GMAT Tip of the Week: 5 Words to Recognize Before You Start a Sentence Correction Problem

GMAT Tip of the WeekAfter you read this post about what to look for before you begin reading a Sentence Correction problem, you’ll be an SC expert since this strategy will tell you when to shift your focus from whatever it’s on to timeline and tense. Ready to get started?

So much of Sentence Correction mastery comes not from “learning more things” but from “recognizing when you can use the things you do well.” And one of the major themes you do know how to do well is recognize the timeline of events when you need to choose between different verb tenses. But, like many GMAT test takers, you’ve probably experience some trouble with two major Sentence Correction themes:

-How do you know that it’s a verb tense problem? (really, how do you know what type of problem it is)
-How do you choose a correct verb tense once you’ve identified that?

The answer very frequently lies outside the underlined portion and answer choices, and your clues can often be found in these words:


Example: Since 1992, when Ross Perot ran for election as a third-party presidential candidate, …
“Since” indicates that something started in the past and has continued into the present, so you’ll want a corresponding verb tense like “has been”.


Example: The Republican stronghold on the White House lasted until 1992, when Bill Clinton…
“When” often indicates a turning point or beginning/ending event, helping you organize the timeline of events.


Example: Before Australia become known as Australia, it had been known as the antipodes…
“Before” is a major indicator of timeline, letting you know that an event came prior to another. “Before” is often instrumental when you need to know whether the past-perfect tense (“had visited”) is in play (which is allowable when one event happened before another past-tense event).


Example: Human beings couldn’t have existed until well after dinosaurs, whose lifestyles would have drastically altered the current ecology of the planet, became extinct.
“After” is similar to “before” in its ability to help you quickly determine the order of events.


Example: Schembechler’s tenure lasted from 1969, when the fresh-faced young coach arrived to little fanfare, to 1989, when his retirement shocked many in the community.
“From” indicates a timespan, and one which typically has an endpoint that would call for past tense. “From” is your signal to look for the beginning and end of a time period to determine when/if it started and when/if it has yet ended.

BONUS: Dates
Dates, like 1985 and 1492, are easy to spot on the GMAT – words almost always contain a combination of TALL and short letters, but dates are always numbers in sequence. When you see that a Sentence Correction problem includes a date – particularly a 4-digit year – there’s a high likelihood that verb tense will come into play. So start thinking about what that date signifies (the beginning? the end?) and how that would affect the verb tense.

Overall, these words (and dates) can provide you with a massive clue as to how to read the sentence. When you see that timeline is likely in play, you’re not reading the sentence just hoping to find an error, you’re actively in “attack mode” looking for verb tenses and events and making sure that they’re consistent with the time markers elsewhere in the sentence. The more proactive you can be as you read these sentences, the better, so train your mind to look for words that signal timeline and you’ll have much of your job in mind before you begin the sentence so that there will be plenty to celebrate after you finish the test.

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By Brian Galvin