One Word to Avoid on the GMAT

Some concepts on the GMAT are absolute, while others can be a little nebulous. For example, the fact that there are 37 quantitative questions and 41 verbal questions is uncontestable. However, not all issues are as cut and dry.

I’ve read a strategy guide that recommended spending extra time on the first 10 questions because they’re worth more. I’ve read other guides saying that all the questions are weighed equally. Of course none of these books are the Official Guide, but even when I put it down, you know I’ll be back. When studying for a known test like the GMAT, it’s important to know what to look for and what to avoid (and also to be literate).

One such source of controversy is the word “being” in sentence correction. The source of the controversy being that the word is almost always superfluous (see what I did there?)  Most of the time, the word can be replaced by a simpler version of the same sentence. If being is being used as a noun, there’s no grammatical issue. If you twist the sentence so that the problem is being made more obvious, the word is being used as a gerund, and it comes off as superfluous and somewhat juvenile.

A gerund is defined as a word that behaves as a verb within a specific clause, but takes on the role of a noun within the entire sentence. Being understood is an important part of feeling accepted. Being acts as a verb with understood as it illustrates the action, but within the entire sentence, being understood is used as the subject of the verb “is”. The grammatical rules may be somewhat familiar to many, but a simple strategy of determining whether the word is redundant will usually solve the question for you much more quickly.

Consider the following Sentence Correction problem concerning the “Governator”:

Being a United States citizen since 1984 and born in Austria in 1947, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger achieved fame as a Hollywood action hero, and first came to prominence as a bodybuilder, earning the title of Mr. Olympia five times in the 1970s.

(A)   Being a United States citizen since 1984 and born in Austria in 1947, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
(B)   Having been a United States citizen since 1984, he was born in Austria in 1947; California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
(C)   Born in Austria in 1947, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger became a United States citizen in 1984; he
(D)   Being born in Austria in 1947 and having been a United States citizen since 1984, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
(E)    Having been born in Austria in 1947 and being a United States citizen since 1984, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

The original sentence has that controversial word “being”, and it’s being used to begin a modifier. If the sentence were simply “A United States citizen since 1984, Arnold Schwarzenegger…”, it would have been just as clear and more succinct. The word “Being” is thus superfluous in this sentence, and we can eliminate A as a possible answer choice. Looking below at the other choices (Get down!) we can also eliminate answer choice D for the same reason.

Answer choice E also contains the erroneous word “being”, but at the beginning of another modifier instead of at the very beginning of the sentence. This answer choice is still wrong because the sentence doesn’t need the word and would work fine as “and a US citizen since 1984”. Simply by knowing that the word “being” is unnecessary in these sentences, we’ve narrowed down the possible answer choices from five options choices to only two.

Between answer choices B and C, we can eliminate B rather quickly for a few reasons. The most glaring mistake is probably the pronoun error of using “he” before the proper noun of Arnold, creating confusion as to who the antecedent of the pronoun could possibly be. Answer choice C logically splits the sentence into separate clauses with the semicolon, easily executing the discussion of the multiple events brought up in this sentence. The correct answer is thus C (as in Get to the Chopper)

This question was made a lot simpler by determining that the word “being” wasn’t necessary, which led to the elimination of three answer choices. While seeing the word is not an automatic elimination of the answer choice, it is usually an unnecessary word. In the same way that extreme language is rarely justified in critical reasoning, the word “being” is very rarely used in a correct answer choice in Sentence Correction. The mere presence of the word should make you take notice, and it is low hanging fruit that can quickly discount an answer choice. When you see this word in Sentence Correction, it’s probably time to say “Hasta La Vista, Baby”.

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Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice 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.