Comparisons and Parallelism in GMATPrep

by on November 25th, 2012

Last time, we took a look at a Comparisons problem; in today’s article, we’re going to examine another one. This question is from the free problem set included in the new GMATPrep 2.0 version of the software.

Try it out (1 minute 15 seconds) and then we’ll talk about it!

* ” In Holland, a larger percentage of the gross national product is spent on defense of their coasts from rising seas than is spent on military defense in the United States.

“(A) In Holland, a larger percentage of the gross national product is spent on defense of their coasts from rising seas than is spent on military defense in the United States.

“(B) In Holland they spend a larger percentage of their gross national product on defending their coasts from rising seas than the United States does on military defense.

“(C) A larger percentage of Holland’s gross national product is spent on defending their coasts from rising seas than the United States spends on military defense.

“(D) Holland spends a larger percentage of its gross national product defending its coasts from rising seas than the military defense spending of the United States.

“(E) Holland spends a larger percentage of its gross national product on defending its coasts from rising seas than the United States does on military defense.”

I think this one follows nicely from the conversation we had last time. We’ve got another comparison structure, we’ve got an entire sentence underlined, and yet there are also some differences here.

What did you think about the original sentence? I stumbled over the word “their” when reading the sentence for the first time. Who is “their?” Logically, the word is probably meant to refer to Holland: their coasts = Holland’s coasts. But “their” is plural and Holland is just one country; I would need a singular pronoun here, not a plural one.

I also noticed something else that I thought “sounded funny” but I had to examine the sentence for a second to figure out why. Take a look at this:

“In Holland, a larger percentage (of A) is spent on X than is spent on Y.”

When I strip the sentence down like this, it sounds like it’s saying that Holland spends more money on X than Holland spends on Y. That doesn’t make any sense though – why would Holland pay for the military defense of the U.S.? :)

So, we’ve got two issues to attack here: a pronoun mismatch, and an illogical meaning.

The pronoun mismatch is easier to scan, so let’s tackle that one first. Scan the remaining four answers for the word “their” (or any other form of a pronoun). Note, though, that the entire sentence is underlined, so we have to see whether they also keep Holland singular – they could say “the people of Holland” or something like that. Answer B contains both “they” and “their,” and these words are intended to talk about the singular Holland. Answer C also contains the plural “their” referring to the singular “Holland’s.” Eliminate answers B and C.

D and E both use the pronoun its, which is singular, to match with the singular Holland, so now we need to use some other reason to decide between these two answers.

We did already have another idea: the original sentence had an illogical meaning. It was attempting to make a comparison (“larger than”) but, in doing so, it compared the percentage of GNP that Holland spends on its own coastal defense to, apparently, the percentage of GNP that Holland spends on the defense of the U.S. Let’s check the two remaining answers to see whether they both make an appropriate, logical comparison. Keep in mind that comparisons are supposed to have a parallel structure.

“(D) Holland spends a larger percentage of its gross national product defending its coasts from rising seas than the military defense spending of the United States.

“(E) Holland spends a larger percentage of its gross national product on defending its coasts from rising seas than the United States does on military defense.”

Here’s the key. Answer D isn’t parallel and that does actually muddle the meaning a bit. If we strip D down to the core, we have:

“Holland spends a larger percentage (for X) than the military defense spending of the U.S.”

Or, more simply: Holland vs. the military defense spending. First, a country and the spending of another country are not parallel things or concepts. Second, because these two things aren’t parallel, that leaves the reader trying to figure out exactly what should be parallel to the second half, after the word “than”: military defense spending. “Defending its coasts,” maybe? In that case, Holland spends more money defending its coasts than spending… money for U.S. defense? We’re back to the problem with the original sentence: this doesn’t make sense.

Answer E, stripped to the core, reads:

“Holland spends a larger percentage (on X) than the U.S. does (on Y).”

We’ve got a parallel structure here, with one fairly common feature that some people might think isn’t right: Holland spends vs. the U.S. does. When you have a parallel structure like this, where the action is the same for the two different nouns, you don’t have to repeat the same verb twice; instead, you can substitute something like “does,” with the understanding that this verb refers back to the original verb, “spends.”

The correct answer is E.

Key Takeaways for Comparisons and Meaning

(1) A comparison has to compare “apples to apples,” or similar things. If it doesn’t, this may muddle the meaning of the sentence – or even make it illogical.

(2) You may read the original sentence and think, “That doesn’t make sense,” or even just, “I don’t understand what they’re trying to say.” If this happens, briefly try to think what a logical meaning would be, given the words in the sentence – this often helps, but not always. If that still doesn’t help you to understand the meaning, read a different answer choice.

(3) SC questions almost always test multiple issues. If you spot more than one, start with the easiest one; this will almost always allow you to eliminate at least 2 answer choices. Then, if you have to take the time to evaluate a more complicated issue, you will be doing so for a smaller number of answer choices – crucially important on a question type with a 1m15s average!

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

3 comments

  • WOW!!!

    Amazing explanation. It is a pretty simple question, but the explanation you have given is very good.

    Thanks

  • Dear Stacey,

    I havn't recieved responses for my last couple of queries so I am trying my luck with a different query this time ! :) . There is a question on be below post and I wanted to know if my analysis is correct and if there is a better/faster way to solve it and whether you can expand further on the topic.

    http://www.beatthegmat.com/mba/2013/03/05/if-i-was-you-i-would-study-for-the-gmat-every-day-conditionals-in-sc-questions

    In choice B the modifier "Responding to the dramatic affair" is referring to 'a speech' so it is wrong. Remaining choices mainly differ in the way the underlined part ends and choices D and E have very weird endings (both have past tenses). And choice A I would rule out because of the "would" usage which is appropriate in scenarios which are hypothetical or having less chance of occuring. Also the article mentions that "would" should have Simple Past in the conditional part. But both A and C have Past Perfect (HAS prepared) used which is never mentioined in the article at all.

    Please respond !

    Thanks
    Karthik

    • I was traveling the entire month of Feb - I'm just behind, that's all!

      Yes, B is wrong because of the modifier.

      When you say Unless you do X, Y is going to (or will) happen, you are not giving a hypothetical or discussing an impossible situation. You are making a prediction that you think will come true: unless you study, you are not going to (or will not) do very well on the GMAT.

      So you should yes one of the regular present or future tenses for that, not the conditional. A is conditional, D and E are past.

      C is the correct answer.

      Note that "has prepared" is present perfect, not past perfect. That part of the sentence, though, does not have any kind of conditional structure - that doesn't start until the "unless" part.

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