GMAT Tip of the Week: Use It Or Lose It

GMAT PrepNovember already?! Although it seems like just yesterday it was spring, we’ve already sprung past Halloween and the marketing world (please, future Kellogg MBAs, save us!) has decided that it’s the holiday shopping season already, so you’re probably noticing Christmas displays popping up, holiday music piped into malls, and ads for Black Friday doorbusters already trickling through the advertising channels. Yes, only 50-some shopping days left…which for many of us means it’s also high time we use those gift cards that we received during the last holiday season.

Use it or lose it…a gift card mantra that delights the retail industry, which sees nearly $10 billion in profits from unused gift cards each year. How can you profit from the same mantra on the GMAT?

Modifiers on on GMAT Sentence Correction fall into two categories:

  • They are part of a Modifier error and therefore useful to you as a decision point
  • They are not part of a Modifier error, and are completely useless to you

Like this phrase right here, modifiers are descriptive phrases often set off by commas adjacent to a noun that they must accurately describe. When a modifier cannot logically describe the word that it is supposed to (e.g. “Leaving her home to go to work, the traffic surprised Lissette” – that’s illogical, as the traffic is not “leaving her home”), you must eliminate that answer choice. But when it doesn’t, it’s only there to add distance and clutter between portions of the sentence, and can only work against you. Therefore, with a modifier you either use it (to eliminate the sentence) or lose it (ignore it so that you make the sentence shorter).

Consider the example:
Unlike water, which is complimentary, all passengers will need to pay cash for beverages during the transoceanic flight.

(A) Unlike water, which is complimentary
(B) Besides water, which is offered free of charge
(C) Unless the drink is water, which is complimentary
(D) Not like water, which is offered free of charge
(E) With water being the only exception

The phrase “which is complimentary” is a logical modifier – it modifies “water”, and logically so. Accordingly, because you can’t “use it” to eliminate any answer choices, you should “lose it” – read as though it isn’t there, making the answer choices:

(A) Unlike water
(B) Besides water
(C) Unless the drink is water
(D) Not like water
(E) With water being the only exception

Now you can use most of these modifiers to eliminate choices A, B, and D – “all passengers” are not comparable to water, so it is illogical to say that “unlike water, all passengers…”. Using these modifier errors, you can narrow down quickly to the correct answer choice, C, which does not use a modifier but rather an introductory clause “unless the drink IS water” – because the comma-separated portion includes a subject and verb, it’s not a mere modifier but instead its own clause, and is therefore correct.

When you see modifiers on the GMAT, often at the beginning of a sentence, the decision should be clear – use it or lose it, and either way you’re cutting down on the amount of work you have to do to correctly answer the question.

(Author’s note: Special thanks to David Newland, who teaches our Boston GMAT course, for bringing us the phrase “use it or lose it”!).

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