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The “Even If” AWA Strategy

Jane Cassie — May 7, 2013 — Leave a comment The AWA, or Analytical Writing Assessment, comes at the beginning of your GRE and asks that you write two 3-minute essays: one on an issue, and one on an argument. I actually love the AWA – I find it satisfying (and, I’ll admit, sort of fun) to write. I’ve always gotten a 6 (out of 6) on the AWA on both the GRE and GMAT, and I always follow the same strategy. Do you have to follow this strategy to get a 6? Absolutely not! But if it appeals to you, you might find that it helps you better organize your thoughts and give a clear, linear progression to your argument. I call it the “even if” strategy. The “Even if” strategy The idea behind the “even if” strategy is to structure your essay to highlight the most important points first. Basically, it allows you to nest your points, conceding one point at a time so that the issue or argument at hand has fewer and fewer problems to contend with as you proceed. For the writer, the benefit of the “Even if” strategy is that your introduction sentences to each paragraph almost write themselves. They introduce the new concept while linking it seamlessly to the previous concept. For this reader, this provides a clarity of structure that GRE graders really seem to enjoy. The “Even if” strategy on the Issue essay Let’s say that the issue essay asks you to discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement, “Investment in education is the most important investment that can be made.” Like most issue statements, this is much too broad a proclamation to agree or disagree with completely. When I first take my notes, they might look like this:

  

Too broad; must narrow to discuss Mostly agree (education allows for growth; education is vital to society) However, other side has many points (other investments matter; depends on needs)

When I structure my essay, the paragraphs will link together seamlessly when they follow an “Even if” structure. The introductory sentences of my body paragraphs, after my introduction but before my conclusion, might look like this:

   

The statement is much too broad with which to agree or disagree, as it currently applies across all of time, space, and society. Even if we can agree to narrow the discussion to only the present, my world view is not informed enough to have an opinion as to the truth of this statement. If based solely on my understanding of the world, I see the value in the statement and agree with its sentiment. However, even though I agree overall with the sentiment of the statement, there are some strong factual arguments against it.

I’ve dealt with one issue at a time in a systematic way. I’ve addressed all ambiguities and bias, then followed the directions and taken a preference for agreement or disagreement, and then tempered my statements with an understanding of the other side’s opinion. In the conclusion, I will reinforce the extent to which I agree with a more nuanced version of the statement. The “Even if” Strategy on the Argument Essay The argument essay is where “Even if” really shines. It allows you to present one problem at a time, and then stipulate that even if that problem were handled, there would still be another problem underneath. It cuts away one bruise from the apple at a time in order to leave no excuses or explanations for the rotten core underneath. Let’s say that the argument essay asks me to evaluate the following argument: “The Mayor of Janesville has proposed a plan to help stimulate sales for small businesses in the town’s downtown shopping district. He proposes that Janesville provide tax breaks to businesses who want to move their operations to Janesville. The tax breaks, the Mayor reasons, will motivate businesses to move to Janesville, which will help to grow the downtown shopping district, attracting customers and their spending dollars.” First, I might make a list of some (of the many) problems with this argument:

      

Will tax breaks make businesses want to move? Will businesses necessarily offer shopping? Will businesses grow the downtown shopping district? Does the mayor want to help the current small businesses? Or any? Will customers be attracted to the businesses that come? Will more customers help the current small businesses? Will customers coming to new businesses shop at small businesses?

That list is a bit disordered, and it doesn’t prioritize my issues in the most important way. Whether or not they get their own paragraph, I’d like to nest my arguments in an “Even if” structure, such as the following:

       

We don’t know if tax breaks motivate businesses to uproot. Even if they do, we don’t know if these tax breaks will be large enough to be motivating. Even if they are large enough to be attractive, we don’t know if they outweigh the costs or disadvantages of moving to Janesville. Even if they are enough to drive businesses to Janesville, we don’t know if these businesses offer shopping. Even if they do offer shopping, we don’t know if they will open downtown. Even if they do open downtown, we don’t know if they will attract customers. Even if they attract customers, we don’t know if those customers have money to spend. Even if the customers do have money to spend, we don’t know if the increased competition will help small businesses or hurt them.

Do you see the benefit of this structure? It allows us to bring up one issue at a time, and then stipulate that it might not be a problem and put it aside. In other words, the reader could disagree with my first seven points and still come back and agree with me on the final point. The “Even if” strategy makes it so that all your points are clear and presented in a logical prog ression, but they aren’t linked together to depend on one another. And that makes for a much stronger argument!