuse to buy products made with Crust Copper Company (CCC) copper, the company will eventually abandon its mining plans in the nation of West Fredonia, thereby preventing pollution and an “environmental disaster” in that country. To justify this conclusion the author points out the CCC has recently bought more than 10,000 square miles of land in West Fredonia, and that West Fredonia is home to several endangered animal species. I find this argument specious on several grounds.

First, the author provides no evidence that the West Fredonia land that CCC has acquired amounts to a significant portion of land inhabited by endangered animal species, or that CCC’s land is inhabited by endangered animal species at all. The author asks us to share her assumption that CCC’s mining activities are of the type that might: cause pollution; cause the extinction of animal species inhabiting the area or though outside the area, affected by the proposed mining activities; or cause any other environmental damage. Lacking evidence to these effects, the author simply cannot convince me that CCC must abandon its plans in order to prevent such damage.

Secondly, even assuming CCC’s planned mining activities in West Fredonia will cause pollution and will endanger several animal species (whether inhabiting those specific 10,000 square miles or indirectly affected by the mining activities), it is nevertheless impossible to assess the author’s broader contention that CCC’s activities will result in “environmental disaster,” at least without an agreed-upon definition of that term. Are those endangered species mammals? Amphibians? Insects? Are these species on the way to a speedy extinction anyway, with or without copper mining? And what will the true impact of the absence of one or more of these species be on the continental or the planetary ecosystem? Does it deserve the designation “environmental disaster?”

Finally, the author asks us to assume not only that there is an urgent need to boycott CCC products but that such a boycott would be effective in blocking CCC’s mining actions—while withholding even the basic details of how such a boycott would function. Is the author’s call addressed to readers of the environmental affairs journal? How many of them consume products containing copper at all? Is it addressed to the citizens of West Fredonia? How many of them consume products containing copper, and how many of them will read this letter to the editor of a journal on environmental affairs? Imagine that the journal’s readers have the will to participate in this boycott of CCC products. Is the CCC brand imminently visible on its products? Perhaps the copper-containing products that a journal reader would be most likely to buy are home electrical wiring, or home water tubing. These are not necessarily products that consumers consume every week or month. Considerable amounts of time might pass before the journal readers have an opportunity to practice the boycott – and if a sudden need for copper products such as tubing arises for a consumer, will she have a readily available alternative product to turn to? As for the citizens of West Fredonia, perhaps most of them are poor and live in houses with neither electricity nor running water. How could they then be called upon to practice the boycott? Would they be motivated to join a boycott to protect an endangered animal species without clearly understanding the impact of its disappearance?

In short, without any details on how the recommended course of action would work to prevent the predicted problems, the author’s conclusion remains dubious at best.

In sum, the argument for the boycott of CCC’s copper products rests on flimsy and unsubstantiated assumptions and is thus wholly unpersuasive. How CCC’s planned mining activities on its newly acquired land will pollute and will threaten endangered animal species must be described. The author must also define “environmental disaster” and show that the inevitable results of CCC’s planned activities would meet that definition. To better assess the argument it would be useful to have a great deal more information about the likelihood that the boycott would be effective in accomplishing its intended objectives, and to know what other means are available for preventing CCC from mining in West Fredonia or, in the alternative, for mitigating the environmental impact of those mining activities.

GRE Quantitative Examples

A.- Quantitative Comparison questions

Sample question:

A. Quantity A is greater.
B. Quantity B is greater.
C. The two quantities are equal.
D. The relationship cannot be determined from the information given.

Answer: (The correct answer is Choice D, as the relationship between the two quantities cannot be determined from the information given)

B.1.- Multiple-choice questions — Select One Answer Choice

Sample question: A manager is forming a 6-person team to work on a certain project. From the 11 candidates available for the team, the manager has already chosen 3 to be on the team. In selecting the other 3 team members, how many different combinations of 3 of the remaining candidates does the manager have to choose from?

A. 6
B. 8
C. 24
D. 56
E. 336

Answer: D

B.2.- Multiple-choice questions — Select One or More Answer Choices

Sample question: Each employee of a certain company is either in Department X or Department Y, and there are more than twice as many employees in Department X as in Department Y. The average (arithmetic mean) salary is $25,000 for the employees in Department X and is $35,000 for the employees in Department Y. Which of the following amounts could be the average salary for all the employees in the company? Indicate all such answers.

A. $24,000
B. $25,000
C. $26,000
D. $28,000
E. $29,000
F. $31,000
G. $34,000

Answer: (The correct answer consists of Choices C and D)

C.- Numeric Entry questions

Sample question: A merchant made a profit of $30 on the sale of a sweater that cost the merchant $15. What is the profit expressed as a percent of the sweater’s selling price? Give your answer to the nearest whole percent.

Answer: (The correct answer is to enter the number 67 in the box)

GRE Verbal Examples

A.- Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension questions measure your ability to read with understanding, insight, and discrimination, and to analyse a written passage from several perspectives. There are three types of reading comprehension questions. Let’s start with the most easily recognized: the traditional multiple-choice question. Here’s a sample: Sample questions 1 to 3 below are based on this passage: Policymakers must confront the dilemma that fossil fuels continue to be an indispensable source of energy even though burning them produces atmospheric accumulations of carbon dioxide that increase the likelihood of potentially disastrous global climate change. Currently, technology that would capture carbon dioxide emitted by power plants and sequester it harmlessly underground or undersea instead of releasing it into the atmosphere might double the cost of generating electricity. But because sequestration does not affect the cost of electricity transmission and distribution, delivered prices will rise less, by no more than 50 percent. Research into better technologies for capturing carbon dioxide will undoubtedly lead to lowered costs.

Sample Multiple-choice Questions — Select One Answer Choice

1.- The passage implies which of the following about the current cost of generating electricity?

  • A. It is higher than it would be if better technologies for capturing carbon dioxide were available.
  • B. It is somewhat less than the cost of electricity transmission and distribution.
  • C. It constitutes at most half of the delivered price of electricity.
  • D. It is dwelt on by policymakers to the exclusion of other costs associated with electricity delivery.
  • E. It is not fully recovered by the prices charged directly to electricity consumers.

Answer: C

The second type of reading comprehension question supplies three possible answers to a question based on the reading passage, asking you to select all those answer choices that apply—that is, only one, or two, or possibly all three choices. No credit is given for partially correct answers. Let’s look at a sample (based on the same passage given above, beginning with “Policymakers…” )

Sample Multiple-choice Questions — Select One or More Answer Choices

2.- The passage suggests that extensive use of sequestration would, over time, have which of the following consequences?

  1. The burning of fossil fuels would eventually cease to produce atmospheric accumulations of carbon dioxide.
  2. The proportion of the delivered price of electricity due to generation would rise and then decline.
  3. Power plants would consume progressively lower quantities of fossil fuels.

Answer: B (ONLY B of the three, in this case)

The third type of reading comprehension question (“Select-in-Passage”) calls for an analysis of the passage that will allow you to identify a sentence fitting the conceptual description provided. Let’s look at a sample (based on the same passage given above, beginning with “Policymakers…” )

Sample Select-in-Passage Question

3.- Select the sentence that explains why an outcome of sequestration that might have been expected would not occur.

Answer: “But because sequestration does not affect the cost of electricity transmission and distribution, delivered prices will rise less, by no more than 50 percent.”

B.- Text Completion

Text Completion questions measure the reading skills of constant interpretation and evaluation by omitting crucial words from short passages and asking the test taker to make choices in filling those blanks that will create a coherent, meaningful whole. Text Completion questions include a passage composed of one to five sentences with one to three blanks. There are three answer choices per blank, or five answer choices if there is a single blank. There is a single correct answer, consisting of one choice for each blank. You receive no credit for partially correct answers.

Sample Text Completion Questions

Directions: For each blank select one entry from the corresponding column of choices. Fill all blanks in the way that best completes the text. 1.- It is refreshing to read a book about our planet by an author who does not allow facts to be (1)__________ by politics: well aware of the political disputes about the effects of human activities on climate and biodiversity, this author does not permit them to (2)__________ his comprehensive description of what we know about our biosphere. He emphasizes the enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations, and the (3)__________, calling attention to the many aspects of planetary evolution that must be better understood . Before we can accurately diagnose the condition of our planet.


Blank (1) Blank (2) Blank (3)
overshadowed enhance plausibility of our hypotheses
invalidated obscure certainty of our entitlement
illuminated underscore superficiality of our theories
Answer choices for question 1.
Answer: overshadowed, obscure, and superficiality of our theories

C.- Sentence Equivalence

This final question type in the Verbal Reasoning Measure works in much the same way as the Text Completion questions, but on a more condensed scale. For a single blank in a single sentence, six answer choices are provided. These questions require you to select the two answer choices that will form coherent sentences of nearly identical meaning. You receive no credit for partially correct answers. Let’s look at a sample:
Sample Sentence Equivalence Questions

Directions: Select the two answer choices that, when used to complete the sentence, fit the meaning of the sentence as a whole and produce completed sentences that are alike in meaning. 1.- The corporation expects only _______ increases in sales next year despite a yearlong effort to revive its retailing business.

  1. dynamic
  2. predictable
  3. expanding
  4. modest
  5. slight
  6. volatile

Answer: D and E

2. It was her view that the country’s problems had been _________ by foreign technocrats, so that to ask for such assistance again would be counterproductive.

  1. ameliorated
  2. ascertained
  3. diagnosed
  4. exacerbated
  5. overlooked
  6. worsened

Answer: The key “clue” words are “so that” (a thought-extender) and “counterproductive”. Clearly, the effects the foreign technocrats have had already have been negative. Thus, the obvious choices to describe what they did to the country’s problems are “exacerbated” and “worsened”.