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To understand the most important characteristics of a society, one must study its major cities.
Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.


The statement is quite nonsensical and preposterous in claiming that by studying some major cities of a society, one is able to understand its most important characteristics. These important characteristics of a civilization include how people communicate and interact with each other and how they interact with their environments. It is undoubtedly true that one can learn much from studying major cities through textbook reading. It is, however, difficult to justify that purely through studying of major cities one can understand the major aspects of a society.

 It is almost inconceivable to say that the various aspects of a society can be learned without actually interacting with it. Proponents of the stated claim would probably argue that by studying its major cities, they can learn about the various famous, historic buildings, the means of transportation, and all the glorious façade that the society has put up to display.  Historic buildings, to put it bluntly, are merely a way to look back into the past; it is not a very indicator of the current state of affairs. While the apparent façade is certainly important to those major cities (and perhaps the society itself), they may not necessarily reflect the multi-faceted nature that a society has to offer.

As alluded in the previous paragraph, actually interacting with a society in person is paramount in understanding the important aspects of a society. For instance, it is often understood that people in majorly populated cities such as Beijing lived very comfortably with fancy cars. However, without exploring further outside the city and seeing how people actually lived, one would not be able to learn that there are many poor people who commute more than an hour by bicycles. In fact, cycling to work is more common than one would think since there are more than 3 billions of bicycles sold each year. Simply by learning about the major cities, we would fail to focus on the neighboring smaller cities where there are just as much information, if not more, about the society as larger cities. We would not learn that in villages near Beijing, there are many farmers who grow their own food and if there are excess leftovers, they would sell it to their neighbors.

By studying the major cities, one will neglect to find out how the people within a society interact with each other. There are many means of distant communication such as mail and telephone. In more technologically advanced civilizations, there are social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and email. In our modern world in which these social media seemed ever so commonplace, we often find ourselves astounded when we find that other societies lack these more advanced communication tools. Perhaps studying how the people of a civilization communicate rather than the major cities themselves would shed more light on understanding the important characteristics of the society.

The important characteristics of a society can range from how the people interact with each other to how the people interact with their environments. By merely studying the major cities where the society resides, these factors are impossible to visualize, let alone fathom, without being physically present at the society. One would be much more knowledgeable of a society by assimilating within communities of the society to fully grasp what is really important to the society. In these respects, one will not understand the most important aspects of a society by simply examining the major cities.



This is my first GRE essay and I think I'm short on one paragraph to strengthen my essay. I picked a topic that I wasn't too comfortable with from ETS website. Please critique and rate the essay!



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I'm sorry, I'm so sorry- but I think you did poorly.

There are several surface level errors and I think you did a poor job of analyzing the original statement.

"...by studying some major cities of a society, one is able to understand its most important characteristics." The use of the word "some" implies that only a few of the major cities are studied- when the statement says "it's major cities" not "a few of" or "some of" or "one or two". 

You also wrongly assume that only contemporary societies are on topic- what pre-history societies?

There are places where language fails here-  "almost inconceivable" weak, what are you trying to say?

"not a very indicator" simple typo, or a reflection of writing skills- I'm not the ETS but it would be hard to see past it.

" interacting with a society in person" as opposed to interacting via teleconference? not sure what you mean by in person.

"majorly populated cities such as Beijing lived very comfortably with fancy cars" first verb tense, people lived- do they know longer live there? Secondly, drop the very. Adding words like "very" only dilutes your essay. Thirdly- do they live with the fancy cars or are the fancy cars a sign of "very comfortable" living- the way it is written it sounds like they live comfortably despite sharing their homes with fancy cars.
"poor people who commute more than an hour by bicycles." they commute by bicycle not bicycles... unless they use more than 1 to get where they're going.
"In fact, cycling to work is more common than one would think since there are more than 3 billions of bicycles sold each year" A. The way this is written you are saying cycling to work is more common because there are a bunch of bicycles sold each year. Do you see the flaw in the logic here? Perhaps it is reversed and a bunch of bicycles are sold each year BECAUSE a lot of people cycle to work.  B. "more than 3 billions of bicycles"  Certainly you mean there are more than "3 billion bicycles" not 3 billions.

Need I go on?

The good news? You can always practice and I'm willing to give you a few pointers here and even point you in the direction of some very nice writing handbooks.


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When quickly reading your essay, two things popped out. One, as was already mentioned, you didn't properly address the topic at hand, or at least not exactly. You scrape the surface of the general topic they are asking in your third paragraph when you start to talk about what life in a city is like vs. life outside of a city, but then you move on since you were not exactly thinking about that.

I would have written the entire essay on essentially what you mentioned in the third paragraph. Discuss a few specific examples about life in a city vs. life outside of a city and point out how the original statement (To understand the most important characteristics of a society, one must study its major cities) would apply or not apply in those cases. Then of course you would want to wrap up everything you presented at the end in a “supported” or “not supported” stance. What you choose to argue is irrelevant, you just need to present the examples and explain them in a manner that supports that final position.

The second thing that jumped out to me was your lack of "flow". I'm not an English major in any way but your essay didn't really have much flow, it seemed choppy, like you were jumping around to different topics. What you talked about in your introduction/closing paragraphs was not exactly what you talked about in the body of the essay, and the body itself seemed to jump around (talking about a facade, talking about paragraph three, and then finally talking about the communication).

The bottom line with the GRE writing section is not necessarily to be right, but to build an argument and support it. I can’t speak to grammar and such but it is my understanding that as long as your grammar doesn’t take away from your argument and how you support that argument it has a minimal effect. What you've said here isn't wrong or right, it's poorly constructed and supported. Don't get disheartened however, for a first GRE practice writing section this is pretty good! You have room for improvement and you will get better! Think about constructing a good argument!

Edited by Faraday
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I think that you made some assumptions about the prompt that were not actually inherent in the prompt. (Specifically that "studying major cities" means studying some major historical cities in a textbook. That is not at all implied. Your point about communication in particular makes little sense.) Your writing style is not bad, and you know how to organize an essay, but the ETS graders will be looking at content as well.

See here: http://www.west.net/~stewart/gre/essay-score-criteria.htm

You seem fine in grammar/mechanics/word choice, but sound a bit forced, like you are trying to add words to your argument, but then as MisterMister pointed out, it undermines your content. Just relax! Try to be clear and use words and styles that you are comfortable with. I think that you have the makings to be able to do well in this section, just don't let the task intimidate you.

I think given the criteria you are around a 4/4.5...but then I am not an ETS grader so really I have no idea. Best of luck!

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