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Argumentative essay

The argumentative essay is much more challenging as it makes great demands on your ability to put ideas
and opinions across convincingly. To attempt this type of essay, you must be able to operate at a higher level
– in terms of thought, language and style.

Choose this essay type only if you are able to write sound and compelling arguments using clear and logical
reasoning. Flawed or faulty arguments and lack of conviction are some of the weaknesses of a poorly written

The main reason for presenting opinions is to convince the listeners and readers of your viewpoint.

In order to achieve this, you have to present strong and effective arguments supported by elaboration and
examples. Present your opinions in a simple and clear manner (straight to the point) which can be easily
understood by the listeners.

In examinations, you must be aware whether you need to argue on both sides of an argument or make a
stand either to support or oppose the motion. For example, phrases like “Do you think …., Discuss, Do you
agree ….. , etc. mean that you have to explore both sides of the argument before making a suitable stand at
the end of your essay. On the other hand, in a debate, you are required to prepare a stand either to support
or go against the argument.

The main emphasis of this lesson is for you to be able to form strong and effective arguments supported by
elaboration and examples. The use of the expressions given is to assist you stylistically to present for or
against an issue. Make sure they can understand and follow your flow of thoughts.

Techniques in argumentative writing

 You must be able to look at both sides of an argument – The ability to look at both sides of an argument is

essential as this will help you present your case better.

 Have between three and five ideas/points to support your stand.
 Provide ample supporting details – Use examples and illustrations to support your ideas/points.
 Decide the order in which you want to present your ideas – For an effective essay, begin with the most
important reason and end with one that is just as good or convincing.

List of phrases and expressions to present opinions.

I would rather / prefer ……….

In my opinion, ………..
I agree that ……………however,
I disagree with the opinion that …however,…
I feel ………………
Moreover / Furthermore / In addition,
On one hand, …… . On the other hand, ………
Many believe that ……
A popular belief is that ……
Personally, I believe that ………
Some people believe that …….
I believe that …………….
As a result / Therefore / So
But / However / Nevertheless,

Below is an example of an argumentative essay based on the topic
“Public exams should be abolished. Do you agree?”

Public examinations play an important role in a student’s life in Malaysia. In his eleven years of schooling, a
student has to sit for three major public examinations, the UPSR, PMR and SPM. These examinations are
taken seriously by all parties involved, especially students because the results are used for a wide range of
purposes ranging from placement of students to awarding of scholarships. Despite these advantages, I
strongly believe that public examinations should be abolished as they have several drawbacks.

To begin with, public examinations to some extent merely test a student’s ability to memorise and regurgitate
facts. Bloom’s taxonomy of learning ranks these skills as lower order thinking skills. Higher order thinking
skills such as application and inference are often neglected. Students with excellent memory do well in such
examinations while those with poor memorising skills do poorly. Thus, it is not surprising that many students
with poor recall skills loathe subjects like History and Biology. Another case in point is the Moral Education
paper, which requires students to memorise moral values. This is not a valid test as it tests only a student’s
knowledge of values, not the practice of these values. An A in this paper does not guarantee that the student
is a morally sound and virtuous individual. And what about the student who gets an E? Are we suggesting
that he is not a morally upright individual?

Another reason why I am not in favour of public examinations is that they are not the best way to identify a
student’s strengths or weaknesses. This is because these examinations test only certain skills. Allow me to
illustrate my point. The language papers, for example, test a student’s reading and writing skills only and
even so, the range of sub-skills tested is limited. An A in these subjects does not reflect a student’s
competency in all areas of the language. For all you know, he may be an incompetent speaker. Or for that
matter, does a C mean a student is about average in all the language skills? Do these grades tell us where a
student’s strengths and weaknesses lie?

Another major drawback is that teaching in schools today is largely influenced by public examinations.
Teachers teach to prepare students for exams and not for life. As such, many of our students are ill-prepared
to face the challenges of the real world. This also goes against the grain of our National Philosophy of
Education where the emphasis is on character building and the development of human capital. All parties
involved are to be blamed for this as they are more concerned with student achievement and not student
development. At the end of the day, parents want straight A’s for their children, principals want excellent
performances from their students and teachers, and the list goes on.

Finally, in their quest for excellent academic results, school becomes a bore and a chore. Students are
overwhelmed with homework, extra classes and tuition, and teachers are overworked, leaving both parties
with little or no time for relaxation. Thus, it is not surprising that students choose to ignore co-curricular
activities. They see these as a waste of precious time. Parents, too, are affected by the emphasis on
academic achievement. Some go to great lengths to secure private tuition for their children, hiring only the
best. Thus, we can conclude that public exams take the fun out of learning.

We cannot deny the fact that public examinations enable us to assess thousands of students using a similar
instrument but the question one needs to ask is who eventually benefits from such a system? What happens
to students who are not able to master test-taking skills? Is academic excellence the only indicator of success
as suggested by the public examination system?

In a world which is changing rapidly, we need to prepare our students for the many challenges they will have
to face as they will form the backbone of our nation in the years to come. Taking into consideration the flaws
of the public exam system, it is clear that we should seriously consider other means of assessing students
and do away with public exams.

The above essay is convincing because the writer has presented and argued his case well.

He gives four reasons why public examinations should be abolished (they merely test a
student’s ability to memorise and regurgitate facts, they are not the best way to identify a
student’s strengths or weaknesses, teaching in schools is largely influenced by public
examinations, and school becomes boring because of the emphasis on public exams) and each
argument is well supported.

Look also at how he begins each paragraph (To begin with, Another reason, Another major
drawback, Finally). These transition markers help readers follow the direction of the writer’s
thoughts. The direct and formal manner used also add to the overall effect of this piece.