Choose the right stand: Tackling “Pros vs Cons” comparative questions.

6 11 2011

This post emphasises the importance of picking the right question, based on question requirements. Essentially, I advise a lot of students to either master the difficult skills (e.g. dealing with comparative questions), or avoid these questions. If, by now, you haven’t mastered the more challenging question types, I cannot emphasise this enough: do not do the question. 

However, the problem I have is that so many students are irresistibly drawn to questions based on topic, and they insist on doing, for example, the challenging comparative questions that they do not know how to handle. And they inevitably fail the essay. In the past week alone, with only about a week to the 2011 A levels, I’ve seen at least 10 scripts (that I recall) that made this mistake. And what makes it so painful to read these essays and plans is that these students wouldn’t have failed if they had just done a simpler question. Again, I cannot emphasise this enough: avoid the comparative questions. 

But no matter how many times I say this, there will be stubborn students who cannot handle the challenging questions, yet insist on doing them. It frustrates me to no end that students would jeopardise their GP grades in this manner, but some do.

I have yet to find a solution to this problem for three of the four general types of comparative questions (types A, B and D in this post), so my advice remains the same for those – do not do those questions. 

However, there is an easy way out when it comes to the “pros vs cons” comparisons:

  • Always argue that the pros outweigh the cons [stand]
  • because the cons can be minimised or eliminated with sensible policies and/or responsible practices [thesis].
  • This means that the cons are not inherent in [whatever the topic of the question is];
  • rather, the cons are the result of unsound policies and/or irresponsible practices [Note: This may not be relevant to some questions – see fashion and air travel questions below]
  • Thus,  since the cons are not inherent in [topic] and since the cons can be minimised, ultimately, the pros outweigh the cons [yardstick].
On a related note,
  • Never, under any circumstance, try to argue that “the pros and cons are equal”

While I cannot be sure that this will work for all pros vs cons comparisons, a check against all such past questions (2000-2010) shows that it would have worked for all previous questions:

‘Fashion is as much a good thing as a bad thing.’ To what extent do you agree? (2009)

  • Fashion is not as much a good thing as a bad thing; in fact, fashion is more of a good thing than a bad thing
  • because the negative effects and consequences of fashion can be minimised or eliminated
  • This means that the negative effects and consequences of fashion are not inherent in fashion
  • Thus,  since the detrimental effects are not inherent in fashion and since these can be minimised, ultimately, fashion is more of a good thing.

‘Hosting major sporting events creates more problems than benefits’. Do you agree? (2005)

  • Hosting major sporting events does not create more problems than benefits. In fact, hosting major sporting events creates more benefits than problems
  •  because the problems can be minimised by [e.g. adopting sound policies].
  • This means that the problems are not inherent in major sporting events; rather, they are the result of unsound policies
  •  Thus, since the problems are the result of unsound policies rather than being inherent to major sporting events, and since the problems can be minimised, the benefits ultimately outweigh the problems.

‘Air travel creates more problems than benefits: Is this a fair comment? (2002)

  • Air travel does not create more problems than benefits. In fact, air travel creates more benefits than problems
  •  because the problems can be minimised by [e.g. adopting sound policies].
  • This means that the problems are not inherent in air travel
  •  Thus, since the problems are not inherent to air travel, and since the problems can be minimised, the benefits ultimately outweigh the problems.

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4 responses

6 11 2011
(2) The COMPARATIVE question [Analysis of 2000-2010 GCE 'A' Level questions] « read, think, write.

[…] out this related post that explains why, for these questions, you should argue that the pros outweigh the […]

6 11 2011
When the “Either/or” question becomes a “Pros vs Cons” comparative question « read, think, write.

[…] who still choose to attempt it even when it becomes  a “pros vs cons” comparison, read this piece of advice on tackling “pros vs cons” comparative questions. Advertisement […]

25 12 2011
Apple

I am a bit puzzled when reading this post… we still have to write about the pros right? I feel that although the cons can be minimised, it does not necessarily mean that the pros will outweigh the cons if they are insignificant…

“Thus, since the cons are not inherent in [topic] and since the cons can be minimised, ultimately, the pros outweigh the cons [yardstick].”

Also, what does the [yardstick] mean?

4 02 2014
Relative positions of X and Y | lazygp

[…] way you can tackle such questions is detailed here on another blog. In summary, if you’re arguing that pros outweigh […]

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