Idioms on the GMAT: Separating Truth from Rumor

GMACMuch has been made of the recent “revelation” from this month’s GMAT Summit, in which the Graduate Management Admission Council provided some updates on the recent evolution of Sentence Correction problems on the GMAT. What was stated as (we’ll loosely paraphrase here) “years ago we starting moving away from questions that unduly put emphasis on idioms, especially those that give native English speakers an unfair advantage,” was misinterpreted by some to mean, “Effective now, we’re no longer testing idioms on the GMAT! Ready, set, GO!”

The GMAT prep world is a small, incestuous one. It was only a matter of hours before chatter picked up on various message boards and in other online channels. And boy, did it ever. We did our part to spread the word, but today GMAC’s Dr. Lawrence Rudner posted an official statement on its blog to clarify any misconceptions that are still out there.

We’ve clipped a few statements from Dr. Rudner’s post, which can be viewed here.

Regarding Idioms:

The general categories of language-use skill tested in GMAT Sentence Correction items haven’t changed, and test takers do not need to do anything different to prepare for the Verbal section of the GMAT.

For years, GMAC has paid close attention to the growing international make up of GMAT test takers and has worked to assure that the exam is not viewed as – nor is it actually –an American test. As the GMAT exam has expanded globally and been taken by more students from around the world, GMAC has continually made extra efforts to ensure that newly introduced GMAT items do not depend on familiarity with distinctively American expressions and usages. We have taken steps all along the way to ensure global fairness and appropriateness.

Regarding Grammar in Sentence Correction Questions:

In recent years, GMAT item writers have been concentrating on the reasoning aspects rather than the purely grammatical aspects of Sentence Correction skills. As always, test takers need to carefully read the prompt in order to choose the answer that produces the most effective sentence. This means that while two sentences may both be grammatically appropriate, the correct answer is the sentence that is most “effective,” the sentence that better expresses the idea.

The end result is a GMAT exam that doesn’t test simply a person’s ability to memorize grammatical rules or recognize idioms for their colloquial meanings but a test that rewards reasoning regardless of the test takers background.

Finally, Dr. Rudner closes with this statement:

The GMAT exam tests higher order reasoning and preparing for the exam remains an exercise in developing and exercising those skills.

We couldn’t agree more! As long as you focus on these core skills and other test takers continue to focus on memorizing content, you will be at a significant advantage on test day. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed, for sure.

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2 Responses

  1. sreehari says:

    Mr.Rudner’s post is largely diplomatic in nature.Can’t the GMAC ppl give a clear statement as to whether idioms will be tested or not .

  2. Brian says:

    Well, like you said there’s a need for a governing body to stay diplomatic, but I think he’s pretty clear in saying “…GMAT exam that doesn’t test simply a person’s ability to memorize grammatical rules or recognize idioms for their colloquial meanings but a test that rewards reasoning…”. The GMAT is a reasoning test, not a mass-of-knowledge test, and that means that idiomatic expressions aren’t valid measures of ability.

    Idioms will APPEAR on the GMAT because, in any sentence, you have to choose a way to phrase an idea. But they’re not explicitly tested – you won’t fail based on your lack of knowledge of idioms, and you probably won’t succeed because you’ve memorized thousands of them. Those who stress reasoning, logic, and meaning in their study will succeed at exponentially higher rates than those who memorize idioms.

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