The full list of official SAT Analysis of Argument questions can be found here.

Click on a number to jump to the corresponding essay:

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These essays are not “perfect” answers, but represent what could be done in a 30-minute period to get a score of 5 or 6.

Analysis of Argument # 1: Olympic Foods

The following appeared as part of an annual report sent to stockholders by Olympic Foods, a processor of frozen foods.

“Over time, the costs of processing go down because as organizations learn how to do things better, they become more efficient. In color film processing, for example, the cost of a 3-by-5-inch print fell from 50 cents for five-day service in 1970 to 20 cents for one-day service in 1984. The same principle applies to the processing of food. And since Olympic Foods will soon celebrate its twenty-fifth birthday, we can expect that our long experience will enable us to minimize costs and thus maximize profits.”

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

Sample Response

The author argues, using facts from the color-film processing industry’s downward trend in cost over 24 years, that Olympic Foods will be able to cut costs and thus maximize profits in the future. The author bases his conclusion on the generalization that organizations learn to reduce costs over time and, since Olympic Foods has 25 years experience in the food processing industry, its costs should have declined considerably. There are two serious flaws in the argument.

First, the argument uses a faulty analogy between the color-film processing industry and the food processing industry. Analogies drawn between the two fields are highly suspect because there are many serious differences. While the film processing industry faces a relatively simple processing challenge, food producers must contend with contamination, transportation and farm production (much more serious challenges). Thus, it is likely much more difficult to wring efficiency improvements in the food industry.

Second, the author uses a sweeping generalization. The author’s prediction of margin improvements relies on the optimistic assumption that Olympic Foods’ 25 years of experience will automatically result in operational efficiencies. The problem with this is that improvements in processes do not occur automatically over time, they require tremendous effort at continuous improvement and they require potential room for improvement. It is possible Olympic Foods has limited room for improvement or lacks the managerial will to improve its operations. Thus, there is no guarantee of improved operational efficiency over time.

The author’s argument has two seriously flawed assumptions. The author could strengthen his or her conclusion by providing examples of how the company has learned how to improve its operations over 25 years and implemented those changes.

Analysis of Argument # 2: Centralization of Sales

The following appeared in a memorandum from the business department of the Apogee Company.

“When the Apogee Company had all its operations in one location, it was more profitable than it is today. Therefore, the Apogee Company should close down its field offices and conduct all its operations from a single location. Such centralization would improve profitability by cutting costs and helping the company maintain better supervision of all employees.”

Discuss how well reasoned . . . etc.

Sample Response

The argument concludes that the Apogee Company should shut down its field offices and use a centralized location because the company was more profitable when it had a single central location. The argument has two serious flaws.

First, the author commits the “After This, Therefore, Because of This” fallacy where the author assumes that because a decline in profitability occurred after the field offices were created, the field offices were responsible for the decline. However, there may be other factors that could have caused the decline. Could an industry-wide decline, poor management, or poor marketing have caused the decline? Without ruling out other factors or presenting stronger evidence, the author cannot conclusively blame the field offices.

Second, the author assumes that eliminating the field offices would improve profitability by streamlining the management of employees and cutting costs. There is no evidence to support this assumption. Perhaps the field offices cut travel costs from the central office and allowed better management of sales to far-flung clients. The author could support his assumption with cost-cutting and or profit-enhancing strategies.

In summary, to strengthen the conclusion that Apogee should close field offices and centralize, this author must rule out factors other than decentralization that might be affecting current profits negatively and demonstrate how decentralization would cut costs.

Analysis of Argument # 3: Funding of Arts

The following appeared in a memorandum issued by a large city’s council on the arts.

“In a recent citywide poll, fifteen percent more residents said that they watch television programs about the visual arts than was the case in a poll conducted five years ago. During these past five years, the number of people visiting our city’s art museums has increased by a similar percentage. Since the corporate funding that supports public television, where most of the visual arts programs appear, is now being threatened with severe cuts, we can expect that attendance at our city’s art museums will also start to decrease. Thus some of the city’s funds for supporting the arts should be reallocated to public television.”

Discuss how well reasoned . . . etc.

Sample Response

The author concludes in this argument that the city should shift some of its arts funding to public television for two reasons. The author argues that public television is being threatened by severe cuts in corporate funding and attendance at the city’s art museum has increased proportionately with increases in visual arts program viewing on public television. There are a few problems with this argument.

First, the argument assumes that a correlation proves causality. Simply because there was an increase in television exposure to the visual arts, mainly through public television, the author assumes that this exposure caused a similar increase in local art museum attendance. The author uses the statistical relationship between increased art museum attendance and similar increases in television viewing of visual arts programs to establish causality. However, a statistical correlation does not mean causality. There may be other factors driving the increased art museum attendance, such as new shows, a new wing added to the museum, or a possible rise in the interest in art in society.

On the other hand, the author makes a fair assumption that television programs have an impact on behavior. This is a common sense assumption. After all, advertisers spend billions of dollars on television ad time because they trust this assumption as well.

In conclusion, the author’s reasoning is somewhat persuasive. The author could strengthen his or her argument by eliminating other potential causes that could increase visits to the local art museum.

Analysis of Argument # 4: Declining Revenues and Delays

The following appeared in a report presented for discussion at a meeting of the directors of a company that manufactures parts for heavy machinery.

“The falling revenues that the company is experiencing coincide with delays in manufacturing. These delays, in turn, are due in large part to poor planning in purchasing metals. Consider further that the manager of the department that handles purchasing of raw materials has an excellent background in general business, psychology, and sociology, but knows little about the properties of metals. The company should, therefore, move the purchasing manager to the sales department and bring in a scientist from the research division to be manager of the purchasing department.”

Discuss how well reasoned . . . etc.

Sample Response

The report recommends replacing the manager of the purchasing department in response to a relationship between falling revenues and delays in manufacturing. The grounds for this action are that the delays are traced to poor planning in purchasing metals. The cause of the poor planning might be the purchasing manager’s lack of knowledge of the properties of metals. The author suggests that the position of purchasing manager should be filled by a scientist from the research division and that the current purchasing manager should be reassigned to the sales department. The report supports this latter recommendation, pointing out that the purchasing manager’s background in general business, psychology, and sociology equips him for this new assignment. The report’s recommendations have two serious questionable assumptions.

The first problem is that the report fails to establish a causal connection between the falling revenues of the company and the delays in manufacturing. The fact that falling revenues coincide with delays in manufacturing does not necessarily prove that the delays caused the decline in revenue. The report’s recommendations are not worthy of consideration if there is no compelling evidence to support the causal connection between these two events.

Second, the report assumes that knowledge of the properties of metals is necessary for planning in purchasing metals. No evidence is stated in the report to support this crucial assumption. Moreover, it is not obvious that such knowledge would be required to perform this task because planning is essentially a logistical function.

The author could strengthen the argument that the manager of the purchasing department be replaced by demonstrating that the falling revenues were a result of the delays in manufacturing. Additionally, the author would have to show that knowledge of the properties of metals would improve planning the purchasing of metals.

Analysis of Argument # 5: Increasing Circulation

The following appeared in an announcement issued by the publisher of The Mercury, a weekly newspaper.

“Since a competing lower-priced newspaper, The Bugle, was started five years ago, The Mercury’s circulation has declined by 10,000 readers. The best way to get more people to read The Mercury is to reduce its price below that of The Bugle, at least until circulation increases to former levels. The increased circulation of The Mercury will attract more businesses to buy advertising space in the paper.”

Discuss how well reasoned . . . etc.

Sample Response

The publisher of the Mercury newspaper is suggesting that the newspaper’s price be reduced below the price of The Bugle, a competing newspaper. The circulation of the Mercury has declined during the 5-year period following The Bugle’s introduction. The publisher believes that lowering the price of The Mercury will increase its readership, thereby increasing profits because a wider readership attracts more advertisers. The publisher’s reasoning has two serious problems.

First, although it is obvious that increased circulation would make the paper more attractive to potential advertisers, it is not clear that lowering the subscription price is the most effective way to gain new readers. The publisher assumes that price is the only factor that caused the decline in readership. There is no evidence given to support this claim. In addition, given that The Mercury was the established local paper, it is doubtful that the large-scale drop in circulation would be explained by subscription price alone.

It is possible that other reasons exist for The Mercury’s decline in readership. The Bugle could have much better writing and layout than the Mercury. It is also possible that readers may not be satisfied with the news reporting’s accuracy, or the balance of local to national/statewide news coverage. Either way, it is unclear that lowering prices will drive up readership.

In conclusion, this argument depends on a simplified assumption about the price of the paper and its popularity. The author could strengthen the argument by discussing other factors beyond cost before concluding that lowering subscription prices will increase circulation and, thereby, increase advertising revenues.

Analysis of Argument # 6: City of Helios

The following appeared as part of an article in a magazine devoted to regional life.

“Corporations should look to the city of Helios when seeking new business opportunities or a new location. Even in the recent recession, Helios’s unemployment rate was lower than the regional average. It is the industrial center of the region, and historically it has provided more than its share of the region’s manufacturing jobs. In addition, Helios is attempting to expand its economic base by attracting companies that focus on research and development of innovative technologies.”

Discuss how well reasoned . . . etc.

Sample Response

This advertisement for the city of Helios makes several arguments for locating companies in Helios. The advertisement states that Helios is an industrial center and enjoys a lower than average unemployment rate. In addition, the advertisement states that the city is “attempting” to expand its base by attracting companies that focus on technologies. Moreover, it is argued that efforts are currently underway to expand the economic base of the city by attracting companies that focus on research and development of innovative technologies. This argument is problematic for several reasons.

First, the argument presents no reason to believe that the city is equipped to handle non-manufacturing related businesses. The status of the city as a manufacturing center will likely mean that the city is equipped to handle manufacturing businesses. Its labor supply, energy resources, regulatory environment, support businesses, and infrastructure are likely well-suited to manufacturing companies. However, there is no reason to believe, based on the argument, that Helios offers any attractive benefits to technology companies.

In addition, since the city lacks any specific benefit for technology companies, the use of the statement “Helios is attempting to expand its economic base” is a non sequitur in the context of the overall argument. The statement offers no benefit to technology companies to move there other than an expressed interest in attracting those companies. This argument could be strengthened if they actually provided real benefits to technology companies

Another ineffective argument made is that of the city’s low unemployment rate. The low unemployment rate during a recession suggests that the city has a labor shortage. This means that companies moving to the city probably have to pay above average labor rates to attract labor in a tight market.

The advertisement for the city of Helios fails to provide any compelling reason for non-manufacturing businesses in Helios. The low unemployment rate actually suggests that the city is a poor place to locate a business. Based on the advertisement, the only companies that could plausibly benefit from the city are manufacturing companies.

Analysis of Argument # 7: Aspartame or Sugar

The following appeared in the health section of a magazine on trends and lifestyles.

“People who use the artificial sweetener aspartame are better off consuming sugar, since aspartame can actually contribute to weight gain rather than weight loss. For example, high levels of aspartame have been shown to trigger a craving for food by depleting the brain of a chemical that registers satiety, or the sense of being full. Furthermore, studies suggest that sugars, if consumed after at least 45 minutes of continuous exercise, actually enhance the body’s ability to burn fat. Consequently, those who drink aspartame-sweetened juices after exercise will also lose this calorie-burning benefit. Thus it appears that people consuming aspartame rather than sugar are unlikely to achieve their dietary goals.”

Discuss how well reasoned . . . etc.

Sample Response

The author in this argument is trying to establish that people are better off trying to lose weight with sugar rather than with the artificial sweetener aspartame. This conclusion is based on the assertion that aspartame can indirectly cause weight gain by triggering food cravings, while sugar benefits weight loss by enhancing the body’s ability to burn fat. The details of the claim, however, prevent making an effective generalization about aspartame’s weight-loss benefits.

The argument states that “high” dosages of aspartame can deplete the brain chemicals responsible for registering a sense of being sated, or full. The problem is that “high” dosage is not defined. Is this high dosage reached during normal consumption? Without the dosage defined, it is impossible to determine how often or how significant of a side effect the food craving is.

The second statement, that sugar burns fat, is also qualified and not universally applicable. In this instance, the benefits of sugar only arise after at least 45 minutes of continuous exercise. However, it is a fair assumption that many exercisers will not actually exercise for 45 minutes. Thus, the author cannot make the generalization that all exercisers should prefer sugar over aspartame after exercise.

In conclusion, each of the studies cited in the argument cannot be extended to make a generalization that sugar is preferable to aspartame. Instead, the exercise claim must be qualified by “after 45 minutes” and the dosage indicated by “high” must be defined.

Analysis of Argument # 8: Worker interest

The following appeared in the editorial section of a corporate newsletter.

“The common notion that workers are generally apathetic about management issues is false, or at least outdated: a recently published survey indicates that 79 percent of the nearly 1,200 workers who responded to survey questionnaires expressed a high level of interest in the topics of corporate restructuring and redesign of benefits programs.”

Discuss how well reasoned . . . etc.

Sample Response

This argument uses a survey of workers to show that workers are indeed interested in management issues. The argument is solely based on a survey of 1200 workers that showed that 79% of the workers surveyed expressed interest in the topics of corporate restructuring and the redesign of worker benefits. This argument has several flaws.

The first objection to this argument is the validity of the survey. The statement is incomplete because it does not adequately describe the conditions of the survey. One issue is the sample. Were the workers chosen for the survey chosen randomly or did they volunteer for the survey? This question is relevant here since apathetic workers would obviously not respond to a survey of worker apathy!

In addition, it is unclear whether the 1200 people used in the survey are representative of the company’s employees and are an adequate sample size. Perhaps the 1200 workers are part of a major company with several hundred thousand employees. Or, the workers surveyed may not be representative of the company at large. For example, what if they were part of a management trainee program for workers who wanted to move into management positions?

Aside from any issues relating to the quality of the survey, the argument makes a false generalization about the results of the survey. The survey asks specifically about the worker’s interest in corporate restructuring and redesign of benefits programs. These issues could be reasonably construed as worker’s issues since they would directly impact worker benefits and job security (restructuring often implies layoffs). Thus, the survey cannot be extended to demonstrate an interest in management issues.

In sum, the conclusion about worker interest in management issues cannot be reasonably drawn from the survey’s information. The survey’s accuracy is not adequately explained and the survey’s results are illogically extended to draw an unsupported generalization.

Analysis of Argument # 9: Consumer demographics

The following appeared in the opinion column of a financial magazine.

“On average, middle-aged consumers devote 39 percent of their retail expenditure to department store products and services, while for younger consumers the average is only 25 percent. Since the number of middle-aged people will increase dramatically within the next decade, department stores can expect retail sales to increase significantly during that period. Furthermore, to take advantage of the trend, these stores should begin to replace some of those products intended to attract the younger consumer with products intended to attract the middle-aged consumer.”

Discuss how well reasoned . . . etc.

Sample Response

The author argues that department store sales will increase significantly over the next few years because their core market of middle-aged people will increase in size over the next decade. The author uses the statistic that 39 percent of the retail expenditures of middle-aged people are through department stores. The author additionally argues that stores should take advantage of this trend by carrying more products aimed at middle-aged customers. This argument has two serious flaws.

The argument falsely assumes that an increase in middle-aged people will automatically translate into an increase in sales. The argument errs because it does not acknowledge that the younger generation consists of a different population cohort, which may not favor department stores. Indeed, this generation may favor stores, such as the GAP, that became prominent in the 1980s. Thus, the younger generation’s preference for non-department store retailers may be a generational phenomenon rather than an age-related issue.

The argument further suggests that department store’s inventories should be changed to reflect the tastes of middle-aged Americans. This is problematic because the younger population, although preferring non-department stores, may be growing at a faster rate than the middle-aged Americans and therefore represents a more attractive market. In addition, it is possible, as stated in the prior paragraph, that the younger generation’s tastes have indeed changed and that when they age, they will not shop at department stores.

In sum, this argument is not strong as it currently stands. The argument needs more information about the growth rates of the younger market and their tastes.

Analysis of Argument # 10: Funding cuts

The following appeared in the editorial section of a local newspaper.

“This past winter, 200 students from Waymarsh State College traveled to the state capitol building to protest against proposed cuts in funding for various state college programs. The other 12,000 Waymarsh students evidently weren’t so concerned about their education: they either stayed on campus or left for winter break. Since the group who did not protest is far more numerous, it is more representative of the state’s college students than are the protesters. Therefore the state legislature need not heed the appeals of the protesting students.”

Discuss how well reasoned . . . etc.

Sample Response

The argument states that the state legislature does not have to consider the views of protesting students. The author supports this conclusion by pointing out that only 200 of the 12,000 students actually went to the state capitol to protest the cuts in college programs. The author concludes that since an overwhelming majority of the students did not take part in the protest, they must not be interested in the issue. This argument has two serious flaws.

The author attempts to make a statistical inference from the fact that only 200 out of 12,000 showed up for the rally. This is not a valid statistical survey. If, for example, the students had been randomly surveyed to get a fair sample of the overall population, this would have been a valid survey.

Second, the author uses the fact that 12,000 students stayed on campus or left for winter break to show that they were not concerned about education cuts. In fact, if the protest was during winter break, it suggests a large level of inconvenience for the students to protest the cuts (since many could return home to distant locations). A low turnout does not suggest a low level of interest, but instead implies a high level of organizational opposition since students could be recruited during their vacation time.

As it stands, the argument is not well reasoned. To make it logically acceptable, the author would have to demonstrate that the protesting students had some characteristic in common that biases their views, thereby nullifying their protest as representative of the entire college.

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