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!

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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

(B) scientists had learned about making a synthetic growth hormone, they had to remove 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.

GMAT Prep Analysis: Sentence Correction “Comparison” Question

It’s always valuable to take a good hard look at questions from the GMAC available in the two free GMATPrep CATs and the two supplemental GMAT Exam Pack 1 (for $39). These are all “official” retired GMAT question, so while the GMATPrep does NOT offer explanations for its questions, if we can come up with discerning explanations on our own, we’ll be one step closer to a strong Verbal score on Test Day!

Here’s one question students often get incorrect from the GMAT Prep:

So called green taxes, which exact a price for the use of polluting or nonrenewable fuels, are having a positive effect on the environment and natural resource base of countries as varied as China, the Netherlands, and Hungary.

(A) as varied as
(B) as varied as are
(C) as varied as those of
(D) that are as varied as
(E) that are varied as are

This question tests 2 concepts: Idiom, and Meaning. Idiomatically, when we make a comparison with “as” we need to use a “double as,” or “as…as.” Only (A), (B), and (C) contain the correct idiom. Now we must carefully examine the Meaning.

Here we are comparing the “positive effect” in various “countries.” Since “China,” “the Netherlands,” and “Hungary” are all countries, the comparison is clear in (A).

Why can’t it be (B) or (C)?

The word “are” in (B) is simply not necessary. It does not make the sentence (1) more grammatically correct, (2) cleaner stylistically, or (3) clearer in terms of meaning. (A) is a better choice because it has no grammar error, is shorter, and already has a crystal-clear meaning.

(C) contains a pronoun error – “those” would logically refer to the “environment and natural resource base” of the countries of China, the Netherlands, and Hungary, but we are comparing the countries to one another NOT their respective environment and natural resource bases. The COUNTRIES themselves are “varied,” not the “bases.” Notice how the inclusion of this pronoun changes the Meaning.

This questions serves to remind us that while Idioms are not heavily tested anymore on the GMAT, knowing some of the most common (such as “as…as”) can save you time on Test Day. It also reminds us to pay attention to both Style and Meaning when using process of elimination to remove wrong answer choices.

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).

Tough GMAT: “Idiom” Sentence Correction – Problem of the Day!

Try this Idiom question from the Official Guide!

That educators have not anticipated the impact of microcomputer technology can hardly be said that it is their fault: Alvin Toffler, one of the most prominent students of the future, did not even mention microcomputers in Future Shock, published in 1970.

(A) That educators have not anticipated the impact of microcomputer technology can hardly be said that it is their fault
(B) That educators have not anticipated the impact of microcomputer technology can hardly be said to be at fault
(C) It can hardly be said that it is the fault of educators who have not anticipated the impact of microcomputer technology
(D) It can hardly be said that educators are at fault for not anticipating the impact of microcomputer technology
(E) The fact that educators are at fault for not anticipating the impact of microcomputer technology can hardly be said


Think of “that educators have not anticipated the impact of microcomputers technology” as one long noun. We could replace it with something like “This fact….” If we did that the original sentence would read:

This fact can hardly be said that it is their fault.

“that it is their fault” is incorrect. Something is “said TO BE” something, idiomatically. It would need to read, “can hardly be said TO BE their fault.”

Thus, A is eliminated.

E takes a different approach. If we replaced the full noun again with “this fact,” the sentence would read: “This fact can hardly be said.” This meaning is unclear. The focus is not that this fact literally can’t be said; the focus is that there are no grounds for saying the educators are at fault.

Looking at D, it makes it very clear what “can hardly be said” by neatly putting the noun-verb “educators are” after the “that.” Everything starting with “for…” is a long prepositional phrase that we could eliminate.

D would then read: “It can hardly be said that it is the fault of educators.” Clear, concise, logical. The correct answer is (D).

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.