Tag Archives: GMAT Verbal

GMATPrep Q&A: Choosing the Best Answer on SC

This GMATPrep® Sentence Correction question was sent to us by a student who got stuck between two choices and couldn’t decide which was right. It is a perfect example of the fact that the GMAT asks you to choose the best version of the sentence from among the five choices given, not the best possible version. Let’s take a look:

Regarded by opponents as ineffective and meddlesome and by supporters as a conserver of life and energy, the fight over the speed limit continues in our legislatures and on our freeways.

(A) Regarded by opponents as ineffective and meddlesome and by supporters as a conserver of life and energy, the fight over the speed limit continues in our legislatures and on our freeways.
(B) Regarded by opponents as ineffective and meddlesome and by supporters as a conserver of life and energy, the speed limit continues to be fought over in our legislatures and on our freeways.
(C) Regarded by opponents as ineffective meddling and by supporters as the conservation of life and energy, the speed limit continues to be fought over
in our legislatures and on our freeways.
(D) The fight over the speed limit, regarded by opponents as ineffective and meddlesome and by supporters as a conserver of life and energy, continues in our legislatures and on our freeways.
(E) The fight over the speed limit, a measure regarded by opponents as ineffective and meddlesome and by supporters as a conserver of life and energy, continues in our legislatures and on our freeways.

The original sentence contains a misplaced modifier. Logically, it is not “the fight over the speed limit” that would be “regarded by opponents as ineffective and meddlesome and by supporters as a conserver of life and energy,” but the speed limit itself. With this in mind, we can immediately eliminate any choices in which the modifier beginning with “regarded” appears to modify “the fight over the speed limit” rather than “the speed limit”: choices A, D, and E. Do not be fooled by the fact that “speed limit” comes right before the modifier in choices D and E. It still appears as part of the phrase “the fight over the speed limit” and still creates a misplaced modifier.

Now we must look at choices B and C comparatively. Since both of them use the passive construction “the speed limit continues to be fought over,” neither one is perfect. However, choice C’s descriptions of the speed limit as “ineffective meddling” and “the conservation of life and energy” make it decidedly more wrong, so choice B is correct.

Is choice B perfect? Hardly. It’s a bit awkward, it puts the modifier in the beginning when it would be much clearer to put it in the middle, and it uses the passive voice. However, it is clearly the best of the five choices given.

Common Wrong Answers on the GMAT: Misplaced Prepositional Phrases

On GMAT Sentence Correction section, watch out for prepositional phrases in the middle of sentences, especially those bracketed by commas. They often can refer to either the first or second half of the sentence, creating ambiguity.

Take a look at this GMATPrep® question:

Although various eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American poets had professed an interest in Native American poetry and had pretended to imitate Native American forms in their own works, until almost 1900, scholars and critics did not begin seriously to study traditional Native American poetry in native languages.

(A) until almost 1900, scholars and critics did not begin seriously to study
(B) until almost 1900 scholars and critics had not begun seriously studying
(C) not until almost 1900 were scholars and critics to begin seriously to study
(D) it was not almost until 1900 when scholars and critics began to seriously study
(E) it was not until almost 1900 that scholars and critics seriously began studying

Let’s take a look at our answer choices.

Until almost 1900 is really just the preposition until plus the object of the preposition, 1900, with the adjective almost modifying 1900 in between. Therefore, we can treat the phrase like any other preposition. The problem with choice A is that it is not clear what until almost 1900 is modifying. Is it modifying the clause before it (had pretended to imitate Native American forms in their own works) or the clause after it (scholars and critics did not begin seriously to study traditional Native American poetry in native languages)? There’s no way to know, so the placement of the prepositional phrase is ambiguous.

We can eliminate B because until almost 1900 is a prepositional phrase that comes before the independent clause it modifies. When a modifier or dependent clause comes before the independent clause, it needs to be set off by a comma. For example, “Until midnight, I read my book.” However, in this case, the comma would create the same modification error in B that choice A contains, so either way B would be incorrect. Choice C contains the awkward construction to begin seriously to study.

The first problem with choice D is that not almost until 1900 is an awkward construction because not seems to negate almost instead of until in this construction, and almost seems to refer to the entire prepositional phrase instead of just the object of the preposition, 1900. Not until almost 1900 in E is preferable. The second problem with D is the word “when.” The relative clause when scholars and critics began to seriously study does not describe 1900 as a period of time. Instead, the clause describes an event that began around that time.

On the GMAT, “when” is usually used to describe one situation that happens at the same time as another; the word is only rarely used as a relative pronoun. “When” should only be used as a relative pronoun when it introduces a relative clause that actually describes the time in question. For example:

The weeks when I was happy to watch TV all day are long gone.

An easy way to test whether “when” has correctly been used as a relative pronoun is to replace it with “in which.” The above sentence would read:

The weeks in which I was happy to watch TV all day are long gone.

This construction makes sense. In the case of our GMAT question, however, replacing “when” with “in which” creates an illogical clause:

It was not until almost 1900 in which scholars and critics seriously began studying…

Choice E is correct. The prepositional phrase not until almost 1900 is correctly worded and properly placed, and the verb began is in the simple past tense to contrast the past perfect tense (had professed and had pretended) used to describe the preceding period. Though at first glance the pronoun it may appear ambiguous, in fact the pronoun logically refers to the upcoming noun clause that scholars and critics seriously began studying traditional Native American poetry in native languages.

Sentence Correction Tip: When to Listen to Your Ear

Once in a while, the GMAT will hurl a particularly nasty question in your direction, one that seems deliberately designed to make you feel uncertain about all of the answer choices. These sorts of questions will most likely include rare idioms, awkward phrasing, and suspicious pronouns to keep you off balance.

In these instances, sometimes your only defense is to plant your feet firmly on the ground, forget the rules, and pretend that you’re saying the sentence to your best friend. Pick whichever choice makes you feel the least ridiculous. However, this strategy should be reserved for those times when your knowledge of grammar isn’t helping much. Even if English is your second (or third) language, remember that using your ear and feeling the sentences on your tongue can still be one of your most powerful tools.

Take a look at the following question:

Students in the metropolitan school district lack math skills to such a large degree as to make it difficult to absorb them into a city economy becoming ever more dependent on information-based industries.

(A) lack math skills to such a large degree as to make it difficult to absorb them into a city economy becoming
(B) lack math skills to a large enough degree that they will be difficult to absorb into a city’s economy that becomes
(C) lack of math skills is so large as to be difficult to absorb them into a city’s economy that becomes
(D) are lacking so much in math skills as to be difficult to absorb into a city’s economy becoming
(E) are so lacking in math skills that it will be difficult to absorb them into a city economy becoming

Pretty nasty, right? Reading each choice aloud helps to clear things out.

This question is testing the proper use of the idioms “such X that Y” and “so X that Y,in which Y should be a clause. The original sentence uses the idiomatically incorrect to such a large degree as to, rather than “that.”

Choice C uses lack as a noun instead of a verb, so the noun students loses its corresponding verb. Lack as a noun would be correct if students were a possessive, but unfortunately it isn’t. Choice D’s lacking so much in math skills as to be is unidiomatic because of the awkward insertion of much. Choice B is unnecessarily wordy and convoluted. Not only do we have to a large enough degree rather than simply so, but we also have an extra relative clause, economy that becomes, rather than simply economy becoming. In the absence of concrete grammatical errors, we need to look to stylistic concerns. Here, Choice E is far better stylistically. It uses the correct idiom “so X that Y” and is clear and concise. Choice E is correct.

Although at first glance their antecedents may seem unclear, the pronouns it and them in Choice E are not ambiguous. The pronoun it refers to the following phrase to absorb them into a city economy. What will be difficult? To absorb students into a city economy. Compare this to simple phrases such as “It is easy to bake a pie.” The pronoun “it” refers to the action “to bake pie.” What is easy? To bake a pie. The active version of this sentence is “Baking a pie is easy.”

The pronoun them can logically refer only to students, since it does not make sense to describe skills as absorbed into a city economy. It’s important to keep an eye out for pronoun errors, but don’t assume an answer choice is a weaker option just because you see pronouns.

Takeaway: Familiarity with correct idioms and proper pronoun usage will be invaluable come test day. That said, don’t forget that you can occasionally rely on your ear to steer you in the right direction.

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Top 5 GMAT Critical Reasoning Tips

Critical Reasoning questions compose a little less than one third of all the questions on the verbal section of the GMAT. Each CR question requires test-takers to analyze and/or identify certain parts of a specific argument – a vital skill not only for a high GMAT score, but also for success in business school (and business!)

We’ve put together a list of 5 concrete tips to help you master the Critical Reasoning section of the test. With these strategies in hand, you’ll whiz through CR’s tricks and traps in no time!

1. Know your terminology.

Know the definition for terms like assumption, inference, evidence, conclusion, logical flaw, paradox, etc., like the back of your hand. As you go through practice tests, write down any words in the argument, question stem, or answer choice that confuse you – and then look them up!

When you have the essential definitions down, you can jump into arguments much more quickly — and you won’t waste any time second-guessing what a question is asking you to find.

2. Take the time to identify the different parts of each CR passage.

If you’re having a hard time sorting out the meaning of a passage, take a moment to identify its conclusion and the evidence (statements of fact) and assumptions (unstated ideas) it uses to make that conclusion (the conclusion will often be signaled by words like “as a result” or “therefore”).

Once you break down an argument into its component parts, it’s easier to see what purpose each component serves. This structural approach is key when you’re asked to strengthen, weaken, or paraphrase specific claims.

3. Don’t confuse correlation with causation.

This is a common logical flaw, and it occurs when an argument concludes that one event caused another, based only on the evidence that the two occurred at the same time or one after another. Don’t be fooled!

The GMAT will throw the same flawed logic at you again and again to test your knowledge of sound reasoning. If you know the go-to flaws ahead of time, you can jump to the right answer more quickly (and avoid the traps more easily!).

4. Look out for opposite answer choices.

If a question asks you for a statement that best weakens an argument, beware of answer choices that do the exact opposite (i.e. strengthen the argument). Opposite answers are actually incredibly tempting because they mirror correct answers in force.

The test-makers bank on the fact that your attention will slip just for a second and you’ll pick the opposite of the right choice. If you’re on the lookout for this trick, you’ll be less likely to fall for it.

5. Brush up on the most frequently used methods of reasoning.

Arguments cite many types of evidence, but certain methods of reasoning are more effective than others and thus more commonly used on the GMAT. An author might advance her points by citing an authority (like a study or scholar) or providing an analogy (appealing to a similar situation). Common methods of countering an argument including noting ulterior motives or demonstrating a logical inconsistency.

This is another example where identifying the structure of an argument can save you time. If you understand an author’s method of reasoning, it’s easier to identify where the argument is flawed — and how you could strengthen or weaken it if a question asked you to do so.

Top 10 Tips for the GMAT Sentence Correction Section

The Sentence Correction section of the GMAT can be intimidating, especially for test-takers who grew up speaking a language other than English. Luckily for all you Quant whizzes, Sentence Correction portion is actually quite math-like. There are specific words and phrases that you can use to eliminate options, and you can learn how different constructions must fit together in order to form a “correct” sentence.

To ace the SC section, start by learning to identify the most commonly tested errors on the GMAT. Here are 10 concrete tips to get you on track:

1. Watch the prepositions

Do answer choices use different prepositions? If so, check for idiomatic errors. Sometimes the difference between a correct idiom and an incorrect one comes down to which preposition is used (i.e., a consequence of vs. a consequence from).

2. Check for parallelism.

The word “and” should send you looking for parallelism errors. If the word “and” connects items on a list, the items connected must be parallel. If you see a comma plus “and” (or another conjunction like for, and, nor, but, or, etc.) connecting two clauses, make sure that each of the clauses is independent; if not, you’ve found a sentence structure error.

3. Know the time.

Use time cues (ex. before, during, as, in 1960) to eliminate options that contain verb tense errors. Remember, events that occur during the same time period must be in the same tense!

4. Look for agreement.

See a collective noun, like committee, company or team? Check for subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent agreement. Even better, check to see that EVERY underlined pronoun agrees with its antecedent (the word to which the pronoun is referring).

5. Skip the filler.

When sentences are injected with modifiers, like prepositional phrases, ignore the filler words between the subject and the verb to make sure that you have subject-verb agreement. If you have a hard time spotting the subject-verb pair amidst all the clutter in the sentence, find the verb and think, “What subject logically corresponds to this action?” Remember: The subject of a sentence will never be inside of a prepositional phrase.

6. Know which noun goes with which.

See the word which in an answer choice? When which introduces a clause (called an adjective clause), make sure that the clause introduced IMMEDIATELY follows the noun or idea it modifies. Just as an adjective must describe a noun, so an adjective clause must describe a noun. If the clause introduced by “which” describes an abstract idea and not a specific noun, you’ve found a modifier error.

7. Run the numbers.

If a sentence is about some sort of numerical quantity (ex. the percentage of homeowners in Minneapolis or the number of women studying French) check for idiomatic errors. Remember: “fewer” describes a countable quantity, like people; “less” describes an uncountable quantity, like sugar. Also check for redundancy (ex. “went up by a 20% increase”).

8. Comparison shop.

The words “as,” “than,” and “like” should send you looking for comparison errors. Make sure that the items compared make sense; if a sentence says more X than Y, X and Y have to be items of the same type.

9. Well, this is awkward.

If an option is wordy or awkward, do not immediately eliminate it unless you find a concrete error. Hold on to the choice unless you find another choice that also contains no errors. Compare the two constructions, and if you still cannot find an error in either construction, choose the less wordy, less awkward, and/or more active construction.

10. Keep things logical.

Don’t forget about the logic of the sentence. When down to those last two options, plug each one back into the sentence and see which one makes more sense intuitively. You can always use your ear to check for clear and logical modification.

GMAT English vs. Regular English

Sometimes reading a GMAT Reading Comp passage is like poring through the OED

Jonathan Bethune is a Content Developer at Knewton, where his grammar skills and ESL knowledge help students with their GMAT prep.

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” ~ Charles Mingus

In William Zinsser’s 1976 classic book On Writing Well, there is a section wherein the author discusses the problem of pompous language. He explains that, because of social convention, we are often expected to put on airs of eloquence with unnecessarily verbose speech. The example that most sticks out in my mind is that of the dentist. To his patient, he says, “Are you experiencing any discomfort?” yet were he working on his son’s teeth, he would simply say, “Does it hurt?”

Professional and academic life present us with numerous similar situations, moments where we fear that the simpler phrase would cast us in a bad light. Indeed there may be no surer sign of adulthood than having acquired the ability to say very little with a whole lot of words.

In this regard, the GMAT is in a league of its own. The language you find in Critical reasoning and Reading comprehension passages is often more excruciating than even the most inept dentist’s drill.
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GMAT Prep: Brutal SC Practice Question

Joanna Bersin, a Content Developer at Knewton, takes special pride in crafting mind-numbingly  hard GMAT Sentence Correction questions.

Prepping for the GMAT? Check out this super-challenging Sentence Correction question. If you can get this one right, you’ve got nothing to worry about on test day!  For the answer, check out the discussion here.

The policy of applying indirect taxes, like value added tax and excise duties, that were enforced in Lithuania was less strict when compared to the European Union’s members in 2000, which imposed tax rules and tariffs that, for the most part, needed to be tightened in order to harmonize with the EU’s requirements and not to loosen it for the purpose of remaining competitive with trading partners outside of the EU.

(A) The policy of applying indirect taxes, like value added tax and excise duties, that were enforced in Lithuania was less strict when compared to the European Union’s members in 2000, which imposed tax rules and tariffs that, for the most part, needed to be tightened in order to harmonize with the EU’s requirements and not to loosen it

(B) The policy of applying indirect taxes, including value added tax and excise duties, enforced in Lithuania was less strict when compared with the policy applied by the European Union’s members in 2000, imposing tax rules and tariffs that, for the most part, needed to be tightened so that the country would harmonize with the EU’s requirements rather than loosening them

(C) When it was compared with that enforced by members of the European Union in 2000, the policy of applying indirect taxes, like value added tax and excise duties, that were enforced in Lithuania and that were less strict, were imposing tax rules and tariffs that, for the most part, needed to be tightened in order to harmonize with the EU’s requirements rather than loosening them

(D) Compared with that enforced by members of the European Union in 2000, the policy of applying indirect taxes, like value added tax and excise duties, that was enforced in Lithuania was less strict, imposing tax rules and tariffs that, for the most part, needed to be tightened so that the country would harmonize with the EU’s requirements rather than loosened

(E) In 2000, Lithuania, compared with the members of the European Union, had a policy of applying indirect taxes, including value added tax and excise duties, that were enforced less strictly, since it imposed tax rules and tariffs that, for the most part, needed tightening in order that they would harmonize with the EU’s requirements and not to loosen