GMAT Tip of the Week: Mother Knows Best on Sentence Correction

GMAT Tip of the WeekSo it’s Mother’s Day weekend, and all of us should be thanking our moms this weekend. For all kinds of things, of course, but for one that you may not have realized all these years growing up:

Your mom taught you one of the greatest Sentence Correction lessons you’ll ever learn.

How? She told you to clean your room. Now, remember – when your mom told you to clean your room you were rarely doing it with disinfectant or using a deep-cleaner on the carpet. Your job wasn’t so much to deep clean your room chemically, but more to just “declutter” it, putting things away and tidying up for a cleaner, more livable space. She taught you the virtue of “everything in its place and a place for everything,” and in doing so gave you the tools you need to make Sentence Correction significantly easier.

Let’s demonstrate with a problem:

Visitors to the zoo have often looked up in to the leafy aviary and saw macaws resting on the branches, whose tails trail like brightly colored splatters of paint on a green canvas.

(A) saw macaws resting on the branches, whose tails trail
(B) saw macaws resting on the branches, whose tails were trailing
(C) saw macaws resting on the branches, with tails trailing
(D) seen macaws resting on the branches, with tails trailing
(E) seen macaws resting on the branches, whose tails have trailed

Much of this sentence is simply clutter. So many of the phrases add extra description, but are the kinds of things your mother would tell you to put away and “declutter” – namely, the prepositional phrases. So let’s get rid of the clutter with “to the zoo”; “often”; “in to the leafy aviary”; “on the branches”; and “whose tails trail like brightly colored splatters of paint on a green canvas”. On the GMAT, description often serves as clutter, so if you can envision the sentence without the descriptive clutter (similar to how your mom wanted to envision your bedroom), you’d be left with;

Visitors have looked up and saw macaws resting.

Without all of the clutter, your ear should tell you that this is just wrong – the expression should be parallel in timeline: “Visitors have looked up and seen macaws.” And that only leaves D and E.

Now, to make this next decision you’ll need to bring back some of the description, as you can see that the only remaining decision is between “with tails trailing” and “whose tails have trailed”. And here, yet again, is where your mother’s life lessons can help you. What did you often do to make sure your room passed your mom’s test? You took anything that *might* be considered clutter, buried it in a closet or under a bed, and then dug back in to pull out the things that you really wanted. And that’s the case on GMAT Sentence Correction – when you “eliminate” clutter you don’t get rid of it forever, you just ignore it temporarily. Here if you bring back the description in question, you have:

(D) seen macaws resting on the branches, with tails trailing
(E) seen macaws resting on the branches, whose tails have trailed

Here the description/modifiers are important, and astute test-takers should see that branches don’t have tails, but birds do (your mom probably took you to the zoo, too – one more lesson to thank her for). So E cannot be right, and the answer is D.

Most importantly here, remember what your mother taught you – a clean room is a happy room, and a clean, clutter-free sentence makes for much happier and more effective Sentence Correction. This weekend you have millions of reasons to thank your mom, but as you study for the GMAT you know that she’d be thrilled with even 700…

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By Brian Galvin

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