GMAT Tip of the Week: 6 Reasons That Your Test Day Won’t Be A Labor Day

GMAT Tip of the WeekAs the northern hemisphere drifts toward autumn, two events have become just about synonymous: Labor Day and Back to School. If you’re spending this Labor Day weekend getting yourself ready to go back to graduate school, you may well labor over GMAT study materials in between barbecues and college football games. And if you do, make sure you heed this wisdom: GMAT test day should not be Labor Day!

What does that mean?

On a timed test like the GMAT, one of the biggest drains on your score can be a combination of undue time and undue energy spent on problems that could be done much simpler. “The long way is the wrong way” as a famous GMAT instructor puts it – those seconds you waste, those extra steps that could lead to error or distraction, they’ll add up over the test and pull your score much lower than you’d like it to be. With that in mind, here are six ways to help you avoid too much labor on test day:

QUANTITATIVE SECTION
1) Do the math in your order, only when necessary.
Because the GMAT doesn’t allow a calculator, it heavily rewards candidates who can find efficient ways to avoid the kind of math for which you’d need a calculator. Very frequently this means that the GMAT will tempt you with calculations that you’d ordinarily just plug-and-chug with a calculator, but that can be horribly time-consuming once you start.

For example, a question might require you to take an initial number like 15, then multiply by 51, then divide by 17. On a calculator or in Excel, you’d do exactly that. But on the GMAT, that calculation gets messy. 15*51 = 765 – a calculation that isn’t awful but that will take most people a few steps and maybe 20 seconds. But then you have to do some long division with 17 going into 765. Or do you? If you’re comfortable using factors, multiples, and reducing fractions, you can see those two steps (multiply by 51, divide by 17) as one: multiply by 51/17, and since 51/17 reduces to 3, then you’re really just doing the calculation 15*3, which is easily 45.

The lesson? For one, don’t start doing ugly math until you absolutely know you have to perform that step. Save ugly math for later, because the GMAT is notorious for “rescuing” those who are patient enough to wait for future steps that will simplify the process. And, secondly, get really, really comfortable with factors and divisibility. Quickly recognizing how to break a number into its factors (51 = 3*17; 65 = 5*13; etc.) allows you to streamline calculations and do much of the GMAT math in your head. Getting to that level of comfort may take some labor, but it will save you plenty of workload on test day.

2) Recognize that “Answers Are Assets.”
Another way to avoid or shortcut messy math is to look at the answer choices first. Some problems might look like they involve messy algebra, but can be made much easier by plugging in answer choices and doing the simpler arithmetic. Other times, the answer choices will lead themselves to process of elimination, whether because some choices do not have the proper units digit, or are clearly too small.

Still others will provide you with clues as to how you have to attack the math. For example, if the answer choices are something like: A) 0.0024; B) 0.0246; C) 0.246; D) 2.46; E) 24.6, they’re not really testing you on your ability to arrive at the digits 246, but rather on where the decimal point should go (how many times should that number be multiplied/divided by 10). You can then set your sights on the number of decimal places while not stressing other details of the calculation.

Whatever you do, always scan the answer choices first to see if there are easier ways to do the problem than to simply slog through the math. The answers are assets – they’re there for a reason, and often, they’ll provide you with clues that will help you save valuable time.

3) Question the Question – Know where the game is being played.
Very often, particularly in Data Sufficiency, the GMAT Testmaker will subtly provide a clue as to what’s really being tested. And those who recognize that can very quickly focus on what matters and not get lost in other elements of the problem.

For example, if the question stem includes an inequality with zero (x > 0 or xy < 0), there’s a very high likelihood that you’re being tested on positive/negative number properties. So, when a statement then says something like “1) x^3 = 1331”, you can hold off on trying to take the cube root of 1331 and simply say, “Odd exponent = positive value, so I know that x is positive,” and see if that helps you answer the question without much calculation. Or if the problem asks for the value of 6x – y, you can say to yourself, “I may not be able to solve for x and y individually, but if not, let’s try to isolate exactly that 6x – y term,” and set up your algebra accordingly so that you’re efficiently working toward that specific goal.

Good test-takers tend to see “where the game is being played” by recognizing what the Testmaker is testing. When you can see that a question is about number properties (and not exact values) or a combination of values (and not the individual values themselves) or a comparison of values (again, not the actual values themselves), you can structure your work to directly attack the question and not fall victim to a slog of unnecessary calculations.

VERBAL SECTION
4) Focus on keywords in Critical Reasoning conclusions.
The Verbal section simply looks time-consuming because there’s so much to read, so it pays to know where to spend your time and focus. The single most efficient place to spend time (and the most disastrous if you don’t) is in the conclusion of a Strengthen or Weaken question. To your advantage, noticing a crucial detail in a conclusion can tell you exactly “where the game is being played” (Oh, it’s not how much iron, it’s iron PER CALORIE; it’s not that Company X needs to reduce costs overall, it’s that it needs to reduce SHIPPING costs; etc.) and help you quickly search for the answer choices that deal with that particular gap in logic.

On the downside, if you don’t spend time emphasizing the conclusion, you’re in trouble – burying a conclusion-limiting word or phrase (like “per calorie” or “shipping”) in a long paragraph can be like hiding a needle in a haystack. The Testmaker knows that the untrained are likely to miss these details, and have created trap answers (and just the opportunity to waste time re-reading things that don’t really matter) for those who fall in that group.

5) Scan the Sentence Correction answer choices before you dive into the sentence.
Much like “Answers are Assets” above, a huge help on Sentence Correction problems is to scan the answer choices quickly to see if you can determine where the game is being played (Are they testing pronouns? Verb tenses?). Simply reading a sentence about a strange topic (old excavation sites, a kind of tree that only grows on the leeward slopes of certain mountains…) and looking for anything that strikes you as odd or ungrammatical, that takes time and saps your focus and energy.

However, the GMAT primarily tests a handful of concepts over and over, so if you recognize what is being tested, you can read proactively and look for the words/phrases that directly control that decision you’re being asked to make. Do different answers have different verb tenses? Look for words that signal time (before, since, etc.). Do they involve different pronouns? Read to identify the noun in question and determine which pronoun it needs. You’re not really being tasked with “editing the sentence” as much as your job is to make the proper decision with the choices they’ve already given you. They’ve already narrowed the scope of items you can edit, so identify that scope before you take out the red marking pen across the whole sentence.

6) STOP and avoid rereading.
As the Veritas Prep Reading Comprehension lesson teaches, stop at the end of each paragraph of a reading passage to ask yourself whether you understand Scope, Tone, Organization, and Purpose. The top two time-killers on Reading Comprehension passages/problems are re-reading (you get to the end and realize you don’t really know what you just read) and over-reading (you took several minutes absorbing a lot of details, but now the clock is ticking louder and you haven’t looked at the questions yet).

STOP will help you avoid re-reading (if you weren’t locked in on the first paragraph, you can reread that in 30 seconds and not wait to the end to realize you need to reread the whole thing) and will give you a quick checklist of, “Do I understand just enough to move on?” Details are only important if you’re asked about them, so focus on the major themes (Do you know what the paragraph was about – a quick 5-7 word synopsis is perfect – and why it was written? Good.) and save the details for later.

It may seem ironic that the GMAT is set up to punish hard-workers, but in business, efficiency is everything – the test needs to reward those who work smarter and not just harder, so an effective test day simply cannot be a Labor Day. Use this Labor Day weekend to study effectively so that test day is one on which you prioritize efficiency, not labor.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

How to Improve Your GMAT Verbal Score

books_stackedIn order to get into business school, applicants have to fulfill a number of requirements. One of those requirements is to submit a GMAT score. Perhaps you’ve taken the GMAT and you’re dissatisfied with the score you received on the Verbal section of the test. Naturally, you want to do everything possible to achieve your best score on every section of the test. Check out some tips on how to improve GMAT Verbal score results and impress admissions officials:

Complete a Timed Practice Test for the Verbal Section
People who want to learn how to improve Verbal GMAT scores can benefit from taking practice tests. You’re given 75 minutes to complete 41 questions in the Verbal section. This seems like a long time, but the minutes can disappear quickly if you spend too much time on one question.

Perhaps you missed some questions while rushing to finish on time. A timed practice test can help you to get into the habit of answering each question within a certain number of minutes. Once you establish a test-taking rhythm for the verbal section, you can focus on each question instead of worrying about the clock. At Veritas Prep, you can practice for the GMAT by taking our free test. We provide you with a performance analysis and score report that can help you determine which skills need the most improvement.

Think Like a Professional in the Business World
It can be helpful to examine your approach to the questions in the Verbal section. Someone who takes the GMAT is on a path to earning an MBA and working in the business world. Successful business people know how to evaluate a problem as well as possible options to find the most effective solution. They also know how to disregard information that doesn’t serve any purpose in the problem-solving process. Having the mindset of a business professional can help you successfully answer each question in the Verbal section. Our online and in-person prep courses teach students a new way to approach questions so they can improve GMAT Verbal scores.

Read the Passages for the Reading Comprehension Questions
Some test-takers look at the Reading Comprehension questions in the Verbal section and decide to save time by skimming through the passages. When you do this, it’s difficult to get an understanding of what the author of the passage is trying to convey. Furthermore, many Reading Comprehension questions relate to the main idea, tone, and structure of a passage. Consequently, it’s worth putting aside time to thoroughly read each passage so you can get a clear picture of what the author is trying to convey. Students who work with a Veritas Prep tutor learn what to look for and what to disregard when reading passages in this section.

Look for the Logic in Critical Reasoning Questions
Those who want to know how to improve GMAT Verbal score results may want to focus some attention on their Critical Reasoning skills. Looking for logic is the key to arriving at the correct answers to these questions.

At first glance, many of the answer options can seem like the correct choice. Some of the answer choices may even contain words that are in the passage. But the presence of those words doesn’t necessarily mean that an option is correct. Look for an answer option that follows the same line of logic as the passage itself. It is also helpful to rule out answer options that definitely do not follow along with the argument in the passage. Careful evaluation of each answer option can help to improve GMAT verbal scores.

Dedicate More Time to Outside Reading
Spending some of your free time reading financial magazines and newspapers can help you boost your score on the Verbal section. Reading these materials gives you the opportunity to practice the same skills you’ll use on Reading Comprehension questions. Also, it helps you get into the habit of becoming an active reader and drawing conclusions as you go. In addition, reading financial publications adds to your overall knowledge of the business world.

Many prospective MBA students who want to know how to improve verbal GMAT scores turn to the experienced instructors at Veritas Prep. Why? Because we hire instructors who scored in the 99th percentile on the test. Students learn how to raise their scores from tutors who have hands-on experience with this challenging exam. Contact our offices at Veritas Prep today and let us guide you to your best performance on the GMAT.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Attacking Gerunds on the GMAT!

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomA few weeks back, we talked about participles and how they are used on the GMAT. In that post, we had promised to discuss gerunds more in depth at another time. So today, as promised, we’ll be looking at gerunds. Before we do that, however, let’s examine Verbals.

A Verbal is a verb that acts as a different part of speech – not as a verb.

There are three types of verbals:

  • Infinitives – these take the form of “to + verb”
  • Gerunds – these are the “-ing” form of the verb
  • Participles – these can take the “-ing,” “-ed,” “-en” etc. forms

Gerunds end in “-ing” and act as nouns in the sentence. They can act as a subject, direct object, subject complement or object of a preposition. For example:

Running a marathon is very difficult. – Subject
I love swimming. – Direct object
The activity I enjoy the most is swimming. – Subject complement
She thanked me for helping her. – Object of a preposition

You don’t have to identify the part of speech the gerund represents in a sentence; you just need to identify whether a verb’s “-ing” form is being used as a gerund and evaluate whether it is being used correctly.

A sentence could also use a gerund phrase that begins with a gerund, such as, “Swimming in the morning is exhilarating.”

Let’s take a look at a couple of official questions now:

A recent study has found that within the past few years, many doctors had elected early retirement rather than face the threats of lawsuits and the rising costs of malpractice insurance.

(A) had elected early retirement rather than face
(B) had elected early retirement instead of facing
(C) have elected retiring early instead of facing
(D) have elected to retire early rather than facing
(E) have elected to retire early rather than face

Upon reading the original sentence, we see that there is a gerund phrase here – “rising costs of malpractice insurance” – which is parallel to the noun “threat of lawsuits.”

The two are logically parallel too, since there are two aspects that the doctors do not want to face: rising costs and the threat of lawsuits.

Note, however, that they are not logically parallel to “face.” Hence, the use of the form “facing” would not be correct, since it would put “facing” and “rising” in parallel. So answer choices B, C and D are incorrect.

Actually, “retire” and “face” are logically parallel so they should be grammatically parallel, too. Answer choice E has the two in parallel in infinitive form – to retire and (to is implied here) face are in parallel.

Obviously, there are other decision points to take note of here, mainly the question of “had elected” vs. “have elected.” The use of “had elected” will not be correct here, since we are not discussing two actions in the past occurring at different times. Therefore, the correct answer is E.

Take a look at one more:

In virtually all types of tissue in every animal species dioxin induces the production of enzymes that are the organism’s trying to metabolize, or render harmless, the chemical that is irritating it.

(A) trying to metabolize, or render harmless, the chemical that is irritating it
(B) trying that it metabolize, or render harmless, the chemical irritant
(C) attempt to try to metabolize, or render harmless, such a chemical irritant
(D) attempt to try and metabolize, or render harmless, the chemical irritating it
(E) attempt to metabolize, or render harmless, the chemical irritant

Notice the use of the gerund “trying” in answer choice A. “Organism’s” is in possessive form and acts as an adjective for the noun verbal “trying.” Usually, with possessives, a gerund does not work. We need to use a noun only. With this in mind, answer choices A and B will not work.

The other three options replace “trying” with “attempt” and hence correct this error, however options C and D use the redundant “attempt to try.” The use of “attempt” means “try,” so there is no need to use both. Option E corrects this problem, so it is our correct answer.

Unlike participles, which can be a bit confusing, gerunds are relatively easy to understand and use. Feeling more confident about them now?

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Using Prepositional Phrases on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomIn previous posts, we have already discussed participles as well as absolute phrases. Today, let’s take a look at another type of modifier – the prepositional phrase.

A prepositional phrase will begin with a preposition and end with a noun, pronoun, gerund, or clause – the “object” of the preposition. The object of the preposition might have one or more modifiers to describe it.

Here are some examples of prepositional phrases (with prepositions underlined):

  • along the ten mile highway…
  • with a cozy blanket…
  • without worrying…
  • about what he likes…

A prepositional phrase can function as an adjective or an adverb. As an adjective, it answers the question, “Which one?” while as an adverb it can answer the questions, “How?” “When?” or “Where?”.

For example:

  • The book under the table belongs to my mom. Here, the prepositional phrase acts as an adjective and tells us “which one” of the books belongs to my mom.
  • We tried the double cheeseburger at the new burger joint. Here, the prepositional phrase acts as an adverb and tells us “where” we tried the cheeseburger.

Like other modifiers, a prepositional modifier should be placed as close as possible to the thing it is modifying.

Let’s take a look at a couple of official GMAT questions to see how understanding prepositional phrases can help us on this exam:

The nephew of Pliny the Elder wrote the only eyewitness account of the great eruption of Vesuvius in two letters to the historian Tacitus.

(A) The nephew of Pliny the Elder wrote the only eyewitness account of the great eruption of Vesuvius in two letters to the historian Tacitus.
(B) To the historian Tacitus, the nephew of Pliny the Elder wrote two letters, being the only eyewitness accounts of the great eruption of Vesuvius.
(C) The only eyewitness account is in two letters by the nephew of Pliny the Elder writing to the historian Tacitus an account of the great eruption of Vesuvius.
(D) Writing the only eyewitness account, Pliny the Elder’s nephew accounted for the great eruption of Vesuvius in two letters to the historian Tacitus.
(E) In two letters to the historian Tacitus, the nephew of Pliny the Elder wrote the only eyewitness account of the great eruption of Vesuvius.

There are multiple prepositional phrases here:

  • of the great eruption of Vesuvius (answers “Which eruption?”)
  • in two letters (tells us “where” he wrote his account)
  • to the historian Tacitus (answers “Which letters?”)

Therefore, the phrase “to the historian Tacitus” should be close to what it is describing, “letters,” which makes answer choices B and C incorrect.

Also, “in two letters to the historian Tacitus” should modify the verb “wrote.” In options A and D, “in two letters to the historian Tacitus” seems to be modifying “eruption,” which is incorrect. (There are other errors in answer choices B, C and D as well, but we will stick to the topic at hand.)

Option E corrects the prepositional phrase errors by putting the modifier close to the verb “wrote,” so therefore, E is our answer.

Let’s try one more:

Defense attorneys have occasionally argued that their clients’ misconduct stemmed from a reaction to something ingested, but in attributing criminal or delinquent behavior to some food allergy, the perpetrators are in effect told that they are not responsible for their actions.

(A) in attributing criminal or delinquent behavior to some food allergy
(B) if criminal or delinquent behavior is attributed to an allergy to some food
(C) in attributing behavior that is criminal or delinquent to an allergy to some food
(D) if some food allergy is attributed as the cause of criminal or delinquent behavior
(E) in attributing a food allergy as the cause of criminal or delinquent behavior

This sentence has two clauses:

Clause 1: Defense attorneys have occasionally argued that their clients’ misconduct stemmed from a reaction to something ingested,

Clause 2: in attributing criminal or delinquent behavior to some food allergy, the perpetrators are in effect told that they are not responsible for their actions.

These two clauses are joined by the conjunction “but,” and the underlined part is a prepositional phrase in the second clause.

Answer choices A, C and E imply that the perpetrators are attributing their own behaviors to food allergies. That is not correct – their defense attorneys are attributing their behavior to food allergies, and hence, all three of these options have modifier errors.

This leaves us with B and D. Answer choice D uses the phrase “attributed as,” which is grammatically incorrect – the correct usage should be “X is attributed to Y,” rather than “X attributed as Y.” Therefore, option B is our answer.

As you can see, the proper placement of prepositional phrases is instrumental in creating a sentence with a clear, logical meaning.  Since that type of clear, logical meaning is a primary emphasis of correct Sentence Correction answers, you should be prepared to look for prepositional phrases (here we go…) *on the GMAT*.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Some GMAT Questions Using the “Like” vs. “As” Concept

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomToday we will look at some official GMAT questions testing the “like” vs. “as” concept we discussed last week.

(Review last week’s post – if you haven’t read it already – before you read this one for greater insight on this concept.)

Take a look at the following GMAT Sentence Correction question:

As with those of humans, the DNA of grape plants contains sites where certain unique sequences of nucleotides are repeated over and over.

(A) As with those of humans, the DNA of grape plants contains sites where
(B) As human DNA, the DNA of grape plants contain sites in which
(C) As it is with human DNA, the DNA of grape plants, containing sites in which
(D) Like human, the DNA of grape plants contain sites where
(E) Like human DNA, the DNA of grape plants contains sites in which

Should we use “as” or “like”? Well, what are we comparing? We’re comparing the DNA of humans to the DNA of grape plants. Answer choice E compares these two properly – “Like human DNA, the DNA of grape plants…” DNA is singular, so it uses the singular verb “contains”.

All other options are incorrect. Answer choice A uses “those of” for DNA, but DNA is singular, so this cannot be right. B uses “as” to compare the two nouns, which is also incorrect. C is a sentence fragment without a main verb. And D compares “human” to “DNA”, which is not the “apples-to-apples” comparison we need to make this sentence correct. Therefore, our answer must be E.

Let’s try another one:

Like Auden, the language of James Merrill is chatty, arch, and conversational — given to complex syntactic flights as well as to prosaic free-verse strolls.

(A) Like Auden, the language of James Merrill
(B) Like Auden, James Merrill’s language
(C) Like Auden’s, James Merrill’s language
(D) As with Auden, James Merrill’s language
(E) As is Auden’s the language of James Merrill

Here, we’re comparing Auden’s language to James Merrill’s language. Answer choice C correctly uses the possessive “Auden’s” to show that language is implied. “Like Auden’s language, James Merrill’s language …” contains both parallel structure and a correct comparison.

Answer choices A, B and D incorrectly compare “Auden” to “language,” rather than “Auden’s language” to “language,” so those options are out. The structure of answer choice E is not parallel – “Auden’s” vs. “the language of James Merrill”. Therefore, the answer must be C.

Let’s try something more difficult:

More than thirty years ago Dr. Barbara McClintock, the Nobel Prize winner, reported that genes can “jump,” as pearls moving mysteriously from one necklace to another.

(A) as pearls moving mysteriously from one necklace to another
(B) like pearls moving mysteriously from one necklace to another
(C) as pearls do that move mysteriously from one necklace to others
(D) like pearls do that move mysteriously from one necklace to others
(E) as do pearls that move mysteriously from one necklace to some other one

This is a tricky question – it’s perfect for us to re-iterate how important it is to focus on the meaning of the given sentence. Do not try to follow grammar rules blindly on the GMAT!

Is the comparison between “genes jumping” and “pearls moving”? Do pearls really move mysteriously from one necklace to another? No! This is a hypothetical situation, so we must use “like” – genes are like pearls. Answer choices B and D are the only ones that use “like,” so we can eliminate our other options. D uses a clause with “like,” which is incorrect. In answer choice B, “moving from …” is a modifier – “moving” doesn’t act as a verb here, so it doesn’t need a clause. Hence, answer choice B is correct.

Here’s another one:

According to a recent poll, owning and living in a freestanding house on its own land is still a goal of a majority of young adults, like that of earlier generations.

(A) like that of earlier generations
(B) as that for earlier generations
(C) just as earlier generations did
(D) as have earlier generations
(E) as it was of earlier generations

Note the parallel structure of the comparison in answer choice E – “Owning … a house… is still a goal of young adults, as it was of earlier generations.” It correctly uses “as” with a clause.

Answer choice A uses “that” but its antecedent is not very clear; there are other nouns between “goal” and “like,” and hence, confusion arises. None of the other answer choices give us a clear, parallel comparison, so our answer is E.

Alright, last one:

In Hungary, as in much of Eastern Europe, an overwhelming proportion of women work, many of which are in middle management and light industry.

(A) as in much of Eastern Europe, an overwhelming proportion of women work, many of which are in
(B) as with much of Eastern Europe, an overwhelming proportion of women works, many in
(C) as in much of Eastern Europe, an overwhelming proportion of women work, many of them in.
(D) like much of Eastern Europe, an overwhelming proportion of women works, and many are.
(E) like much of Eastern Europe, an overwhelming proportion of women work, many are in.

Another tricky question. The comparison here is between “what happens in Hungary” and “what happens in much of Eastern Europe,” not between “Hungary” and “much of Eastern Europe.” A different sentence structure would be required to compare “Hungary” to “much of Eastern Europe” such as “Hungary, like much of Eastern Europe, has an overwhelming …”

With prepositional phrases, as with clauses, “as” is used. So, we have two relevant options – A and C. Answer choice A uses “which” for “women,” and hence, is incorrect. Therefore, our answer is C.

Here are some takeaways to keep in mind:

  • You should be comparing “apples” to “apples”.
  • Parallel structure is important.
  • Use “as” with prepositional phrases.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Using “Like” vs. “As” on the GMAT Verbal Section

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomIf you have seen the Veritas Prep curriculum, then you know we frequently highlight the strategy of “Think like the Testmaker” to answer GMAT questions. Recently, we had a student question the grammatical validity of this construct – this brought the “like” vs. “as” debate to mind, so we decided to tackle it this week.

When should you use “like” and when should you use “as” in a sentence?

Both words can be used in comparisons, however the structure of the sentence will be different in the two cases. This is because traditionally, “like” is a preposition and “as” is a conjunction – a preposition takes the form of an object while a conjunction takes the form of a clause. Therefore:

Using “like,” we compare nouns/pronouns (including gerunds). Usually, a single verb will be used.

Using “as,” we compare actual actions. There will be two verbs used when we compare using “as.”

So, this is how we are going to compare “like” and “as”:

  • He runs like a madman. – A single verb, “runs.”
  • He runs as a madman does. – Two verbs, “runs” and “does” (which is equivalent to “does run”).

In the same way, both of the following sentences are correct:

  • Think like the Testmaker.
  • Think as the Testmaker does.

But beware – “as” used with a noun or pronoun alone does not mean that this usage is incorrect. “As” can also be used to show a role or capacity. For example, in the sentence, “She works as a consultant,” the word “as” means that she works in the capacity of a consultant. There is no comparison here, but the sentence is still grammatically correct.

Also, we usually use “like” in the case of hypothetical comparisons. Take, for instance, the sentence, “She screams like a banshee.” Here, it would be odd to say, “She screams as a banshee does,” because we don’t really know how a banshee screams.

Let’s look at a few GMAT Sentence Correction questions now:

Like many self-taught artists, Perle Hessing did not begin to paint until she was well into middle age.

(A) Like
(B) As have
(C) Just as with
(D) Just like
(E) As did

In this sentence, the word “like” is correctly comparing “Perle Hessing” to “many self taught artists.” There is no clause after “like” and we are using a single verb. Hence, the use of “like” is correct and our answer is A.

Not too bad, right? Let’s try another question:

Based on recent box office receipts, the public’s appetite for documentary films, like nonfiction books, seems to be on the rise. 

(A) like nonfiction books 
(B) as nonfiction books 
(C) as its interest in nonfiction books 
(D) like their interest in nonfiction books 
(E) like its interest in nonfiction books

This sentence also has a comparison, and it is between “appetite” and “interest” and how they are both are on a rise. Answer choice E compares “appetite” to “interest” using “like” as a single verb. None of the answer choices have “as” with a clause so the answer must be E.

These were two simple examples of “like” vs. “as.” Now let’s look at a higher-level GMAT question:

During an ice age, the buildup of ice at the poles and the drop in water levels near the equator speed up the Earth’s rotation, like a spinning figure skater whose speed increases when her arms are drawn in

(A) like a spinning figure skater whose speed increases when her arms are drawn in 
(B) like the increased speed of a figure skater when her arms are drawn in 
(C) like a figure skater who increases speed while spinning with her arms drawn in 
(D) just as a spinning figure skater who increases speed by drawing in her arms 
(E) just as a spinning figure skater increases speed by drawing in her arms

There is a comparison here, but between which two things? Answer choice A seems to be comparing “Earth’s rotation” to “spinning figure skater,” but these two things are not comparable. Option E is the correct choice here – it compares “speed up Earth’s rotation” to “skater increases speed.” Therefore, our answer is E.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

How to Use Pronoun Substitution to Answer GMAT Sentence Correction Questions

SAT/ACTIt was around the time my daughter was born that my wife and I began to have pronoun fights. A certain amount of ambiguity is hard-wired into all language, so when you combine the complexity of English with a healthy dose of sleep deprivation, commands like “put it over there,” become intolerable. What is “it?” Where is “there?” (And why are we fighting over pronoun ambiguity when there’s a screaming child we’re not attending to?)

Lest you fear for the stability of our marriage, rest assured, dear reader, these fights were not hard to resolve – all we had to do was substitute the noun we intended the pronoun to refer to, and suddenly the intolerably vague directive became an unmistakable clear request. There’s a lesson here for the GMAT.

Because pronouns are so common, there’s no avoiding their usage on Sentence Correction questions, and the best way to avoid getting thrown off by them is to substitute in whatever noun or noun phrase these pronouns appear to be referring to. This has two benefits: first, we’ll be better able to assess whether the pronoun is used correctly, should it appear in the underlined portion of the sentence. And secondly, it will help us to understand the meaning of the sentence so that we can properly evaluate whether whatever we choose is, in fact, logical.

Take the following question, for example:

According to public health officials, in 1998 Massachusetts became the first state in which more babies were born to women over the age of thirty than under it.

(A) than
(B) than born
(C) than they were
(D) than there had been
(E) than had been born

Notice that this sentence ends with the pronoun “it.” Because the “it” is not part of the underlined portion of the sentence, test-takers will often pay the word scant attention. This is certainly true of many students who have brought this sentence to my attention. Pretty much all of them selected B as the correct answer and were astonished to learn they were wrong.

So, let’s look at the relevant clause with answer choice B: more babies were born to women over the age of thirty than born under it. This sounded fine to the students’ ears. When I asked them what “it” referred to, however, they quickly recognized that “it” refers to the preceding noun phrase “the age of thirty.” I then asked them to reread the clause, but this time, to substitute the referent in place of the pronoun. The phrase read as follows: more babies were born to women over the age of thirty than born under [the age of thirty.]

The problem was immediately apparent. This clause compares babies born to women over the age of thirty to babies born under the age of thirty! Hopefully, it goes without saying that the writer did not intend to persuade the reader that some population of babies were under the age of 30 when they were born.

Clearly, B is incorrect. Once we substitute the referent for the pronoun, we can quickly see that only answer choice, A, makes any logical sense: more babies were born to women over the age of thirty than under the [age of thirty.]  We’re simply comparing the number of babies born to women in two different age groups. Not only is A the shortest and cleanest answer choice, it’s also the most coherent option. So, we have our answer.

Let’s try another one:

In 1979 lack of rain reduced India’s rice production to about 41 million tons, nearly 25 percent less than those of the 1978 harvest

(A) less than those of the 1978 harvest
(B) less than the 1978 harvest
(C) less than 1978
(D) fewer than 1978
(E) fewer than that of India’s 1978 harvest

Notice the “those” in the underlined portion. What is “those” referring to? It must be referring to some plural antecedent, so our only real option is “tons.” Let’s take a look at the sentence with “tons” in place of “those.”

In 1979 lack of rain reduced India’s rice production to about 41 million tons, nearly 25 percent less than [the tons] of the 1978 harvest. 

Do we want to compare the rice production in 1979 to the “tons” in 1978? Of course not. We want to compare one year’s production to another year’s production, or one harvest to another.

C and D both compare one year’s production to a year, rather than to the production of another year, so those are both wrong.

E gives us another pronoun – this time we have “that,” which must have a singular antecedent. It seems to refer to “rice production,” so let’s make that substitution.

In 1979 lack of rain reduced India’s rice production to about 41 million tons, nearly 25 percent fewer than [the rice production] of India’s 1978 harvest.

Well, this makes no sense – we use “fewer” to compare countable items, so we certainly wouldn’t say that one year’s production is “fewer” than another year’s production. So, E is also out.

This leaves us with answer choice B, which logically compares one year’s harvest to another year’s harvest.

Takeaway: Anytime you see a pronoun in a Sentence Correction sentence, always substitute the referent in place of the pronoun. This practice will clarify the meaning of the sentence and prevent the kind of ambiguity that leads to both incorrect answers and marital discord.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

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

Help! 100% of the GMAT Sentence Correction Question is Underlined!

MBA Interview QuestionsImagine, you are plugging along in your Verbal Section on the GMAT, and then it pops up – the dreaded Sentence Correction question where every single word is underlined. The golden strategy for Sentence Correction is typically to evaluate decision points, as in determining what two or three spots in the sentence are evaluated in the answer choices. Consider a question where not all of the sentence is underlined:

A recent research study of worldwide cellular penetration finds that there are now one mobile phone for every two people, more than twice as many than there were in 2005.

(A) there are now one mobile phone for every two people, more than twice as many than there were
(B) there is now one mobile phone for every two people, more than twice as many than there were
(C) there is now one mobile phone for every two people, more than twice as many as there were
(D) every two people now have one mobile phone, more than twice as many than there were
(E) every two people now has one mobile phone, more than twice as many as there were

The first step we take is to cut away the junk, getting to the core of the Sentence Correction question – by ignoring “of worldwide cellular penetration,” we uncover that the subject of the sentence, “a study finds that,” makes it clear with the usage of “that” that the second portion of the sentence it set up to be a new clause with its own subject/verb relationship. This is the first decision point.

We should also know that there “is,” not “are,” one phone, which definitely puts answer choice A out of the running. Another decision point is our comparison phrase – it should be “twice as many as,” not “twice as many than,” which eliminates options B and D. Quickly, with these decision points, we are down to two remaining answers. E seems to inference that two people share one mobile phone (seems a little tough logistically, right?) aka, an illogical structure to the sentence. That leaves us with the correct answer, C.

Easy enough, right? But what do we do if everything is, indeed, underlined?

Our strategy is not going to be all that different, but instead, we will need to focus more on decision points from the answer choices and then use process of elimination when it is not entirely apparent what needs adjusting within the question sentence itself. Take a similar example (but one that is completely underlined):

Unlike cellular phones and personal computers, there is a difficulty on the part of many people to adapt to other modern technologies.

(A) Unlike cellular phones and personal computers, there is a difficulty on the part of many people to adapt to other modern technologies.
(B) Unlike cellular phones and personal computers, which many people are comfortable using, they have difficulty adapting to other modern technologies.
(C) Unlike cellular phones and personal computers, other modern technologies bring out a difficulty for many people to adapt to them.
(D) Many people, though comfortable using cellular phones and personal computers, have difficulty adapting to other modern technologies.
(E) Many people have a difficulty in adapting to other modern technologies, while they are comfortable using cellular phones and personal computers.

Looking at our answer choices, a clear decision point is “unlike” versus “many.” “Unlike” ends up comparing people to cellular phones and personal computers, and while Apple’s Siri can be pretty wise, there are (at least, for now) huge differences between people and those technologies. “Unlike” doesn’t work, and now we’ve have quickly narrowed it down to two answer choices: D and E. “Difficulty in adapting” gives us another decision choice in option E, leaving us with D as the correct answer.

When coming across completely underlined Sentence Correction questions, the first course of action is to not freak out. Stick with the strategy, and the correct answer will come easier than you think.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Ashley Triscuit, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Death, Taxes, and the GMAT Items You Know For Certain

GMAT Tip of the WeekHere on April 15, it’s a good occasion to remember the Benjamin Franklin quote: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Franklin, of course, never took the GMAT (which didn’t become a thing until a little ways after his own death, which he accurately predicted above). But if he did, he’d have plenty to add to that quote.

On the GMAT, several things are certain. Here’s a list of items you will certainly see on the GMAT, as you attempt to raise your score and therefore your potential income, thereby raising your future tax bills in Franklin’s honor:

Integrated Reasoning
You will struggle with pacing on the Integrated Reasoning section. 12 prompts in 30 minutes (with multiple problems per prompt) is an extremely aggressive pace and very few people finish comfortably. Be willing to guess on a problem that you know could sap your time: not only will that help you finish the section and protect your score, it will also help save your stamina and energy for the all-important Quant Section to follow.

Word Problems
On the Quantitative Section, you will certainly see at least one Work/Rate problem, one Weighted Average problem, and one Min/Max problem. This is good news! Word problems reward repetition and preparation – if you’ve put in the work, there should be no surprises.

Level of Difficulty
If you’re scoring above average on either the Quant or Verbal sections, you will see at least one problem markedly below your ability level. Because each section contains several unscored, experimental problems, and those problems are delivered randomly, probability dictates that every 700+ scorer will see at least one problem designed for the 200-500 crowd (and probably more than that). Do not try to read in to your performance based on the difficulty level of any one problem! It’s easy to fear that such a problem was delivered to you because you’re struggling, but the much more logical explanation is that it was either random or difficult-but-sneakily-so, so stay confident and move on.

Data Sufficiency
You will see at least one Data Sufficiency problem that seems way too easy to be true. And it’s probably not true: make sure that you think critically any time the testmaker is directly baiting you into a particular answer.

Sentence Correction
You will have to pick an answer that you don’t like, that doesn’t catch the ear the way you’d write or say it. Make sure that you prioritize the major errors that you know you can routinely catch and correct, and not let the GMAT bait you into a decision you’re just not qualified to make.

Reading Comprehension

You will see a passage that takes you a few re-reads to even get your mind to process it. Remember to be question-driven and not passage-driven – get enough out of the passage to know where to look when they ask you a specific question, but don’t worry about becoming a subject-matter expert on the topic. GMAT passages are designed to be difficult to read (particularly toward the end of a long test), so know that your competitive advantage is that you’ll be more efficient than your competition.

Critical Reasoning
You will have the opportunity to make quick work of several Critical Reasoning problems if you notice the tiny gaps in logic that each argument provides, and if you’re able to notice the subtle-but-significant words that make conclusions extra specific (and therefore harder to prove).

Few things are certain in life, but as you approach the GMAT there are plenty of certainties that you can prepare for so that you eliminate surprises and proceed throughout your test day confidently. On this Tax Day, take inventory of the things you know to be certain about the GMAT so that your test day isn’t so taxing.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Be Tolerant Towards Pronoun Ambiguity on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomWe encounter many different types of pronoun errors on the GMAT Verbal Section. Some of the most common errors include:

Using a pronoun without an antecedent. For example, the sentence, “Although Jack is very rich, he makes poor use of it,” is incorrect because “it” has no antecedent. The antecedent should instead be “money” or “wealth.”

Error in matching the pronoun to its antecedent in number and gender. For example, the sentence, “Pack away the unused packets, and save it for the next game,” is incorrect because the antecedent of “it” is referring to “unused packets,” which is plural.

Using a nominative/objective case pronoun when the antecedent is possessive. For example, the sentence, “The client called the lawyer’s office, but he did not answer,” is incorrect because the antecedent of “he” should be referring to “lawyer,” but it appears only in the possessive case. Official GMAT questions will not give you this rule as the only decision point between two options.

But note that the rules governing pronoun ambiguity are not as strict as other rules! Pronoun ambiguity should be the last decision point for eliminating an option after we have taken care of SV agreements, tenses, modifiers, parallelism etc.

Every sentence that has two nouns before a pronoun does not fall under the “pronoun ambiguity error” category. If the pronoun agrees with two nouns in number and gender, and both nouns could be the antecedent of the pronoun, then there is a possibility of pronoun ambiguity. But in other cases, logic can dictate that only one of the nouns can really perform (or receive) an action, and so it is logically clear to which noun the pronoun refers.

For example, “Take the bag out of the car and get it fixed.”

What needs to get fixed? The bag or the car? Either is possible. Here we have a pronoun ambiguity, but it is highly unlikely you will see something like this on the GMAT.

A special mention should be made here about the role nouns play in the sentence. Often, a pronoun which acts as the subject of a clause refers to the noun which acts as a subject of the previous clause. In such sentences, you will often find that the antecedent is unambiguous. Similarly, if the pronoun acts as the direct object of a clause, it could refer to the direct object of the  previous clause. If the pronoun and its antecedent play parallel roles, a lot of clarity is added to the sentence. But it is not necessary that the pronoun and its antecedent will play parallel roles.

Let’s look at a different example, “The car needs to be taken out of the driveway and its brakes need to get fixed.”

Here, obviously the antecedent of “its” must be the car since only it has brakes, not the driveway. Besides, the car is the subject of the previous clause and “its” refers to the subject. Hence, this sentence would be acceptable.

A good rule of thumb would be to look at the options. If no options sort out the pronoun issue by replacing it with the relevant noun, just forget about pronoun ambiguity. If there are options that clarify the pronoun issue by replacing it with the relevant noun, consider all other grammatical issues first and then finally zero in on pronoun ambiguity.

Let’s take a quick look at some official GMAT questions involving pronouns now:

Congress is debating a bill requiring certain employers provide workers with unpaid leave so as to care for sick or newborn children. 

(A) provide workers with unpaid leave so as to 
(B) to provide workers with unpaid leave so as to 
(C) provide workers with unpaid leave in order that they 
(D) to provide workers with unpaid leave so that they can 
(E) provide workers with unpaid leave and 

The answer is (D). Why? The correct sentence would use “to provide” (not “provide”) and “so that” (not “so as to”), and should read, “Congress is debating a bill requiring certain employers to provide workers with unpaid leave so that they can care for sick or newborn children.” In this sentence, “they” logically refers to “workers.” Even though “they” could refer to employers, too, after you sort out the rest of the errors, you are left with (D) only, hence answer must be (D).

Let’s look at another question:

While depressed property values can hurt some large investors, they are potentially devastating for homeowners, whose equity – in many cases representing a life’s savings – can plunge or even disappear.

(A) they are potentially devastating for homeowners, whose
(B) they can potentially devastate homeowners in that their
(C) for homeowners they are potentially devastating, because their
(D) for homeowners, it is potentially devastating in that their
(E) it can potentially devastate homeowners, whose

The correct answer is (A). The correct sentence should read, “While depressed property values can hurt some large investors, they are potentially devastating for homeowners, whose equity – in many cases representing a life’s savings – can plunge or even disappear.” The pronoun “they” logically refers to “depressed property values.” Both the pronoun and its antecedent serve as subjects in their respective clauses, so the pronoun antecedent is quite clear.

One more question:

Although Napoleon’s army entered Russia with far more supplies than they had in their previous campaigns, it had provisions for only twenty-four days. 

(A) they had in their previous campaigns 
(B) their previous campaigns had had 
(C) they had for any previous campaign 
(D) in their previous campaigns 
(E) for any previous campaign

The correct answer is (E). The correct sentence should read, “Although Napoleon’s army entered Russia with far more supplies than for any previous campaign, it had provisions for only twenty-four days.”

The pronoun “it” logically refers to “Napolean’s army” and not Russia. Both the pronoun and its antecedent serve as subjects in their respective clauses, so the pronoun antecedent is quite clear. Note that the pronoun and its antecedent are a part of the non-underlined portion of the sentence so we don’t need to worry about the usage here but it strengthens our understanding of pronoun ambiguity.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Twitter!

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

Are There Set Rules for Answering GMAT Sentence Correction Questions?

SAT WorryThe other day I was working with a tutoring student on Sentence Correction when she expressed some understandable frustration: when we did Quantitative questions together, she said, she felt like she could rely on ironclad rules that never varied (the rules for exponents don’t change depending on the context of the problem, for example), but when we did Sentence Correction, the relevant rules at play in a given question seemed less obvious.

Was there a way, she wondered, to view Sentence Correction with the same unwavering consistency with which we view Quantitative questions? While I understand her frustration, the answer is, alas, an unqualified “no.” English is far too complex for us to boil down Sentence Correction to a series of stimulus-response reflexes. Context and logic always matter.

To see why we can’t go on autopilot during Sentence Correction questions, consider the following problem:

Not only did the systematic clearing of forests in the United States create farmland (especially in the Northeast) and gave consumers relatively inexpensive houses and furniture, but it also caused erosion and very quickly deforested whole regions. 

A) Not only did the systematic clearing of forests in the United States create farmland (especially in the Northeast) and gave consumers relatively inexpensive houses and furniture, but it also

B) Not only did the systematic clearing of forests in the United States create farmland (especially in the Northeast), which gave consumers relatively inexpensive houses and furniture, but also

C) The systematic clearing of forests in the United States, creating farmland (especially in the Northeast) and giving consumers relatively inexpensive houses and furniture, but also

D) The systematic clearing of forests in the United States created farmland (especially in the Northeast) and gave consumers relatively inexpensive houses and furniture, but it also

E) The systematic clearing of forests in the United States not only created farmland (especially in the Northeast), giving consumers relatively inexpensive houses and furniture, but it

If you fully absorbed the class discussion about the importance of parallel construction, you probably noticed an indelible parallel marker here: “not only.” Okay, you think. Any time I see not only x, I know but also y should show up later in the sentence.

This isn’t wrong, per se, but the construction “not only/but also” is only applicable in certain circumstances. So before we jump to the erroneous conclusion that this is the construction that is called for in this sentence, let’s examine its underlying logic in more detail.

Take the simple example, “On the way to work, I not only got stuck in traffic, but also….” Think about your expectations for what should come next in this sentence – getting stuck in traffic was the first unfortunate thing to happen to this hapless subject, and we’re expecting a second unfortunate event in the latter part of the sentence. Not only/but also is appropriate when we’re talking about similar things.

Now consider the construction. “On the way to work, I got stuck in traffic, but…” Now our expectations are markedly different – the second half of the sentence is going to contrast with the first. We’re expecting something different.

Let’s go back to our GMAT sentence. We’re comparing the consequences of the clearing of forests. First, the clearing “created farmland and gave consumers inexpensive houses” (good things). However, it also “caused erosion and deforested the region” (bad things). Because we’re comparing two very different consequences, the construction “not only/but also” – which is used to compare similar things – is inappropriate. Now we can safely eliminate answers A, B and E.

That leaves us with C and D. First, let’s examine C. Notice there’s a participial modifier in the middle of the sentence set off by commas, and a sentence should still be logical if we remove these modifiers. We would then be left with, “The systematic clearing of forests in the United States, but also caused erosion and very quickly deforested whole regions.” This clearly doesn’t work – the initial subject (the systematic clearing) has no verb, so C is wrong. This leaves us with answer choice D, which is the correct answer.

Takeaway: though noticing common constructions on Sentence Correction problems can be helpful, we can never go on autopilot. Ultimately, context, logic, and meaning will always come into play. Before you select any answer, always ask yourself if the sentence is logically coherent before you select it. If you want to ace the GMAT, turning off your brain is not an option.

*GMATPrep question courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

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

GMAT Tip of the Week: Marco Rubio, Repetition, and Sentence Correction

GMAT Tip of the WeekLet’s dispel with the fiction that Marco Rubio doesn’t know what he’s doing on Sentence Correction problems. He knows exactly what he’s doing. In his memorable New Hampshire debate performance this past week, Rubio famously delivered the same 25-second speech several times, even in direct response to Chris Christie’s accusation that Rubio only speaks in memorized 25-second speech form.

In doing so, he likely cost himself delegates in New Hampshire and perhaps even cost himself the election (was this his Rick Perry “I can’t remember the third thing” or Howard Dean “Hi-yaaaah!” moment?), but he also provided you with a critical Sentence Correction strategy:

Find what you do well, and keep doing it over and over until you just can’t do it anymore.

This strategy manifests itself in two ways on GMAT Sentence Correction problems:

1) Look for primary Decision Points first.
Rubio came into the debate with one strong talking point, and his first inclination – regardless of the question – was to go straight to that point. On Sentence Correction problems, that is the single most important thing you can do. Much like a debate moderator, the GMAT testmaker will try to get you “off message” by offering you several decisions you could make. And often the decision that comes first is one you’re just not good at, or that actually isn’t a good differentiator. For example, you may think you need to decide between:

“…so realistic as to…” vs. “…so realistic that it…”

“…not unlike…” vs. “…like…”

“…all things antique…” vs. “…all antique things…”

And in any of those cases, you might find that both expressions are actually correct; those are differences between answer choices, but they’re not the difference between correct and incorrect. Idiomatic differences, changes in word choice, etc. may seem to beg your attention, but like Marco Rubio, you should head into each question with your list of points you want to address: modifiers, verbs, pronouns, parallel structure, etc. Look for those primary decision points first and attack them until you’ve exhausted them. Nearly always, you’ll find that doing so eliminates enough answer choices that you never have to deal with the trickier, more obscure, and often irrelevant differences between choices.

Approach each Sentence Correction problem with your scripted and heavily-practiced Decision Points in mind first. Sentence Correction is a task tailor-made for Rubio-bots.

2) Once you identify an error, stay on message as long as you can.
Rubio’s strategy backfired, but that doesn’t mean that it was a poor strategy to begin with – in fact, it’s one that will immensely help you on Sentence Correction problems. He identified a message that resonated, and he decided to do that until he was – quite literally – forced to do something else. This is a critical Sentence Correction tactic: if you find a particular error (say, an illogical modifier), you should then hold each answer choice up to that standard checking for the same error. Nearly always, if you find an error in one answer choice that same type of error will appear in at least one more.

Don’t treat each individual answer choice as a “unique snowflake” that you’ve never seen before. If there’s a verb tense / timeline error in choice B, then immediately scan C, D, and E checking those verb tenses and quickly eliminating any choices with a problem.

For example, consider the problem:

The economic report released today by Congress and the Federal Reserve was bleaker than expected, which suggests that the nearing recession might be even deeper and more prolonged than even the most pessimistic analysts have predicted.

(A) which suggests that the nearing recession might be even deeper and more prolonged than even the most pessimistic analysts have predicted.
(B) which suggests that the nearing recession might be deeper and more prolonged than that predicted by even the most pessimistic analysts.
(C) suggests that the nearing recession might be even deeper and more prolonged than that predicted by even the most pessimistic analysts.
(D) suggesting that the nearing recession might be deeper and more prolonged than that predicted by even the most pessimistic analysts.
(E) a situation that is even more deep and prolonged than even the most pessimistic analysts have predicted.

If you’re attacking this problem like a Rubio-bot, you’ll notice before you ever look at the sentence that the answer choices supply different modifiers. A and B use the relative modifier “which,” D uses the participial phrase “suggesting,” and E uses an appositive “a situation.” Noticing that, you should begin reading the sentence with that Modifier talking point in mind.

When you realize that “which” is used incorrectly in A, you don’t need to read the rest of B to see that it makes the exact same mistake. Since the sentence calls for a modifier (the portion before the comma and underlined is a complete sentence on its own, so the role of the underlined section is to further describe) and the only correct modifier in this situation is the participial “suggesting,” you can eliminate three answer choices (A, B, and E) just with that one Decision Point and quickly arrive at the correct answer, D.

More importantly, remember the overarching strategy: before you attack any Sentence Correction problem, know the grounds upon which you’re hoping to attack it – have your primary Decision Points in mind before you’re ever asked the question. And then when you do find one of those Decision Points that you can use, repeat it ad nauseum until it no longer applies.

Let’s dispel with the fiction that Marco Rubio doesn’t know what he’s doing when he repeats the same talking point over and over again; he knows exactly what he’s doing…it just works better on the GMAT than it does in a presidential debate.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Stay In Your Lane (In The Snow And On Sentence Correction)

GMAT Tip of the WeekAs the east coast braces for a historic winter storm (and Weezer fans can’t get “My Name is Jonas” out of their heads), there’s a lesson that needs to be taught from Hanover to Cambridge to Manhattan to Philadelphia to Charlottesville.

When driving in the snow:

  • Don’t brake until you have to.
  • Don’t make sudden turns or lane changes, and only turn if you have to.
  • Stay calm and leave yourself space and time to make decisions.

And those same lessons apply to GMAT Sentence Correction. Approach these questions like you would approach driving in a blizzard, and you may very well earn that opportunity to drive through blustery New England storms as you pursue your MBA. What does that mean?

1) Stay In Your Lane
Just as quick, sudden jerks of the steering wheel will doom you on snowy/icy roads, sudden and unexpected decisions on GMAT Sentence Correction will get you in trouble. Your “lane” consists of the decisions that you’ve studied and practiced and can calmly execute: Modifiers, Verbs (tense and agreement), Pronouns, Comparisons, Parallelism in a Series, etc. It’s when you get out of that lane that you’re prone to skidding well off track. For example, on this problem (courtesy the Official Guide for GMAT Review):

While Jackie Robinson was a Brooklyn Dodger, his courage in the face of physical threats and verbal attacks was not unlike that of Rosa Parks, who refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

(A) not unlike that of Rosa Parks, who refused
(B) not unlike Rosa Parks, who refused
(C) like Rosa Parks and her refusal
(D) like that of Rosa Parks for refusing
(E) as that of Rosa Parks, who refused

Your “lane” here is to check for Modifiers (Is “who refused” correct? Is it required?) and for logical, clear meaning (it is required, because otherwise you aren’t sure who refused to move to the back of the bus). But examinees are routinely baited into “jerking the wheel” and turning against the strange-but-correct structure of “not unlike.” When you’re taken off of your game, you often eliminate the correct answer (A) because you’re turning into a decision you’re just not great at making.

2) Don’t Turn or Brake Until You Have To
The GMAT does test Redundancy and Pronoun Reference (among other things), but those are error types that are dangerous to prioritize – much like it’s dangerous while driving in snow to decide quickly that you need to turn or hit the brakes. Too often, test-takers will slam on the Sentence Correction brakes at their first hint of, “That’s redundant!” (like they would for “not unlike” above) or “There are multiple nouns – that pronoun is unclear!” and steer away from that answer choice.

The problem, as you saw above, is that often this means you’re turning away from the proper path. “Not unlike” may scream “double-negative” or “redundant” to many, but it’s a perfectly valid way to express the idea that the two things aren’t close to identical, but they’re not as different as you might think. And you don’t need to know THAT, as much as you need to know that you shouldn’t ever make redundancy your first decision, because if you’re like most examinees you’re probably not that great at you…AND you don’t have to be, because the path toward your strengths will get you to your destination.

Similarly, this week the Veritas Prep Homework Help service got into an interesting email thread about why this sentence:

Based on his experience in law school, John recommended that his friend take the GMAT instead of the LSAT.

has a pronoun reference error, but this sentence:

Mothers expect unconditional love from their children, and they are rarely disappointed.

does not. And while there likely exists a technical, grammatical reason why, the GMAT reason really comes down to this: Does the problem make you address the pronoun reference? If not, don’t worry about it. In other words, don’t brake or turn until you have to. If you look at those sentences in GMAT problem form, you might have:

Based on his experience in law school, John recommended that his friend take the GMAT instead of the LSAT.

(A) Based on his experience in law school, John

(B) Having had a disappointing experience in law school, John

(C) Given his experience in law school, John

Here, the question forces you to deal with the pronoun problem. The major differences between the choices are that A and C involve a pronoun, and B doesn’t. Here, you have to deal with that issue. But for the other sentence, you might see:

Mothers expect unconditional love from their children, and they are rarely disappointed.

(A) Mothers expect unconditional love from their children, and they are

(B) The average mother expects unconditional love from their children, and are

(C) The average mother expects unconditional love from their children, and they are

(D) Mothers, expecting unconditional love from their children, they are

Here, the only choice that doesn’t include the pronoun “they” is choice B, but that choice commits a glaring pronoun (and verb) agreement error (“the average mother” is singular, but “their children” is plural…and the verb “are” is, too). So you don’t need to worry about the “they” (which clearly refers to “mothers” and not “children,” even though there happen to be two plural nouns in the sentence).

Grammatically, the presence of multiple nouns doesn’t alone make the pronoun itself ambiguous, but strategically for the GMAT, what you really need to know is that you don’t have to hit the brakes at the first sign of “unclear reference.” Wait and see if the answer choices give you a chance to address that, and if they do, then make sure that those choices are free of other, more binary errors first. Don’t turn or brake unless you have to.

3) Stay calm and leave yourself space to make decisions.
Just like a driver in the snow, as a GMAT test-taker you’ll be nervous and antsy. But don’t let that force you into rash decisions! Assess the answer choices before you try to determine whether something outside your 100% confidence interval is right or wrong in the original. You don’t need to make a decision on Choice A right away, just like you don’t need to change lanes simply for the sake of doing so. Have a plan and stick to it, both on the GMAT and on those snowy roads this weekend.

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By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week

(This is one of a series of GMAT tips that we offer on our blog.)

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points…

With all of the financial happenings in New York City recently, you may not have noticed, but it’s New York City Marathon weekend (as a blogger and not a journalist, I don’t believe I’m obligated to include the sponsorship title “ING” as a prefix…my apologies to you marketing majors). It’s also the 25th anniversary of one of the most notable NYC Marathons in history, in which Rod Dixon closed a 120-meter gap in the final miles simply by running smarter than his two seemingly-stronger competitors. While the leaders ran the “blue line” marking the course in the middle of the street, Dixon ran the tangent line to each curve, effectively closing that 120-meter gap by running nearly 100 fewer meters than his competitors.

What does that mean for you? On the GMAT, try to “run the tangents” by streamlining the amount of work you need to do. Most notably, this can be done in sentence correction questions by mentally eliminating descriptive language. If you train yourself to ignore adjectives, adverbs, and modifiers, such as this one, that are not part of an error, the up-t0-56-word sentences that appear on the exam will seem much shorter, and the errors contained in them will appear that much more obvious. The key to “speed reading” is to read smarter, not necessarily faster; look to isolate the subject-verb portions of the sentence and filter out description, and you will watch your accuracy and speed increase together.