GRE Analytical Writing are a test of Critical Thinking. Analytical Thinking and Critical Thinking are synonymous.
So what is Critical Thinking?
Leaving alone the definitions which are useful from an academic point of view, Critical Thinking essentially is the process of considering and evaluating all dimensions of a situation before arriving at a decision or conclusion or belief about a claim being true or false.
Lets take an example:
You have to make a career choice, and you decide to become a musician because you love music. Lets say you play the guitar well, and decide to be make your living out of being a lead guitarist. So you have a reason for choosing your means of livelihood. But if you are a critical thinker, you would ask a few more questions before you actually froze on the option of making a living out of playing the guitar. Some of these questions could be:
- Whether you have the talent that will actually make someone listen to you or hire you as a guitarist
- How competitive is the field and what are your chances of landing a job or getting enough people to listen to you to make a livelihood out of it?
- Is the kind of music you like and want to play have a reasonable sized audience?
- Is there anything in your past to indicate that you are indeed a good guitarist - such as competitions won, invitations to play in popular bands, formal training, praise by other leading guitarists or musicians? In short, what is your evidence to substantiate your belief that you are a good guitarist.
- What would you do if you don't get to cut records or don't get an opportunity to play in popular bands that pay and play enough to make a livelihood?
- Would you at least land a job as a school teacher for music?
- Would the income from being a school teacher be enough for the kind of lifestyle you want to lead?
- Lets say you want to try your hand at this for two years - do you have any other talent that can lead to employability?
- What are the other career options you could choose now, and what are the chances of success in these alternate professions as against choosing a career in music?
- Are you making any assumptions about any aspect of your choice of career- that you are good, are employable, that you will succeed - and have you examined these assumptions for reasonableness of them being valid? Can you validate any of these assumptions for being true or false?
- This is just a sampling of questions and sure, some of these questions may have valid answers, and some may not. The question is whether have you asked these questions and evaluated your answers? If you have, then you have exercised Critical Thinking in your choice of careers.
- GRE analytical writing tasks test you precisely for this kind of thinking about any situation or problem.
Analytical Writing Coaching today
Most of the coaching about how to approach this task is based on examples, and answers to them. The expectation is that once you see how they are answered, you will be able to extend the same kind of thinking to the essay or issue questions you are presented with. This is like teaching multiplication without explaining what multiplication actually means, and expecting s student to learn multiplication through a few examples.
The fact is Critical Thinking is an application of reasoning, and as human beings we use several patterns of reasoning to arrive at our beliefs , conclusions and decisions. Often we also confuse emotional appeals with fact based reasoning.
If we need to approach the Analytical Writing task scientifically we need to learn the human patterns of reasoning as well as the fallacies that we sometimes fall prey to. In addition, we initially should use a Critical Thinking framework to ensure that we address all dimensions of a situation to the best of our ability. As we go along, examining all dimensions of an issue becomes second nature, and we can dispense with the explicit use of a framework.
Critical Thinking that we need to learn for the GRE analytical writing task:
1. Understanding of any Critical Thinking framework (there are several out there - each of them achieving more or less the same objective)
2. Understanding human patterns of reasoning
- Structure of arguments
- Types of arguments
- Inductive arguments - formal, informal and analogical
- Casual Explanations/inferences
A course in Critical Thinking covers a much broader spectrum of topics such as: Credibility, Rhetoric, Moral reasoning, Legal reasoning, Explanations (in-depth). But for the purpose of GRE, the topics outlined will suffice.