November 2, 2011
I need you to read this. It’s an official communiqué from GMAC regarding Sentence Correction questions on the GMAT. There are a couple of very important points that GMAC’s VP of research and chief psychometrician, Mr. Lawrence M. Rudner, has to say about what the GMAT is actually testing. Afterward, I’m going to underscore and expound on some major takeaways.
Mr. Rudner writes:
“Recently there has been some discussion and questioning about the role and place of idioms and sentence correction as they apply to the skills tested in the GMAT exam. Much of what has been written has been well-reasoned, but some of what has been written is only partially accurate or reflects some misconceptions. With this posting, I hope to put these two important pieces of the GMAT exam in their proper place within the context of what the exam measures and how.
The general categories of language-use skill tested in GMAT Sentence Correction items haven’t changed, and test takers do not need to do anything different to prepare for the Verbal section of the GMAT exam.
For years, GMAC has paid close attention to the growing international make-up of GMAT test takers and has worked to assure that the exam is not viewed as—nor is it actually—an American test. As the GMAT exam has expanded globally and been taken by more students from around the world, GMAC has continually made extra efforts to ensure that newly introduced GMAT items do not depend on familiarity with distinctively American expressions and usages. We have taken steps all along the way to ensure global fairness and appropriateness.
Still, every language everywhere in the world consists of idioms, or standard constructions that are not literally derived from the most basic rules of grammar and vocabulary. Some Sentence Correction items continue to pose reasoning tasks that incorporate English-language, NOT American, idioms. These are not intended to test specialized knowledge of colloquialisms and regionalisms.
Grammar in Sentence Correction:
In recent years, GMAT item writers have been concentrating on the reasoning aspects rather than the purely grammatical aspects of Sentence Correction skills. As always, test takers need to carefully read the prompt in order to choose the answer that produces the most effective sentence. This means that whereas two sentences may both be grammatically appropriate, the correct answer is the sentence that is most “effective”—the sentence that better expresses the idea.
The end result is a GMAT exam that doesn’t test simply a person’s ability to memorize grammatical rules or recognize idioms for their colloquial meanings, but a test that rewards reasoning regardless of the test taker’s background.
The recent back and forth around whether idioms are in or out or how Sentence Correction works ignores the fact that the core purpose of the exam hasn’t ever changed, even as the way we treat certain categories in order to meet the needs of our ever expanding marketplace may have. The GMAT exam tests higher-order reasoning, and preparing for the exam remains an exercise in developing and exercising those skills.”
—Lawrence M. Rudner, GMAC vice president of research and development and chief psychometrician
So, what do you think? I’m not entirely sure to whom Mr. Rudner is referring when he says there has been some recent discussion about GMAT idioms. Perhaps he happened by one of my classes when I was trying to explain to one of my more obstinate students that GMAT idioms are right because the GMAT says they’re right so focus on the ones your ear doesn’t catch and train ‘em out. I dunno. What I do know, however, is that the information contained within this note is valuable.
Particularly, I would like you to focus on what he says the GMAT is actually testing. See it? That’s right: reasoning. In other words, the GMAT wants to reward your ability to think critically about given information and reason your way through to the correct answer.
Sure, there’s lots to memorize during test prep. But the GMAT is not interested in your robotic regurgitation of information. The GMAT wants you to use the information you’ve so diligently gathered and apply it to a wide variety of questions in ways that require you to exhibit higher-order reasoning ability.
GMAC understands the current and ever-growing importance of their test. GMAC knows full well the institutional and individual demographic range of those engaged in the GMAT. A lot of very smart and highly trained people are laser-focused on maintaining the test’s reliability and validity. Without that constant vigilance, those folks would be out of a job.
What’s more, even if you don’t want to take my word for it on this point, the point doesn’t even matter anyway. Don’t waste even one second brusquely questioning why you have to take this test to get into b-school. That attitude takes your eye far off the ball. Instead, put all of that energy into understanding exactly what the GMAT is testing, both contextually and conceptually, and pull a score out of it that you never expected you’d attain.
The following GMAT sentence correction problem focuses on parallel structure. Remember, items in a list must be formatted in the exact same way in order to be correct on the GMAT.
The threatened railway strike would cause significant inconvenience to the city: not only do thousands of commuters rely on trains to get them to and from work, but also as a connection between other forms of public transportation, such as buses and subways.
(A) not only do thousands of commuters rely on trains to get them to and from work, but also as a connection between
(B) thousands of commuters rely on trains not only to get them to and from work, but also to connect with
(C) thousands of commuters rely not only on trains to get them to and from work, but also as a connection with
(D) not only thousands of commuters going to and from work rely on trains to get them there, but also to connect with
(E) thousands of commuters rely on trains, not only for getting them to and from work, but also as a connection between
The construction “not only…but also” is fairly common on sentence correction problems – usually the GMAT tests that you know the phrase “not only” must be followed by the phrase “but also.” However, in the problem above, all five answer choices include both the phrase “not only” and the phrase “but also.” In this case, it is also important to know that the words that come after “not only” must be parallel with the words that come after “but also.”
In the original sentence, “not only” is followed by “do thousands of commuters,” while “but also is followed by “as a connection.” Because “do thousands of commuters” and “as a connection” are not in parallel form, (A) is incorrect.
In option (C) “not only” is followed by “on trains,” whereas “but also” is followed by “as a connection.” Again, this is not parallel and (C) can be eliminated. Furthermore, (C) makes it seem as if commuters rely on something besides trains, which is not the intention of the sentence.
In choice (D) “not only” is followed by “thousands of commuters,” while “but also” is followed by “to connect with.” Additionally, (D) implies that someone besides commuters are taking the train, which is not what the author is trying to say. Thus, (D) should be eliminated.
(E) follows “not only” with “for getting them to” and “but also” with “a connection between.” Just as has been the case with the previous three answers, (E) is not parallel and, therefore, incorrect.
We are left with choice (B) as the correct answer. In (B) “not only” is followed by “to get” and “but also” is followed by “to connect.” Since these are in parallel form, (B) can be selected.
The majority of grammatical errors that appear in the sentence correction questions on the GMAT fall into six categories. Today’s question focuses on verb errors; when a verb appears in a sentence correction problem, make sure it is correct in both tense and number.
Wolfgang von Kempelen, an 18th-century Hungarian baron, claimed to have invented a chess-playing automation he called “The Turk”; this mechanical illusion, which was actually operated by a hidden chess master who defeated Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin as well as many other well-known challengers, were destroyed in an 1854 fire.
(A) which was actually operated by a hidden chess master who defeated Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin as well as many other well-known challengers, were
(B) which a hidden chess-master actually operated, defeating Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin as well as many other well-known challengers, were
(C) which was actually operated by a hidden chess master who defeated Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin as well as many other well-known challengers, was
(D) with a hidden chess master operating it who defeated Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin as well as many other well-know challengers, were
(E) which defeated Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin, as well as many other well-known challengers, by hiding a chess master inside who actually operated it, was
When faced with a lengthy underlined portion, do not try to assess every part of it at once. Instead, look for one specific error at a time. The problem above uses a common GMAT tactic to hide the verb error it contains. After the semicolon, the subject of the sentence is “this mechanical illusion,” which is singular. This is followed by a modifying phrase that describes the subject. It is only after this modifying phrase that the verb “were” appears. However, “were” is plural, which does not match our singular subject. Thus, any answer choice that maintains the verb “were” is incorrect. Therefore, we can eliminate choices (A), (B) and (D).
Now that we are down to just choices (C) and (E), we want to look for an error in one of these that allows us to eliminate it. When we examine choice (E), we find that it introduces an error into the modifying phrase. In both choices (C) and (E) the word “which” refers to the illusion, but (E) implies that the illusion defeated players. Because the chess master, and not the illusion, defeated Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin, (E) is incorrect and can be eliminated.
This leaves answer (C) as the only choice remaining, which is the correct answer.
Let’s consider the common category of GMAT Sentence Correction errors often called ‘usage and style.’ These errors are based on accepted usage and tend to deal with word choice and idioms. Because there are no universal rules, you need memorize any idioms you do not already know.
In symbiotic relationships, one organism may live on or inside another, or simply be related to the other by mutual behavior, but all types of symbiosis evolve because both organisms derive a benefit from the other.
(A) both organisms derive a benefit from the other
(B) both organisms derive a benefit from each other
(C) each organism derives a benefit from the other
(D) each organism derives a benefit from one another
(E) the organisms both derive a benefit from each other
The original sentence states, “both organisms derive a benefit from the other.” However, “both” and “from the other” is redundant – since the relationship is between two organisms and both benefit, the only source of that benefit can be the other organism. On this basis we can eliminate choices (A), (B) and (E), as all three contain the redundancy error.
Option (D), while not redundant, can also be eliminated. “Each…derives…from one another” is considered an unidiomatic and wordy construction. Choice (C) uses the idiomatically correct “each…derives…from the other.” Thus, choice (C) is correct and can be selected as the right answer.
June 13, 2011
Today we will be looking at a sentence correction problem that features a pronoun error. Pronoun errors are fairly common on the GMAT, so you want to be ready for them. Remember, when you see a pronoun, it must match its antecedent (the word it is replacing) in number and it must be unambiguous – that is, you must know without any doubt what the pronoun’s antecedent is.
During World War II, “code talkers” were Native American soldiers that were specifically recruited to develop codes based in the Navajo language; these codes made any intercepted communications virtually indecipherable.
(A) that were specifically recruited to develop codes based in the Navajo language
(B) who were specifically recruited to develop codes based in the Navajo language
(C) that used the Navajo language to develop the codes they were specifically recruited for
(D) that, when specifically recruited, developed codes based on the Navajo language
(E) who were specifically recruited to develop codes based on the Navajo language
When analyzing the sentence, notice the relative pronoun “that” at the beginning of the underlined portion. “That” is used to refer to the Native American soldiers. However, because Native American soldiers are people, rather than objects, the pronoun “that” is incorrect. Instead, the sentence should use the pronoun “who.”
If you scan the answer choices, you will see find that options (A), (C) and (D) all use maintain the use of “that,” which we know is incorrect. Therefore, we can eliminate choices (A), (C) and (D).
This leaves (B) and (E) as possible answers. The only difference between these two choices is the preposition used after “based.” Thus, in order to solve this problem, we need to know the correct idiom. As idioms are based on common usage rather than grammatical rules, you simply need to memorize any idioms you do not know. In this case, the preposition “on” should be used after the verb “to base.” Therefore, we can eliminate choice (B), as it incorrectly uses the preposition “in.” We are left with option (E) as the only remaining answer, which is correct.
By Guest Author Kurt Keefner
A lot of Kaplan’s GMAT students struggle with Sentence Correction. Probably most of the people reading this post have some trouble with it. But why should that be? Presumably everyone reading this speaks English.
That’s the key to the puzzle right there. We all speak English, but the GMAT doesn’t test spoken English, it tests written English, otherwise know as Standard English. Unless you are trained as a writer or normally read university-level texts, your exposure to Standard English may be fragmentary and/or faded.
One remedy for this situation is to read well-written books and periodicals such as The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. (The Economist is well written, but in British English, which is slightly different from the American Standard English tested on the GMAT.) Your Kaplan course materials will also provide a review of many of the commonly tested usages. Just to get you started, however, let’s look at six problem words and phrases that come up within GMAT Sentence Correction questions.
Different from. This is a prepositional idiom that many people get wrong. Correct usage is to say that “red is different from blue”. “Different than” is incorrect (although “other than” is correct). Those of you who speak some variety of British English may say “different to.” That is acceptable when addressing the Queen, but not on the GMAT.
However. Students regularly think that “however” is a conjunction, like “although.” Actually, “however” is an adverb, like “whenever” and “whoever” and means “to whatever degree” or “in whatever manner.” It does not always imply a contrast. For example, “However you got to work, I am glad to see you” does not mean “Despite the fact that you got to work, I am glad to see you.” The GMAT will try to trick you into substituting “although” or “even though” for it. Don’t fall for the trap!
Not only . . . but also. There are two traps associated with this correlative conjunction. The first is not realizing that whenever there is a “not only” there must be a “but also.” It is not enough to say just “but” or nothing at all. Only the full construction is good enough for the GMAT. The second trap lies in taking the two things being correlated as equal, as if they were joined by “and.” In reality the second item should always represent a farther step than the first, for example: “Your promotion is not only good for you but good also for your co-workers.” Notice that the words “but” and “also” can be correctly separated.
Between A and B. When speaking of options people frequently say “I can choose A or B.” That is correct. But if you say “between,” you must say “and,” not “or,” as in “I can choose between A and B.” The reason for this is simple: if you are standing on your driveway with your house on one side and your car on the other, you would say that you are between your house and your car. You would never say “or” when you use “between” literally. You should not say “or” when you use it metaphorically, either.
Two problems with Like. The word “like” is overused. It means “similar to.” It does not mean “for example.” For that you might wish to say “such as.” Example: “I listen to a lot of baroque music, such as concertos by Bach.” Also “like” and “just like” do not mean the same thing. “Like” refers to a similarity. “Just like” means “identical in the relevant respect.” For example, “Like my friend Harriet, I studied hard for the GMAT” doesn’t mean you studied the very same number of hours. But “Just like my friend Harriet, I got into Wharton and Kellogg,” means you got into exactly the same two schools.
GMAT sentence correction is all about details, but most mistakes come from just a few major categories of grammar so if you can master these, you should do well.
May 25, 2011
Today’s advanced GMAT sentence correction problem revolves around a modification error. Remember to watch out for modifying phrases at the beginning of a sentence – they must refer to whatever comes directly after them.
Running off-Broadway for 17,162 performances over 42 years, Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones adapted The Fantasticks from Edmund Rostand’s 1894 play Les Romanesques.
(A) Running off-Broadway for 17,162 performances over 42 years, Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones adapted The Fantasticks from Edmund Rostand’s 1894 play Les Romanesques.
(B) The Fantasticks, which ran off-Broadway for 17,162 performances over 42 years, was adapted by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones from Edmund Rostand’s 1894 play Les Romanesques.
(C) The Fantasticks, which ran off-Broadway for 17,162 performances over 42 years and was adapted by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones adapted from Edmund Rostand’s 1894 play Les Romanesques.
(D) Running through 17,162 performances over 42 years off-Broadway, Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones had adapted The Fantasticks from Edmund Rostand’s 1894 play Les Romanesques.
(E) Adapted from Edmund Rostand’s 1894 play Les Romanesques, Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones ran The Fantasticks off-Broadway for 17,162 performances over 42 years.
The original sentence opens with the modifying phrase “running off-Broadway for 17,162 performances over 42 years,” which is followed by a comma. In order for the sentence to be correct, whatever ran off-Broadway must come after this comma. However, the sentence puts Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones after the comma, making it seem as if they ran off-Broadway, rather than their play. All answer choices that maintain this error must be wrong. Therefore, we can eliminate options (A), (D) and (E), as they all make similar modification errors.
While option (C) fixes the initial modification error, it introduces a new one. “The Fantasticks” is followed by a comma and the word “which.” In this construction everything that follows the word “which,” until another comma appears, is part of a modifying phrase. However, in choice (C) a second comma is never used, making the entire sentence after “The Fantasticks” a modifier. This is problematic, as the sentence has no verb, making it a fragment. Option (C) is, therefore, incorrect and should be eliminated.
This leaves choice (B) as the only remaining answer. Thus, (B) must be correct.
One of the toughest grammar rules for many GMAT test-takers to spot is the comparison error. This can be especially difficult because many of the errors that pop up in Sentence Correction questions are related to context rather than grammatical structure.
If you come across a comparison in a sentence correction problem, you should look for two possible problems.
First, you should make sure the items being compared are in parallel form. A comparison is treated grammatically as a list of two items. Therefore, just as you would in a list, you must make sure that the items in the comparison are formatted in the exact same way.
Second, and this is where it can get tricky, items being compared must be logically similar. Consider the sentence, “unlike the hearing of a dog, humans cannot hear very high pitched tones.” In order to determine what the sentence is comparing, you must identify the comparison word. In this case it is “unlike.” You must then ask yourself, “what items are unlike?” Here, it is “the hearing of a dog” and “humans.” Next, ask, “ is hearing similar to humans?” The answer is no. This sentence intends to compare the hearing of dogs to the hearing of humans. To be correct it must compare hearing to hearing or dogs to humans. Thus, either “unlike the hearing of dogs, the hearing of humans cannot detect very high pitched tones” or “unlike dogs, humans cannot hear high pitched tones” are correct on the GMAT.
By watching out for both of these comparison errors, you should be able to spot any comparison problems on test day.
April 13, 2011
Today, we are going to focus on comparison errors in GMAT sentence correction. As you try the problem below, keep in mind that items being compared must be logically similar and be in parallel form.
Just as studying Latin helps students with English vocabulary – many English prefixes, suffixes, and roots are derived from Latin words – so basic math skills are useful to those interested in taking classes in science or economics.
(A) so basic math skills are useful to those interested in taking classes
(B) so learning basic math skills is useful to those interested in taking classes
(C) so the basic skills of math are useful to those interested in taking classes
(D) learning basic math skills is useful to those interested in taking classes
(E) basic math skills are useful to those interested in taking classes
When we see the phrase “just as” at the beginning of a sentence, we know that whatever comes after it, in this case “studying Latin,” will be compared to something later in the sentence. As this sentence is written, “studying Latin” is compared to “basic math skills.” Because “studying” is not logically similar to “skills,” this comparison is incorrect.
If you look at the answer choices, options (A), (C) and (E) all fail to fix this error and can be eliminated. Choices (B) and (D) correctly compare “studying Latin” to “learning math.” You should also note that not only are these logically similar, but they are also in parallel form.
To determine which of our remaining answers is correct, we need to know the idiom “just as…so.” Whenever a sentence starts with the phrase “just as” the word “so” must appear before the second item being compared. Choice (D) fails to do this and should be eliminated. Choice (B), however, follows the correct usage and is therefore the right answer.
March 10, 2011
When confronting a GMAT sentence correction problem, one of the first error types for which test-takers (rightfully) search is an incorrect verb tense. In order to identify the correct verb tense to use in a specific situation, students must be aware of the appropriate context of each tense. This is especially important when one of the “perfect” tenses is in play.
The perfect tenses are the past perfect, the present perfect and the future perfect and each is used in a specific situation. The ability to identify which of these tenses to use can be influential in your answering sentence correction problems correctly.
First up is the past perfect tense. The past perfect tense is used to refer to something happening in the past before (or, more rarely, after) something else that happened at a different point in the past. The word “had” is used to indicate the past perfect tense. For example, you would say “I had bought snacks, before I went to the movie,” as buying snacks happened before going to the movie. Two events happening at two different points in the past require the past perfect tense.
Next is the present perfect tense. The present perfect tense will be used in two distinct situations. First, it is used to refer to something happening in the past continuing into the present. For example, you could say “I have been studying for the GMAT,” because you were studying in the past and you are still studying right now. Second, it is used to refer to events that could have occurred at any point in the past. For example, “I have taken the GMAT.” You could have taken the GMAT at any point in the past. Contrast this with the sentence, “I took the GMAT.” This is simple past tense and would indicate that you took the GMAT at a specific point in time. For example, it would be an appropriate response to the question, “what did you do yesterday?” Note that the present perfect uses “have” or “has” depending on the subject of the sentence.
Last is the future perfect, used to refer to something happening in the present continuing into the future. For example, “By the end of the month, I will have finished studying for the GMAT.” You are studying right now, and will continue in the future. The phrase “will have” should be used to indicate the future perfect.
While you won’t have to know the phrases “past perfect” and so on for the GMAT, a clear understanding of these various verb tenses will help you quickly eliminate and identify the correct option on the common verb-related sentence correction questions. Good luck!