What the Replacement Refs Debacle Can Teach You About Sentence Correction

by on October 3rd, 2012

Our long national nightmare is over – the replacement refs from the NFL can go back to their original jobs (Foot Locker? Junior College football? Guinea pig patients for optometry students?) and the real referees are back on the field. You can now trust that when there’s a flag on the play there’s a pretty high likelihood that a penalty was actually committed, and you can be confident that the records and champions from this season won’t come with an eternal asterisk signifying a weirder-than-normal season. All is well again in the NFL.

But before you casually open the fridge for some tapenade and sit down to watch the Red Zone channel, remember – you have GMAT work to do! And the replacement refs can teach you a few things about GMAT sentence correction, which, after all, is about “sentence replacement”. Much like the NFL did, you’re taking out an underlined portion (the refs have stripes on their jerseys…that’s like an underline) and replacing it with something that hopefully doesn’t become a massive problem. In performing sentence correction replacement, your job is much like that of selecting a referee for a football game – you don’t need to plug in something great; your real goal is to plug in something that people don’t notice at all.

Here’s how that can help you – much like capable referees, correct sentence correction answer choices often have these qualities:

  1. You don’t love them, but you can live with them
  2. They may not impress you, but they won’t woefully disappoint you
  3. They’ll meet the letter of the law even if they don’t pass the immediate eyeball test (think “Tuck Rule”…)

These should be your same criteria with Sentence Correction – you’re looking for a not-objectionable answer choice that fills its role without major disappointment. But here’s how the GMAT makes it difficult – it often provides you with a correct answer choice that you don’t love (it “sounds wrong”) or an incorrect answer choice that seems to fit the bill (it feels right). Consider an example:

Mutual funds, though helpful for personal investors who wish to diversify their portfolios, expose shareholders to additional taxation:  not only are taxes on shareholders’ eventual sales of the securities collected by the IRS, but also on reinvested dividend stakes earned by the securities held by the fund itself.

A. not only are taxes on shareholders’ eventual sales of the securities collected by the IRS, but also on

B. collected by the IRS are taxes not only on shareholders’ eventual sales of the securities, but also on

C. taxes not only on shareholders’ eventual sales of the securities are collected by the IRS but also

D. not only taxes on shareholders’ eventual sales of the securities are collected by the IRS, but also on

E. taxes are collected by the IRS not only on shareholders’ eventual sales of the securities but also

And since we’re talking football (in a way), let’s consider the play-by-play on this question. Most people are looking for something like answer choice E – a replacement that seems to look the part. You want the answer to be in the form of “the IRS collects  taxes not only on X but also on Y”. But choice E misses a crucial, necessary component – it needs that word “on” at the end to signal “simultaneous possession” (so to speak, NFL style), that “taxes” belongs to both types of income (sales and dividends). More structurally, the “not only” item must be directly parallel to the “but also” item – and in this case “on” is clearly missing from the second.

And here’s where the “you won’t love it but you can live with it” NFL referee tie-in comes in – answer choice B is correct, but virtually no one likes it. Note that the structure is actually quite efficient – “collected are taxes” leads before “not only”, meaning that “collected are taxes” applies to both sections, “not only” and “but also”. And each item then has its own “on” as a connector. The catch? The subject and verb are inverted – you want to see “taxes are collected” but instead you’re given “collected are taxes”. But remember – capable replacements might not look exactly how you want them to, but as long as they perform the proper function they’re correct. Answer choice B is a perfect replacement – it does the job effectively so you can live with it.

Remember – as you replace portions of sentences in sentence correction your burden of correctness comes down to “does it do the job properly”, not “do I love it”. Incorrect answer choices – like NFL replacement refs – may seem to look the part, but they can’t do the job properly.

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