The following is my log of practice essays written in advance of my GRE test next month in Osaka. The Issue Topics and Argument Topics are all taken from the ETS website. Every possible topic is apparently listed there comprehensively. I want to get as high a score as possible and give the educational testing industry as little of my money as possible. But the tricky part about these open-ended questions is that they require human judgement on both the creation of the problems and the evaluation of the answers… So, I need to find some good graded model answers (on the cheap). Naturally, any comments are welcome.
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.
MY ESSAY (written in 30 minutes)
I agree that to understand the most important characteristics of a society, one must study its major cities, but I agree with some reservations. Indeed, the opposite extreme of this statement seems obviously false—that is, a full understanding of a society would be impossible without studying its major cities. So, that is one caveat. But also, the history of humankind extends into times and places prior to the existence of cities. So, limiting one’s study to cities would certainly be a misstep. Finally, it has been my experience, having grown up on the edge of a small city, that life in cities is inextricably linked to the rural areas around them, making a meaningful separation of urban and rural society impossible. All that being said, cities are, after all, the most concentrated population centers of a given society. And society is defined by the relationships between people. So, it is natural that the study of a society would necessitate an investigation of its cities.
First to go in to more detail about some of my reservations about studying society only through the lens of its cities, I believe the strongest evidence to support this reservation is historical. Humans have not always lived in cities. Cities are a rather new development in the evolution of society. So, for a more historically contiguous view of society writ large, ignoring the countryside in favor of the metropolis would be folly. However, the bulk of humanity in a given society reside in its cities today.
Second, my personal connection to both city and country life neither bias me for or against cities. However, I have grown up understanding the value of both. Institutions like museums and public infrastructure like trains and libraries and schools are present in much greater concentration in cities. And these institutions are certainly rich in value for the study of any society. On the other hand, the natural beauty and the ways in which humans have found to live either in harmony or at odds with their natural environment is most easily accessible through prolonged exposure to rural society.
Finally, on purely economic grounds, often cities depend very dearly on the enterprise of the surrounding countryside. The wealth of mines, pastures, dairies, and farms supply the bulk of humanity that populate cities. And these economic linkages are reflected in culture as well. But a study of a society that neglects these linkages between urban and rural would be incomplete at best.