5 Strategies That GMAT Uses to Distort Meaning

by on September 16th, 2015

Which one of the following two sentences would be considered correct on the GMAT?

  1. Even though they naturally play a vital role in managing soil erosion and fertility, cover crops, which are grown in between traditional farming seasons, are hesitantly cultivated by many small-scale farmers because of the heavy time and money investments required to farm them.
  2. Although cover crops, which are grown in between traditional farming seasons, naturally play a vital role in managing soil erosion and fertility, many small-scale farmers are hesitant to cultivate these crops because of the heavy time and money investments required to farm them.

The answer to the above question is, we don’t know; we can’t decide! Why is it that we can’t decide? That’s because, as of now, we don’t know which of the two choices is closer to the intended meaning of the author—the meaning/idea the author wants to convey through a particular sentence.

Now, a lot of you who are not used to the meaning based approach of attacking SC questions might find the above we don’t know answer a bit vague. You may think that you always have grammar to your rescue. But here’s the thing—both the above sentences are grammatically correct. See the dilemma?

Now, for those of you who are wondering as to what is the difference between the above two sentences, pay close attention to the following statements:

  1. Many students are hesitant to take the GMAT.
  2. Many students hesitantly take the GMAT.

Did you notice the meaning difference between the two statements? In the first one, we talk about how many students are not quite keen to take the exam. In the second statement, however, we talk about those students who actually do take the GMAT, but do so reluctantly.

With this understanding, look at the sentences in the beginning again and you’ll know how a slight change in words can convey a completely different meaning. Read on to understand how you can exploit the intended meaning from the original sentence to avoid making mistakes in such situations.

In this article, the first in a six article series, we shall demonstrate, with the help of an official question, why it is important to first understand the meaning the author wants to convey, and only then look for a choice that conveys the same in a grammatically correct and concise manner.

Alright … let’s get started then!

Why is the intended meaning important?

Think logically. Do you first think of the words you want to use and then what you want to say or do you first think of what you want to say first and then choose the words accordingly? The latter, right? It is precisely the same reason that grammar comes after meaning in GMAT SC.

The intended meaning is the whole guiding force behind the way a particular sentence is written. What does this mean? This means that the choice of words and their placement, the use of a particular tense or conjunction etc.—all the different grammatical and stylistic components—are decided on the basis of what the author wants to tell us through the given sentence.

So, for those who focus first on grammar, think again. How can we finalize the individual components of a sentence unless we understand the overall picture—the intended meaning of the author? The simple answer is, we can’t. It is for this reason that we first need to understand the intended meaning from the original sentence and then look for a choice that conveys this meaning in a logical, grammatical fashion.

Let’s take a look at an official question to understand this concept more. Study the following question.

Some buildings that were destroyed and heavily damaged in the earthquake last year were constructed in violation of the city’s building code.

A) Some buildings that were destroyed and heavily damaged in the earthquake last year were

B) Some buildings that were destroyed or heavily damaged in the earthquake last year had been

C) Some buildings that the earthquake destroyed and heavily damaged last year have been

D) Last year the earthquake destroyed or heavily damaged some buildings that have been

E) Last year some of the buildings that were destroyed or heavily damaged in the earthquake had been

Intended meaning from Choice A: The intended logical meaning of the sentence from choice A can be inferred as follows:

  1. Some buildings were destroyed in the earthquake last year.
  2. (Prior to the destruction) These buildings were constructed in violation of the city’s building code

Error Analysis:

Choice A is incorrect since it uses the simple past were constructed. The correct verb should be had been constructed to illustrate correct sequencing with respect to “were destroyed”, giving away the meaning that the buildings were constructed prior to the destruction. 

Correct: Choice B corrects this error as it gives clearly gives the intended meaning, specifying the series of events.

Grammatically Correct but Meaning wise Incorrect choice (E) – Notice how in choice E the test makers have cleverly moved “last year” such that it now describes when some of these buildings were constructed. It no longer gives us the timing of the earthquakes.

1

Accordingly, the meaning communicated by Choice E is:

  1. Some of the buildings had been constructed in violation of city’s building code last year.
  2. These buildings were destroyed in the earthquake.

Note that choice E says that the buildings were constructed last year. We did not have this piece of information in choice A. Thus, the meaning communicated by this choice is certainly different from the intended meaning communicated in choice AHence, while choice E is grammatically correct, it changes the logical intended meaning and is not the correct choice.

Take Aways

  1. Meaning first, grammar next.
  2. 2 Grammatically correct choices—choose the one that is closer to the intended meaning of the author.

Test yourself

Now that you know how GMAT tests intended meaning, try your hand at the problem mentioned earlier.

Although naturally playing a vital role in managing soil erosion and fertility, many small-scale farmers are hesitant to cultivate cover crops, which are grown in between traditional farming seasons, because of the heavy time and money investments required to farm them, opting instead to leave their farmlands fallow during such periods.

A) Although naturally playing a vital role in managing soil erosion and fertility, many small-scale farmers are hesitant to cultivate cover crops, which are grown in between traditional farming seasons, because of

B) Even though they naturally play a vital role in managing soil erosion and fertility, cover crops grown in between traditional farming seasons, are hesitantly cultivated by many small-scale farmers because of

C) Although cover crops, grown in between traditional farming seasons, naturally play a vital role in managing soil erosion and fertility, many small-scale farmers are hesitant to cultivate these crops because of

D) Although they naturally play a vital role in managing soil erosion and fertility, many small-scale farmers are hesitant to cultivate cover crops, crops that are grown in between traditional farming seasons because

E) Naturally playing a vital role in managing soil erosion and fertility, cover crops are grown in between traditional farming seasons although many small-scale farmers are hesitant to cultivate these crops because

Next Steps

To further solidify your understanding of the meaning based approach, attend the SC-1 Free Session on the 19th of September.

You have just read the first of 6 articles in a series. The next five articles shall cover 5 strategies that the GMAC uses to play on meaning, thereby creating “close” answer choices that though grammatically correct, fail to capture the logical intended meaning of the author and hence can be discarded easily. The table below provides a quick summary of these strategies.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 9.25.28 AM

3 comments

  • IS the answer C. please mention the OA

    • Hey! Yes, C is the answer. :)

      Do you want to present your approach to the question?

  • yes

Ask a Question or Leave a Reply

The author e-GMAT gets email notifications for all questions or replies to this post.

Some HTML allowed. Keep your comments above the belt or risk having them deleted. Signup for a Gravatar to have your pictures show up by your comment.