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Sentence Corrections: Not About the Grammar?

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Gerunds, prepositional phrases, past perfect test, idioms…if you are a test taker who knows your E.B. White and Will Strunk book by heart, you should ace the Sentence Corrections section every single time, right?

Not necessarily.

While a cursory review of grammar is important to do well in verbal, a common mistake that test takers make is assuming that knowing good grammar is the number one path to success on Sentence Correction questions. Furthermore, test takers rely on “what sounds good,” not focusing on what the GMAT test makers are seeking to understand from those test takers – the ability to critically reason and leverage assets, thereby selecting the best answer choice from the one provided.

The best way to approach a sentence correction question is to first read the question and evaluate what may seem to be obviously wrong – say, an incorrect pronoun (it when it should be they) or verb tense agreement (had when it should be has). Tackling to low hanging fruit makes it easy for test takers to, at the very least, eliminate a couple of multiple answers that do not fit those guidelines, improving the probability of selecting a correct answer.

To illustrate this approach, consider the following question:

Although Belize borders Guatemala and Mexico, countries in which tortillas are served with nearly every dish, Belizeans typically eat their meals with rice, and tortillas are rare.

(A) Belizeans typically eat their meals with rice, and tortillas are rare

(B) Belizeans typically eat its meals with rice, and tortillas are rare

(C) Belizeans typically eat its meals with rice, with tortillas as rare

(D) Belizeans typically eat their meals with rice, tortillas a rarity

(E) Belizeans typically eat their meals with rice, with tortillas as a rarity

In jumping back and forth between the answer choices and the sentence to be corrected, the low hanging fruit is clearly the pronoun associated with Belizeansits versus they. The noun, Belizeans, is plural making they the most appropriate answer choice. The test taker should be able to quickly and definitively eliminate answer choices (B) and (C) with no need to evaluate those choices further because they are clearly incorrect.

That leaves answer choices (A) – the current construction of the sentence – (D) and (E) to choose from.

Sentence corrections questions typically have 1-3 “decision points” test takers need to consider when getting to the correct answer. The easiest decision points tend to be the basics of grammar, but the second and third decision points are the more complex, critical thinking issues that the GMAT is seeking to evaluate, making it no walk in the park by comparison to the SAT or ACT.

For this particular question, the second decision point is looking at “and tortillas are rare.” For answer choice (D) – to get technical about it – this option is an incorrectly used appositive modifier where “tortillas” are set up to modify the actions of Belizeans eating their meals, which does not make any logical sense.

That leaves the sentence in its as-is state, answer choice (A) or (E). In not looking at the grammatical reason why “and tortillas are rare,” when considering whether the sentence logically makes sense, this phrase seems like a tacked on afterthought. The correct answer choice is (E) – Belizeans typically eat their meals with rice, with tortillas as a rarity.

That seems pretty simple, right? The reality is that 9/10 (maybe even 10/10!) test takers would not select (E) as the correct answer right off the bat, because it simply “sounds weird” and may not appear, to some, to be even grammatically correct.

Whenever working on sentence corrections, remember there is more to getting to sentence corrections than simply understanding grammar rules – like the GMAT as a whole, it is really about strategy.

The above GMAT Tip comes from Veritas Prep. Since its founding in 2002, Veritas Prep has helped more than 100,000 students prepare for the GMAT and offers the most highly rated GMAT Prep course in the industry.

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