GMAT Tip of the Week: The Corrupt Mechanic Explains Sentence Correction

GMAT Tip of the WeekYour parallelism knowledge is paramount. You’re a pro when it comes to pronouns. You relax when you see that the problem involves verb tense. You can’t find a modifier error that’s even moderately challenging anymore. You should be a Sentence Correction sensei. So why are Sentence Correction problems still such a problem?

You’re being taken for a ride by a corrupt mechanic.

Let’s explain. The GMAT testmakers are committed to testing the same concepts over and over again: Modifiers, Verbs, Pronouns, Parallel Structure, Logical Meaning… And at a certain point it’s difficult to make those concepts any harder; they are what they are. So the testmakers resort to a time-honored tradition among corrupt mechanics; when oil changes and tire rotations and front-end-alignments aren’t bringing in enough profit, what do corrupt mechanics do?

They fix things that don’t need to be fixed.

The corrupt mechanic never simply fixes, flushes, or replaces the part you came in asking about; he always “strongly recommends” that you add on another service. If you’re not careful, your $30 oil change becomes a several-hundred dollar outing and your car comes back with shiny new parts that replaced perfectly-functional components, all with a nice labor surcharge on top. As Seinfeld’s George Costanza put it:

Well of course they’re trying to screw you! What do you think? That’s what they do. They can make up anything; nobody knows! “Why, well you need a new Johnson rod in here.” Oh, a Johnson rod. Yeah, well better put one of those on!

Now, in defense of the GMAT testmakers, they’re not trying to steal your money for unnecessary services. But in their quest to reward the kinds of business skills that are associated with avoiding unnecessary expenses and wasted time on ineffective initiatives, the GMAT testmaker does act like a Corrupt Mechanic on Sentence Correction problems. By fixing problems that don’t need fixing, the testmaker steals your attention, not your money. And in doing so, the testmaker baits the unwitting into bad decisions, while also rewarding those who prioritize their Decision Points properly. Consider this example:

Immanuel Kant’s writings, while praised by many philosophers for their brilliance and consistency, are characterized by sentences so dense and convoluted as to pose a significant hurdle for many readers who study his works.

(A) so dense and convoluted as to pose
(B) so dense and convoluted they posed
(C) so dense and convoluted that they posed
(D) dense and convoluted enough that they posed
(E) dense and convoluted enough as they pose

To those who know their role in the GMAT, the verb difference along the right hand side of the answer choices should loom large. “Pose” (present) vs. “Posed” (past) is a very actionable decision and a very common decision on the test. Like an oil change or the replacement of brake pads, verb tense decisions are something you should do regularly! So what does the Corrupt Mechanic do? He takes something uncomfortable – the structure “so dense and convoluted as to…” – but that doesn’t need fixing, and it fixes it. And since that choice comes along the left-hand side, many of us go right along with that and eliminate A with a preference for the more-familiar structures in B and C, without ever realizing that we’ve been “Johnson rodded” into ignoring the ever-important verb tense decision at the ends of the choices.

That’s how the testmaker’s Corrupt Mechanic works in Sentence Correction. He changes things that didn’t need changing and dares you to accept those “repairs” as necessary. So how can you avoid these traps? Be a savvy customer. Know what you want before you start listening to the Corrupt Mechanic’s menu of possible changes; you want to make Verb, Modifier, Pronoun, and Parallelism decisions before you even listen to anything else. Make the common repairs first, and then with the choices that are left you can start to get creative with add-ons.

The GMAT testmakers act like Corrupt Mechanics when they write Sentence Correction problems, so beware that not every change is actually a necessary repair. It’s on you to determine which fixes truly need to be made, so stick to the recommended SC maintenance schedule – the errors most commonly tested – and you’ll avoid falling victim to the Corrupt Mechanic.

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By Brian Galvin