How to Analyze a GMATPrep SC Question

by on March 21st, 2010

Close Up of Pen on Paper excerptThis is the latest in a series of “How To Analyze” articles that began with the general “How To Analyze A Practice Problem” article (click on the link to read the original article). This week, we’re going to analyze a specific Sentence Correction question. The GMATPrep® problem we’re using this week is one that we’ve already discussed how to solve in a previous article; click here to read that article and try the problem first.

Here’s the GMATPrep® problem again; if you didn’t read the first article and try the problem already, then try this problem now (1 minute, 15 seconds):

Research has shown that when speaking, individuals who have been blind from birth and have thus never seen anyone gesture nonetheless make hand motions just as frequently and in the same way as sighted people do, and that they will gesture even when conversing with another blind person.

A) have thus never seen anyone gesture nonetheless make hand motions just as frequently and in the same way as sighted people do, and that

B) have thus never seen anyone gesture but nonetheless make hand motions just as frequently and in the same way that sighted people do, and

C) have thus never seen anyone gesture, that they nonetheless make hand motions just as frequently and in the same way as sighted people do, and

D) thus they have never seen anyone gesture, but nonetheless they make hand motions just as frequently and in the same way that sighted people do, and that

E) thus they have never seen anyone gesture nonetheless make hand motions just as frequently and in the same way that sighted people do, and

After trying the problem, checking the answer, and reading and understanding the solution (if available), I try to answer these questions:

1. Did I know WHAT they were trying to test?

Was I able to CATEGORIZE this question by topic and subtopic? By process / technique? If I had to look something up in my books, would I know exactly where to go?

  • The question is an SC question that’s testing parallelism, modifiers, and idioms. If I don’t remember how to deal with any of those grammar issues, I’d go look in the appropriate chapter in my book right now.

Did I COMPREHEND the symbols, text, questions, statements, and answer choices? Can I comprehend it all now, when I have lots of time to think about it? What do I need to do to make sure that I do comprehend everything here? How am I going to remember whatever I’ve just learned for future?

[Note: I’m going to pretend I got this one wrong when I first did it.]

  • When I first read the sentence, I didn’t understand the full structure. The full structure consists of the core of the sentence (subject, verb, possibly an object, and possibly some other necessary extensions) and the modifiers (the additional information that “hangs” onto the core at various spots). I knew that I wasn’t quite getting it, but I was also feeling pressed for time, so I thought I could get away with not figuring out what the basic structure was. That was a mistake. In future, I have to make sure that I take the time to understand the basic structure on sentences such as this one, even if it takes me another 20 to 30 seconds to answer the problem. I should also practice breaking down the structure so that I get more efficient.

Did I understand the actual CONTENT (facts, knowledge) being tested?

  • I do know parallelism, though I messed up with parallelism on this one because I didn’t understand the overall structure. Once I took the time to break down the structure, I had no problem with the parallelism. In terms of the idiom, “in the same way as” sounded better to me than “in the same way that” but I didn’t know for sure that I was right until I checked the answer. I still don’t know why I’m right, though, so I have to go check my book and dig into this a little more.

2. How well did I HANDLE what they were trying to test?

Did I choose the best APPROACH? Or is there a better way to do the problem? (There’s almost always a better way!) What is that better way? How am I going to remember this better approach the next time I see a similar problem?

  • No, I definitely didn’t choose the best approach, and that cost me the question. I knew there was parallelism, but I interpreted it as “Research has shown that X, that Y, and that Z” so I chose answer C. I should have tried to figure out the structure first, and I didn’t do that, as noted above. Here’s how I should have figured out the structure: (see original article, linked at the top of this article, to learn how to split out the core from the modifiers; this is where you would want to write all of that out.)

Did I have the SKILLS to follow through? Or did I fall short on anything?

  • I did have the skills to find the core – but I didn’t have the “test-taking” skills to know that I should have done it then. Basically, I have to make a choice: either I’m just going to give up on this one as too hard for the time I have (and therefore I’m going to answer more quickly than usual), or I’m going to invest the extra 20 to 30 seconds to figure out the core because I know that I can do it. (And I don’t think it will take more than 20 to 30 extra seconds – that’s critically important.)

Did I make any careless mistakes? If so, WHY did I make each mistake? What habits could I make or break to minimize the chances of repeating that careless mistake in future?

  • I didn’t read the full sentence using my chosen answer, C. If I had, I might have realized something wasn’t right. “Research has shown that individuals who <A and B – modifier>, that they make, and that they will gesture…” Where’s the verb for the first one, the verb that goes with “individuals?” There isn’t one. Oops. Also, I did finally figure out why “in the same way as” was right (it was due to parallelism again! see the original article for details), and I consider missing the parallelism signal a careless mistake, because I absolutely know that “and” is a parallelism signal.

For verbal, the following two questions can be combined:

Am I comfortable with OTHER STRATEGIES that would have worked, at least partially? How should I have made an educated guess?

Do I understand every TRAP & TRICK that the writer built into the question, including wrong answers?

  • I already know why answer C is tempting, because I chose it! And now I also know why it’s wrong.
  • I wasn’t personally tempted by B, D, or E because of the “in the same way that” issue, but it would be easy to miss that we need “as” there. The “just as frequently and in the same way…” structure is really confusing – they’re trying to get me to miss the “just as frequently as” idiom.

3. How well did I or could I RECOGNIZE what was going on?

Did I make a CONNECTION to previous experience? If so, what problem(s) did this remind me of and what, precisely, was similar? Or did I have to do it all from scratch? If so, see the next bullet.

  • Not well enough, no. I’ve seen these super-convoluted sentences before and I really should have known that I needed to break the sentence down first – but I let the time pressure get to me. I’m going to go back and look at some similar ones that I’ve done in the past.

Can I make any CONNECTIONS now, while I’m analyzing the problem? What have I done in the past that is similar to this one? How are they similar? How could that recognition have helped me to do this problem more efficiently or effectively? (This may involve looking up some past problem and making comparisons between the two!)

  • Basically, this problem was all about convoluted parallelism: a long core, lots of modifiers, and various levels of parallelism. I’ve definitely seen problems like this before – just in the past week, in fact – and I’m going to go back over some of them right now.

HOW will I recognize similar problems in the future? What can I do now to maximize the chances that I will remember and be able to use lessons learned from this problem the next time I see a new problem that tests something similar?

  • I need to do everything I already described in my notes above. When I go back to look at some of the recent problems I’ve done, I’m going to repeat this full analysis for several of those, just to hammer home that I need to break these sentences down better and more efficiently. (And I’ll also look for new things, of course.)

And that’s it! Note that, of course, the details above are specific to each individual person – such a write-up would be different for every single one of you, depending upon your particular strengths, weaknesses, and mistakes. Hopefully, though, this gives you a better idea of the way to analyze a problem. This framework also gives you a valuable way to discuss problems with fellow online students or in study groups – this is the kind of discussion that really helps to maximize scores.

* GMATPrep® question courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.

18 comments

  • Stacey,

    As always, this was an excellent post. I committed the exact mistakes you mentioned in this sentence. Do you recommend understanding the core of every SC question?

    The reason why I did not like A is because before nonetheless I was expecting a comma. I have noticed that when we use transition words a break in the sentence is important.

    Any thoughts?

    Vineet

    • Stripping out the core takes a bit of time, so during a test I only do it when I think that the time is well spent (mostly, this is on hard, convoluted sentences). I *practice* it, however, all the time when studying so that I know what to do and how to do it quickly when I need to do it on the real test.

      Re: your second paragraph, there are two separate (but related) issues here. One is the comma. For the most part, this test doesn't test comma usage, so when there isn't a comma where I would have expected one, I don't typically make a decision based on that. I go look for something else.

      The other issue is when we're "expecting" a sentence to be a certain way. I really try to be flexible with this instinct, because I know that they write sentences all the time that aren't the way I would have written them or expected someone else to write them. I still notice when something strikes me as unexpected, but I don't automatically think that means the thing is wrong. It could be right-but-strange-sounding-or-unexpected, or it could be wrong - and I need to go and check the specific rules to see whether I can figure out which it is.

  • Stacey,

    One more thing that made me not to choose A is that I am under the impression that if an "and" is after a comma then it triggers an independent sentence structure and not necessarily a parallelism (now I know I am wrong), but what is the correct way to distinguish between the 2 usage of “and”.

    Thanks again,

    Vineet

    • Hi Vineet!
      To answer your question, the way I tackled this problem was through POE. The lack of synchronization with "who have been blind" made me eliminate choices D and E. Next, I looked at B and C. In choice B, "but nonetheless" and lack of "as" to go with " "just as frequesntly" were red flags and I quickly eliminated B. Now, in choice C "gesture, that they nonetheless" does not go with "as sighted people do, and" (since the original "that" before "they will gesture" has been removed).
      So, I eliminated choice C. This left me with A and though I was not sure of the grammatical structure itself, I remembered the GMAT SC rule "pick the best choice" and not the "perfect" choice. There may be other better ways of tackling this sentence, but I narrowed down to choice A within a minute.
      One strategy I use on complicated sentences is to use a broad brush stroke first and eliminate the choices in which the errors are obvious and then take a closer look at the remaining choices. So far, this has worked for me even though I am only half way through the MGMAT SC book. Good Luck.
      Thanks,
      Swami

    • The word "and" indicates parallelism, first and foremost. If you see a "comma and," you may have a few different things going on:

      , and

      , , and

      , , and

      So you have to ask yourself why that comma is there. Is it actually a "closing" comma, the second comma in a pair that is setting off some modifier from the rest of the sentence? Then the "comma and" might not have a complete sentence after it. For example:

      "She has brown hair, which is long, and blue eyes."

      If you took out that modifier, what would the sentence look like?
      "She has brown hair and blue eyes."
      If you remove the modifier, you're also going to remove the two commas that surround it. So that comma before the "and" isn't there to tell you something about the "and" - it's there to tell you something about the modifier before it.

  • I use split method, and here i firstly focused on "and" vs " and that". I realized that "and that" makes sense, because the first part i see "shown that when speaking" and the later " when conversing".

    Between "A" and "D" i chose A, because "have thus been" is right.

  • Thanks for the explanation Stacey. You answered what I was looking for.

    Vineet

  • Hi Stacy,

    I myself have taken a Manhattan GMAT class. However, I still found parallelism to be so confusing.

    Do you have any suggestions on where I can find more books/material to study for parallelism? I do have the MGMAT SC guide.

    THANKS!

    Angie

    • In my (admittedly biased) opinion, the MGMAT SC guide is the best one out there. I also don't actively look through materials from other test prep companies for legal reasons, so I'm not the best person to ask.

      I'd suggest that you post your question in the "SC" area of the forums and ask your fellow students what they have used and liked. Also, remember that you can post specific questions you may have on the forums yourself!

  • Hi Stacy,

    I myself have taken a Manhattan GMAT class. However, I still found parallelism to be so confusing.

    Do you have any suggestions on where I can find more books/material to study for parallelism? I do have the MGMAT SC guide.

    THANKS!

    Angie

  • Sorry for the re post...

  • awsome article , you have clearly demonstrated how to apply the approach mentioned in your previous article , I will recommend this series to everyone before they start preparing for GMAT.

  • I know you say I should spend 4-10 minutes analyzing, but should I really be able to get through all of that in 10 minutes? What you have described would take me about 30 minutes to get through. I already spend 4-10 minutes analyzing each problem afterwards but don't come close to the depth of this analysis. If you count going back to your books and relearning concepts and looking up past practice problems, I don't understand how one could get through all of this in 10 minutes let alone 4. Also, I find that 75 seconds for SC isn't close to enough time to do what you do for each problem. I barely have enough time to read it, split the answer choices and eliminate wrong answers. I can't believe your brain processes and diagrams the sentence like you do in 75 seconds or less. Don't get me wrong, my average per question is about 73 seconds per SC question, but I don't come close to that level or depth of analysis during those seconds. It's just enough to read it, split it, eliminate, re-split if need be and choose the answer. Am I just super slow or am I missing something? How can I get faster and more comprehensive in my analysis at the same time? Also, I really want to adopt this sort of analysis, but I have the feeling it will take me forever to get through a block of 50 questions like that. If you assume just 10 minutes per question for the analysis and 75 seconds per question for the questions, it would take almost 10 hours to get through just a block of 50 practice problems. If you could only devote 4 hours a day to your study, that would mean it would take you 2.5 days to cover those problems.

    • Ah, I should make clear - I *don't* count going back to books, doing new problems that are similar, etc. All of that is now actual learning. The 4-10 minutes (and, yes, I do sometimes spend 15 or 20 minutes on certain problems) is the analysis - figuring out WHAT you need to do to get better.

      For the analysis in general, no, I'm not doing ALL of that while I'm doing the problem - the analysis is mostly coming afterwards, where I'm trying to learn more. I do probably do more than you do while doing the problem, but I've been doing this for a long time. :)

      Re: # of problems, the point is basically that I DON'T want you doing 50 problems a day. In a 2-hour study session, you only want to DO problems for about 30 minutes. The rest of the time should be analysis, which will then set you up to do other things, which you'd do the next day. You do some - 10 to 20 problems - then you learn A TON about how to get better before you even bother doing more. What's the point of doing even more if you haven't learned how to get better first? :)

      Also just note: when you're reading articles that I've written, I'm discussing every possible thing, but you don't need every possible thing in order to solve. For instance, on SC, there are often multiple ways to get to the right answer and you can get to the right answer without using all of the errors / clues. The article discussing everything because it's an article - it's comprehensive. But when you're actually doing it, you only do the minimum that needs to get done in order to get to the answer. (Note: that's while the timer is running. Then, when you're done, you want to go back and think: hmm, how else could I have gotten there? Is there a faster way than the way that I found the first time? etc.)

      And, finally, re: the 4m end of the spectrum - that's typically for the problems you got right fairly easily, or the ones that were so hard, you limit yourself to: how should I have known very quickly that I should just bail on these, and how would I make a guess?

  • Lovely article.....by an adorable person !!!!

  • Hey stacey! That a wonderful article.
    I have a question.
    I just don’t understand how should I go about solving an SC question. Although I am good at English I face major problem with long SC questions , not to say I get them wrong most of the times.
    I just want to know what’s your process when you see a SC question ? Just exactly what do you do ?
    Not to mention an article on MODIFIERS - the worst topic in SC from your side would be great!. [I have read the MGMAT SC book(the whole book) twice but just can’t find myself getting better at it, I hope I am up for it during the test].
    I am not really great at quant, so I bank on verbal to score more for me.
    P.S: I seriously look forward to an article on MODIFIERS in depth.

    • For general SC process, see this article:
      http://www.beatthegmat.com/mba/2010/06/03/how-to-read-a-sentence-correction-problem

      Re: modifiers, I would love to write an article about that topic, but... there's a but. A complete discussion of modifiers would probably be a 10,000+ word article... and my articles are limited to 1,000 to 1,500 words. And besides I'd probably mostly just be writing what we already wrote in the modifiers chapter of our book.

      What I try to do in my articles is help people take the next step from the book (which discusses all the rules, etc) to the practical application of those rules and techniques on specific problems. How do you take that info and actually make it work on a real test question? So I'll suggest this. if you come across a GMATPrep question that you want me to discuss, PM me with the details, and I'll add it to my list of article topics. Then we'll use that particular question to discuss whatever issues are going on in it - including modifiers. :)

      Note: in order to publish something as a GMATPrep question, I have to have proof that it actually did come from GMATPrep. I have a bunch of these saved myself, but I doubt I have all of them, so it's a good idea to send me a screen shot of the question as you saw it when you took GMATPrep - just in case I don't have it.

  • Thanks Stacey. I'll surely do tht!
    I am yet to start with my preparation with Gmatprep tests as have kept it for the last thing to do.

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