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TOEFL Vol 2 Official Practice Test #4

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?

It is better to have a broad knowledge of many academic subjects than to specialise in one specific subject.

There is a particular adage which captures this statement completely: Jack of all trades, Master of none. This is often used to describe a person who has the skills and capability in a broad spectrum of abilities, and yet does not have the expertise in any one of them. It does have a certain negative connotation, but I do believe that there is nothing wrong with being a Jack of all trades, Master of none. While it is advantageous to specialize in one specific subject, there is no substitute to having a wide variety of skills at hand to navigate the difficulties of life.

The fact that the word "specialist" equates to an expert suggests that it is paramount to anyone learning a new skill to attain a level of mastery in a particular unique field. Indeed, carving out a niche for oneself is a good way of making sure that one remain indispensable and that this particular set of skills stay high in demand, because very few have mastered it. For example, in the field of medicine, it is beneficial for medical practitioners to eventually specialise in a field of interest after a few years in medical practice. The higher the expertise of the doctor in one specialty, the higher his or her value as an employee of a health institution becomes. This illustrates the importance of specialization in one specific subject to career progression and its subsequent economic benefits. Nevertheless, I would argue that despite the value of expertise and advantages of specialization in a particular niche, it is crucial that physicians do not lose sight of the big picture because of their preoccupation with a certain subject. For example, a surgeon who fails to appropriately recognise the warning signs in a patient that would have been very clear to an internist, would also have failed in his or her basic role as a physician. Hence, I do believe that it is more important for people, even in careers which value specialization, to have a solid foundation in a breadth of subjects than an expertise of one single isolated subject.

Furthermore, having various sets of skills under one's belt would greatly enhance the competitiveness of a person in the workforce. Being an expert of a certain topic is definitely a plus when it involves a rare topic, such as an anthropology topic on a tribe living in obscurity. However, being among the many experts in an oversaturated field would not be much of an advantage in the competition. In such a situation, it would then be fortunate if one had other set of skills in their repertoire, even if it was not yet at the level of the required expertise. Besides, these skills at beginner or intermediate levels of experience could still be improved on with time. The possession of a broad knowledge in different kinds of subjects is akin to avoiding putting all of one's eggs in one basket. Hence, the security it affords especially in times of low demand for a particular expertise, makes competency in a wide variety of skills more advantageous than merely being an expert in only one subject.

In my opinion, being a Jack of all trades, Master of none, is not as bad as the common use of this saying implies. While it is desirable to eventually reach a certain level of mastery in any skill of interest, it would be detrimental to one's career security to neglect honing many other general skills for the sake of attaining expertise in one field. The ideal goal would be to become an expert in one subject while remaining competent in other areas.

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