Here, the most common GMAT topics vary by question format, so I will discuss the three formats separately.
Reading Comprehension: by far, the most common GMAT RC question is the “main idea/ author’s purpose” question. The most important skill is being able to distill the main purpose both the whole passage and of any paragraph in the passage. Another very important RC skill is knowing how to infer from the passage what is not explicitly stated.
Critical Reasoning: the three most common GMAT CR questions are the “weaken the argument” question, the “strengthen the argument” question, and the “find the assumption” question. Those three are well over 50% of the CR section right there. One crucial skill on the CR section is simply learning to distinguish the CR question types.
Sentence Correction: The two biggest categories for GMAT SC questions are “Logical Predication” and “Rhetorical Construction.” “Logical Predication” has to do with the logical implications of the word order — misplaced modifiers, and the subtle shift in meaning we get between, say, “not almost a hundred” vs. “almost not a hundred“. Not completely different, “Rhetorical Construction” is about language that is direct, clear, and powerful, avoiding anything awkward or ambiguous or too wordy. Together, these two are concerned with how well-crafted a sentence is. Yes, you have to know correct grammar to craft a sentence artfully, but the focus is really at a higher level than the grammar per se. Good grammar is the “clay”, the raw material, from which a cogent sentence is skillfully constructed.
Another very common GMAT SC question type concerns parallelism, another “higher level” concept. Virtually any grammatical forms can be put into parallel, but the GMAT of course loves putting long complicated forms in parallel, such as participial phrase, gerunds, and infinitive phases. The GMAT SC also loves comparisons, a special case of parallelism.
Finally, another common GMAT SC question type concerns idioms. Yes, Virginia, the GMAT does ask about idioms. Here, we don’t mean “idioms” in the sense of colorful metaphorical expressions (“scarcer than hen’s teeth“, “up the river“, “in a pickle“), but rather, the unique combinations of words that “sound right” — matching the right preposition to a verb, or knowing which verbs require infinitives, or phrasing a comparison the right way, etc.
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