How to Deal with Difficult Short RC Passages on the GMAT

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Just because a passage is short, doesn’t mean it’s easy! Some of the hardest passages on the GRE and the GMAT are short, so let’s not underestimate them on Test Day!

Let’s look at a tough short passage:

Tocqueville, apparently, was wrong. Jacksonian America was not a fluid, egalitarian society where individual wealth and poverty were ephemeral conditions. At least so argues E. Pessen in his iconoclastic study of the very rich in the United States between 1825 and 1850. Pessen does present a quantity of examples, together with some refreshingly intelligible statistics, to establish the existence of an inordinately wealthy class. Though active in commerce or the professions, most of the wealthy were not self-made but had inherited family fortunes. In no sense mercurial, these great fortunes survived the financial panics that destroyed lesser ones. Indeed, in several cities, the wealthiest one percent constantly increased its share until by 1850 it owned half of the community’s wealth. Although these observations are true, Pessen overestimates their importance by concluding from them that the undoubted progress toward inequality in the late eighteenth century continued in the Jacksonian period and that the United States was a class-ridden. plutocratic society even before industrialization.


To start, let’s take some notes on this passage, identifying the Topic, Scope, Author’s POV, and overall Purpose.

The first sentence of any passage will almost always lay out the topic:

Tocqueville, apparently, was wrong.

So, it seems like our topic is going to be “Tocqueville,” but then the 2nd sentence elaborates on what the author is really going to focus on:

Jacksonian America was not a fluid, egalitarian society where individual wealth and poverty were ephemeral conditions.

Oh, okay, so it’s not just “Tocqueville,” and in fact we would not want to choose that as our topic.

Pro-Tip: The topic of the passage is NOT something that is only mentioned once! Look for nouns that repeat throughout the passage!

Topic: Jacksonian America

The 3rd sentence of the passage lays out the scope. Scope = what the author chooses to focus on regarding the topic. We understand he wants to discuss “Jacksonian America,” but in what context?

At least so argues E. Pessen in his iconoclastic study of the very rich in the United States between 1825 and 1850.

Scope: Pessen’s argument

From just the first three sentences we understand that this passage is about a specific time in American history, and it is about one specific scholar’s argument about that time period. This is not an uncommon topic/scope relationship.

It reminds me of this passage: https://gmatclub.com/forum/jon-clark-s- … 88689.html
And this passage: https://gmatclub.com/forum/in-its-1903- … 91506.html

Next, we want to ignore the petty details and look for keywords that reveal the author’s point of view. Not Pessen’s POV, but our author’s!

Notice the language: “refreshingly”, “overestimates”

Though the author does praise Pessen a little bit at the beginning, he ends with a big criticism.

Author’s POV: mostly (-) about Pessen

Finally, consider whether this is an informational or persuasive passage. What is the author’s purpose? To simply provide facts, or to express emotion? Since we can tell he isn’t totally buying Pessen’s argument, this is more of a persuasive passage with a negative tone.

Purpose: to persuade (-)

Putting our notes together, we have:

Topic: Jacksonian America
Scope: Pessen’s argument
Author’s POV: mostly (-) about Pessen
Purpose: to persuade (-)

Doing most of the hard work up front makes the questions a LOT easier. For example, the look how this question is easy since we noticed the word “refreshingly” being associated with the statistics:

The author’s attitude toward Pessen’s presentation of statistics can be best described as

(A) disapproving
(B) shocked
(C) suspicious
(D) amused
(E) laudatory

Even though the author was overall negative about Pessen, when it came to the statistics, that was the one aspect that our author praised, so “laudatory” is the best word. The answer here is (E).

Let’s look at another problem:

Which of the following best states the author’s main point?

(A) Pessen’s study has overturned the previously established view of the social and economic structure of early nineteenth-century America.

(B) Tocqueville’s analysis of the United States in the Jacksonian era remains the definitive account of this period.

(C) Pessen’s study is valuable primarily because it shows the continuity of the social system in the United States throughout the nineteenth century.

(D) The social patterns and political power of the extremely wealthy in the United States between 1825 and 1850 are well documented.

(E) Pessen challenges a view of the social and economic system in the United States from 1825 to 1850, but he draws conclusions that are incorrect.


For this Main Idea question, we can quickly eliminate (B) and (D). (B) focuses entirely on Tocqueville, which for reasons already discussed, is not the topic of the ENTIRE passage. (D) doesn’t offer a point of view, or mention Pessen.

Between (A), (C), and (E), (A) and (C) are openly praising Pessen, which doesn’t fit with the final sentences that made it clear our author was not on board with Pessen’s conclusion. Therefore, the correct answer is (E).

Remember, that for most RC questions, you don’t need to understand every sentence in the passage, but you will have to have a strong graps of what the author is focusing on and how he feels about what is being discussed!

The Importance of Organization for Word Problems

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Let’s start with this challenging question:

Molly worked at an amusement park over the summer.Every two weeks she was paid according to the following schedule:at the end of the first two weeks she received $160.At the end of each subsequent two week period she received $1, plus an additional amount equal to the sum of all the payments she had received in the previous weeks.How much money was Molly paid during full 10 weeks of summer?

A. 644
B. 1288
C. 1770
D. 2575
E. 3229

To start, let’s create a table just to lay out the general information first:

After 2 weeks —> $160

After 4 weeks —-> $1 + (all previous)

After 6 weeks —-> $1 + (all previous)

After 8 weeks —-> $1 + (all previous)

After 10 weeks —-> $1 + (all previous)

Then fill in what the “all previous” would mean:

After 2 weeks —> $160

After 4 weeks —-> $1 + $160 = $161

After 6 weeks —-> $1 + ($160 + $161) = $161 + $161

After 8 weeks —-> $1 + ($160 + $161 + $161 + $161) = $161 + $161 + $161 + $161

After 10 weeks —> $1 + (all previous) = eight $161’s

At this point we can see that “all previous” is going to equal the initial $160 + seven $161 and then we’re adding $1 to it, so it’s really just $161 x 8 = $1288

We have an interesting sequence:

After 2 weeks —> $160

After 4 weeks —-> one $161

After 6 weeks —-> two $161

After 8 weeks —-> four $161

After 10 weeks —-> eight $161

Basically the “number” of $161’s just doubled from 4 weeks to 10 weeks.

Now to add them all up, again, we’re just going to count up all of the number of $161’s.

We have our initial $160 + 15*($161) = $2575. The correct answer is (D).

You will see over and over again that it’s not the Math calculations in Word Problems that will trip you up, but the inability to be super organized on your scratch paper. 🙂

A Sequence Question or an Interest Question?

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Sometimes the concept being tested on the GMAT is not clear from the first read. A question that might look a little intimidating could be easier than it initially appears! Take, for example, this word problem:

Torres invested $P in a long term investment plan for 24 years at an interest compound annually. But due to some financial issues he had to withdraw money at the end of 6 years.How much more amount could he have gotten after 24 years if he received $3P after 6 years , if it’s known that there were no pre-closing charges or deductions in the plan?

A. 9P
B. 12P
C. 72P
D. 78P
E. 81P

This question is tricky at first since we don’t know the compounding interest rate, and feels like perhaps we would need a compound interest formula to solve, but let’s consider.

It started at P and then compounded 6 times and tripled itself to 3P. So this is more like a Geometric sequence question!

The rule is “P triples every 6 years.”

Year 1 – P
Year 6 – 3P
Year 12 – 9P
Year 18 – 27P
Year 24 – 81P

How much more means we subtract 3P from 81P:
81P-3P = 78P

The answer is (D). What is interesting is that we don’t need to know ANYTHING about interest to get this question correct!

The skill required is simply good scratch-work organization!

How to Tackle RC Passages that Feel Both Informational and Persuasive

Remember that there are three types of GRE and GMAT passages: Informational (I), Informational with Opinion (I+), or Persuasive (P).

Informational with Opinion (I+) passages tend to confuse a lot of students. These passages are mostly informational (but not 100%!) The author gives a lot of facts about the topic, but he does give us a little bit of opinion! They are sort of the “middle ground” between passages that are very boring and passages that are all “fired up.”

This can be a challenge to recognize! Maybe an author says a theory is “overlooked,” or describes a group of politicians as “noble-hearted, yet ineffective.” Perhaps the entire passage is informational until the very last sentence, and the author then suggests that something is a “shame,” or “requires more public attention.” We know it’s not quite Persuasive, but it’s not completely bereft of emotion. That’s how you know it is I+!

Let’s look at an example of this type of passage. I highlighted some interesting keywords for us to notice:

Passage

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which measures the dollar value of finished goods and services produced by an economy during a given period, serves as the chief indicator of the economic well-being of the United States. The GDP assumes that the economic significance of goods and services lies solely in their price, and that these goods and services add to the national well-being, not because of any intrinsic value they may possess, but simply because they were produced and bought. Additionally, only those goods and services involved in monetary transactions are included in the GDP. Thus, the GDP ignores the economic utility of such things as a clean environment and cohesive families and communities. It is therefore not merely coincidental, since national policies in capitalist and non-capitalist countries alike are dependent on indicators such as the GDP, that both the environment and the social structure have been eroded in recent decades. Not only does the GDP mask this erosion, it can actually portray it as an economic gain: an oil spill off a coastal region “adds” to the GDP because it generates commercial activity. In short, the nation’s central measure of economic well-being works like a calculating machine that adds but cannot subtract.

Analysis

There’s at least three places in which the author gives a clear opinion, although I suppose “mask” is not particularly opinionated. Since this passage has an opinion, but doesn’t contain 3 super-strong sentences of opinion, we would probably want to error on the side of caution and classify it as “Informational +”. That means the Main Idea should be opinionated, but not be TOO extreme. We need a good “middle ground” answer choice. Our Test-Day notes might look like this:

POV: GDP 🙁
P: I+ (to give info + opinion)

Let’s look at the “Main Idea” question. This is a wordy one, so let’s scan through them, and examine the verbs first:

Question

The primary purpose of the passage is to:

(A) identify ways in which the GDP could be modified so that it would serve as a more accurate indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

(B) suggest that the GDP, in spite of certain shortcomings, is still the most reliable indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

(C) examine crucial shortcomings of the GDP as an indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

(D) argue that the growth of the United States economy in recent decades has diminished the effectiveness of the GDP as an indicator of the nation’s economic well-being

(E) discuss how the GDP came to be used as the primary indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

 

Verbs-only:

(A) identify… (B) suggest… (C) examine… (D) argue… (E) discuss…

 

——

We want a “middle-of-the-road” verb — something that isn’t too Persuasive, but isn’t 100% dry and Informational. Notice how in this group of verbs, (D) is by far the strongest. Does it make sense for the strongest verb to be correct, when we know this isn’t a full-blown Persuasive passage? Nope! So we can eliminate (D).

Of the four that are left, (E) is the most casual and Informational. To “discuss” something is pretty innocuous and un-opinionated, so unless the second-half says something such as, “to discuss why the GDP isn’t that great,” we can tell this isn’t going to be the correct answer.

The only verbs in the running for a “middle-of-the-road” answer choice, a choice that has some opinion, but not too much opinion, are (A), (B), and (C). Let’s look at them in full context again. Notice how even the answer choices reveal specific tones and points of view:

(A) identify ways in which the GDP could be modified so that it would serve as a more accurate indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

(B) suggest that the GDP, in spite of certain shortcomings, is still the most reliable indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

(C) examine crucial shortcomings of the GDP as an indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

——

Notice how (B) is very positive towards the GDP, whereas (A) and (C) are more negative. Again, since the correct answer and the “second-best” are often very close together, this is a good indicator that the correct answer lies between (A) and (C). Also, it helps we identified the keywords and know the author has some reservations about the GDP.

Let’s look at our “Final Two”:

(A) identify ways in which the GDP could be modified so that it would serve as a more accurate indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

(C) examine crucial shortcomings of the GDP as an indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

This is purely a choice in regards to Tone. Does the author think we can “fix” the GDP so it is more accurate, or is the GDP inherently problematic?

Let’s look one more time at those opinionated sections above!

They are all negative about the GDP!

The author isn’t implying that the GDP is beneficial, so (A) incorrectly assumes the GDP is at least somewhat accurate, and that the main criticism is that it needs to be MORE accurate. This choice is very tricky, and implies the author gives some praise to the GDP as a measuring tool of economic well-being. No such praise is in the passage. Like many passages, the tone is negative and fairly critical throughout.

The correct answer is (C) because it best fits the tone of the ENTIRE passage. (A) contains a tone of praise that is not present in the passage. This passage is a little tricky, but you can see that if you wanted to pick (A), you would need to identify a sentence in which the author says something good about the GDP. But where is that in the passage? Nowhere!

How to Attack Tough GRE Text Completions

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Let’s look at a harder Text Completions problem!

The simplicity of the theory—its main attraction is also its (i) _____, for only by (ii) _____the assumptions of the theory is it possible to explain the most recent observations made by researchers.

A liability.. accepting

B virtue.. qualifying

C downfall.. considering

D glory.. rejecting

E undoing.. supplementing

For Text Completions, remember that strategically we want to break down the original sentence and fill in the blanks with our own words/phrases prior to looking at the answer choices. The reason to do this isn’t ONLY in the hopes that the correct answer will perfectly match our prediction (although that’s always nice when it happens!), but we want to spend more time noticing the specific keywords in the sentence.

This is because usually the difference between the correct answer in TC and the 2nd best choice, is that the correct answer’s words fit the context of the original sentence/s just a little bit better.

The reason most people pick the “2nd best” choice, is because they didn’t spend enough time looking at that context. Now of course we don’t want to spend 5 min staring at this sentence, but you will know that your Text Completion strategy is weak if you don’t write anything down when you read the sentence/s and just try to do it all in your head.

So, for this one, let’s look at what we’re given. I’m going to bold some of the words that really stand out to me:

The simplicity of the theory—its main attraction is also its (i) _____, for only by (ii) _____the assumptions of the theory is it possible to explain the most recent observations made by researchers.

The author says this theory has “simplicity.” What does that mean? Well, it’s not complex. There’s some sort of simple explanation for it. He goes on to say that the “attraction” of the theory is also something else. “Attraction” is a positive word, so the 1st blank could be something positive as well, or something negative. Let’s look at how those meanings might sound:

The theory’s main attraction is also its SUPER POSITIVE THING.

or

The theory’s main attraction is also its SUPER NEGATIVE THING.

The 2nd meaning is more likely, because perhaps by “simplicity” the author means “irony.” That the main attractive quality of the theory is also it’s Achilles’ heel?

So, for the first blank, I am going to predict words like that:

(i) Achilles’ heel, downfall, thing that repels people

At this point, if you were struggling to predict for the 2nd blank, you would still be able to eliminate answer choices (B) and (D), since “virtue” and “glory” are positive things.

But let’s push ourselves to predict for the 2nd blank as much as can!

The simplicity of the theory—its main attraction is also its NEGATIVE THING, for only by (ii) _____the assumptions of the theory is it possible to explain the most recent observations made by researchers.

The phrase “for only” implies that the 2nd part will explain how its main attractive is also negative. “Assumptions” are a negative thing. We don’t like to make assumptions about people!

Let’s try out a positive word, a neutral word, and a negative word here:

  1. for only by BELIEVING (+) the assumptions of the theory is it possible to explain the most recent observations

  2. for only by PROVIDING (neutral) the assumptions of the theory is it possible to explain the most recent observations

  3. for only by IGNORING (-) the assumptions of the theory is it possible to explain the most recent observations

Since “possible to explain” is a positive thing, it makes the most sense that we would want something overall negative here. Words like “believing” don’t really make sense in context.

So, let’s go back to (A), (C), and (E) are look for something that shows we need to show those assumptions are negative.

(A) accept the assumptions

(C) considering the assumptions (this is pretty neutral) …we’re missing that sense of irony

(E) supplementing the assumptions

Therefore, (E) has to be the correct answer.

Reading it back, the meaning is:

People like the theory because it is SIMPLE, but that is also its UNDOING, because we have to ADD TO IT (SUPPLEMENT) to make it work!

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.