What Mitt Romney Can Teach You About the GMAT

Watching the Republican Party presidential primary race take shape over the past six months, we can’t help but think of one of our favorite GMAT sentence correction lessons. Seemingly forever, Mitt Romney has been the lead horse in the race, but voters have never quite seemed to embrace him. One month it was Michele Bachmann who seemed to be a more popular alternative, the next it was Rick Perry. Then, Herman Cain uttered the phrase “9-9-9” and became the next candidate to potentially overtake Romney, and now it’s New Gingrich’s turn. Before we finish writing this post, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman will probably get their turns, too.

There seems to be the pervasive feeling about Romney that, while many Republican voters like him, not many love him as their nominee. They keep one hand on the “Romney” lever in the election booth, but always have an eye out for someone who’s potentially better. If you’ve done enough Sentence Correction problems on the GMAT, this may sound familiar to you.

How many times have you seen a Sentence Correction where choice A (the original passage) seems pretty good, but you don’t quite love it enough to select A and move on? You can’t quite put your finger on it, but something keeps telling you that there must be a better answer choice out there somewhere. You can spend a lot of time going around and around in an endless loop.

Take the following problem:

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

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

Looking at answer choice A, you may think, “I don’t like the phrase ‘so dense… as to pose’ because it seems so unidiomatic.” That’s a very natural response (and the people who write the GMAT know you will probably have that reaction). So you’re not in a situation where you can’t definitively rule out A, but you already know that you’re not in love with it. Let’s move on and look at the other answer choices.

Looking at B, C, and D, we know that the verb tense of “posed” is incorrect. It’s not that Kant’s writing was difficult to comprehend; it still is! We know this because the earlier part of the sentence presents us with “are characterized,” cluing us in to the fact that we’re talking about the present state of Kant’s writing.

Okay, so we’re down to A, which we still don’t love because of that unidiomatic phrasing, and E. Come on, E! Will you be our dark horse candidate? Uh oh… Looks like E has some skeletons in its own closet. To say that the sentences are “dense and convoluted enough as they pose” is to say that they’re dense and convoluted while they pose (during the duration of the posing), and that’s illogical. It’s not that they’re dense while the reader is reading — they’re just dense in general. Furthermore, the word “enough” is then left without a logical role in the sentence. Is there a level of sufficiency for the density of a sentence? Even if so, it’s dense enough to do what, exactly? E therefore has a fatally flawed meaning.

So here we are again with A, the Mitt Romney of GMAT answers. As it turns out, the idiom “so dense and convoluted as to pose…” is a correct way to express that situation. Your role in these questions is to think and problem-solve like a manager, and an effective manager will look for decisions points at which he can make an effective impact without allowing himself to be mired in areas out of his range of expertise. And, he won’t let his initial biases keep him from making the best choice. On these questions, look for regularly-occurring decision points like verbs (tenses and subject-verb agreement) and pronouns (numerical agreement), and keep an open mind until you have exhausted all possibilities.

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