# 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.”

(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!

# 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

(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!