GMAT Sentence Correction Revelation: It's The Same Old Song

Last week at an industry conference, the Graduate Management Admissions Council “announced” that it tests Sentence Correction in exactly the same way that Veritas Prep has been teaching it for years.  The following is a historical account of that announcement.

Dateline: Motown, 2004.  A handsome young GMAT instructor is tutoring a few students on the subject of Sentence Correction and realizes this: Students who emphasize the study of idioms tend to make an alarming amount of mistakes on SC questions, often completely overlooking straightforward subject-verb agreement, verb tense, or pronoun errors in their zeal to apply what they think they know about idioms to a question that: a) doesn’t require the knowledge of idioms and b) actually includes a correct answer choice that features a correct-but-uncommon idiom that the student had never seen.

In the years that follow, the instructor delivers this message to countless students and discusses this theory — the GMAT doesn’t really explicitly test idioms so it’s actually counterproductive to focus your study on them – with the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) itself, which wholeheartedly agrees.

Dateline: New York City, September 2011.  At an industry summit, representatives from GMAC clearly state that the GMAT does not explicitly test idioms, and that actually an incorrect answer can be “grammatically correct” but be logically flawed.  As a cubic zirconium, a sentence can look perfect to an untrained eye looking quickly, but upon further inspection isn’t at all what it seems.  (Hold up!  That’s a grammatically-okay sentence but a logically-flawed meaning. “A sentence” isn’t a cubic zirconium at all — the thought above needs to draw a metaphor and not imply actual meaning.   “Like a cubic zirconium” would be correct — and it’s not really grammatically different, but it’s logically different.) Some test prep companies swoon.

Dateline: Motown, 1965.  Four Tops member Lamont Dozier is flipping the dial on the radio trying to come up with an idea for a new song, requested by Berry Gordy for that next day.  He notes that a song billed by the disc jockey as “new” is “the same old song,” and decides to essentially do the same thing, writing new lyrics for the melody behind his group’s hit “I Can’t Help Myself” and poking fun at what he did, calling the new song “The Same Old Song.”  The listening public bought “The Same Old Song” as a brand-new song, and the single reached #5 on the Billboard charts.

The lesson?

Don’t believe the hype, circulating around GMAT forums and industry blogs, that there have been brand-new announcements about GMAT Sentence Correction and/or that the format has been radically changed.  It’s the same old song, with the only real news being that the authors of the test have more-emphatically stated that “a different meaning” is something that GMAT test-takers should pay particular attention to.  As you’ve likely noted in this space for years now, GMAT Sentence Correction rewards logical reasoning and logical meaning, and does not require (or reward) the extensive study of idioms.

Haven’t been reading our blog for that long? Allow us to get you caught up:
(a spoof, April Fool’s post demonstrating the absurdity of idiomatic study)

As we’ve noted in this space for years, the GMAT is a reasoning test, not a knowledge test.  It’s a test of how you think, and not of what you know. Those who have embraced what the GMAT really is should continue to succeed on Sentence Correction, which gives you the opportunity to leverage your critical-thinking skills and will reward you for studying efficiently.

Throughout the week, we’ll add more information about our productive meetings with GMAC.  But for now, to summarize this post:

Sentence correction is the same old song.  As we’ve said for years, Sentence Correction questions are about “core competencies” (the major error categories) and logic, and not at all about idioms.

…(but with) a different meaning.  Beware meaning changes in Sentence Correction questions and choose the logically-correct meaning.  You’ll probably find some other misinformation out there regarding this topic (again, not a new topic but since it’s newsworthy today…).  Your job is NOT to adhere to the meaning of the incumbent answer choice A, but rather to eliminate illogical meanings.  If answer choice A’s meaning is illogical, it’s wrong.  Your job:  look for different meanings and, when you see them, consider whether the meanings make logical sense.

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