For non-native speakers, the Verbal section on the GMAT can be quite challenging.
A lot of our students have a hard time with the Sentence Correction questions on the GMAT Verbal section, too. They often tell us,
“I am able to eliminate 3 options in GMAT Sentence Correction very easily, but when I choose between the last 2 options, I always pick the wrong one!”
We know you know what this is about! And this is only one of the many issues we help our students with.
In this blog, we will discuss 14 tips that will help simplify GMAT Sentence Correction section for you:
- Identify Options
- Scan Your Answer Options
- Identify Non-essential Modifiers
- Distinguish between Conciseness and Clarity
- Locate All Possible Errors
- Look for Meaning over Grammar
- Forget About Sentence Structure Rules
- Eliminate Answers Prematurely
- Stress over Fully Underlined Questions
- Be Rigid About Rules
- Retrofit Your Answers
- Try to Retain the Meaning of Option A
So take out your notebooks and pens, it’s time for more details! Here is a sneak peek at what is ahead:
A) Things You Should Do
1. Identify the Concept Being Tested
This step sounds pretty obvious! But there are a lot of us out there who’d jump to the answer choices before figuring out the concept that is being tested. Always remember to read the entire sentence, especially because GMAT likes to crucial modifiers away from the noun.
But, if nothing stands out to you, look for Subject-verb Agreement (SVA). This is an often-tested concept on the GMAT.
Take a look at this sentence:
I was so hungry that either of the two burgers were fine with me.
If the subject is singular, the verb needs to be singular. Similarly, if the subject is plural, then the verb must be plural as well.
In every sentence, the subject and the verb must make logical sense. In the above example, either as a pronoun is singular. Therefore, the verb needs to be in its singular form. The corrected sentence will read:
I was so hungry that either of the two burgers was fine with me.
The SVA is a concept that Indian students often miss, so this is worth looking out for.
2. Scan Your Answer Options
The deal with GMAT SC is that it isn’t so much about selecting the right answer choices, but more about correctly eliminating four wrong answer choices.
If you give a GMAT SC expert a sentence that is not underlined and doesn’t have an answer option to select, then chances are that s/he might not do very well. But an ace GMAT test-taker understands to look at the answer choices and give solid grammatical and logical reasons to eliminate the wrong answers, thereby arriving at the right answer.
Now, as you glance through the answer options – just keep searching for differences. There will be some obvious ones:
- If the verb is changing among the options such as “is/are” or “become/becomes” then you know that Subject-verb Agreement is being tested.
- If you notice that the pronouns are changing from “it” to “they” or that some options don’t contain a pronoun while others do, then you know that Pronoun Ambiguity is being tested.
Remember: the right answer option will always be in front of you; just learn to get rid off the four wrong ones 🙂
Take a look at this example:
A risk corridor is one of the main provisions, albeit not the only one, that protects the insurance industry from hitting rock bottom, like it did earlier in the decade.
(A) protects the insurance industry from hitting rock bottom, like it did
(B) protect the insurance industry from hitting rock bottom, as it did
(C) protects the insurance industry from hitting rock bottom, as it did
(D) protect the insurance industry from hitting rock bottom, like
(E) protect the insurance industry from hitting rock bottom, like they did
Answer: The subject ‘provisions’ is plural and must be coupled with a plural verb ‘protect’, not singular ‘protects’. Therefore, options A and C are out. Option D – the phrase ‘like earlier in the decade’ doesn’t clarify what happened earlier in the decade – the comparison is ambiguous. Option E – the plural pronoun ‘they’ is incorrectly used to refer to the singular noun ‘insurance industry’ which is incorrect. Thus B is the right answer.
3. Identify Non-essential Modifiers
Often, GMAT sentence correction questions have a lot of modifiers that are put there to confuse you. Here’s an example:
“The third house, which has a white door, is available for rent.”
Now, if you remove “which has a white door” from this sentence, it doesn’t lose any meaning. “The third house is available for rent” is conveying all the meaning that this sentence holds. This means that the ‘white door’ modifier is not essential.
However, the meaning can drastically change if you simply replace ‘which’ with ‘that’:
“The third house that has a white door is available for rent.”
This means that of the x number of houses, you have to find the third one with a white door and ignore all the others. In sequence, this could be the eighth or twentieth house, too — the fact that it has a white door makes all the difference to what this sentence means. So, the ‘white door’ modifier is now essential.
The point is this: some parts don’t add any significant information to the sentence, and they are thus irrelevant. You will often find these in between the subject and the verb, especially in questions that test you on subject-verb agreement.
When you read the question for the first time, look out for such non-essential modifiers and eliminate them. It will help reduce confusion and improve your chances of finding the correct answer.
Let’s see with a slightly complicated example:
Between 1892 and 1893, Claude Monet produced a series of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral, revised in his studio in 1894, and with the French public receiving it as an emblem of all that was noble about their history and customs.
(A) produced a series of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral, revised in his studio in 1894, and with the French public receiving it
(B) produced a series of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral, which he revised in his studio in 1894 and which the French public received
(C) produced a series of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral, which he revised in his studio in 1894, and that the French public received it
(D) painted the Rouen Cathedral, which he revised in his studio in 1894, and that the French public received it
(E) painted the Rouen Cathedral, revised in his studio in 1894, and the French public received it
Answer: In Option A the modifier awkwardly modifies the noun and therefore is an incorrect option. If we look at Option C, the comma suggests an independent sentence after the conjunction, which isn’t the case here. Option D alters the intended meaning of the author and is incorrect–Monet did not paint the Cathedral. Option E again has an error in meaning and cannot be the right answer. So the correct answer is B
4. Differentiate between Concision and Clarity
Clarity is when you want what you are saying to be precise and clear. Concision on the other had is all about brevity—using as few words as possible.
When you vertically scan your answer options, you can classify them into two categories: clear options and concise options. Reading the question once again will tell you what kind of an answer option is better suited to the question.
That will help eliminate a good chunk of the options right away and make things easier and faster for you.
Of course, avoid redundancy. This is another aspect of meaning that you should consider. If a word can be removed, or a simpler word can be substituted for a verbose one, it should be eliminated/rephrased. No right answer choice on the GMAT will have redundant words.
For example –
To this day, researchers and theorists debate whether bubonic plague caused The Black Death, a pandemic that swept the world in the middle of the fourteenth century.
(B) whether or not
(C) about whether
(D) as to whether
Answer: Option B is often considered as an idiom, but on the GMAT, “whether or not” is redundant. Option E cannot be right because unlike “whether”, “if” does not introduce a comparison or possibility between two options. As per the GMAT instructions, Option A is the answer that produces the most effective sentence. It gives a sentence that is clear, without redundancy, ambiguity, or error.
5. Look for All Possible Errors
Sometimes, you may find yourself getting fixated on two possible answer options and unable to pick one.
If you’re in this situation, take a step back and re-evaluate what the question is trying to test you on. At times, you may be assuming that the question is about, say, parallelism. Then, you will only look at answer options that have a better parallel construction.
When you reassess, though, you might realize that there was a modifier error or a comparison error that you missed earlier.
Look for run ons and sentence fragments which are structural and are usually ignored.
Take a look at the following question:
In 1910, radium, a luminescent radioactive element, was isolated as a pure metal by Marie Curie and André-Louis Debierne, which led to its industrial production subsequently.
(A) a luminescent radioactive element, was isolated as a pure metal by Marie Curie and André-Louis Debierne, which led
(B) a luminescent radioactive element, was isolated as a pure metal by Marie Curie and André-Louis Debierne, leading
(C) Marie Curie and André-Louis Debierne isolated radium, a luminescent radioactive element, as a pure metal in 1910, which led
(D) Marie Curie and André-Louis Debierne isolated radium as a pure metal in 1910, a luminescent radioactive element, leading
(E) Marie Curie and André-Louis Debierne who isolated radium, a luminescent radioactive element, as a pure metal in 1910, leading
Answer: Options A and C – ‘which led’ refers incorrectly to Debierne, 1910 and element respectively. Option D: ‘a luminescent radioactive element’ refers incorrectly to 1910. Option E: is a sentence fragment because it lacks a main verb – notice the use of ‘who isolated radium’. Thus, B is the right answer.
6. Look for Meaning over Grammar
Sometimes, especially with GMAT sentence correction, the error lies in the meaning conveyed by the sentence. At times, grammatically perfect answer options can be wrong, too.
When you are looking at grammar, you need to see if the sentence or part of the sentence conform to the rules of Standard Written English. If this is in order, you question the meaning of the underlined part of the sentence: is it conveying the intent of the author clearly?
The U.S. Revolutionary War Rolls, a collection of records kept by the National Archives, lists only individuals who fought for the colonies in the American Revolutionary War.
(A) lists only individuals who fought for the colonies in the American Revolutionary War.
(B) only list individuals who fought for the colonies in the American Revolutionary War.
(C) list individuals who fought for the colonies in the American Revolutionary War only.
(D) listing individuals who fought for the colonies in the American Revolutionary War.
(E) lists individuals who fought for the colonies in the American Revolutionary War only.
Answer: The subject here is ‘a collection’ – this is singular. So, it must be paired with singular verb ‘lists’, not ‘list’. So, options B and C are out. Option D lacks a main verb – ‘listing’ is a participle – and is thus a sentence fragment. Hence, D is also incorrect.
Option E changes the intended meaning – it implies that the Revolutionary War lists the names of soldiers who fought in the American Revolutionary War. The intended meaning is actually that this particular set of records lists only the names of soldiers who fought in the American Revolutionary War. Thus, A is the right answer.
Although we at CrackVerbal strongly recommend not relying on what “sounds right,” there are times when taking a guess is not the worst idea.
If you’ve broken your head over the right answer in vain and you’re running out of time, it’s okay to take a carefully calculated guess. Don’t spend endless amounts of time on finding the perfect answer, especially if you have narrowed it down to two options.
Just ensure that you’re truly applying all the other tips from this article before you decide to take a guess.
Once you have chosen an option as the correct answer in your mind, remember to check what it looks like when you use it in the given sentence. For this, you need to substitute your chosen answer in place of the underlined phrase and read it again.
You need to double-check to make sure that your option fixes all the errors that you’ve identified—both in grammar and meaning.
B) Things You Should Not Do
1. Forget About Sentence Structure Rules
The GMAT often tests you on the rules of sentence structure, which involves errors like fragmentation and run-on sentences. This is a mistake most GMAT takers tend to make when it comes to the rules of sentence construction.
At the same time, don’t go with idioms. There are a lot of variations and we Indians do not have a good idea about it.
This is because idioms can be confusing – especially when you are under pressure on the test. Secondly, the GMAT is itself ambiguous about the correctness of some idioms.
2. Eliminate Answers Prematurely
For instance, GMAT sentences might refer to 2 things/events in the past and use a verb to suggest that one of the events is ongoing. The trick is to find out if both of those things were set or done in the past. If so, then do not use a helping/auxiliary verb that indicates present tense.
In cases such as this, you cannot eliminate answer choices without identifying a solid reason, either logically or grammatically.
3. Stress over Fully Underlined Questions
These will test you on Modifiers and parallelism. These are only two that can make the sentence longer than what it ought to be.
Try this example for size:
Visualization of mental images is a central concept in the Bates method – something not only which could achieve a state of inner balance and relaxation, but improving focus, eye coordination, blood circulation and eye movement control.
(A) something not only which could achieve a state of inner balance and relaxation, but improving
(B) something which not only could achieve a state of inner balance and relaxation, but also to improve
(C) something which could not only achieve a state of inner balance and relaxation, but also improve
(D) that being something which could not only achieve a state of inner balance and relaxation, but also improving
(E) being something not only which could achieve a state of inner balance and relaxation, but improve
Answer: The correct parallel structure is “something which can/could not only X… but also Y”, where and Y are actions that can be accomplished. Here, X should be ‘achieve a state of…’ and Y should be ‘improve focus, eye coordination etc.’. i.e. X and Y are both verbs.
Option A: is of the form ‘something not only which X but Y’ –> not parallel. Option B: the presence of ‘to’ before ‘improve’ is unnecessary. Option D: ‘that being’ is not required here. ‘achieve’ and ‘improving’ are not parallel. Option E: is of the form ‘not only which could X but also Y’ –> not parallel. Thus, C is the right answer.
4. Be Rigid About Rules
Every rule has exceptions! 🙂 Therefore, keep an open mind and do not eliminate any answer choice outright just because it contains ‘being’ or an ambiguous pronoun.
However, it is good to have thumb rules.
This means that there are some things that are usually wrong on the GMAT, and which would do you good to remember. For example, the GMAT prefers active voice over passive. It also prefers a concise statement over a wordy one. Use these to identify which answer choices you need to be wary about.
5. Retrofit Your Answers
When looking at the answers, there can be times where you can be convinced that a particular option is correct. This happens when you think you have wrongly identified a concept that is being tested. When the GMAT question is testing you on Modifiers, you somehow think that there is a parallelism issue. You feel confident, but when you substitute and read the sentence again, it doesn’t sit right. But you are so convinced that you have the right option, you go ahead full steam.
What you need to do is go back to the question and take a fresh look. If you find yourself bending over backwards to fit an option and convince yourself about it, then you are probably retrofitting, and you need to avoid doing it on the GMAT.
6. Try to Retain the Meaning of Option A
Don’t try to retain what you think is the meaning of the underlined part of the sentence. Sometimes, it could be that there is an error because the meaning is not conveyed clearly. Make sure that you look at the choices to figure out what the author is trying to say. If you find a discrepancy, then the original sentence is most likely incorrect.
Here is a quick summary of all the points that we discussed here today:
And of course, if you are stuck between the last 2 answer options and have already spent 90 seconds on the question, use one of these thumb rules to take your pick and move on! 🙂
Hope these techniques make a positive difference to your GMAT prep! If you’d like to share what works for you and what doesn’t, please leave a comment in the comment section below.
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