Shortcut for AWA: Pick Out the Intentional Flaws

Shortcut for AWA: Pick Out the Intentional Flaws
Test makers try to make your job easier by giving you an intentionally flawed conclusion (Photograph by Chris Ryan/Getty Images)
Photograph by Chris Ryan/Getty Images

This tip for improving your GMAT score was provided by David Newland at Veritas Prep.

It may be common knowledge that each AWA argument has some flaws, but they are also intentionally flawed beyond what would happen naturally.

Why is this true? Rather than stopping at the natural conclusion of the argument, the prompts go too far. For example, they name specific companies when these have not been mentioned in the evidence, or they take a big leap and say that a small fact makes this “the best airline for business travelers.” In other words, the writers of these prompts want to give you some very easy things to write about; equally important, the graders of these essays will expect you to find flaws with these particularly weak arguments.

Here are two examples of official GMAT AWA prompts, chosen randomly from among the list of currently active AWA prompts on the official GMAT. Focus on the way these arguments offer conclusions that go beyond what can naturally be concluded.

Example 1: “Stronger laws are needed to protect new kinds of home security systems from being copied and sold by imitators. With such protection, manufacturers will naturally invest in the development of new home-security products and production technologies. Without stronger laws, therefore, manufacturers will cut back on investment. From this will follow a corresponding decline not only in product quality and marketability, but also in production efficiency, and thus ultimately a loss of manufacturing jobs in the industry.”

Do you see where the conclusion goes beyond what a normal conclusion would state? Even if it is true that without stronger laws against copying of security systems, investment in the development of new technologies will be cut back, does it follow that products will decline in quality? Why would they decline in quality? There has been no innovation in the design of the standard yellow pencil, but I cannot say that the quality of the product has declined. (Sometimes the eraser is a little cheaper these days.)

And why would there be a loss of production efficiency? Is this tied to innovation in the actual systems? This is going too far. As you can see, it does not follow that a lack of new kinds of security systems means that production will become less efficient.

And here is the really flawed conclusion. The argument says that this decline in production efficiency will ultimately result in “a loss of manufacturing jobs in the industry.” More efficient production is usually responsible for a decline in jobs, not less efficient production.

Notice that with so many glaring holes in the argument, you have nothing to fear when it comes to fodder for critiquing it; the only concern you should have is that you’d better go into “attack mode” on such an intentionally weak argument.

Example 2: “Magic Hat Brewery recently released the results of a survey of visitors to its tasting room last year. Magic Hat reports that the majority of visitors asked to taste its low-calorie beers. To boost sales, other small breweries should brew low-calorie beers as well.”

Again, notice how the prompt takes a relatively modest premise, that most visitors to the tasting room asked to taste low-calorie beers, and draws an intentionally flawed conclusion: that other breweries can boost sales by offering low-calorie beers.

That people tasted these products doesn’t necessarily mean they want to buy them. Perhaps they are using the tasting room to try beers they do not regularly purchase, meaning that the low-calorie versions of the Magic Hat beers do not sell very well. We are also not told whether visitors to the tasting room enjoyed the low-calorie beers or whether they plan to buy them in the future.

The lack of evidence is made more startling by the enormity of the conclusion. If the conclusion were to say that Magic Hat was boosting sales by having a low-calorie beer, that alone would be an assumption. To say that the way for other small breweries to boost sales is with low-calorie brews is an intentional overstatement.

When you begin to break down the AWA argument prompt on test day, don’t forget that the test makers have tried to make your job easier by giving you something that you can really criticize: an intentionally flawed conclusion.

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