GMAT Gurus Speak Out: The Five Criteria of Sentence Correction

Today’s guest post comes from New England-based instructor David Newland. David has been teaching for Veritas Prep since 2006, and he won the Veritas Prep Instructor of the Year award in 2008. Students’ friends often call in asking when he will be teaching next because he really is a Veritas Prep and a GMAT rock star!

You probably already know that sentence correction is pure process of elimination. There is no such thing as the “Best” answer in sentence correction, only one that is better than the others. You will often find that you select as the correct answer a sentence that you never would have written. As discussed in the Veritas Prep Advanced Verbal lesson, the incorrect answer is often made to look better by the use of an expected phrase and the correct answer is often hidden behind a strangely-worded – yet still correct – option.

But what are the standards for eliminating sentences?

In the Official Guide “GMAT Review” the test writers mention several reasons for eliminating answer choices: Grammar, of course, in all of its forms (think of the errors in IMPACTS); Meaning that is not logical (this is actually the “I” in IMPACTS – Illogical Meaning); Wordiness; Awkwardness; Confusion; and Lack of Clarity.

The Five Criteria

I have distilled these “official” reasons for eliminating answer choices down into five criteria. These criteria should be applied in the following order:

  • Grammar and Logic– These two categories together form your initial standard for eliminating answer choices. Errors in Grammar and Logic are captured in the IMPACTS acronym.Of the IMPACTS errors, Illogical Meaning, Misplaced Modifiers, and Verb Tense or Timeline Errors are all primarily based on logic. When a modifier  is said to be misplaced it is because that modifier does not logically modify what it seems to modify. Tense of Timeline errors occur because it is not logical for things to happen in a certain order. For someone to seemingly write a book before he was born is an error in logic – after all the grammar could be perfectly acceptable.
  • Clarity and Specificity – If the sentence appears not to have any errors in grammar and logic then you move to the next two criteria: the answer choice must be clear and specific. GMAC has made it plain: they prefer a sentence that can only be interpreted in only one way and that reads clearly.
  • Brevity – If all else is equal – if the remaining choices have no errors in grammar or logic that you can see, if the choices are equally clear and specific – then GMAC has made it clear that wordiness if not correct and that brevity is. This criterion cannot be applied too early however, since a longer, wordy answer choice that provides clarity is preferred to a short choice that is illogical or vague.

Use the five criteria of sentence correction along with Veritas techniques such as IMPACTS, Decision Points, and Slash and Burn and you will be on your way to sentence correction perfection!

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