Friday, October 5, 2012

Opinions vs Facts in GP Essays

Students generally think that GP questions need a lot of factual data, statistical information, and so on. This is one major blunder they commit to unknowingly. While knowledge of various things obviously helps you, it’s not in the way you think. You think that you got good marks for writing data and facts. But in fact, if you have scored well, then you did so because you successfully proved your point or opinion! Confused? Read till the end and you’ll be clear about what I’m trying to say.

Quite contrary to what students think, the reality about GP questions is that rather than putting up difficult topics, they put you in a difficult situation. Consider this question, for example:
Should the key industries of a country be controlled by the State?

Is there any difficult topic in this question? The words are really simple. The question is quite straightforward. However, can you write an essay on this question easily?

Now consider another question,
How far is it possible for societies to provide equal opportunities for all its citizens?

Again, analyze this question. This isn't any difficult if we consider the topic area: society and equality. Most of us have adequate knowledge about our societies and equality (in terms of rights the citizens get). However, writing an essay on this topic is equally painful. Why?

These two are the representative questions of GP paper and you will mostly get these types of question. These are difficult because they are asking you for your perspective, your opinion, your judgment, your evaluation, your views, your analysis, your assessment, etc. on the given circumstances. You are finding them difficult perhaps because although you have facts, you are being unable to form opinions on these topics! GP asks you to evaluate a situation from your perspective. Not by mugging up the facts and writing everyone else’s ideas, facts, details, etc. in a jumbled manner.

For most of the questions on the controversial issues, you are likely to find contradicting facts, even if you research well. To give you an example, let us consider the topic global warming. We were taught a lot about it in science during our secondary level education. We were taught that the amount of carbon dioxide gas, which traps the heat of the sun and doesn't allow it to escape back into the space, is increasing. So, if these two scientific facts are true then the global warming should certainly be taking place. However, there is no lack of evidence to prove it otherwise. One particularly interesting piece of evidence is the temperature records of past 2 decades which reports that the earth is actually cooling.

Therefore, in such controversial issues, it is difficult even for the experts to reach a convincing conclusion about what is really going on. In fact, if you do more and more research on the topics like this, you’ll end up being even more confused. Therefore, although you can present both side of the arguments and conclude that it is not possible to reach a valid conclusion for your essay you must understand that data and information aren't always the deal breaker.

What I don’t mean to say is that data and information are unnecessary. Actually, if you have more knowledge then you are more likely to have more opinions on public issues. So, more knowledge is always appreciable. However, don’t forget the real matter while trying to search for data and statistics. The most important thing in your essay is your analysis, your opinion, your evaluation, your argument. Use facts to support it. Don’t discuss over facts only without presenting your argument (=opinion). And your opinion should be like that of matured, which is reached upon after careful consideration and evaluation of the both sides of the story/issue at hand.

For the first question above, I will go for a ‘no’ answer because I think that private management of industries is better and less corrupted! Now, look at the given issue: It is about efficiency of the management. It is about which organization can better manage the key industries: government or the private companies? If government is more efficient then, yes, the government should own the key industries. Otherwise, private industries should be given the chance. However, in a more realistic situation some industries are either too large for a private institution or unsuitable as they are natural monopoly (such as water supply). In such conditions, government’s management might be better or more appropriate. These points can be discussed in other paragraphs of your essay later. You might tackle this essay totally differently than my approach as well.

Considering more bases in evaluating the given problem, makes your judgment more plausible and more matured. So, try to view the situation from different angles and perspectives of different people. In the above paragraph, I've drawn conclusion by considering only one perspective: efficiency. This is okay to present you an example but not okay in your GP essay. Try to get more bases for comparison while writing the complete essay. And end the essay by stating which side of the argument you are more inclined to.

Similarly, the second question will make you think, how far the concept of equality is practical and to what extent? What are the bases of equality and can societies impart equality on those bases? Perhaps providing equal rights and opportunities is equality. Or perhaps, respecting everyone equally for however they are and whatever they do is enough to claim equality! Perhaps, there should be a list of bases on which people should be not discriminated, on following which equality can be ensured. Now what level of equality is desirable and what level of equality is attainable in real life? You are free to present your views but be prepared to give strong reasons for the examiners to convince them that your views are valid.

Now while giving strong reasons, it would be appropriate to remind them what they already believe to be true. Yes, this is where your knowledge of facts and information comes into play. Because it is easy to agree with the established facts, they work as a medium to justify your argument or views. The stronger (or more credible) the facts the stronger will be your opinion.

From this article, I think you will understand the subtle difference between your opinions and facts. I hope you will understand that your opinion is primary in GP essays, and the supporting facts are secondary! When you take a safer side, you might not need to provide too much fact because your points are either understandable or true by themselves. However, you should not lack your opinion. In short, GP doesn't aim to check how much you know about a subject, but rather, it aims to see how well you take decisions in a given circumstance.

It’s not necessary to dictate always that something is your opinion. Do that only to emphasise your point in special areas like conclusion. Your selection of particular material and trying to establish your claim as true will automatically show that you have inclination towards that side.

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