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.

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

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.