Conquer Even the Trickiest GMAT Main Idea Question

Sometimes a GMAT Primary Purpose or Main Idea question can be especially difficult. The passage may not be obviously informational or obviously persuasive, so how can we figure out the author’s point in writing it?

To start, let’s refresh the best 5-Step method for killing GMAT RC:

Proper RC Strategy

Step 1 – Read the Passage —> Do a Passage Map!

Step 2 – Rephrase the Question

Step 3 – Write Down a Prediction (Go Back to the Passage!)

Step 4 – Eliminate 3 Choices (Use “+”, “-“”, and “?” Symbols)

Step 5 – Carefully Compare the “Final Two”

Questions to Ask:

– Does the Wrong Answer Use Unnecessary Extreme Language?

– Is the Wrong Answer Outside the Scope of the Passage?

– Is the Wrong Answer Not Specifically Answering THIS Question?

– Can I Rephrase the Wrong Answer to Make It More Understandably Incorrect?

First, let’s re-format the passage so we can see how the author organizes it:

The fields of antebellum (pre-Civil War) political history and women’s history use separate sources and focus on separate issues. Political historians, examining sources such as voting records, newspapers, and politicians’ writings, focus on the emergence in the 1840’s of a new “American political nation,” and since women were neither voters nor politicians, they receive little discussion. Women’s historians, meanwhile, have shown little interest in the subject of party politics, instead drawing on personal papers, legal records such as wills, and records of female associations to illuminate women’s domestic lives, their moral reform activities, and the emergence of the woman’s rights movement.

However, most historians have underestimated the extent and significance of women’s political allegiance in the antebellum period. For example, in the presidential election campaigns of the 1840’s, the Virginia Whig party strove to win the allegiance of Virginia’s women by inviting them to rallies and speeches. According to Whig propaganda, women who turned out at the party’s rallies gathered information that enabled them to mold party-loyal families, reminded men of moral values that transcended party loyalty, and conferred moral standing on the party. Virginia Democrats, in response, began to make similar appeals to women as well. By the mid-1850’s the inclusion of women in the rituals of party politics had become commonplace and the ideology that justified such inclusion had been assimilated by the Democrats.

We’ve got two paragraphs, so I’d break them down on our scratch pad as below. I highlighted the keywords from the passage that stuck out to me and upon which I based my inferences.

STEP 1 – Passage Map

Topic: history fields
Scope: how they differ
1: to describe how sources/foci of fields differ
2: to exemplify how 1 field underestimates the other
Author’s POV: political historians (-); women’s history (+)
Purpose: to explain how 2 fields differ, and why that’s not (+)

Now we’re in a great position to try a question!

The primary purpose of the passage as a whole is to

STEP 2 – Rephrase: What’s the purpose?
STEP 3 – Prediction: to explain how 2 fields differ, and why that’s not (+)

A. examine the tactics of antebellum political parties with regard to women
B. trace the effect of politics on the emergence of the woman’s rights movement
C. point out a deficiency in the study of a particular historical period
D. discuss the ideologies of opposing antebellum political parties
E. contrast the methodologies in two differing fields of historical inquiry

STEP 4 – First pass:

A. (-) too specific to paragraph 2
B. (?) a little too specific to paragraph 2, but poss. long-shot
C. (+) potentially too negative in tone, but maybe
D. (-) the passage’s topic is not political parties
E. (+) a great fit for the first paragraph, but potentially leaves out paragraph 2

STEP 5 – Second pass:

The “final two” are C and E, since those are the only two options with a (+) mark. So let’s carefully examine the subtle differences between them.

C. point out a deficiency in the study of a particular historical period
E. contrast the methodologies in two differing fields of historical inquiry

Let’s rephrase each one:

C. show (-) in antebellum study
E. contrast HOW 2 fields studied

What it comes down to is whether we believe the ultimate purpose of this passage is INFORMATIONAL or PERSUASIVE. It’s tough, because the first paragraph is largely informational, and then the second paragraph is largely persuasive (it’s rare to see a passage so “split” like this, and this is not an actual GMAC passage, so we can have some healthy suspicion regarding its quality).

Which one should we choose, C or E? This is a MAIN IDEA question, and the correct answer must be the most broad choice that does not step outside the scope of the passage. Since the last half of the passage is persuasive, we could argue that the first paragraph only serves to drive us towards the author’s strong opinion. If we choose (E) here, we are not addressing the final paragraph at all. (E) is really more like the function of the first paragraph only. (C) best matches the overall passage and does an excellent job of matching the author’s point of view.

The answer must be (C).

Takeaway: If a passage seems “split” between informational/persuasive, look closely at the language of the concluding paragraph. Is the author trying to end with a decisive opinion? If so, it’s really a persuasive passage with some informational exposition. What really sold me on C is the strong opinion given in the first sentence of the second paragraph. The author really lays down a thesis, and then provides a detailed example to back himself up. He’s obviously passionate.

Remember to analyze the “final two” answer choices throughly. You can always rephrase them, consider the scope of each one, the specificity of the question-type, and look for extreme/qualifying language. Don’t just read and re-read answer choices as they are presented to you. Think critically!


How to Move your GMAT Verbal Score 40+ Points…In 2 Weeks!

Have you already gone through the Verbal questions in GMAC’s Official Guide, reviewed the MGMAT Sentence Correction book, and covered the Powerscore CR book? Feeling a GMAT Verbal plateau and not sure what to do next? Here’s some solid tips to move your GMAT Verbal score an extra 40 points in just under 2 weeks!

Beef up the grammar skills. You can ignore most of the challenging vocabulary on sentence corrections as long as you identify what part of speech each word is, and how it functions within the sentence. To do this, you’ll need to spend some time with a solid English grammar review book. I recommend pairing a heavy-duty review book, like the Oxford Guide or those published by McGraw-Hill or Longman, with a “fun” book like Writer’s Express or English Grammar for Dummies.

Read and listen to high-quality English publications. My recommendations include The New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, or any scholarly journal that you find interesting. Listen to NPR or audio books of English-language classics. Set a regular schedule for your reading and stick to it. Even twenty minutes a day will help you conquer Reading Comprehension.

Seek out Advanced CR for harder vocab words. Once you’ve practiced identifying the conclusion, evidence, and assumptions and are confident with the Critical Reasoning question types on the GMAT, consider buying an LSAT practice guide like the LSAT LR Bible. The LSAT has significantly more challenging CR questions and the format is the same as those found on the GMAT. Don’t neglect your GMAT practice, but if you can master the LSAT CR, then the GMAT questions will start to feel easier.

Go more slowly with Word Problems. Practice translating these questions from English keywords to Math equations. Be patient at first – these questions may be especially frustrating vocab-wise. Luckily, the common phrases such as “less than,” “is the same as,” and “product of” are easily memorized.


Identify the Conclusion, Evidence & Assumption(s). This should be your first step for all of the Critical Reasoning question types. The conclusion and the evidence will be explicitly stated in the passage, while the assumptions will require you to sit and consider the author’s point of view. What needs to be true in order for the conclusion to be correct based on the given evidence?

Find the purpose of each sentence. Sometimes CR questions will ask what the function is of a part of the argument. You may see questions that ask “which role” a sentence plays. Try to place it into one category: conclusion ,or evidence? If the sentence was removed from the paragraph, what would be lacking?

Know the overall flow. Arguments have a tendency to follow one of two shapes: a triangle or an inverted triangle. Does the author start by making a specific conclusion and then provide more general evidence, or does he begin with observations and then get to a thesis? Use variables to describe the structure. “Y leads to X which leads to Z” is different from “Y turns into Z unless Y is prevented.” Be on the lookout for “If X, then Y” relationship.

Paraphrase the argument. Dumb down the complexity of the argument as you read, as if you were explaining it to a child. You may want to write down a few short notes to help you. The idea is to ignore the petty details and see through to the author’s main point and to the evidence he provides to support his point.

Choose a verb. Questions about argument structure often ask about the “methods” an author uses. You already know the flow of the overall argument, now give it an overall purpose and label as an infinitive verb. Common verbs:

to explain
to dismiss
to theorize
to strengthen
to demonstrate
to revise
to assert
to suggest
to interpret
to reconcile
to challenge
to predict

Look for transitions. Transition words and phrases are like signposts pointing your way through the logic of the argument. They tell you what is coming next. “Specifically…” means a more detailed example will follow. “Thus,” means a summation is to be expected. “While this may be true…” is a phrase that shows a concession is about to be made. Keep a study sheet of transition words and divide them into categories: Examples, Adding, Contrasting, Emphasis, Resulting In, etc. It’s an ongoing process to familiarize yourself with these, but a worthwhile one.

Determine what is missing for Complete the Passage Questions. What does the blank represent? Often it will be either a restatement of the conclusion, or another supporting piece of evidence, but it could also be an action advocating by the author, or an example of the author’s argument applied to the real world.

Make a prediction (and write it down)! This is the most important strategy for CR. You’ve got to trust that you understand the argument enough to know what should be the correct answer. Don’t worry about making it perfect – just get something down on paper! If you think of your prediction but don’t write it down, you risk forgetting it or twisting it to fit the answer choices.

Eliminate out-of-scope answers. While the correct answer may not perfectly match your prediction, the simple fact that you took the time to think critically while you came up with a prediction will help you understand the author’s focus and the flow of his argument. Eliminate answer choices that would NOT follow the gist of the paragraph. Especially look for those that are outside the scope of the author’s focus, a favorite CR wrong answer type!

Try the Negation Technique. An assumption is something that needs to be true and is required in order for the Evidence to lead to the Conclusion. If we negate the answer choices then the correct choice will weaken the argument the most. This is an excellent strategy to try for Assumption questions.

Questions? Feel free to reach out at gmatrockstar[at]! I look forward to helping you on your GMAT journey!

Sentence Fragments and Run-Ons: Pacing Drill

Ready to try a quick 5-question pacing drill for problems involving Sentence Fragments and Run-On Sentences?

Set your timer for 12.5 minutes if you’re still new to Sentence Correction, 10 minutes if you’ve done a good amount of review and feel confident in your knowledge of Sentence Fragment and Run-On Sentences,  7.5 minutes if you want to give yourself a challenge, ot 5 minutes if you’re a Sentence Correction rock star!

Answer ALL 5 of the following questions, then read through the explanations.

Question #1

In the late nineteenth century, the idea that women held an intrinsic right to vote as American citizens was foreign to most males; in our modern time, however, most males accept it as a foregone conclusion.

(A) to most males; in our modern time, however, most males accept it as a foregone conclusion.

(B) to most males, in our modern time, henceforth, most males accept it as a foregone conclusion.

(C) to most males; in our modern time, although, most males are concluding of it as foregone.

(D) for many males; in our modern time, though, most males accepted it as a foregone conclusion.

(E) for many males; in our modern time, however, most males will accept it as a foregone conclusion.
Question #1 Solution:

The semi-colon and the contrast transition “however” correctly establish the meaning of this sentence, which the present-tense “accept” is appropriate.

Choice (B) creates a run-on sentence by replacing the semicolon with a comma. Without a connecting conjunction—and, or, but, etc.—two independent clauses must be joined by a semicolon or written as two separate sentences in order to avoid creating a comma splice or a run-on. In addition the word “henceforth” not imply the proper contrasting meaning.

Choice (C) uses the very awkward construction: “are concluding of it,” and “although,” though used to indicate contrast, is used awkwardly here. Choice (D) contains an error in tense. The sentence progresses from the past to the present, so the verb in the second clause should be the present-tense “accept.” Choice (E) incorrectly uses the future tense “will accent.” The phrase “modern time” indicates the action takes place in the present. The correct answer is (A).
Question #2

That his presentation on compound interest initiatives was criticized harshly by the members of the bank’s board who examined his proposal with relative indifference came as a shock to the low-level executive.

(A) That his presentation on compound interest initiatives was criticized harshly by the members of the bank’s board who examined his proposal with relative indifference came as a shock to the low-level executive.

(B) The low-level executive was shocked that his presented proposal on compound interest initiatives was criticized harshly by the members of the bank’s board who examined it relatively indifferently.

(C) The fact that his presentation on compound interest initiations was criticized harshly by the members of the bank’s board, which had examined it with relative indifference, came as a shock to the low-level executive.

(D) Shocked that his presentation on compound interest initiatives was criticized harshly, the members of the bank’s board examined the proposal by the low-level executive with relative indifference.

(E) Examining it with relative indifference, the bank’s board examined the proposal on compound interest initiatives by the low-level executive with harsh criticism, shocking him.

Question #2 Solution:

There is nothing incorrect with the existing sentence in (A). Don’t confuse complex or unusual sentence structure with grammatical error. “That” is correctly used. Choice (C) may have been tempting, but it’s less concise and contains several drawn-out clauses. Choice (D) contains a modification error. As written, it implies the “board” was “shocked” but it’s the “low-level executive” who is shocked. (B) and (E) are wordy and awkward. In (B), there should also be a comma before the word “who” since it creates a new clause. In (E), it is also unclear what “it” refers to. We cannot introduce a pronoun without a clear, logical antecedent. The correct answer is (A).

Question #3

The question-at-hand brought up and then debated by the local housing council which was whether or not to require a minimum lot size for any home built after 1978.

(A) which was whether or not to require a minimum lot size for any home built

(B) was whether or not to require a minimum lot size for any house they build

(C) was whether or not to require a minimum lot size for any house built

(D) was the requirement of whether or not a minimum lot size was needed for any house

(E) whether or not to require a minimum lot size for any house built

Question #3 Solution:

The original sentence is a fragment; even though it has multiple verbs and verb forms it does not express a clear thought. (E) is also a fragment. We must eliminate “which” to help create an independent clause. This is done by choice (C). Choice (B) removes “which,” but it has a pronoun, “they” with no clear antecedent. If you chose (D), this option is unnecessarily wordy. A grammatically correct, less wordy option (such as (C)), will always be preferable to an option such as (D). The correct answer is (C).

Question #4

The concept of a wireless radio in every room of one’s home was viewed as beyond luxurious at one point, at first as a result of the fact that early wireless sets were extremely pricey and, in more current times, because they seemed nonessential.

(A) at first as a result of the fact that early wireless sets were extremely pricey and, in more current times, because

(B) at first this was because early wireless sets were extremely pricey, and in more current times due to the fact

(C) at first because early wireless sets were extremely pricey and in more current times because

(D) at first being extremely pricey, in more current times

(E) at first because they were extremely pricey, but then in more current times because

Question #4 Solution:

Remember on the GMAT that not all lengthy answer choices will be incorrect, but always check for a more concise version. (C) is the most concise version of the sentence that does not introduce additional errors. (B) and (D) create run-ons. (B) and (D) do this by making the second clause independent. Both “at first this was because…” and “at first because…” could stand on their own as complete sentences. Independent clauses cannot be separated by commas. They should be separated by semicolons. (E) contains an error in meaning. The word “but” in (E) creates a contrast between the clauses, but both clauses support the same idea (radios in every room were seem as a luxury), so not contrast is needed. The correct answer is (C).

Question #5

Before scientists learned how to make a synthetic growth hormone, removing it painstakingly in small amounts from the pituitary glands of human cadavers.

(A) scientists learned how to make a synthetic growth hormone, removing it painstakingly

(B) scientists had learned about making a synthetic growth hormone, they had to remove it painstakingly

(C) scientists learned how to synthesize the growth hormone, it had to be painstakingly removed

(D) learning how to make a synthetic growth hormone, scientists had to remove it painstakingly

(E) learning how to synthesize the growth hormone, it had to be painstakingly removed by scientists

Question #5 Solution:

(A) is a sentence fragment. What’s the subject? What’s the predicate verb? This sentence is a mess. We don’t know who is doing the action. Logically it should be the scientists, but “scientists” is in a dependent clause and not independent. This sentence has tried to join two dependent clauses together to make a sentence.  (C) is the correct answer because it gives us a subject (“it”) and creates a stand-alone independent clause.

Sentence Correction: The Importance of Pacing Drills

If you’re serious about GMAT Verbal and within 45 days of your Test Day, you should be doing pacing drills at least every other day. Most students have a hard time coming up with their own pacing drills, which is understandable. How much time should you give yourself to start? When should you start trimming seconds off? Should you time individual questions only, or groups of questions? I recommend you alternate between 5 and 10 question pacing drills once you’ve got a good Sentence Correction strategy going. If you only do individual questions, you won’t flex your muscles to hit those 14-15 SC questions on Test Day.

Be sure to regularly incorporate pacing exercises, both concept-specific and mixed-concept, in your study sessions. You don’t want the only time you work under pacing pressure to be when you’re doing a full-length GMAT CAT. Sentence Correction success lies in high achieving accuracy in a short amount of time. Start with the “Level 1” pacing drills as described below, then move on to the higher levels once your accuracy is above 80% at each level. For example, if you tried to complete Level 6, you shouldn’t move on to Level 7 until you were able to get 8/10 or more questions correct in 20 minutes on at least three separate occasions.

Level 1 – 5 questions in 12.5 minutes
Level 2 – 10 questions in 25 minutes
Level 3 – 5 questions in 11.25 minutes
Level 4 – 10 questions in 22.5 minutes
Level 5 – 5 questions in 10 minutes
Level 6 – 10 questions in 20 minutes
Level 7 – 5 questions in 8.75 minutes
Level 8 – 10 questions in 17.5 minutes
Level 9 – 5 question in 7.5 minutes
Level 10 – 10 questions in 15 minutes
Level 11 – 5 questions in 6.25 minutes
Level 12 – 10 questions in 12.5 minutes
Level 13 – 5 questions in 5 minutes
Level 14 – 10 questions in 10 minutes

Once you’re able to complete a wide variety of Sentence Correction questions in less than 1 minute per question with above 80% accuracy overall, you’re much less likely to lose accuracy during a full-length CAT! It may take you a long time to get there (or you may never get there), but at least these sequential drills will allow you to slowly shave some precious seconds off your Sentence Correction time!

Stay tuned for more posts featuring 5 and 10 question Sentence Correction questions grouped by concept!

Should You Take a Practice Test the Day Before Your Test?

When setting up a Study Schedule with students, I like to leave an open slot the week before the exam, so we can decide as we get closer to your GMAT test whether you should do another “last minute” CAT. Why? Because in my experience there is no hard and fast rule. Some of my students just need a break the two days before the exam to mentally “rest up,” while others seem to enjoy re-taking a GMATPrep 3 or 4 two days before just to move the flow of “official” questions front-and-center.

So what should YOU do? Ultimately, see how you feel the week of, and make your own decision. If you’re feeling burnt out or worried it might make your anxious, definitely avoid it. There’s nothing you’re really going to be able to cram in the 48 hours before the test that’s going to make that great a difference to your score. So the only benefit to a CAT that close to your exam is if you think of it like a prolonged runner’s stretch.

If you were to take a practice test right before, then I’d do it ONLY to keep your pacing “in shape” and your brain in the GMAT-space, and I’d still NOT suggest doing it the day/night before your exam but rather two days before. If you do decide this is the way to go, I’d suggest a GMATPrep re-take and NOT any new practice tests (such as one from Veritas or MGMAT). There’s no point in taking a brand new practice test if you can’t properly examine the errors, and whatever score that is churned out by the private test prep company could likely unnerve your or undermine your confidence.

If you can take the CAT with a sense of “play” and “muscle-flexing” then go for it, if it seems like a horrible stress nightmare that will lead to sleepless nights, then definitely avoid.

5 Reasons I Should Be Your GMAT Tutor!

Picking a GMAT tutor can be stressful. Will I get along with this person? Will they REALLY be able to bring my score up? What if I don’t even know what my weaknesses are? Here’s five areas in which any good GMAT tutor should excel, and why I think I’m pretty gosh darn good at my job!

  • Knowledge. I was a classroom teacher and private tutor for Kaplan for 4+ years, so I know how larger testprep companies “think.” I’ve taken what I found valuable from Kaplan, Grockit, and the many other smaller companies I’ve worked with, and I specialize in designing a personalized approach for each student.
  • Flexibility. I tutored for 5+ years virtually via Skype with Grockit, and 4+ years with GMATRockstar, so I know how to make online tutoring fun and effective. I’m available days, nights, and weekends, and I am always in steady contact with students via email to monitor progress, answer homework questions, and pass on relevant blogs. I’m your personal cheerleader!
  • Resources. I have written thousands of test prep questions as a freelance content creator for companies such as Grockit, Veritas Prep, and Magoosh. I am constantly mocking new questions from the GMAT Official Guide and GMATPrep software so I can provide students with accurate, challenging homework material that closely aligns with GMAC product. I have PDF files of the most reputable GMAT material, and provide all students with these materials for free.
  • Preparation. I track all of my students’ progress, and create a targeted “game plan” for each student.  I own over 40+ GMAT books and know exactly what chapters and materials to recommend to students. I am also a regular contributor to Beat the GMAT and keep up to date with the latest updates and changes from GMAC.
  • Affordability. I only charge $150/hr, as opposed to the ridiculously high rates test prep giants charge, and there is no minimum number of hours.

10 Ways to Beat the GMAT This Year!

Preparing for tests, especially the GMAT, is no easy task! In between filling out MBA applications, applying for college scholarships, and researching the Best Business Schools, you have to carve out several months for GMAT test prep. These free GMAT tips will help you jumpstart your GMAT test prep!

Create an Error Log. An Error Log is a spreadsheet designed to help you track your incorrect questions for later review. Add to it on an ongoing basis. You will want to re-take GMAT practice questions multiple times to make sure you do not get them incorrect a second or third time. This will improve your GMAT score more than you think! Free GMAT Error Logs are available online at GMAT websites such as Beat the GMAT and GMAT Club.

Practice online. The GMAT is an online exam, so to ace the GMAT you will need to become an expert at negotiating between the screen and your scratch pad. GMAT test prep books such as the OG, or those made by Kaplan, Powerscore, and MGMAT are excellent sources of GMAT practice questions, but make sure you also do a significant amount of studying for the GMAT online. Mimic the test-taking environment as best you can as you study. Websites such as Grockit and MGMAT offer six free GMAT practice tests with their membership or purchase of one of their books. Ideal for adjusting to an online format!

Learn your grammar. Success on the SC portion of the GMAT entirely depends on your ability to recognize the most-tested grammatical errors. Use a good English-grammar book or a reputable GMAT online SC resource to review the basics of subject-verb agreement, independent/dependent clauses, and grammatical construction.

Take full-length tests. The GMAT requires a great deal of stamina. Even if you have limited resources, most test-prep companies such as Knewton, MGMAT, Kaplan, etc. offer one free GMAT practice test online.

Understand why you get questions wrong. Some students believe that more questions answered = better scores on the GMAT. Fundamentally, answered a ton of GMAT practice questions will only lead to faster pacing, but without solid strategies and disciplined reviewing, your overall score will not improve. Don’t be a lazy reviewer!

Study in shorter blocks. Don’t burn yourself out as you aim for better GMAT scores. It’s better to study in shorter 2-3 blocks, taking frequent breaks to eat, stretch, and exercise, rather than to park yourself in front of your computer and books for 10 hours at a time. The GMAT takes commitment, but you don’t want to become a GMAT zombie.

Don’t neglect AWA. Read through the free GMAT list of essay topics for each AWA essay provided for free on You will want to practice writing at least 3 of each so that you are comfortable with the timing guidelines. Have a template in mind for each GMAT essay and get feedback from other GMAT students.

Take notes as you read RC passages. Keep it short and simple, but make sure to extract and write down the important information in each GMAT passage: topic, scope, author’s tone, function of each paragraph, and main idea. That way you already have predictions for most of the GMAT RC questions and you will save time by not having to constantly re-read the passage.

Use “12TEN” for Data Sufficiency. Instead of writing down ABCDE for the answer choices on your scratch pad. Use the acronym “12TEN” to represent each choice. T = together. E = either. N = neither. This will help you keep straight what each GMAT answer choice means, and allow you to cross off the options quickly and efficiently as you evaluate the statements.

Backsolve and Pick Numbers. Use these GMAT Quant strategies as much as possible on the more difficult GMAT Math practice questions. Remember that there is often more than one way to get the correct answer! Choose the method of least resistance.