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).

 

 

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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!

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!

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.

Learnist: 7 Ways to Make Studying for the GMAT Fun!

(No, really!) Here’s how to dance, snack, and gamify your way to a 700+ GMAT score.

Tip #1 – Use Music As Motivation (Exhibit A: The USC Marshall School of Buiness doing the “Harlem Shake”)

In this video the MBA candidates of the Class of 2013 and Class of 2014 at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business decided to do the Harlem Shake.

And while you may not want to waste a precious study-hour making your own Harlem Shake dance-video with your GMAT study group (but by all means, please feel free to do so!), you CAN and SHOULD use music as motivation while you study for the GMAT.

If you’re someone who needs to have background noise as you study, assign a genre of music to each GMAT question-type. Planning to do 20 minutes of Sentence Correction? It’s Britney Spears and Katy Perry! Moving on to Data Sufficiency? It’s Macklemore-time.

Check out Tips #2-7 on Learnist to learn more ways to make studying for the GMAT fun!

Learnist Board of the Week: Destroy GMAT Reading Comp (once and for all)

Check out this new Learnboard with a step by step guide to conquering RC once and for all!

Step 1 — To start, here’s the mandatory books you’ll need to get:

  • GMAT Official Guide – 13th edition
  • GMAT Official Guide – Verbal review, 2nd edition

You’ll want to know the RC questions in this book backwards, forwards, and upside down.

Other books with lots of passages to practice:

  • Veritas Prep – Reading Comprehension Guide
  • Manhattan GMAT – RC Strategy Guide
  • Artistotle Prep – RC Grail

Step 2 — Read The Economist, or other high-quality publications!

The Economist is a weekly newspaper focusing on international politics and business news. Not only is its subject-matter right up GMAT’s alley, but its written in a more advanced vernacular than your average newspaper — a level matched by the GMAT RC.

As you read these articles, do the following:

  • Circle the topic
  • Underline any transition words
  • Write down the purpose of each paragraph
  • Write down the author’s point of view in your own words
  • Write down the Main Idea in your own words

Do all of this to build your RC skills — ALWAYS read with a pen in your hand, and always ask the million dollar question, “Why is the author saying this?”

Fun fact: You can use your Delta Skymiles for a free subscription. 3,200 miles gives you 51 issues!

For Steps 3 through 7, check out How to Destory GMAT Reading Comp (once and for all)!