GMAT Tip of the Week: What Do the Olympics and Sentence Correction Have in Common?

GMAT TipThe Winter Olympics start tonight in Sochi, and while journalists tweet about the less-than-ideal living conditions in the Russian resort town the athletes themselves have a job to do.  Whether they’re skiing or luging or bobsledding, the vast majority of athletes will share one goal:

Get downhill quickly.

On GMAT Sentence Correction problems, that should be your goal, too.  Olympians will get downhill quickly by focusing all their momentum and vision to the bottom of the mountain, and on Sentence Correction you’ll want to focus most of your attention “downhill” on the answer choices.

What does that mean?

While the “top of the mountain” – the original sentence itself – is certainly important, keeping your eyes downhill toward the answer choices is the best way to notice the decisions that the GMAT is asking you to make.  Paying attention to differences in the answer choices will help you to determine which portions of the prompt are most important.

For example, consider these fragments of answer choices:

(A) …..have been

(B) …..has been

(C) …..had been

(D) …..have been

(E) …..has been

If you’re reading a 40-word sentence, it’s helpful to know beforehand that the two most important things here are:

has been vs. have been – Subject/Verb Agreement.  Make sure you find the subject of the verb!

had been vs. has/have been – Verb Tense / Logical Timeline.  Make sure that you assess the timeline of events with an eye for “is this event still happening” (if so, eliminate “had been”) or “is this event over (if so, the answer is C)

Or consider this example:

(A) which….

(B) and which….

(C) which…..

(D) and which…

(E) which….

Here there’s one primary decision you need to make – is there a previous “which” phrase in the non-underlined portion that you need to link to the answer choice with “and which”, or not?

The answer choices in Sentence Correction problems quite often give away at least one of the primary decisions that you’ll need to make, so if you glance at the answer choices for an obvious decision you can save quite a bit of time and energy by hunting specifically for the word or phrase that controls that decision and not by reading the original sentence hoping to stumble on it.

In short, keep your eyes downhill when attempting Sentence Correction problems, looking at the answer choices for obvious differences like:

  • Verb differences
  • Pronoun differences
  • Singular/plural noun differences
  • The presence vs. absence or difference between connector words (like “and”, “or”, “but”, etc.)
  • Notable differences between the first and last words of each answer choice

When you see obvious differences, go back to the prompt with that decision point in mind.  Looking downhill is the most efficient way to win the race, whether you’re Julia Mancuso in the Olympic downhill or a GMAT student on an SC question.  Go to the answer choices; go for the gold.

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By Brian Galvin

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