Sentence Correction: Process of Elimination on the GMAT

Summer blockbuster season is upon us, and one of the joys of the movies is to go see an ambitious motion picture on the big screen and get immersed in a world of make-believe for a few hours (this kind of sounds like taking the GMAT, doesn’t it?). If you’re going by yourself or with another person, you can usually agree on a movie pretty quickly and be on your way. However, if you’ve ever tried to go see a movie with like six friends, it often becomes a case of Process of Elimination.

You all agree on one thing: you would like to see a movie that no one has seen yet. You’ve already seen Star Trek, your friend has seen The Great Gatsby, three people have seen the Hangover 3 and no one wants to watch After Earth (and I mean that in the very general sense). The only movie that is left once the smoke has cleared is Fast and Furious 6, which is no one’s first choice, but everyone is agreeable to seeing it. This is a series of successive eliminations based on which movies don’t fit your basic criteria. The last choice may not be exactly what you were hoping for, but it meets all the established conditions and thus is an acceptable resolution to the question before you.

Sentence correction on the GMAT is very much the same process. There are many ways to turn a phrase, so it becomes hard to objectively choose among inherently subjective choices. However some mistakes is flagrant (see what I did there), and cannot be ignored (unless this is a Timbaland song). Such egregious errors will eliminate the possible answer choice from contention. Repeatedly doing this will lead you down a path of eliminating obvious errors until there is only one answer choice left. This choice will be without grammatical flaws and will maintain the logic of the sentence. It may not sound exactly as you’d like, but it will necessarily be the correct answer. This process is more about eliminating what you know to be wrong than keeping what you think is right.

Let’s look at the following sentence correction problem:

Because its military is larger and more technologically sophisticated than Japan, the United States shoulders much of the burden for patrolling and protecting the shipping lanes of the West Pacific.

(A) its military is larger and more technologically sophisticated than Japan

(B) their military is larger and more technologically sophisticated than Japan

(C) their military is larger and more technologically sophisticated than that of Japan

(D) its military is larger and more technologically sophisticated than Japan’s

(E) its military has been larger and more technologically sophisticated than those of Japan

The original sentence has a fairly noticeable comparison error: it is comparing the military of one country (the United States) with another country (Japan). This is an illogical comparison of apples to oranges and guarantees that answer choice A will be incorrect. Scanning the answer choices, B repeats the same mistake. Answer choices C, D and E are still in the running.

Looking at obvious decision points, the pronoun that begins the sentence is in a 3-2 split of “its vs their”, meaning only one can be correct. Since the military is the United States’ military, it must be singular. This is because the US is a single country, even if it ends with an “s” and therefore sounds plural. An easy way to confirm this is the singular verb “shoulders” that is outside the underlined portion, and therefore unquestionably correct. This eliminates answer choices B (again) and C.

Looking now at the two last answer choices, E is incorrect twice: once for using the plural “those” when referring to its military, and again for the timeline of “has been larger…” not jiving with the present tense used outside of the underlined portion. Either one will do, but the pronoun error is probably more flagrant. The answer must be D, because the other four contain glaring errors (much like the plot of the movie After Earth).

Given carte blanche, an answer choice that more specifically stated “Because its military is larger and more technologically sophisticated than Japan’s military” might be clearer than answer choice D. The sentence could also be turned on its head a number of ways, for example putting the United States at the beginning of the sentence “The United States shoulders…” Process of elimination guarantees that the answer choice left behind at the end does not contain any flagrant grammatical errors. However, the answer choice may still contain Vin Diesel.

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Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you occasional tips and tricks for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.