Josh Anish is Senior Editor at Knewton.
I read A LOT of GMAT essays. Alex Sarlin and I read every single essay sent in by every single Knewton student. More and more are coming in every day. We usually offer words of encouragement followed by a points of constructive critique — don’t use first-person pronouns in the intro, don’t pay too much deference to the other side of the argument, and so forth.
But last week we received an essay that was so good, we asked asked its author to let us share it with the world. So here it is, followed by a breakdown of why we like it so much.
Reprinted with Robbie M’s permission (thanks Robbie!).
The following appeared in a memorandum from a regional supervisor of post office operations:
During a two-week study of postal operations, the Presto City post office handled about twice as many items as the Lento City post office, even though the cities are about the same size. Moreover, customer satisfaction appears to be higher in Presto City, since the study found fewer complaints regarding the Presto City post office. Therefore, the postmasters at these two offices should exchange assignments: the Presto City postmaster will solve the problems of inefficiency and customer dissatisfaction at the Lento City office while the Lento City postmaster learns firsthand the superior methods of Presto City.
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.
While a potential solution for the gap between the performance of the Lento City and the Presto City post office could be addressed by switching postmasters, the author fails to provide sufficient evidence or sound logic to validate his or her conclusion. First, there are explanations other than postmaster aptitude for the gap between post office performance. Similarly, the assumption that similar size cities have the exact same post office configuration is not logically sound. Finally, additional evidence about the current postmasters would strengthen the author’s proposed solution.
One possible explanation for the difference in volume between the two post offices and customer satisfaction is a difference in supporting staffs. The Presto City post office may have a significantly larger staff, or Presto postal workers may be substantially more skilled or have more experience than their Lento City counterparts. Should this be the case, more significant changes, such as hiring additional workers or training existing employees in Lento City, would be necessary to reduce the gap in performance.
The author also fails to validate the assumption that the two post offices are comparable. Lento City could be demographically different, hosting a population of technologically advanced citizens who rarely send postal mail. These citizens could instead use other means of communication, such as email. In this scenario, the volume of mail would be significantly lower, which in turn could lead to less-experienced or fewer postal workers. Furthermore, using number of complaints as the measurement of customer satisfaction ignores the potential for differences in how customers communicate their satisfaction. It may be that Presto City has no formal means for collecting customer feedback, while Lento City has a very robust process.
Finally, the author could strengthen this claim by citing specific examples of the strengths and weaknesses of the two postmasters. For example, if we were told that the Presto City post office once experienced issues similar to those in Lento City, and that the situation were improved upon the incumbent postmaster’s arrival, it would strengthen proposed postmaster-exchange. Similarly, if there were pieces of evidence that the significant decline in Lento City corresponded to the current postmaster’s tenure, it would more directly relate the present state in Lento City to the postmaster. Without this evidence, the author fails to validly support his or her proposal as there are too many alternative reasons for the variance between post offices.
In summary, the author must better support the link between postmaster and post office performance to support his or her conclusion. A reader of the argument has no means to conclude that there are not other explanations for the variance in performance.
The essay would easily earn a perfect 6 on the AWA. The intro clearly advances a single perspective. Robbie even sets up the 3 body paragraphs in the first paragraph. The body paragraphs themselves are succinct, advancing the author’s argument without sounding dogmatic. Almost no deference is paid to the other side of the argument, a strategy I cannot endorse enough.
In the conclusion, Robbie again brings attention to the flaws in the author’s argument, and then goes on to show its ramifications.