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Sample Response to Real GRE Argument Questions

Topic # 4: The following is from an editorial in the Midvale Observer, a local newspaper.

"Ever since the 1950's, when television sets began to appear in the average home, the rate of crimes committed by teenagers in the country of Alta has steadily increased. This increase in teenage crime parallels the increase in violence shown on television. According to several national studies, even very young children who watch a great number of television shows featuring violent scenes display more violent behavior within their home environment than do children who do not watch violent shows. Furthermore, in a survey conducted by the Observer, over 90 percent of the respondents were parents who indicated that prime-time television--programs that are shown between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.---should show less violence. Therefore, in order to lower the rate of teenage crime in Alta, television viewers should demand that television programmers reduce the amount of violence shown during prime time."

The author of this editorial states that the rate of teenage crime in the country of Alta has increased along with the increase in violence shown on television, beginning with the 1950's when television was introduced in the average home. In addition, the author states that several national surveys have shown that young children watching violent television programs are more prone to violence than children who do not. The write also says that a survey indicated that ninety percent of parents responding said that prime-time programs should show less violence. Finally, the author comes to the conclusion that to lower the rate of teenage crime in Alta, television watchers should demand a reduction in violence shown during prime time. This argument suffers from several critical fallacies.

Firstly, the writer equates the rate of increase in teenage crime in Alta to the increase in violence shown on television but gives no causal linkage other than the similar time periods. The author makes no distinction between types of crimes - whether they are violent or nonviolent crimes by teenagers. Furthermore, there are several possible alternative causes for the increase in teen crimes. For example, perhaps all types of crimes have increased for all ages, or maybe the police are now doing a better job of catching teenage criminals than they were before. Perhaps the reason for the increase is simply an increase in the overall population and that as a percentage of the population, teen crime is even less than it was before. Without ruling out these and other causes, the argument fails to convince by showing no causal linkage between television violence and teenage crime.

Secondly, the author mentions national studies that show that young children that watch violent programs show more violent behavior at home than children who do not watch such programs. This argument fails on two levels - one by assuming that children and teenagers are equally affected by television programs; and two by again assuming that there is some type of cause and effect relationship between television violence and teenage crime. Young children and teenagers are not the same and it should not be assumed that more violent behavior within the home leads to crimes outside as these children grow into teenagers.

Thirdly, the author offers a survey showing that ninety percent of the respondents were parents who indicated that prime time television programs should show less violence. The survey methods are not discussed - it is possible that the sample was improperly chosen or somehow predisposed to include parents that are very much opposed to television violence. Additionally, it is possible that such parents are far more vocal in their opinions than those who care little or not at all about prime time television violence, again skewing the results of the survey. Even assuming the veracity of the sample population surveyed, it is not logical to associate television violence with teen crime solely on that basis.

Finally, the author makes the gratuitous assumption that simply having television viewers demand that television programmers reduce the amount of violence during prime time will lower the rate of teenage crime in Alta. Regardless of the flawed arguments previously discussed, simply demanding a change will have no effect whatsoever on teen crime. To strengthen his or her argument, the author needs to show some direct causal linkage between television violence and teen crime rather than making vague and unsupported comparisons purporting to show a link. There is no proof given either that television violence of any kind causes teenage crime or that a reduction in prime time violence will keep teenagers from breaking the law.

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