Things the GMAT Does Not Like: “Because of” + NOUN + -ing

becauseSince the word “of” is a preposition, when we add it behind “Because” it limits what we can have afterwards to a noun.

On the GMAT, “Because” and “Because of” are NOT interchangeable!!!

We use “Because” to describe an entire clause. For example:

CORRECT: Because Ft. Sumter was attacked, the Civil War began.

The bold section (everything between the “Because” and the comma, is an independent clause and could stand on its own as a complete sentence. The word “Because” is describing that entire action. BECAUSE this action occurred, something else occurred.

Let’s look at the sentence if we tried to use “Because of” instead of “Because”:

INCORRECT: Because of  Ft. Sumter was attacked, the Civil War began. 

Hopefully you can hear just how “wrong” that sounds! If we’re describing an entire action and using an independent clause, we need only “Because.”

“Because of” should describe a NOUN only. 

CORRECT: Because of his complete lack of remorse, the criminal was given a harsher sentence.

“His complete lack of remorse” is a noun phrase, so “Because of” is used correctly.

One thing the GMAT does not like is sentences that attempt to use “Because of” + NOUN + an “-ing” verb. This construction is incorrect, since, as we have seen, “Because of” is best used with just a noun.

Example: “Because of the Senator attending the event …” = WRONG!
Example: “Because of the girl winning the sports competition…” = WRONG!
Example: “Because of Alex getting a 700 on the GMAT…” = WRONG!
Example: “Because of the cat sleeping all day…” = WRONG!

We would want these ideas to be expressed with just “Because,” and change the verb to make logical sense:

Example: “Because the Senator is attending the event,…” = RIGHT!
Example: “Because the girl had won the sports competition…” = RIGHT!
Example: “Because Alex got a 700 on the GMAT…” = RIGHT!
Example: “Because the cat had slept all day…” = RIGHT!

Let’s look at a practice question that uses this structure:

Because of the broker having a portfolio of losses, he will most likely be let go from the firm.

(A) Because of the broker having
(B) Because of the broker having had
(C) Because the broker having had
(D) Because the broker has
(E) Because of the broker had been having

(A) and (B) both attempt to put the participle (-ing) verb immediately after the noun “the broker.” The GMAT does not approve of this! Therefore, (A) and (B) are incorrect.

(E) is also incorrect (not least of all because its verb tense makes no sense).

Only (C) and (D) are options. They now use “Because” so what follows must be an independent clause. Let’s examine both sentences, and highlight the section between the “Because” and the comma:

(C) Because the broker having had a portfolio of losses, he will most likely be let go from the firm.
(D) Because the broker has a portfolio of losses, he will most likely be let go from the firm.

Only (D) puts something that could stand on its own as a complete sentence after the “Because.” Therefore, the correct answer is (D).



Arithmetic and the GMAT

Random pile of colourful plastic lettersThe branch of mathematics dealing with the basic manipulation of numbers is called “arithmetic.” On the GMAT, Arithmetic questions have to do with solving equations and expressions by moving variables from one side of the equation to the other.

Sometimes this involves conversion, or describing one variable in terms of another. Let’s look at an example from the OG:

Temperatures in degrees Celsius (C) can be converted to temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit (F) by the formula F = 9/5*C + 32. What is the temperature at which F = C?

(A) 20°
(B) (32/5)°
(C) 0°
(D) -20°
(E) -40°


The question is asking what is the temperature at which F = C. For this question if, F = C, then wouldn’t F = (9/5)C + 32 be the same thing as C = (9/5)C + 32?
If C = (9/5)C + 32, we can start to simplify by subtracting (9/5)C from both sides.
C – (9/5)C = 32 is the same thing as:
(9/9)C – (9/5)C = 32
(-4/5)C = 32

Let’s multiply both sides by 5:

-4C = 160
C = -40

The correct answer is (E).

GMAT SC: The Myth of “Intended Meaning”


Joan of Arc…preparing for the GMAT exam

Sometimes I read explanations for GMAT Sentence Correction questions that state something like this: “Choice X cannot be the correct answer because it changes the meaning of the original sentence,” or, “Choice Y cannot be right, because it is not the intended meaning of the sentence.”

Let’s be clear: there is no such thing as “original” or “intended” meaning on the GMAT. 

Any answer choice can be correct in Sentence Correction as long as it offers a sentence that is clear of grammar errors and makes logical real-world sense. If choice (A) offers a meaning that does not make logical sense, then it cannot be the correct answer. Choice (D) may offer a different meaning than (A) and be correct, because it corrects the meaning error in (A). It is not healthy for GMAT students to give the “(A) sentence” more weight, gravitas, or benefit of the doubt when it comes to meaning, simply because that sentence happens to occupy the first position in the question. (A)’s meaning is not any more likely to be correct or logical than (B)’s, (C)’s, (D)’s, or (E)’s. In order to step up your SC game, make sure you do not give (A) unnecessary value over the other options.

As for “intended,” what the GMAT intends is for the student to select an answer choice with a logical meaning. If that is (A), then great! If that is (B), then great! Just because (B)’s meaning is different than (A)’s, doesn’t mean (B) is automatically wrong.

In order to illustrate this point, let’s look at this question from the GMAT Official Guide:

Joan of Arc, a young Frenchwoman who claimed to be divinely inspired, turned the tide of English victories in her country by liberating the city of Orleans and she persuaded Charles VII of France to claim his throne.

Before we look at the answer choices, let’s remove the unnecessary modifiers and strip this long sentence down to its simple meaning:

Joan turned the tide by liberating AND she persuaded Charles to claim his throne.

Here we have the marker “and” separating two clauses. This is an indication we should check for Parallelism. We know the GMAT loves verbs to be parallel, so let’s highlight the verbs in the sentence that could be parallel.

Joan turned the tide by liberating AND she persuaded Charles to claim his throne.

We are faced with a decision. Is “persuaded” supposed to be parallel with “turned,” or is it supposed to be parallel with “liberating”? Often the logical meaning of the sentence will only make sense with ONE version, so let’s examine how the sentence would sound both ways:

Joan turned the tide by liberating AND persuaded Charles to claim his throne.

In this version, Joan is doing two separate actions: turning the tide, and persuading Charles.

Joan turned the tide by liberating AND persuading Charles to claim his throne.

In this version, Joan is only doing one action: turning the tide, and she is using two methods to help her turn the tide: she is (1) liberating the town, and she is (2) persuading Charles to claim his throne.

Here’s the difficulty with this question: either meaning is logical, and could be correct!!! If we read (A), and assumed that just because it said “persuaded,” then it HAS to be parallel with “turned,” we would be missing the nuance. We cannot eliminate (A) based on meaning, so let’s look at Parallelism.

Whether the Parallelism is turned/persuaded, or liberating/persuading, we know (because of our parallelism grammar rules), that the word “she” should not precede “persuaded” since it is unnecessary for the parallelism. Therefore, (A) is out.

Now let’s look at the other choices:

(B) persuaded Charles VII of France in claiming his throne
(C) persuading that the throne be claimed by Charles VII of France
(D) persuaded Charles VII of France to claim his throne
(E) persuading that Charles VII of France should claim the throne

The “that” in (C) and (E) breaks the paralllelism, since “liberating THE CITY” is not parallel with “persuading THAT….” If we had had the word “that” after liberating, then perhaps one of these two options could have been correct.

Now we’re on to our final two options:

(B) persuaded Charles VII of France in claiming his throne
(D) persuaded Charles VII of France to claim his throne

We now see that the correct meaning is the turned/persuaded Parallelism, so Joan did two distinct actions. Here, the only difference is the preposition preceding the verb “claiming/claim.”

Two questions must be asked:

(1) when faced with a 2nd verb (“persuaded” being the 1st verb), does the GMAT stylistically prefer the INFINITIVE form (“to claim”), or the PARTICIPLE form (“claiming”)?

(2) what is the correct preposition, idiomatically, to use with the verb “persuaded”? do we say “persuaded in” or “persuaded to”?

The GMAT prefers the infinitive form, and the correct idiom is “persuaded to.” For both of these reasons, the correct answer is (D).


  • There is no such thing as “intended” meaning. Ask yourself: does each sentence make real-world sense on its own, yes or no? If no, get rid of it.
  • The correct answer can have a slightly different meaning than the meaning presented in (A).
  • (A) is not “special,” or any more likely to be correct than (B), (C), (D), or (E). Let’s not give it unusual credence, or get SC questions wrong because we second-guessed our instincts.


Factorials (!) and Divisibility

exclamationIt’s amazing how something as simple as a (!) symbol can throw us all for a loop, even when really we’re just looking at a very simple divisibility question. This is my own question designed to mimic a GMATPrep question.

Start by setting a timer for 2-minutes and try this one on your own, then scroll down for the explanation!

Which of the following is an integer?

I. 10! / 3!
II. 9! / 8!
III. 13! / 11! 5!

A) I only
B) II only
C) III only
D) I and II only
E) I, II, and III


If the result of a fraction is an integer that means that what is in the denominator divides evenly into what is in the numerator. The question for each of these Roman numerals becomes: will the denominator go evenly into the numerator?

Since we know that 10! = 10 x 9 x 8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1, and 3! = 3 x 2 x 1, it is obvious that the denominator of Roman Numeral 1 will go evenly into its numerator.

This same logic can be applied with Roman Numeral 2. As long as the factorial in the numerator is larger than the factorial in the denominator, then we will get a resulting integer.

Roman Numeral 3 is more complex. If we start by cancelling out the 11! from both the numerator and the denominator, the resulting fraction becomes:

(13 x 12) / (5 x 4 x 3 x 2)

Since 4 x 3 = 12, we can cancel those values out:
13 / (5 x 2)

Now we are stuck. 13 is a prime number, so neither 5 nor 2 will divide evenly into it. The result will be a decimal.

The correct answer is (D).


CR Weaken: Why We Need to be Flexible

With Weaken questions, we need some flexibility with the answer choices, since there are several ways to weaken an argument:

-Provide an explanation
-Prove the assumption is wrong
-Undermine a piece of evidence

I find the easiest “default” for a Weaken prediction is to identify the Evidence, Conclusion, and Assumption of the argument, and then simply reverse the assumption.

The hard part is trying to do all of this in your head, so I HIGHLY suggest you do all CR work on your scratch pad. No need to write the entire argument down. You can easily summarize it with abbreviations and symbols. Let’s examine a question:

Microbiologist: A lethal strain of salmonella recently showed up in a European country, causing an outbreak of illness that killed two people and infected twenty-seven others. Investigators blame the severity of the outbreak on the overuse of antibiotics, since the salmonella bacteria tested were shown to be drug-resistant. But this is unlikely because patients in the country where the outbreak occurred cannot obtain antibiotics to treat illness without a prescription, and the country’s doctors prescribe antibiotics less readily than do doctors in any other European country.

Which of the following, if true, would most weaken the microbiologist’s reasoning?

A) Physicians in the country where the outbreak occurred have become hesitant to prescribe antibiotics since they are frequently in short supply.
B) People in the country where the outbreak occurred often consume foods produced from animals that eat antibiotics-laden livestock feed.
C) Use of antibiotics in two countries that neighbor the country where the outbreak occurred has risen over the past decade.
D) Drug-resistant strains of salmonella have not been found in countries in which antibiotics are not generally available.
E) Salmonella has been shown to spread easily along the distribution chains of certain vegetables, such as raw tomatoes.

Here, the evidence tells us a prescription is hard to get, so antibiotics aren’t to blame for the salmonella, even though the salmonella were drug-resistant.

The bad logic here is that the author is assuming there isn’t ANOTHER way that antibiotics could have caused the salmonella, just because doctors don’t give out prescriptions.

So, to weaken, let’s reverse the assumption: what if there was ANOTHER way that the antibiotics contributed to the salmonella that didn’t involve doctors???

Notice that once we’re crystal-clear on the argument, the correct answer is much easier to spot.

B) is saying the salmonella could have come from people eating animals who eat antibiotics. Maybe it transferred?

This is a solid option, and a good reversal of the assumption.

Many students, however, will eliminate (B) right off the bat, because they will think, “huh, I didn’t read anything about “animals that eat antibiotics-laden livestock feed.” But remember, Weaken questions can be exceptionally difficult, and since there is more than one way to weaken, we have to be open to the idea that the correct answer may introduce a detail that at first seems totally irrelevant, but after a few seconds reveals itself as something that destroys the conclusion.

The author said it is “unlikely” that antibiotics could be blamed BECAUSE of the doctors not giving prescriptions.

BUT, if the people are getting antibiotics from a totally different source, then yes, the antibiotics could still be blamed.

Here is how our analysis could have looked for this question on our scratch pad:


Remember to make a prediction for a “Weaken” question on your scratch pad, but ALSO be open to the idea that the correct answer might weaken the argument in an unexpected way!

Reading Comprehension: the Devil’s in the Details

How confident are you at dealing with confusing RC details?

To start, set a timer for 4 minutes. Read the passage, take notes, and  then attack the question below the passage. When the timer dings, move on to the rest of the blog below! Good luck!


The fact that superior service can generate a competitive advantage for a company does not mean that every attempt at improving service will create such an advantage. Investments in service, like those in production and distribution, must be balanced against other types of investments on the basis of direct, tangible benefits such as cost reduction and increased revenues. If a company is already effectively on a par with its competitors because it provides service that avoids a damaging reputation and keeps customers from leaving at an unacceptable rate, then investment in higher service levels may be wasted, since service is a deciding factor for customers only in extreme situations.

This truth was not apparent to managers of one regional bank, which failed to improve its competitive position despite its investment in reducing the time a customer had to wait for a teller. The bank managers did not recognize the level of customer inertia in the consumer banking industry that arises from the inconvenience of switching banks. Nor did they analyze their service improvement to determine whether it would attract new customers by producing a new standard of service that would excite customers or by proving difficult for competitors to copy. The only merit of the improvement was that it could easily be described to customers.


According to the passage, investments in service are comparable to investments in production and distribution in terms of the

(A) tangibility of the benefits that they tend to confer
(B) increased revenues that they ultimately produce
(C) basis on which they need to be weighed
(D) insufficient analysis that managers devote to them
(E) degree of competitive advantage that they are likely to provide


In order to get RC questions correct in general, we need to understand what the question-type is, and what kind of expectation that sets up for the correct answer.

Here, the phrase “according to the passage” tells us this is a Detail question. Detail questions are essentially “research” questions. They ask what the passage literally says about a specific detail. We are NOT meant to draw any kind of Inference (that’s for “Inference” questions, duh). 🙂

Our job in a Detail question is to them research everything the passage says about the specific detail and then write those details down in shorthand on our scratch pad. We then go through the answer choices, reading all 5, and quickly eliminating the three “worst” choices.

Finally, after narrowing down our selection to two, we choose the one that is the closest to the specific language in the passage, without misrepresenting the author’s tone. (We’re always on the lookout for “extreme” language in answer choices in RC, since most RC passages have relatively moderate tones.)

Let’s apply our strategy to this question!

DETAIL question (choose the literal answer!)

Rephrase: How are Service invests and Prod/Dist invests similar?

Let’s look at what the passage says about “investments in service” and “investments in production and distribution”:

– Service can give advantage, but could be a waste
– Must be balanced re: costs/rev benefits like prod/dist

Prediction: Both investments need to be balanced w/other invests re: $$$

Let’s look at the answer choices:

A) uses some keywords, maybe
B) nope…author isn’t saying they both make equal $$
C) yup, strongly matches our prediction
D) managers not mentioned
E) nothing specifically about “degrees” of advantage, just that they both need to be balanced

Our best two answer choices are (A) and (C). Now that we have it down to two, we ask ourselves, since this is a DETAIL question, which choice best restates the exact wording from the passage, while answering the specific question posed?

The answer is (C). The author’s point was that BOTH types of investments must be balanced against other investments to make sure the $$$ is all good. That is how they were similar.

Nice try, GMAT!

The “GMAT trickery” of (A) is something we commonly see in tempting wrong-answer RC Detail questions: it re-uses exact words from the passage, but does not answer the specific question posed.

The passage said, “must be balanced…on the basis of direct, tangible benefits.”

This choice says the two investments are similar because of the “tangibility of the benefits that they tend to confer.” Notice the repeated language.

The question asked how the two investments are SIMILAR. They are similar because they must be balanced on the BASIS on tangible benefits, not that the tangible benefits of the investments are themselves similar. Maybe the two types of investments have totally different benefits. We don’t know.

Students tend to miss RC questions when they:

  1. do not understand the question-type,
  2. do not clarify the specific question being asked by “dumbing it down” in their own words, and…
  3. move through the answer choices too quickly, going from “5 to 1” rather than “5 to 2.”

“5 to 1” = danger of falling in love with the 1st decent answer choice you read
“5 to 2” = a higher likelihood the correct answer will be in your Top Two, and then you can analyze from there

How to Get Similar Questions Right
-Know that “according to the passage” = Detail questions
-Know that tempting wrong answers in Detail questions may “steal” from the passage, then distort it
-Rephrase the Question in your own words! These question-stems are not always clear!
-Re-read the relevant parts of the passage and WRITE DOWN a prediction in your own words. Never, ever rely on memory for Detail questions!

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!