People who dream of making a killing in the business world are a dime a dozen. Unfortunately, few can actually go the distance on the GMAT. I have seen many students cut their teeth on practice tests, then take the actual exam and appear down in the mouth once their scores come to light. The devil is in the details; once in a blue moon you may be tickled pink to see a high score on a practice test, but you can bet your bottom dollar that, come test day, you’ll be in for a raw deal since you won’t be able to hold your own. Assuming that you can play it by ear is a recipe for disaster when it comes to test prep, and you will find yourself in hot water if you just try to wing it.
Was that first paragraph a bit tricky for you? If so, don’t get your knickers in a knot; the paragraph is full of idioms and is designed to throw off non-native English speakers. Idioms are set phrases that have no strict rule or logical meaning.
Every language has idioms. Spanish speakers sometimes use the phrase en bocas cerradas no entran moscas, which literally means “flies do not enter closed mouths,” but idiomatically means “keep your mouth shut, stay out of trouble.” The Japanese often say hara ga tatsu, to describe someone getting angry, though the phrase’s literal meaning is “stomach stands up.”
English has thousands of idiomatic expressions, and while they are vital for ESL students pursuing fluency, they are not very important for the GMAT verbal section. That’s right; you don’t need to spend hours memorizing those nonsense phrases about it “raining cats and dogs” in order to get a good GMAT score.
Quite a relief, isn’t it? Well, don’t celebrate just yet. There is one variety of idiom that you will need to study for the Sentence Correction section of the test.
Idiomatic prepositions are set phrases that require the use of specific location words. For example, the expression “capable of” is correct, while “capable to” is not. SC answer choices will often include wrong choices that say things like “he is capable to see the movie.” There’s no precise grammatical explanation for why “capable to” is wrong; it’s all a matter of memorization. Either you know the correct preposition, or you don’t.
I recently wrote a lesson for Knewton on this very subject. In it I cover tricky distinctions like “agree with,” and “agree to,” both grammatically correct yet different in meaning. I also go over some commonly mistaken idiomatic expressions like, “whether to,” “concerned with,” “isolated from,” “expect to,” and many others. Since these phrases come up again and again on the GMAT, we use a master list of over 100 common idioms to help students prepare. Here are a few:
- a consequence of
- differ from
- in contrast to
- interested in
- agree with (person/idea)
- agree to (plan)
If you can commit all or most of the common idiomatic phrases to memory, you will see a dramatic improvement in your SC score. A large percentage of grammar questions use incorrect idioms as wrong answer choices; knowledge of correct idiomatic constructions will allow you to eliminate wrong answers and get a higher percentage of SC questions right.
Once you’ve identified the most relevant common idiomatic expressions, the only way to learn them is through brute force memorization, since by definition there is no rule or pattern. To make the process less painful, I recommend making a big list, dividing it up, and making flash cards. Memorize three per day and in a month you’ll be around 100.
It’s easy as pie.