Essay skills: The atypical absolute terms

28 03 2011

Typically, when we think of absolute terms, we think of words like “never”, “ever”, “always” or “nothing”.

These are fairly standard, and common:
2010: The book has no place in modern society. Discuss.
2010: No politician’s reputation can survive the judgement of time. How true is this?
2009: Should every country have the right to carry out unlimited scientific research?
2008: Can the presence of a foreign power ever help a country with problems?
2007: The view of the majoriy is always right. Do you agree?
In these cases,  ignoring or not engaging with the absolute term will mean that we will not pass for content.

However, there are some questions that masquerade as regular (non-absolute) questions, but sneakily include atypical absolute terms in them. Usually, if we don’t engage with atypical absolute terms, we’ll still pass (although exceptions exist). However, because most people don’t realise that there’s an absolute term in the question, dealing with it and engaging with the term will make your essay stand out – and make you more likely to really score.

Some examples of atypical absolute terms:

Technology has killed the simple pleasures of life. Do you agree?
How far do you agree that men have lost the battle of the sexes?
No price is too high in the pursuit of perfection. Discuss. (Note: “no” is a typical absolute term)

 

Considering the first question:

Technology has killed the simple pleasures of life. Do you agree?

A common argument would go along the lines of:

Technology has killed the simple pleasures of life because nowadays, many people, particularly the youth, are more likely to choose a game of Call of Duty: Black Ops than a stroll in the park. With the exception of parts of the world where such technology is limited, we are now able to entertain ourselves with a dizzying array of technology-based options – readily-available options that saturate the lives of people. In light of this, the probability of engaging in an activity that is technology-based is far greater than that of engaging in a simple pleasure that is untouched by the pervasive influence of technology.

However, this doesn’t really engage with the term “killed”. To show an engagement with the (atypical) absolute term “killed”, one might say:

Some might argue that technology has killed the simple pleasures of life because nowadays, many people, particularly the youth, are more likely to choose a game of Call of Duty: Black Ops than a stroll in the park. With the exception of parts of the world where such technology is limited, we are now able to entertain ourselves with a dizzying array of technology-based options – readily-available options that saturate the lives of people. In light of this, the probability of engaging in an activity that is technology-based is far greater than that of engaging in a simple pleasure that is untouched by the pervasive influence of technology. However, does this actually mean that the simple pleasure has been killed by technology? Despite the fact that technology is pervasive and omnipresent, can a person, if they wish, choose not to engage in the (somewhat puzzling) pastime of catapulting Angry Birds at green pigs on their iPhones? If a person wishes, can they still go for that stroll in the park? And we see that technology hasn’t actually killed these simple pleasures, because one still has the option of engaging in them. All technology does is give us more choice. Where we find simple pleasures absent from our lives, it is not technology that killed them – it is us.

When it comes to atypical absolute questions, it is worth noting that such questions are far more common in college examination papers (across various colleges) than in the actual ‘A’ Level papers. However, they are interesting questions nonetheless, and they do occur occasionally in the ‘A’ Levels. In addition, unlike regular absolute questions, atypical absolute questions do not require you to deal with the absolute term – but I would always advise students to engage with the term, as it shows a greater appreciation of language and its nuances.

Task 1

Consider the other questions with atypical terms given above and write an argument showing how you would engage with each of these atypical terms.

Task 2

Identify and explain how personal voice was used in the arguments above.








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