GMAT Tip: Advanced Sentence Correction Strategy


Some of the more difficult Sentence Correction questions for test-takers are those that have a lot words in the underlined portion, which can create confusion and indecisiveness. The difficulty can be compounded when the underlined portion doesn’t seem to have any obvious errors but nevertheless “sounds” bad. SC questions that have these characteristics can, however, be better managed with the right approach. Let’s take a look at an example and then outline how to tackle it:

Recent evidence has suggested that when communicating, people who have been deaf from birth and have consequently never heard anyone speak nevertheless utilize vocal cord muscles just as regularly and in the same manner as non-deaf individuals do, and that they will use vocal cord muscles even when communicating with another deaf person.

(A) have consequently never heard anyone speak nevertheless utilize vocal cord muscles just as regularly and in the same manner as non-deaf individuals do, and that

(B) have consequently never heard anyone speak but nevertheless utilize vocal cord muscles just as regularly and in the same manner that non-deaf individuals do, and

(C) have consequently never heard anyone speak, that they nevertheless utilize vocal cord muscles just as regularly and in the same manner as non-deaf individuals do, and

(D) consequently they never heard anyone speak, but nevertheless they utilize vocal cord muscles just as regularly and in the same manner that non-deaf individuals do, and that

(E) consequently they never heard anyone speak nevertheless utilize vocal cord muscles just as regularly and in the same manner that non-deaf individuals do, and

 

Now, you may be looking at this question and thinking, “this is easy” or that you see the correct answer. If so, kudos! Not every question is difficult for everyone, but for many people this question would present a challenge for a few reasons:

  • Lots of words/long underlined portion
  • The relatively uncommon “nevertheless”
  • The awkward construction of “never…nevertheless” and “just as regularly and in the same manner as…”
  • The actual content/subject matter of the sentence

For these reasons, and perhaps others, test-takers might read this three or four times to wrap their head around it. One thing that happens in questions like this is that with so much going on its hard to figure out where to start. Usually, when tackling SC you want to identify an error in the underlined portion, make a determination on what’s wrong, and then get to POE lickety-split (yes, I just used the word lickety-split). If you’re looking and looking and feeling overwhelmed to the point of inaction, here are some strategies to get moving:

  1. Narrow your focus – instead of looking at the underlined portion in total, look for discrete recognizable error types among its parts. In the above example. looking at specific pieces reveals “do, and that” near the end, which is indicative of a list. Also, “just as…” should be a dead giveaway for a comparison. Both lists and comparisons are parallelism error types very common on the GMAT.
  2. Look beyond just the underlined portion – if you focus too closely on the underlined portion, you may have missed that it actually starts with the second half of a list (“people who have been deaf from birth AND have consequently…”)
  3. Don’t see anything wrong? Don’t despair – remember that about 1/5 of all SC questions are right as written. Your goal is to always use your knowledge to eliminate answer choices; whether one of those choices happen to be (A) is irrelevant.
  4. Still stuck? Compare the answer choices. When you compare them either start with an obvious difference that you’re sure of (like in the example, where A, B, and C start with “have consequently” and D and E start with “consequently”) or just compare the choices 2 at a time and identify differences you can address with certainty.

 

So, back to our example. For our purposes here, we’re going assume that we’re still stuck on the long and confusing underlined portion, and tackle this example with strategy 4) from above. Let’s compare the answer choices a pair at a time.

Compare A to B

Differences: “nevertheless” vs “but nevertheless”; “just as…as” vs “just as…that”; “and that” vs “and”

Problems: “but nevertheless” is redundant; “just as…that” is not the correct construction for the comparison; “and” does not provide a parallel construction to end the list.

Winner: A

Compare A to C

Differences: “nevertheless” vs “, that they nevertheless”; “and that” vs “and”

Problems: The construction “, that they nevertheless” makes the sentence and meaning less clear.

Winner: A

Compare A to D

Differences: “have consequently” vs “consequently they”; “nevertheless” vs “but nevertheless they”; “just as…as” vs “just as…that”

Problems: “consequently they” creates a parallelism issue for the list; “but nevertheless they” also creates a parallelism issue and is redundant;

Winner: A

Compare A to E

Differences: “have consequently” vs “consequently they”; “just as…as” vs “just as…that”; “and that” vs “and”

Problems: take your pick.

Winner: A

 

As you can see, the focused pair-by-pair comparison gives us a way to more easily identify and deal with differences. If you focus on using what you know is wrong to eliminate choices you can feel good about choosing A, even though it probably “sounded” a bit weird at the beginning (and was confusing to boot). A few more important strategy points to take a away from this question:

Don’t Force It - often people find a difference and force themselves to make a choice based on it. Why? In each of these instances, there were multiple differences between the pairs of answer choices. Any one of them could be used to make the decision. If you can’t explain or don’t understand a particular difference, use another one.

Sometimes Grammar, Sometimes Not - Don’t feel like you always need to have clearly articulated grammar explanations for choosing one over the other. GMAT sentence correction is NOT a grammar test. Yes, it uses grammar as the framework, but it’s not a grammar test. Grammar is expansive, fickle, and rife with exceptions to rules. Very few people know enough about grammar to make all their decisions based on that. When you’ve gotten rid of all the answer choices you can based on rules you’re sure of, don’t try to talk your way into a making up rules for things you don’t know the grammar on. Instead, use meaning and clarity to make your choice.

Meaning – the correct answer should offer the most logical meaning. The most basic example of this rule is modifiers, which are not grammatically wrong but are logically unsound. If you can’t tell which choice is most logical than go with the one that’s closest to the original in meaning.

Clarity – the correct answer is the one that most clearly and logically expresses the thoughts of the author.

Very often at the end of SC POE, the “soft skills” (clarity and meaning) are far more effective than trying to engineer a grammatical reason for choosing one choice over the other. From our question above, a good example presents in nearly every comparison between two choices. There was a place where the differences could be explained by grammar, or you could look closely and see that, you know what, one of these choices does what its supposed to do more clearly than the other. For example, in comparing A to C, maybe you could provide a grammar reason for why “nevertheless” is better than “, that they nevertheless.” If not, ask yourself which one says what the sentence intends most clearly. The answer? A.

Again, use the rules where and when you can, but if you don’t know rules for the difference you’re looking at, give meaning and clarity a shot.

We hope that helps you over the hump on your SC.

Best of Luck,

-The BC team

If you need more advanced insights on SC, consider joining one of our classes or enlisting the help of one of our excellent tutors. They can show you all these and much, much more.

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