SAT Identifying Sentence Errors: the Ultimate Strategy

Did you know that there are only 18 Identifying Sentence Errors on the SAT Writing section? They count for the largest percentage of your Writing score out of the Writing question-types, and if you rock the grammar skills you already have, and practice a few hundred ISE’s, you’ll easily get most of these questions correct!

Step 1 –Identify the part of speech. What part of speech is underlined? Is it a verb, preposition, adjective, adverb, pronoun, etc? The SAT loves to test the same errors over and over, and we know that each part of speech comes with some predictable errors.
Is the underlined section a Verb? Double-check that it agrees with its subject in number and plurality and that the verb tense is logical with the timeline of the sentence.

Is the underlined section a Pronoun? Make sure it has a clear Antecedent, and that the Pronoun agrees with the antecedent in number. Make sure as well that the personal pronouns (“who” and “whom”, for example) are only being used to refer to people, not things.

Is the underlined section a Preposition? The preposition could be part of an Idiom – does the preposition make sense with the word that immediately precedes it?

For example, we can’t say “afraid from,” only “afraid of.” Is the transition appropriate? Make a flashcard of the most common Idioms and learn them like you would vocabulary words. Idioms alone account for approximately 10% of your SAT Writing score!

Is the underlined section an Adverb or Adjective? Adjectives can only describe nouns, while adverbs can describe verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. Is there a word that is modifying a verb that needs an –ly suffix?

Step 2 – Check for Parallelism errors. Once you’ve examined each of the underlined portions, identified the parts of speech, and double-checked for the most-likely errors associated with that part of speech, re-read the sentence as a whole and look for any Parallelism. Items in a list (separated by commas), comparisons, and (in general) multiple verbs must be in the same format! For comparisons, remember that only “like” things can be compared to each other: people to people and things to things.

Step 3 – Still no error? Choose (E). Remember to trust yourself. After you’ve worked through each underlined part of speech and checked for Parallelism in the sentence as a whole, you still may not be able to find an error. Don’t worry — 5-8 of the ISE’s on Test Day will have “No Error”. That is approximately one-third of all ISE’s!

As you prep for your SAT, if you find yourself choosing (E) too often, it’s likely you’ll need to spend more time studying the most common types of grammatical SAT errors: idioms, run-on sentences, fragments, parallelism, subject-verb agreement, etc. If you find yourself hardly ever correctly choosing (E), then you need to relax and trust yourself. Don’t look for errors that aren’t there!

Using Strategy on the GMAT to Improve your Score

When a GMAT student asks me, “What can I do to get better scores?” usually the first thing I ask is, “What is your current strategy?” Most of the time, I get a pretty vague response. Reading about strategy is the OG, on the BTG forum, or in a GMAT book is NOT the same as actually having a solid strategy. The word “strategy” may sound fuzzy, but all it means is a simple step-by-step approach for each unique question type.

Not only do you have to choose a strategy that works for you, but you have to implement it every time, practicing enough so that is becomes second-hand. Ballet dancers practice a pirouette millions of times, so that when they perform onstage they don’t have to think about it. You want to do the same thing for GMAT.

Before you sit down to take your next diagnostic on GMATPrep, quickly review this strategy cheat sheet (or make one of your own). These methods may not necessarily work for you, but you’ll only learn what does through trial and error. For more in-depth discussion on each of these strategies, search my other posts.

Verbal

Reading Comprehension –

1. Break down the passage. 2. Rephrase the question. 3. Predict an answer. 4. Eliminate.

Critical Reasoning –

1. Identify the Conclusion, Evidence & Assumptions. 2. Rephrase the question. 3. Predict and answer.

Sentence Correction –

1. Spot the primary error. 2. Eliminate answer choices that do not fix. 3. Look for secondary errors and eliminate.

Quant

Problem Solving –

1. Write down the given information. 2. Scan the answer choices. 3. Look for ways to pick numbers or plug in. 4. Recall relevant formulas. 5. Solve.

Data Sufficiency –

1. Identify the type of DS. 2. Determine what is needed for sufficiency. 3. Evaluate statements independently. 4. Combine if needed.

How to Start the GMAT from Scratch

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

-Aristotle

More than 5,400 programs offered by more than 1,500 universities and institutions in 83 countries use the GMAT exam as part of the selection criteria for their programs.  Just getting started with your GMAT prep? This Learnboard covers the fundamentals what you’ll expect to see on the exam: Quant (arithmetic, algebra, number properties, geometry, etc.), Verbal (grammar, reading comprehension, etc.), AWA, and Integrated Reasoning.

Fast facts:

  • The GMAT exam assesses higher-order reasoning skills: Verbal, Quantitative, Analytical Writing, and Integrated Reasoning. Its cost to test takers is US $250.
  • Available time slots at test centers change continuously based on capacity and ongoing registration. You will find out which times are available at your chosen test center when you register.
  • You’ll receive an individual score for each of the three sections on the GMAT. The combination of your quantitative and verbal scores determines your scaled score, which is given on a scale of 200-800.

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).

Learnist: GMAT “Logical Structure” Reading Questions

Questions that ask about the “function” of a detail, sentence or paragraph is a Logical Structure question. These frequently appear on the GMAT — always look for the logical keywords that tell you where the author is taking the discussion.

Authors organize their ideas in paragraphs, and each paragraph has a mini-purpose. Why, otherwise, would the author write it? Try to get a sense of the function of EACH paragraph as you read by looking for the keywords. Put the “function” in your own words and write it down!

Since keywords and phrases are ALL you have to go on to extrapolate the structure of the passage and the author’s intentions, practice pulling out the key phrases in this passage. Then scroll down, comparing them to those the author identified.

 This blog is for GRE passages, but they are the same in terms of form and content to the GMAT. Notice the list of “Function” verbs here. Copy them down and try to “assign” an infinitive verb to each paragraph. What is author DOING with each paragraph?

Just like every paragraph has a function, each sentence within each paragraph has a function. Start with the overall function of the paragraph, then ask: how does this detail relate to the paragraph’s overall function? Is it aiding the main idea? Qualifying it? Making a concession?

10 Tips for Non-Native Speakers on the GMAT

Even if English isn’t your first language, you can still achieve an excellent score on the GMAT Verbal section. Here are a few tips to get you started!

1. Build your grammar skills first. 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. Start identifying the subject and the verb of every sentence correction, as well as any dependent clauses. Strategy alone won’t get you the Verbal score you want. Start your Verbal studying with grammar.

2. Keep a vocabulary journal. Write down any words you don’t know as you encounter them. You’ll start to notice that certain words appear over and over again. Make flashcards for the ones that have tricky definitions or mean the opposite of what you’d expect. (For example, the word “noisome” does not mean “noisy.” It means having an offensive odor or bad smell.)

3. Apply your idioms. Yes, you absolutely need to memorize English idioms, but don’t just be an idiom robot. Start applying them in your everyday speech, emails, and English compositions. The more you can incorporate them into your English writing, the more confident you’ll become.

4. Think like a thesaurus. It is much easier to memorize synonyms for words than their full definitions. Start grouping words together mentally (and on paper) according to their meaning. For example, words like “pusillanimous,” “poltroonish,” and “timorous” would go on the “shy” list.

5. 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.

6. Create a study group. Whether in real life or online, connect with other native and non-native speakers who are prepping for the GMAT. Check out your local library and schools and set up a weekly coffee shop meet-up to discuss your progress. Create a Yahoo group. Join Grockit (of course!). This will not only help you stick to your goals, but also help you learn about new resources from other non-native speakers and gain insight from those who have more advanced English skills.

7. Consider the difference between British and American English. Many English-language schools outside of the United States focus on British English, while the GMAT is an American-administered test. There are subtle differences in word choice and spelling between the two. While British spellings are officially acceptable in the AWA section, I would suggest familiarizing yourself with their American counterparts and using them to be safe.

8. Challenge yourself with CR. Aiming for a 700+ score? 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.

9. Spend more time on Word Problems. Though Data Sufficiency certainly requires a significant amount of Quantitative study, remember to save extra time for Word Problems. Practice translating these questions from English keywords to Math equations. Be patient at first – these questions may be especially frustrating. Luckily, the common phrases such as “less than,” “is the same as,” and “product of” are easily memorized.

10. Look at your situation as an advantage! Many native speakers are confused by answer choices that include have slang, contain popular (though incorrect) grammatical phrases, or just “sound right.” Non-native speakers learn the exact same question types and strategies as native speakers, but can apply them without any prejudice. It really is an advantage!

GMAT CR: Why You Always Should Read the Passage First

Just like for GMAT Reading Comprehension, correctly answering the questions for Critical Reasoning will require you to understand the passage fully. You’ll need to break it down, finding the conclusion, evidence, and assumptions for the argument. If you read the Q first, then go back to the passage and break it down, chances are you’ll have to re-read the Q to remember what it was specifically asking anyway. Better just to do the passage first, then the passage. That way you waste no time, and focus your attention where it should be — on the passage.

Try this practice question on your own!

For the last five years, the XYZ Courier Company has made regular delivery trips between Town A and Town B. The average time taken by the company’s drivers to drive the round trip between the two towns, excluding the time taken for loading, unloading, and delivery, over that period has been 80 minutes. John, a driver for XYZ, needs to make a personal trip between the two towns; he figures that he should allow approximately 80 minutes for the round trip.

Which of the following, if true, does not call John’s conclusion into question?

A) The route between Town A and Town B has been plagued by increasing congestion over the last five years, as the area’s population has doubled during that time.
B) Most of XYZ’s courier vehicles are heavy trucks, for which speed limits are lower than for passenger vehicles.
C) Many of the packages carried by XYZ between Town A and Town B are large, high-security packages, for which the processes of loading, unloading, and delivery can take up to half the length of the trip itself.
D) John will make his personal trip at an hour when XYZ does not make delivery trips.
E) Before a freeway was built between Town A and Town B two years ago, the only routes between the two towns were state highways with multiple traffic lights and reduced-speed downtown zones.

Here’s how we can break down this passage:

Conclusion: John should allow 80 min. for round trip.

Evidence: XYZ drivers average 80 min round trip (not including loading, unloading, or delivery)

Assumptions: There is no difference in the time in John’s car versus an XYX car. John won’t be loading, unloading or making deliveries.

Question Rephrase: What does NOT hurt the conclusion?

Prediction: Eliminating choices that WOULD hurt the conclusion – show that 80 min. would not be a good estimate.

A – Incorrect. If there is increasing traffic, it could slow John down.
B – Incorrect. This would mean John would probably be able to go faster.
C – Correct. While this fact seems irrelevant to John’s trip, it does NOT call into question the idea that John should allot 80 min. for his trip.
D – Incorrect. If there are fewer cars on the road, he’d probably be able to go faster.
E – Incorrect. If the 80 min. average was for all 5 years, but 2 years ago a highway was built, then John could probably go faster than the 80 min.

All of the choices except C would affect the time it takes John to travel; therefore (C) is correct.