Master the GMAT by Applying Jedi-like Skills

Yoda ForceOnce you begin studying for the GMAT, you’ll realize quickly that there are different levels of mastery. There’s that initial level of competence in which you learn, or relearn, many of the foundational concepts that you learned in middle school and have since forgotten. There’s a more intermediate level of mastery in which you’re able to blend strategic thinking with foundational concepts.

Then there’s the highest level in which you achieve a kind of trance-like, fugue state that allows you to incorporate multiple strategies to break down a single complex problem and then seamlessly shift to a fresh set of strategies on the next problem, which, of course, will be testing slightly different concepts from the previous one.

It’s the GMAT equivalent of becoming a Jedi who can anticipate his opponent’s next light saber strike several moves in advance or becoming Neo in the Matrix, finally deciphering the structure of the streaming code that animates his synthetic world. Pick whatever sci-fi analogy you like – it’s this kind of expertise that we’re shooting for when we prepare for the test. The pertinent questions are then the following: how do we accomplish this level of expertise, and what does it look like once we’re finally there?

Fortunately for you, dear student, our books are organized with this philosophy in mind. Once you’ve worked through the skill-builders and the lessons, you’ll likely be at the intermediate level of competence. Then it will be through drilling with homework problems and taking practice tests that you’ll achieve the level of mastery we seek. But let’s take a look at a Sentence Correction question to get a sense of how our thought processes might unfold, once we’re functioning in full Jedi-mode.

Unlike most severance packages, which require workers to stay until the last day scheduled to collect, workers at the automobile company are eligible for its severance package even if they find a new job before they are terminated. 

(A) the last day scheduled to collect, workers at the automobile company are eligible for its severance package

(B) the last day they are scheduled to collect, workers are eligible for the automobile company’s severance package

(C) their last scheduled day to collect, the automobile company offers its severance package to workers

(D) their last scheduled day in order to collect, the automobile company’s severance package is available to workers

(E) the last day that they are scheduled to collect, the automobile company’s severance package is available to workers

Having done hundreds of questions, you’ll notice one structural clue leap immediately: “unlike.” When you see words such as “like” or “unlike” you know that you’re dealing with a comparison, so your first task is to make sure you’re comparing appropriate items. You’ll also note that the clause beginning with “which require” modifies “severance packages,” so whatever is compared to these severance packages will come after the modifier.

In A, you’re comparing “severance packages” to “workers.” We’d rather compare severance packages to severance packages or workers to workers. No good.

In B, again, you’re comparing “severance packages” to “workers.”

In C, you’re comparing “severance packages” to “the automobile company.” Nope.

That leaves us with D and E, both of which compare “severance packages” to “automobile’s company severance package.” Here, you’re comparing one group of severance packages to another, so this is logical. But now you have to switch gears – the comparison issue allowed you to eliminate some incorrect answer choices, but you’ll have to use another issue to differentiate between your remaining options.

Once we’re down to two options, you can simply read the two sentences and look for differences. One difference is that E contains the word “that” in the phrase “the last day that they are scheduled to collect.” Perhaps it sounds okay to your ear, but you’ll recall that when “that” is used as a relative pronoun, it should touch the noun it modifies. In this case, it touches, “last day.” Read literally, the phrase, “the last day that they are scheduled to collect,” makes it sound as though “they” are collecting the “last day.” Surely this isn’t what the sentence intends to convey, so we’re then left with ‘D,’ which is the correct answer.

Takeaway:

Notice how many disparate concepts you had to juggle here: You had to recognize the structural clue indicating that “unlike” signifies a comparison; recognize that temporarily skipping over a longer modifying phrase is an effective way to get a sense of the core clause you’re evaluating; recall that once you’re down to two answer choices, you can simply zero in on differences between your options; remember the rule stipulating that relative pronouns must touch what they modify; and last, you had to recognize that Sentence Correction is not only about grammar but also about logic and meaning, and all in under a minute and a half. I’d say that’s pretty Jedi-like.

*GMATPrep question courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

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By David Goldstein, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston. You can find more articles by him here