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Sample Response to Real GRE Argument Questions

Topic # 6: The following appeared in a letter to the editor of a local newspaper.

"Too much emphasis is placed on the development of reading skills in elementary school. Many students who are discouraged by the lonely activity of reading turn away from schoolwork merely because they are poor readers. But books recorded on audiocassette tape provide an important alternative for students at this crucial stage in their education, one the school board should not reject merely because of the expense involved. After all, many studies attest to the value of allowing students to hear books read aloud; there is even evidence that students whose parents read to them are even more likely to become able readers. Thus, hearing books on tape can only make students more eager to read and to learn. Therefore, the school board should encourage schools to buy books on tape and to use them in elementary education."

In this argument, the writer claims that elementary schools place too much emphasis on the development of reading skills; therefore books on audiocassette should be provided as an alternative method of learning. The arguer attempts to substantiate the conclusion by citing studies that show the value of allowing students to hear books read aloud; including evidence that students whose parents read to them are even more likely to become better readers. This argument ultimately fails as it suffers from several critical fallacies.

First of all, the writer flatly states, without any supporting evidence whatsoever, that many students are discouraged by the "lonely" activity of reading, then continues on in the same sentence to state that students turn away from schoolwork solely because they are poor readers. Students often read to themselves or to the other students in a classroom situation - hardly a lonely activity. Additionally, this argument puts the effect before the cause - inviting the circular logic that students stop trying to learn to read because they are poor readers. Following this argument to its logical conclusion, because they are poor readers, they should not try to learn how to improve their reading. This absurd argument is analogous to saying that a new student should never start to learn in the first place, because he or she knows nothing.

Secondly, the writer cites as evidence in favor of the use of audiocassettes the idea that students whose parents read to them are even more likely to become proficient readers. It is at best doubtful that this provides proof that listening to someone read a book stimulates a young mind to learn to read better. It is far more likely that the child gains an interest in learning to read from the parents themselves, not the physical act of having something read to them. In this situation, the parent is showing the child his or her ability to read, which the child will naturally want to emulate. Furthermore, it is likely that a parent that spends time reading to a child is likely to be a much more encouraging parent, particularly when it comes to that child's education.

Thirdly, the writer fails to convince in his argument that hearing books on audiocassette makes a child more eager to read and to learn. The author cites many studies that show value in allowing students to hear books read aloud - he or she does not state that the studies show whether that value manifests itself as better reading skills or simply better listening skills, which seems more likely than any improvement in reading ability.

Finally, the author fails to take into consideration that merely listening to books on audiocassette fails to provide the visual stimulation necessary to develop higher level reading skills. It is more likely that hearing a book on audiocassette would discourage that student from ever reading that particular book on his or her own. Elementary schools are the main developing grounds for a student's reading abilities- there is no substitute for actively learning to actually see the writing and comprehend what it is trying to say. Listening skills can be developed through means other than by hearing books on audiocassette. Reading skills are an absolutely irreplaceable and fundamental part of an elementary student's education.

In conclusion, the writer's argument fails to address several weak areas that lead to a rejection of the overall conclusion that the school board should encourage schools to buy books on tape for use in elementary education. To strengthen the argument, direct cause and effect evidence should be set forth that shows better overall learning without any loss in the development of higher level reading skills for students.

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