Tackling Idioms in GMAT Sentence Correction
The English language is full of idioms, and the GMAT creators like to test some of these. Although there are some idioms that are more common in the GMAT, there is little alternative but to learn as many of them as you can. An enjoyable way to do so is to read as widely as possible and make a note of idiomatic structures you come across. Pay particular attention to prepositions involved in idioms, as many idiom questions test prepositions.
Let’s look at an example from the Economist GMAT Tutor:
The people known as Sumerians are credited as starting the first civilization and building the first settlements worthy of being called cities.
A) as starting the first civilization and
B) with starting the first civilization and also
C) for starting the first civilization and
D) as the ones who started the first civilization and
E) with starting the first civilization and
As always, scan the original sentence for grammatical errors. In this case, there is no obvious, glaring error. But you do see that before the underlined portion there is a verb followed by the preposition ‘as’ at the beginning of the underlined portion. This is a clue that we are looking at idioms.
Another clue is the different prepositions on offer in the answer choices! Let’s imagine you are unsure of what the correct idiomatic structure is. You may not know which preposition comes after the verb “credited.” A scan of the answer choices reveals a choice of “as,” “with” and “for.” It is difficult to decide if you don’t know the structure. However, you can eliminate at least some of the options. It is not necessary to add the word “also”, as B does, so eliminate B. D is too wordy, so we are left with A, C, and E. The correct preposition is “with,” so E is the right answer. Add this structure to your list of idioms to be memorized if you didn’t know it already. It may be difficult at times to answer such a question if you do not know the idioms and that is why it is essential to memorize them!
Let’s look at another example:
Measuring a patient’s ratio of white blood cell types may help physicians accurately distinguish infectious mononucleosis and bacterial tonsillitis, potentially guiding treatment decisions.
A) infectious mononucleosis and bacterial tonsillitis, potentially guiding treatment decisions
B) infectious mononucleosis and bacterial tonsillitis, potentially guiding decisions for treatment
C) between infectious mononucleosis from bacterial tonsillitis, potentially guiding treatment decisions
D) between infectious mononucleosis and bacterial tonsillitis, potentially guiding treatment decisions
E) infectious mononucleosis or bacterial tonsillitis, potentially guiding treatment decisions
A quick scan tells you that there are no serious grammatical issues but that the answer choices point towards the idiomatic expression starting with “distinguish.” Here it is tricky, because there are two possibilities for the correct idiomatic structure. You “distinguish A from B” or you “distinguish between A and B.” Examining the answer choices will lead you to D, the only one that follows either of these patterns. This is another idiom to add to your list.
Idiomatic structures are perhaps one of the most daunting areas of GMAT Sentence Correction for many test takers, as the area tested seems so vast. However, the best way to prepare is to be diligent about recording structures that are new to you when you come across them in questions or in general reading. The good news in all this is that the GMAT has somewhat lessened the testing of idioms as this is unfair to non-native speakers of English. More and more structural and logic/meaning issues are tested within Sentence Corrections, included but not limited to clauses, modifiers, parallelism, and comparative, but it is still definitely worth your while to know your idioms!
This post appeared first on the Economist GMAT Tutor blog.