3 Reasons You Need to Use Your Scratch Pad for Sentence Correction

It is incredibly common how many GMAT students have ZERO strategy when it comes to Sentence Correction. Most students just read (A) and try to see if something “sounds weird,” then continue on to (B), (C), (D), and (E), often reading and re-reading each of the 5 choices until they choose what “sounds right” to them, or which one they like the “best” out of the 5. This is NOT a time-efficient or accurate way of doing Sentence Correction! Let’s look at three “home truths” we need to digest in order to move our grammar skills from “okay” to “foolproof!”

High-scorers do not do SC on “feel.” It’s great if you read a sentence and you can sense something is “wrong” or “off” about it, but if you cannot pinpoint WHAT is wrong and WHY it is wrong, then you don’t know Sentence Correction as well as you think. Without writing down a GMAT reason, how do you know that the reason you are elimination Choice (A) is because of a GMAT error and not simply your own gut instinct?

If you don’t record your impressions, you can learn nothing from them. Let’s say you’re taking a full-length practice test. There are 41 questions in the Verbal section. That’s a LOT of questions!

Let’s say you missed Question #5 and it was a Sentence Correction. You go back to the problem a 2-3 hours after completing your practice test to review all your incorrect questions. You have some fuzzy memories of the specific question, but it’s been a few hours, and you did 36 questions after it, so of course you won’t recall it too distinctly.

You look at your scratch pad for this question and it looks like this:


What does this tell you about what you were thinking in your mind as you did the problem? Absolutely nothing. 😦

Therefore, you don’t really have anywhere to go. You can see you chose (D), but you don’t know why. How are you supposed to learn from the question? You read the official explanation, and some additional explanations from GMATPrep or Beat the GMAT, but they don’t tell you what YOU were thinking when you were working through the problem. Let’s say the correct answer was (E). You have no idea why you crossed it off. There is no record. So, how can you improve?

We don’t have Predictions for SC.  Sometimes students try to use symbols for their process of elimination. Symbols such as happy or sad faces and plus or minus signs are great tools to use for Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning answer choices, because we are comparing those answer choices to a pre-conceived idea, a prediction for what we think the correct answer will look like.

But, sadly, in SC we have no idea what the correct sentence is going to look like! Maybe it will look like (A). Maybe it will look completely different from (A).

Let’s say your scratch pad for our hypothetical Question #5 looked like this:

A ?
B –
C –
D +
E ?

This gives us a tiny bit more information about what we were thinking when we looked at each choice, but still not nearly enough. We aren’t thinking like the GMAT test-makers yet, because we aren’t “speaking” their language. They write answer choices to include these specific errors, so we need to be able to point out and name those specific errors. It’s the only way to achieve true Sentence Correction mastery. We have to think like the test-makers!

Now let’s say we DID try to apply our content knowledge of tested grammar/meaning errors to Question #5. Our scratch pad could reveal something like this:

B Para
C Mod
D Wordy?
E Para?

Suddenly, we have a LOT of great questions to ask ourselves:

• In (A), (B), and (C) was there really a Subject-Verb, Parallelism, and Modification issue? Did I recognize these errors correctly? What markers told me this error was present? Or did I miss the “real” error, and simply got lucky in my elimination?
• In (D), was there a grammar or meaning error I could not spot that made this choice incorrect? If so, what was it, and why couldn’t I spot it? What were the markers that indicated it was being tested? If there was no grammar or meaning error, was the only issue with this sentence the wordiness, or was another “style” error present?
• In (E), the correct choice, why did I invent a Parallelism error when no Parallelism error was present? What were the markers that made me think it was testing this concept, and WHY was the Parallelism actually okay? What do I need to remember about Parallelism so I can be more careful and not invent future Parallelism errors?

You will not be able to do this type of self-analysis without the knowledge of what your thought process was as you were attempting the problem!

Just because you speak English, read English, and feel like you generally understand English, don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t need to use strategy for GMAT Sentence Correction! It’s incredibly important for your growth and betterment, and my mission is to help you do it!