Sentence correction strategy: Think "Better" not "Best

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Sentence correction strategy: Think "Better" not "Best"

I know that most of the sentence correction posts involve individual questions but this post is more about strategy. Let me know what you think...


One of the big mistakes that students make on sentence correction is looking for the "best" answer. This is a mistake that I made when I first began working with the GMAT. I was looking for the answer choice that I would have written or that I thought sounded great in all respects. In short, I was comparing all of the answer choices to each other and looking for the "best" of the five. Maybe this sounds familiar to many of you?

A much more effective approach is to ask the question, "which is better?" and to ask this question repeatedly until only one answer choice is left standing. If you have had an eye examination you are familiar with this procedure. The doctor does not lay a bunch of lenses in front of you and tell you to pick the best prescription for you: that would be absurd. Instead she asks you "which is better number 1 or number 2, and then number 3 or number 4, and so on.

This is the essence of sentence correction. If you are making more than one choice at a time you are attempting to do too much. Answer choices may vary in several respects but you should only focus on one of those at a time. Let's take the following example:

"The root systems of most flowering perennials either become too crowded, which results in loss in vigor, and spread too far outward, producing a bare center.

(A) which results in loss in vigor, and spread
(B) resulting in loss in vigor, or spreading
(C) with the result of loss of vigor, or spreading
(D) resulting in loss of vigor, or spread
(E) with a resulting loss of vigor, and spread"

There are several errors in this original sentence and many people will want to go answer choice by answer choice looking for the "best" answer - the one that is free from all errors. However, this is not the most efficient or accurate way. Instead look at this as a series of choices. There are several differences between answer choices that can be used to eliminate incorrect answers. Here are some of the decisions to be made, "and" vs. "or"; "spread" vs. "spreading"; "in vigor" vs. "of vigor"; and the modifier that opens the answer choice.

Of course you will not need to utilize or even recognize all of these differences. The important thing is to use choices that have a right and a wrong answer and to use choices that you are sure of...in this case I might start with "and vs. or" decision. Earlier in the sentence we have an "either" which should be paired with "or" not "and." This eliminates choices A and E. To choose between B, C, and D I would next go to the choice between "spread" and "spreading." Now with the "either...or" figure of speech we need parallel elements. The fixed portion of the sentence says "become" so we need the parallel verb "spread" not "spreading." This eliminates B and C and we are left with D as the correct answer.

Making one decision at a time can be especially critical toward the end of the test when your mind has already made hundreds of calculations and decisions. Just as the optometrist knows that it will be difficult for you to differentiate the most recent lens from the first lens, six attempts ago, you should recognize that you'll likely struggle to make multiple concurrent decisions within a sentence that is designed to be extra verbose and descriptive. Making one definitive decision at a time is an efficient way to manage your time, energy, and focus on these problems to quickly, accurately, and confidently answer them. Use "Better not Best" and you will be better at sentence correction!
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by niksworth » Sat Nov 06, 2010 1:32 am
Nice David. Thats good stuff. Thanks.
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by GMAT GIRL » Tue Nov 09, 2010 6:33 pm
This is very good advice. I too have found that sentence correction isn't all that complicated when you just make one decision at a time. I do wear glasses and that is a great analogy, although sometimes it's hard to decide between lens five and six.

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by [email protected] » Tue Nov 09, 2010 7:03 pm
Thanks guys!
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by rx_11 » Tue Nov 09, 2010 9:43 pm
Oh, Great! Thanks David! I learn from it.

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by Target2009 » Tue Mar 29, 2011 4:40 pm
Nice Strategy David.. Thanks
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by [email protected] » Tue Mar 29, 2011 5:53 pm
Thanks alot!


I am glad to see some of the longer posts come back around again. Sentence Correction can actually be fun when you approach it the right way.

I don't post in this S C forum too often because everything seems to be about very minute details of word usage and that is not much fun.

I will have some more longer strategy posts in S.C. soon though.
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by Target2009 » Tue Mar 29, 2011 6:00 pm
[email protected] wrote:Thanks alot!


I am glad to see some of the longer posts come back around again. Sentence Correction can actually be fun when you approach it the right way.

I don't post in this S C forum too often because everything seems to be about very minute details of word usage and that is not much fun.

I will have some more longer strategy posts in S.C. soon though.
That will be great David...
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by singh181 » Tue Mar 29, 2011 7:50 pm
Hey David,

Thanks for sharing the strategy with us.

According to me, the stratehgy that you have mentioned works if you have recognized the errors i.e. you know the concepts on which you are being tested on that particular question. For example, the question that you took had "visible/split" errors. But when whole question is underlined and is lengthy then this strategy may have its limitations.

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by uwhusky » Tue Mar 29, 2011 10:21 pm
singh181 wrote:But when whole question is underlined and is lengthy then this strategy may have its limitations.
Actually, if you understand that each sentence is composed of several smaller elements, then you can attack these elements with David's approach no matter how long the sentence is. A sentence can be extended to many words, even hundreds of words, but you can always find a subject and a working verb. So to master sentence correction, it is IMO to first understand the structure of a sentence and how it is constructed.
Yep.

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by singh181 » Tue Mar 29, 2011 10:28 pm
uwhusky wrote:
singh181 wrote:But when whole question is underlined and is lengthy then this strategy may have its limitations.
Actually, if you understand that each sentence is composed of several smaller elements, then you can attack these elements with David's approach no matter how long the sentence is. A sentence can be extended to many words, even hundreds of words, but you can always find a subject and a working verb. So to master sentence correction, it is IMO to first understand the structure of a sentence and how it is constructed.
Hello uwhusky,

I really liked your point about undertstanding the structure of a sentence and how it is constructed. I think understanding the structure and construction is more crucial than attacking the problems based on the differences between/among the answer choices.

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by Target2009 » Tue Mar 29, 2011 10:39 pm
singh181 wrote:
Hello uwhusky,

I really liked your point about undertstanding the structure of a sentence and how it is constructed. I think understanding the structure and construction is more crucial than attacking the problems based on the differences between/among the answer choices.

200% true.
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by uwhusky » Wed Mar 30, 2011 12:09 am
singh181 wrote: I really liked your point about undertstanding the structure of a sentence and how it is constructed. I think understanding the structure and construction is more crucial than attacking the problems based on the differences between/among the answer choices.
Glad I can help. I always thought that sentences are just words jumbled together, but through my SC journey, I have learned that there's much more to it.

I strongly recommend looking into understanding how sentences are constructed and how they all fit within the structure. At the very minimum, it would help you to read faster.
Yep.

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by [email protected] » Wed Mar 30, 2011 2:20 pm
UW Husky speaks from experience and knows the score.

Understanding the structure of the sentence and analyzing the differences in the sentence are certainly not mutually exclusive.

If I could only give one bit of advice on sentence correction it would be to understand what is non-essential to the sentence - modifiers and prepositions - and learn to look past these in sentence correction.

Go through sentence correction problems, even those that you have already completed, and identify the subject and verb and especially the modifiers and prepositions. In many cases in sentence correction you can "hear" the correct answer if you just get the modifiers and prepositions out of the way.

However, this does not detract from the essential fact that sentence correction is a process of elimination that can very often be best accomplished focusing on the differences in answer choices. A savvy test taker needs to have both abilities - to understand structurally what is necessary and what is not AND to exploit the differences between answer choices.
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by mundasingh123 » Sat Apr 30, 2011 11:09 am
[email protected] wrote:Sentence correction strategy: Think "Better" not "Best"



"The root systems of most flowering perennials either become too crowded, which results in loss in vigor, and spread too far outward, producing a bare center.

(A) which results in loss in vigor, and spread
(B) resulting in loss in vigor, or spreading
(C) with the result of loss of vigor, or spreading
(D) resulting in loss of vigor, or spread
(E) with a resulting loss of vigor, and spread"
But spreading in A could also be seen as parallel to resulting
C and D could also be seen as options in which the parallelism has been ruined because spreading is not parallel to result in C
In D, spread is not parallel to resulting.
Is it that we start looking at the Sc from another angle because none of the choices fit .
I Seek Explanations Not Answers