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Should You Argue Both Sides on Task A Essays?

This is a question I get regularly from new GAMSAT students or those just starting out with their preparation for GAMSAT Section 2. Should you, when responding to a quote that presents itself as a factual statement, argue both sides? On the one hand it might be true, on the other hand it might be false.

The answer is it depends. It is important to show that you have thought deeply about the meaning of one of the quotes and that you understand it. One way of doing this is to build an argument in favor of the quote, or in other words to explain how it could be true. Then you adopt a different perspective, or describe a situation in which the quote would be considered false.

For example, if we take a nice simple quote – “Expensive clothing is a waste of money”. You would start by explaining why it is a waste. Perhaps you might say that it is a waste of money because you can get equally good clothing cheaply by shopping around. Whatever you are trying to achieve by spending a lot of money on clothes can also be achieved by spending less. You don’t need to spend money to look good / intelligent / sexy / rich / whatever you are going for. You can include here a specific example to show that what you are saying is true, or support your argument with other information you might have or colour it with quotes from other people.

Now at this point, to show you’ve really thought about what you are saying, you go on to describe a situation in which buying expensive clothes would not be considered a total waste. In building this second argument or perspective you don’t want to contradict anything you’ve said before, but sort of respond to it and say even if all that is true there might still be a situation in which buying expensive clothes is not a waste and may even be necessary to do. For example, let’s say you are buying a gift for someone. Maybe that person really likes Ralph Lauren shirts. Or maybe you are expected to demonstrate to this person that you love them by spending a lot of money. You are already committed in this case to spending money, so it doesn’t matter what you are spending it on – may as well be overpriced clothes which you will never yourself wear. Your (vain) friend will be delighted to see you have spared no expense in delivering their present and maybe you will even get more popularity points for having spent more money than was truly necessary to satisfy them. The expense itself becomes the gift, and although the purchase itself was a raw deal, the emotional transaction between you and your friend was far more valuable. By doing it this way you have not invalidated any of the things you said at the start, but have still managed to describe a context in which the quote could be considered false.

It is equally possible to just stick to arguing one side – (as it were, there aren’t really sides as it is all one essay and each sentence should bring us closer to understanding the quote, regardless of which truth you are advocating at the time) and just develop your argument really thoroughly Eg. Break down the quote into smaller parts and explain each bit. What is waste? How does waste come about? Then based on your initial revelations you gradually move to conclude that expensive clothing is ubiquitously a waste of money. Or in other words, if clothing is definitely always a waste of money, then what else is true, or what else might the author believe about the world? Eg. Is expensive food also a waste for the same reasons? Expensive cars? Are all grave expenses a waste of money or is there some particular quality of clothes that makes spending a substantial amount of cash on them daft? In answering these questions you will achieve the same goal of demonstrating that you’ve thought deeply about the quote and you’ll end up with a very focused discussion instead of just saying lots of vague things about clothes and money – which is a guaranteed path to Task A mediocrity.

Different commercial sources and teachers will advise different writing methods based on their own areas of expertise, but the core goals of the writing are the same.

Some students excel at putting themselves in other people’s shoes. They find it easy to adopt different perspectives and look at things from multiple directions. Other students, once they get an idea into their head that they agree with, find it very difficult to think of it as anything other than absolutely true. In the latter case it is perfectly fine to throw your counter-argument to the curb and really try to persuade the reader that your perspective is the correct one. Or in other words, to persuade the reader that if she stands in your shoes and accepts your preliminary propositions, there will be no other possible conclusion than the one you deliver in the final lines of your essay.