GMAT: SC “Modification” Question of the Day!

“Modification” on the GMAT refers to words, phrases, or clauses that function as descriptors. Some modifiers include adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases, etc. Try this Sentence Correction question on your own, then review the correct answer below!

No matter how patiently they explain their reasons for confiscating certain items, travelers often treat customs inspectors like wanton poachers rather than government employees.

(A) travelers often treat customs inspectors like wanton poachers rather than government employees
(B) travelers often treat customs inspectors as wanton poachers instead of government employees
(C) travelers often treat customs inspectors as if they were not government employees but wanton poachers
(D) customs inspectors are often treated by travelers as if they were wanton poachers rather than government employees
(E) customs inspectors are often treated not like government employees but wanton poachers by travelers

The main error here is one of modification. An opening clause describing an action with a comma at the end of it must be immediately followed by the person or thing DOING the action.

“No matter how patiently they explain their reasons for confiscating certain items,” is the opening clause here. We can ask, who is logically doing the “confiscating”? It wouldn’t be the travelers, since it’s illogical that they would confiscate their own belongings.

Based on this logic alone, we can eliminate A, B, and C.

For E, there are several issues. “By travelers” is far from its verb “treated” and has faulty parallelism. Since the first part of the idiom begins with “like”, we would want “like” to follow the word “but” as well.

That is why the correct answer is (D).

5 Tips for Completely Underlined GMAT Sentence Correction Q’s

Sometimes you see on your GMAT practice test a difficult Sentence Correction that has the entire sentence underlined. This means you can’t fall back on any part of the sentence, or trust that any phrase, clause, or single word is correct. So how should you approach these types of GMAT questions? Even with a high intimidation-factor, we can “attack” these challenging SC’s with these 5 tips.

1. Always start with the Subject/Verb. Begin by identifying the main subject and the predicate verb. The subject is the noun that is doing the action of the sentence. It may not always be the first noun you see in the sentence. The predicate verb is the main action of the sentence that is being done by the subject. There could be many verbs in the sentence, so don’t be fooled!

2. Chunk It Out. Parse out the rest of the sentence. Is there a long prepositional phrase, a lot of adjectives, relative clauses that begin with “that,” etc. You should also look for common “splits” like broken parallelism or verb issues. If you need to use your scratch pad to write out the sentence in shorthand and draw marks around parts of it, go for it!

3. Focus on Modifiers. These sentences are long because they have a lot of added clauses. See if you can mentally “eliminate” them to focus on the bare bones of the sentence. Make sure you understand how each modifier relates to the rest of the sentence. Is it clear what it is modifying? Does it help or hinder the meaning?

4. Slow down! Plan to spend at least 10 extra seconds on these questions. Don’t rush through them, as the answer choices may be closer together. Remember to look for subtle differences in style. The GMAT loves to include active voice v. passive voice in harder SC questions.

5. Before you select your answer, re-read the whole sentence. Check to make sure the meaning is unambiguous and that it’s clear, despite its length.

Check out this Sentence Correction question:

The spending on durable goods such as household appliances and automobiles is a cyclical pattern that depends on if the overall economy is healthy, whereas non-durable goods like food and shelter remain constant regardless of the economy.

(A) The spending on durable goods such as household appliances and automobiles is a cyclical pattern that depends on if the overall economy is healthy, whereas non-durable goods such as food and shelter remain constant regardless of the economy.

(B) Regardless of the economy, spending on non-durable goods such as food and shelter remains constant even though spending on durable goods such as household appliances and automobiles is a cyclical pattern that depends on whether the overall economy is healthy.

(C) Spending on durable goods such as household appliance and automobiles follows a cyclical pattern that depends on the health of the overall economy, whereas spending on non-durable goods such as food and shelter remains constant regardless of the economy’s health.

(D) Whether the overall economy is healthy determines the cyclical pattern of spending on durable goods such as household appliances and automobiles, whereas non-durable spending such as food and shelter remains constant regardless of the economy.

(E) The cyclical pattern of spending on durable goods such as household appliances and automobiles depends on whether the overall economy is healthy but non-durable goods such as food and shelter remain constant regardless of the economy.

SC
We can see that we have (1) awkward phrasing in “depends on if” and (2) an unparallel comparison between “the spending” and “non-durable goods.” B, D, and E lack the required parallelism. C is clear grammatically, stylistically, and has a straightforward meaning. The correct answer is (C).

15-Second Tips for Better Sentence Correction Scores

Here are a few quick tricks I like to use when Sentence Correction starts to feel overwhelming (especially when dealing with convoluted meanings, extremely bloated, wordy clauses, and completely-underlined sentences):

1. Mentally “remove” appositive phrases.

Long GMAT sentences often have way too much extra information. Try to mentally delete the useless info, and hone in on the main pieces of the sentence.

2. Listen to your gut.

Your accuracy was better when you were instinctually identifying what “sounded funny” to you. Hone in on that. The point of learning the common errors is to have a mental checklist to go through when you CAN’T identify what “sounds funny”.

3. Start by identifying the Subject & the Verb.

Every sentence must have them, and if you start here, you’ll be less likely to be overwhelmed by the sentence as a whole.