Two Common Errors In Sentence Correction Questions

by on September 29th, 2009

In my several years of teaching, I’ve noticed pitfalls that get students again and again on the GMAT.  Today I’ll describe just two of them that pertain to Sentence Correction questions.

Danger 1:  Always Using Your Ear

There is a lot of advice out there regarding the ability of a test taker to “just use your ear” when assessing the answer choices.  At Kaplan, we do, in fact suggest using your ear to evaluate whether a sentence has been expressed in a clear and concise manner.  However, there are “classic cases” of grammatical, structural, and stylistic issues that appear often on the GMAT, and not all of them will be caught by your ear.

While I’m not going to go into all the finer points of what is tested (we do that in our classroom course), I do want to stress the importance of knowing that wrong answers can be grammatically correct or grammatically incorrect.  Some answer choices are clearly wrong based on English principles; other answers are wrong because they do not conform to GMAT style and preferred structure.

Take this example: 

He is considered ____ a close friend of the president.

If you or I were chatting, we may say: “He is considered to be a close friend of the president…”.  However, according to the preferred GMAT writing style, the words “to be” are unnecessary, and the blank should be left blank:

CORRECT: He is considered a close friend of the president.

While both of these answers are grammatically correct, the second one will be the correct answer on test day and the former will be the wrong answer.

While your ear can help evaluate between two answer choices, review of the most commonly tested grammar rules and idiomatic expressions used on the GMAT will boost your score on test day.  Every question has only one correct answer choice, but in many cases, wrong answer choices are wrong for stylistic reasons, not grammatical reasons.

Danger 2:  Assessing the Entire Phrase

Sentence Correction questions on the GMAT often exhibit multiple errors.  A trap students fall into is taking the entire underlined part and attempting to find the better structure in the answer choices.  Let’s look at the following example:


Some mathematicians argue that to permit a candidate to win an election because they have won a plurality vote is like ranking a student who earned three A’s and two F’s higher than one who got two A’s and three B’s.

As we look at this slightly more advanced problem, we may be stuck at where to start evaluating the answer choices.   Part of the Kaplan method for Sentence Correction is to jump an error if you see one and evaluate the choices based on it.  You may see an inappropriate use of a pronoun: “they”.  Never use “they” to refer to a third-person singular noun (“candidate”) on the GMAT – it’s not a grammatically correct way of avoiding the awkward “he or she.”

Three of the answer choices, for example, may correct the pronoun error.  After you have assessed the first error, cross out the choices that don’t correct the issue, and then move onto the next error.

Do you notice the next one here?  “To permit” should be “permitting” in order to make it parallel with “ranking”.   Thus, the sentence should read: 

Some mathematicians argue that permitting candidates to win elections because they have won a plurality of votes is like ranking a student who earned three A’s and two F’s higher than one who got two A’s and three B’s.

The key takeaway is to break down each sentence into component parts and look at each error in isolation.  Attempting to fix everything in one pass is not the most efficient way to ensure comprehension and, ultimately, success.

There’s quite a bit more you can practice to boost your Sentence Correction performance, but just avoiding these two pitfalls will earn you some extra points on the GMAT.


  • I believe most of the answer choices are wrong because they are not in proper style/tense/idiom.

  • Must say that these pointers are great, helped me a lot. Another thing i would like to suggest to overcome such mistakes is to practice as much. is one such site that has a lot of sample practice papers. This is the best site i have come across. Thanks to my cousin James for his suggestion visit the site.

  • i need an explanation on sentence elements(subject,predicate,object,compliment and adjunt) for example mike/ is /nice=svc. please i need more examples.thanks

  • Is the following sentence correctly written by you in the article?

    "A trap students fall into is taking the entire underlined part and attempting to find the better structure in the answer choices. "

    I doubt!

  • Nice article

  • Wait, I think I missed something.  Didn't you say that the first error in the original sentence is the use of the pronoun "they"?  In the final, corrected sentence "they" is still used.  So is it wrong or not?  Or did fixing the second error correct the first error?  If so how?

    • @sarah.. the final answer is correct, although "they" has been used, you might have overlooked the correction of "candidate" to "candidates".
      hope that helps :)

  • nice article :-)

  • Just curious to why "they" doesn't refer to the mathematicians in the beginning of the sentence also, I'm always confused why it can sometimes when there are multiple nouns and other times it doesn't, any help would be great 

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