Possessives on GMAT Sentence Correction

In the latter years of the Great Depression, colleagues of Franklin Roosevelt’s argued that his proposed Social Security Act has a good chance of succeeding due to its strong bipartisan support, sound fiscal plan, and widespread electoral approval.

A. Roosevelt’s argued that his proposed Social Security Act has
B. Roosevelt’s argued that his proposed Social Security Act had
C. Roosevelt’s have argued that his proposed Social Security Act had
D. Roosevelt argued that his proposed Social Security Act had
E. Roosevelt had argued that his proposed Social Security Act has

In the first phrase, we get a great clue about what time period these colleagues lived: the “latter years of the Great Depression.” This is obviously in the PAST, so we need the action that the colleagues did to be a past tense verb. Answer choice (C) is present perfect tense (used to describe something that started in the past and CONTINUE to the present. But these colleagues are dead now, so how can they still be arguing?)

In (E) we have Past Perfect, which is a kind of past tense, BUT we only use this tense to describe an event that occurred before a Simple Past Tense event. In (E), “has” is not past tense, and even if it were, the meaning wouldn’t make sense. The colleagues didn’t argue BEFORE the Social Security Act had a chance of success.

So, now we know it has to be (A), (B), or (D). Since (A) also uses the word “has” and we discussed this in (E), we can eliminate this, too.

Let’s focus on the differences of the Final Two:

(B) In the latter years of the Great Depression, colleagues of Roosevelt’s argued that his proposed Social Security Act had a good chance of succeeding due to its strong bipartisan support, sound fiscal plan, and widespread electoral approval.

(D) In the latter years of the Great Depression, colleagues of Roosevelt argued that his proposed Social Security Act had a good chance of succeeding due to its strong bipartisan support, sound fiscal plan, and widespread electoral approval.

Wow! Only one difference. :) So what do we know about the use of possessives? When a noun turns into a possessive, it becomes a modifier.

EX: Jill won the soccer game.
Meaning: Jill is the one who won.

EX: Jill’s team won the soccer game.
Meaning: The TEAM won, and “Jill’s” just describes the team.

So in (B), if “Roosevelt’s” is now a modifier, the question becomes, what is it modifying? The only logical option is “colleagues.” So the meaning of (B) is “colleagues of Roosevelt’s colleagues.” Um…what? That’s redundant.

The correct answer is (D).

“Team” – Is it Singular or Plural?

Collective nouns, in language, refer to a collection of things taken as a whole. Since they are taken as a whole, or one unit, they are almost always singular.

Even though the Mt. Everest team began the expedition with more provisions than they had in any previous year, its food lasted through only the first twelve days of the climb.

A. they had in any previous year

B. their previous years had had

C. they had for any previous year

D. in their previous years

E. it had in any previous year

“Team” is singular on the GMAT, a collective noun, so we can eliminate (A), (B), (C), and (D) right away. This should be an easy-question for anyone who has a good grasp on Pronouns. They even give you the clue “it” in the non-underlined portion at the end. Don’t ever take the non-underlined for granted! :)

Dealing with Completely Underlined GMAT Sentence Correction

Completely underlined SC questions often look intimidating on our screens. Something like this Magoosh problem can leave many students a little nervous:

The Talmud briefly recounts the core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, although placing this story in context are events described by the two books of the Maccabees, appearing only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament instead of in the Jewish and Protestant bibles.

(A) The Talmud briefly recounts the core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, although placing this story in context are events described by the two books of the Maccabees, appearing only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament instead of in the Jewish and Protestant bibles

(B) The Talmud, briefly recounting the core story of Hanukkah, with the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, and only Roman Catholic Old Testament contains the two books of the Maccabees, which places this core story in context, unlike the Jewish and Protestant bibles

(C) The core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil that lasts eight days, appears briefly in the Talmud, although the events that place this story in context are described in the two books of the Maccabees, which appear in neither the Jewish nor Protestant bibles, but only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament

(D) The core story of Hanukkah involves the single day’s supply of oil which last eight days, appearing briefly in the Talmud, while the events to place this story in context, described in the two books of the Maccabees, which does not appear in the Jewish and Protestant bibles, but instead in the Roman Catholic Old Testament

(E) Appearing neither in the Jewish bible nor the Protestant bible, but in the Roman Catholic Old Testament, the two books of the Maccabees provide the context for the core story of Hanukkah, and involves the single day’s supply of oil which last eight days, while it appears briefly in the Talmud.

Since this is a wordy question that is completely underlined, some students might find it easier to spot the errors and if they “trim the fat” at first, and focus on one of the most obvious keywords the GMAT tests: the “,WHICH”

(A) The Talmud briefly recounts the core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, although placing this story in context are events described by the two books of the Maccabees, appearing only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament instead of in the Jewish and Protestant bibles

(B) The Talmud, briefly recounting the core story of Hanukkah, with the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, and only Roman Catholic Old Testament contains the two books of the Maccabees, which places this core story in context, unlike the Jewish and Protestant bibles

Can the “two books of the Maccabees” “places”? No! We would say “books place” not “books places.” This has a Noun-Verb issue, and we can cross off (B).

(C) The core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil that lasts eight days, appears briefly in the Talmud, although the events that place this story in context are described in the two books of the Maccabees, which appear in neither the Jewish nor Protestant bibles, but only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament

Can the “two books of the Maccabees” “appear”? Yes! This meaning is logical and the noun-verb agree.

(D) The core story of Hanukkah involves the single day’s supply of oil which last eight days, appearing briefly in the Talmud, while the events to place this story in context, described in the two books of the Maccabees, which does not appear in the Jewish and Protestant bibles, but instead in the Roman Catholic Old Testament

Can the “two books of the Maccabees” “does not appear”? No! We would say “books do appear” not “books does appear.” Like (B), this has a Noun-Verb disagreement, and we can cross (D) off.

(E) Appearing neither in the Jewish bible nor the Protestant bible, but in the Roman Catholic Old Testament, the two books of the Maccabees provide the context for the core story of Hanukkah, and involves the single day’s supply of oil which last eight days, while it appears briefly in the Talmud.

Let’s look at our remaining three choices and see if we can spot another “easy” keyword:

(A) The Talmud briefly recounts the core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, although placing this story in context are events described by the two books of the Maccabees, appearing only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament instead of in the Jewish and Protestant bibles

(C) The core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil that lasts eight days, appears briefly in the Talmud, although the events that place this story in context are described in the two books of the Maccabees, which appear in neither the Jewish nor Protestant bibles, but only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament

(E) Appearing neither in the Jewish bible nor the Protestant bible, but in the Roman Catholic Old Testament, the two books of the Maccabees provide the context for the core story of Hanukkah, and involves the single day’s supply of oil which last eight days, while it appears briefly in the Talmud.

I can see both (C) and (E) use the two-part Idiom “NEITHER X NOR Y” — this gives us something obvious to check! Parallelism! :)

In (C) we have “the Jewish” and “Protestant”. If I had my way, we’d add “the” before the word “Protestant,” but the GMAT isn’t anal about articles like “a” and “the” when it comes to Parallelism, so let’s keep it.

In (E), however, we have “in the Jewish bible” in Parallel with “the Protestant bible.” Uh-oh! On the GMAT, prepositions such as “in,” “to,” and “of” matter a LOT in Parallelism! This is dead wrong to include the preposition in one part of the idiom but not in the other part. (note: we could have said “IN neither the Jewish nor the Protestant” and that would’ve been fine.)

So (E) is out.

Getting closer! It’s amazing with such a long question that just TWO rules: knowledge of “which” and knowledge of “neither/nor” parallelism have gotten us down to two! Remember to always look for the “low-hanging fruit”! :)

On to the Final Two! I think these two are both problematic and highly unlikely to be correct options on the actual GMAT, for reasons I get into below. There’s something so weird to me about “the single day’s supply of oil” and I can’t quite put my finger on it. I think it’s the article “the.” Anyway, I like neither of these choices. Let’s see why:

(A) The Talmud briefly recounts the core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, although placing this story in context are events described by the two books of the Maccabees, appearing only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament instead of in the Jewish and Protestant bibles

No obvious “deal-breaker” as in (B), (D), and (E), so let’s get nit-picky with meaning and style! Meaning is decent, but I don’t like the insinuation that “events” could be doing the action of “placing this story in context.” It feels like something only people can do. I also don’t like the meaning that it is the “events” that possibly “appear” only in the Old Testament. It seems like it should be more clearly the “two books” that appear. Again, it’s fine, but I don’t like it. Style-wise, I hate the passive structure of “placing this story…are events.” Again, passive voice can sometimes be correct on the GMAT, but this is problematic. I also thing the double-participle of “involving” and “lasting” so close to one another is unusual for the GMAT, and the “instead of” is weird, though will never be the deal-breaker on the actual exam.

(C) The core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil that lasts eight days, appears briefly in the Talmud, although the events that place this story in context are described in the two books of the Maccabees, which appear in neither the Jewish nor Protestant bibles, but only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament.

I hate “that lasts” and would much prefer the participle “lasting,” though no one asked me. ;) There’s 4 commas here as opposed to 3 commas in the (A). Clarity is not gained by these extra sub-divisions. “Events that place” is more active than (A), but then the rest of the sentence gets kind of weird, since the idiom should just be “NEITHER X NOR Y” but we’re throwing in this “BUT ONLY” at the end of it, as if it is some weird three-part Idiom.

Based on the active voice alone, (C) wins over (A), but honestly, I don’t think this (A) versus (C) here is a fair representation of the kind of choice you’d make on the actual exam.

Tl;dr — I think (B), (D), and (E) have great teachable take-aways, but I don’t think examining (A) versus (C) here is worthwhile for most students. It’s going to make them overly obsessed with “instead of” and passive voice versus active voice, and honestly, there’s bigger fish to fry on GMAT SC.

Parallel Idioms on the GMAT: WHETHER X…OR Y

Set a timer for 2-min and try this problem. See if you can identify the correct parallel structure.

Historians and economists have disagreed about whether the 1929 collapse of stock prices caused the international catastrophe known as the Great Depression or did it simply reflect the underlying weakness of the United States economy.

A. did it simply reflect the underlying weakness of
B. simply reflected the underlying weakness of
C. was simply reflecting the weakness underlying
D. if it was simply reflecting the weakness underlying
E. whether it simply reflected the weakness which underlay

Usually with “whether” we get a parallel structure: WHETHER X…OR Y, and we are looking for two Parallel verbs. We don’t need to repeat the word “whether” in the second-part of the idiom.

EX: Whether I will go to the store or visit the mall.

But also the modifiers could be parallel:

EX: Whether he studies today or tomorrow, he will still do well on the exam. (Here it’s understood the “studies” applies to the second part of the idiom, so we don’t have to repeat it.)

Anyway, let’s look at choice (A):

Historians and economists have disagreed about whether the 1929 collapse of stock prices caused the international catastrophe known as the Great Depression or did it simply reflect the underlying weakness of the United States economy.

Let’s strip out some non-essentials:

Historians and economists have disagreed about whether the collapse caused… or did it reflect….

As written we have “collapse caused” parallel with “did it reflect.” This is not perfectly parallel, and we should look for a better option.

(B) gives is to us by placing “reflected” in parallel with “caused” without screwing up the nice idiomatic structure of “WHETHER X…OR Y….” :cool:

When Concepts Collide: GMAT Verb Tenses and Meaning

Let’s look at an interesting problem from Powerscore that tests two concepts layered into one question: Verb Tenses and Meaning!

Set a timer for 2-min and give this one a go!

Although he had planned on pursuing a law degree, Eli Whitney’s college debt forced him to accept a private tutoring job in South Carolina, a decision that ultimately led to the invention of the cotton gin and a revolution of the cotton industry.

A) had planned on pursuing a law degree, Eli Whitney’s college debt forced him to accept a private tutoring job in South Carolina

B) planned on pursuing a law degree, Eli Whitney’s college debt forced him to accept a private tutoring job in South Carolina

C) had planned on pursuing a law degree, Eli Whitney was forced to accept a private tutoring job in South Carolina to pay his college debt

D) planned on pursuing a law degree, Eli Whitney had college debt so it forced him into accepting a private tutoring job in South Carolina

E) had planned on pursuing a law degree, college debt forced Eli Whitney to accept a private tutoring job in South Carolina

This is a good question to teach “Past Perfect” tense. On the GMAT, we use past perfect tense (“had” + verb) to describe an action that happened in the past BEFORE another past tense action.

The two actions here are: Eli planned on pursuing a law degree. Eli’s debt forced him to accept a job.

Both of these things happened in the past, and they clearly did not happen simultaneously, so logically, which one happened first? Was he FORCED and then he PLANNED, or was he PLANNED and then he was FORCED? The latter is the most logical meaning.

So we want the 1st verb “planned” to be in Past Perfect tense, and the 2nd verb “forced” to be in Simple Past tense. (B) and (D) are out.

Let’s strip back the remaining three options and take a hard look:

(A) Although he had planned on pursuing a law degree, Eli Whitney’s college debt forced him to accept a private tutoring job in South Carolina, a decision….

(C) Although he had planned on pursuing a law degree, Eli Whitney was forced to accept a private tutoring job in South Carolina to pay his college debt, a decision….

(E) Although he had planned on pursuing a law degree, college debt forced Eli Whitney to accept a private tutoring job in South Carolina, a decision….

In (A) and (E), the “college debt” is forcing Eli to do something. Is it logical for something inanimate to do the action of “forcing”?? No! Also, this makes it sound, in (E) especially, that the college debt’s forcefulness was “a decision,” as if the college debt is making active choices FOR Eli Whitney?

(C) has no grammar error and no illogical meaning.

On the GMAT, we want to avoid sentences in which inanimate things are doing “human actions.” I’m reminded of this SC question and these two answer choices:

In an effort to reduce the number of fires started by cigarettes, a major tobacco company is test-marketing a cigarette in which thin layers of extra paper are used to decrease the amount of oxygen entering the cigarette, thereby slowing the rate at which it burns and lowering the heat it generates.

B) in which they use thin layers of extra paper in decreasing the amount of oxygen entering the cigarette, which slows

This choice makes is sound like the “cigarette” is actively doing the “slowing the rate at which is burns.” How can a cigarette slow its own rate??

C) that uses thin layers of extra paper to decrease the amount of oxygen when it enters the cigarette, thereby slowing

This choice makes it sound like the “cigarette” is actively doing the action of “using thin layers.” So…the cigarette is using its own layers??

It’s kind of funny how often inanimate things try to do human-actions on the GMAT. :)

Parallel Idioms on the GMAT

Check out this question from Kaplan:

The works of Isaac Newton reveal that his scientific insights usually came about not in a burst of insight but developed gradually from his studies of the previous accomplishments of scientists and mathematicians.

A) came about not in a burst of insight but developed gradually
B) came about not in a burst of insight but were gradually developed
C) did not come about in a burst of insight but developed gradually
D) did not come about in a burst of insight but had gradually developed
E) did not come about in a burst of insight but they were gradually developed

The parallelism idiom being tested here is “Not X…but Y”, so let’s look at each possible parallel structure:

(A) NOT in a burst of insight BUT developed gradually
(B) NOT in a burst… BUT were developed
(C) NOT come about…BUT developed
(D) NOT come about…BUT had developed
(E) NOT come about…BUT they were

We can see right from the start that (A), (B), and (E) have no chance. (A) has the first part of the idiom use the preposition “in” but drops it in the second part of the idiom, as does (B). (E) tries to put a verb “come” in parallel with a pronoun “they.” The GMAT hates inserting pronouns to break up parallelism.

(C) and (D) correctly use verbs, but the tenses are different. (C) is more parallel with “come” and therefore correct. With (D), we would only use the past perfect tense if we were discussing two past tense events, and we had to make it clear that one event completed in the past before another past tense event started.

Remember: When you have two verbs and one is a simple tense and the other is more complicated, unless you can justify why you NEED the more complex verb, stick to what is simpler and, in this case, most parallel.

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).

 

 

GMAT SC: The Myth of “Intended Meaning”

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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).

Takeaways:

  • 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.

 

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:

A
B
C
D
E

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:

A S/V
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!

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.

CRITICAL REASONING TIPS

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]gmail.com! I look forward to helping you on your GMAT journey!