Narrow Your Focus for GMAT Sentence Correction Success

by on October 3rd, 2016

Today’s post comes from Brett Ethridge, founder of Dominate the GMAT.

I have some good news and some bad new for you.

First, the good news.

The good news is that when it comes to boosting your GMAT verbal score, the fastest improvements for most students come on Sentence Correction questions. The GMAT likes to test a handful of very specific points of English grammar, and they are all learnable—even for non-native English speakers.

Now for the bad news.

The bad news is that even though the grammar rules tested on the GMAT are themselves pretty basic and obvious in isolation, the test makers like to mask them in long, convoluted sentences that make them significantly harder to spot.

But more good news for you: I have a great strategy that will simplify the process of solving GMAT Sentence Correction questions and help you wade through the noise and get more right answers more efficiently. Are you ready?

GMAT Camouflage

When preparing for GMAT sentence corrections, you should spend most of your time learning the core rules for the following six points of English grammar:

  • Subject-verb agreement
  • Pronouns
  • Modifiers
  • Parallelism
  • Idioms
  • Verb tenses

For example, there’s a simple grammar rule pertaining to subject-verb agreement that says singular subjects must use singular verbs, while plural subjects must have plural verbs.

You would say Tom likes the movie because the singular subject Tom is paired with the singular verb likes.

Likewise, you would say The students study for the GMAT. The students is plural as is the verb study.

Pretty basic, right? Really it just comes down to proper verb conjugation, which most people know innately.

Of course it’s never quite that simple on the GMAT. One way the GMAT test makers could make a sentence more challenging would be to use an indefinite pronoun, such as everyone, as the subject of the sentence.

Now you’re smart and studied your grammar rules (or took my online GMAT Sentence Correction Course) so you know that everyone is always singular (as is everybody, anyone, anybody, etc.). Thus, as the subject of the sentence, everyone would require a singular verb, too. You would say Everyone is going to the movie instead of Everyone are going to the movie, for example.

But here’s where it gets tricky.

Often the GMAT likes to separate the main subject and verb of the sentence as far as possible by modifying phrases, dependent clauses, or other distractors. Then, when you’re reading the sentence and finally do get to the verb, it may “sound” right even if it’s not. What’s worse, you may not even be able to figure out what the subject of the sentence is in the first place!

For example, consider this sentence:

Everyone on both sides except the pitcher and me WAS/WERE injured in the game.

Which verb conjugation is correct, was or were? I’ll answer that in a minute, but first here’s a key strategy for you that will help you on a large number of GMAT sentence correction questions.

The Bracketing Technique

When the GMAT throws long, convoluted sentences at you making it difficult to figure out what’s going on, the key strategy is to narrow your focus and create a simpler version of the sentence that only includes the key parts of the sentence that you want to focus on.

In other words, you want to isolate only the parts of the sentence you want to test. I call it the “bracketing technique” and it’s particularly helpful for figuring out subject-verb agreement, pronoun agreement, and idioms.

This video explains the strategy in more detail including a step-by-step illustration of how to employ it:

Pretty cool, huh? Can you see how helpful this will be for you on test day?

Think back to our earlier example: Everyone on both sides except the pitcher and me WAS/WERE injured in the game.

Following the bracketing technique, you can bracket out all of the parenthetical information in the sentence and boil it down to the following:

Everyone WAS/WERE injured.

Now it should be obvious that we need the singular verb was to go with the singular subject everyone. Well done if you figured that out!

(Note: A common mistake would be to think that the pitcher and me is the subject of the sentence, and thus go with the plural verb form were. But remember that the object of a preposition can never be the subject of the sentence, so that’s how you know that the subject must be everyone. And by the way the pronoun me is used correctly, but that’s a lesson for another article….)

Application Example

So there you have it! If you learn and practice the bracketing technique, I’m confident that it will help you get more right answers on test day.

Now it’s your turn. Give the following question from the Official Guide for GMAT Review 2017 (p.703, #771) a try and post your answer in the comments area below. (Hint: The bracketing technique will help you check subject-verb agreement). Good luck!

The absence from business and financial records of the nineteenth century of statistics about women leave us with no record of the jobs that were performed by women and how they survived economically.

(A) from business and financial records of the nineteenth century of statistics about women leave us with no record of the jobs that were performed by women and

(B) from business and financial records of statistics about women from the nineteenth century leave us with no record of what jobs women performed or

(C) of statistics for women from business and financial records in the nineteenth century leaves us with no record of either the jobs that women were performing and of

(D) of statistics on women from business and financial records in the nineteenth century leave us with no record of the jobs that women performed or of

(E) of statistics about women from business and financial records of the nineteenth century leaves us with no record of either what jobs women performed or

***

Brett Ethridge has been teaching prospective business and graduate school students how to dominate the GMAT and GRE for over a decade. He’s a member of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) and has a passion for empowering students to pursue their dreams through education.

3 comments

  • answer (D): "The absence OF STATISTICS ON women from business and financial records IN the nineteenth century LEAVE us with no record of the jobs THAT women performed OR of how they survived economically"

  • I would say E ...

  • "The absence" as a singular noun needs singular verb, so "leaves" is correct
    We narrow to C & E , the correct comparison between " what jobs women performed" and "how they survived" lies in answer choice E.

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