GMAT Tip of the Week: Instagram Your Way To Sentence Correction Success

GMAT Tip of the WeekAs our attention spans get shorter, the GMAT’s verbal section gets harder. Admit it – at some point in the verbal section of your latest practice test, and maybe earlier in that section than you’d like to admit, you just got bored, or at least lost in all the reading.

Open to a random page (let’s pick 691) in the verbal section of the Official Guide for GMAT Review’s new 2015 edition and you’ll find that you have to read about:

-The illustrator Beatrix Potter
-Marconi’s invention of the radio
-Proton-induced X-ray emission
-The cost to run nuclear power plants

And while you may even find 1-2 of these topics interesting, at a certain point they distract your mind from its ultimate job – get these Sentence Correction questions right! How can you overcome these way-longer-than-140-characters sentences in today’s Twitter age? Think about Instagram and take a 3-5 second “snapshot” of each problem before you actually read it.

What does a snapshot entail? It’s different from normal “reading” in that you’re not starting from left to right, top to bottom; in fact, there’s no one starting point overall. It’s looking at a problem in its entirety and getting a sense for “what’s up” before you actually do begin reading. You’re looking for clues:

  • Obvious differences between answer choices (“Decision Points”)
  • The presence of different pronouns in the answer choices (if 2 say “its” and 3 say “they”, you’re working with a pronoun error somewhere and you should immediately be looking for singularity/plurality in the referent)
  • The presence of different verbs in the answer choices (“was” vs. “were” means you’re looking for singular/plural as you read; “was” vs. “is” vs. “has been” means you’re looking for a timeline)
  • Comparison language (more, less, better, etc.) in the answer choices or the original sentence (which tells you that you’re looking for a parallel comparison)
  • The beginning of a “must-be parallel” construction (“both” or “either” or “not only” – in these cases, you know that you’re dealing with parallelism)
  • Easy indicators of a modifier as part of the underline in the original sentence (if a comma touches the underline in the first 10 words, or the sentence starts with “Unlike,” you’re almost always dealing with a modifier decision)

While this isn’t a completely comprehensive list, it should serve the purpose of getting you to think this way:

Within the first 3-5 seconds you look at a Sentence Correction problem, take a quick mental snapshot of the whole sentence and see if you can figure out what you’re looking for when you do dig in to read. On most problems, there’s a clue (or more than one) from a first glance, meaning that you don’t have to read the entire original sentence from scratch – you get to go in looking for something specific (what’s the timeline? what’s the subject and is it singular or plural? what two items are being compared?). And when you do that, you’re much less likely to get lost in the sentence or have to reread just to figure out what’s going on. You’re using the first few seconds to draw your eye to what is most likely important so that when you do read you’re in “attack mode” looking for something specific.

Consider this example, which appears courtesy the GMATPrep Question Pack:

Unlike many other countries, Thailand’s commercial crafts are influenced both by ancient beliefs and tradition and have remained relatively unchanged over the years.

(A) many other countries, Thailand’s commercial crafts are influenced both by
(B) many other countries, commercial crafts in Thailand have as an influenced both by
(C) the commercial crafts of many other countries, in Thailand they are influenced both by
(D) the commercial crafts of many other countries, those of Thailand are influenced by both
(E) in many other countries, Thailand’s commercial crafts have as an influence both

What does your initial snapshot show you? You should quickly notice a couple things:

1) The first word “Unlike” almost always signifies a modifier decision, and the comma after “countries” is another huge modifier clue (it’s a comma after the 4th word and it’s underlined). You should immediately be thinking “Modifier”

2) Even if you didn’t notice that, look at the differences between the first few words in each answer choice: “many other countries” vs. “the commercial crafts of many other countries” – that, again, should scream “modifier” (or “comparison”), as the change in “noun” vs. “something that belongs to a noun” tends to make you pick which one one those you need.

3) Or if you look down the right hand side, you’ll see that parallelism marker “both” and differences between answer choices “both by” and “by both” – that’s another huge indicator of what you may need to read for.

So before you know that this problem is about commercial crafts, Thailand, and influences, your initial snapshot should have you thinking “What subject works best with this modifier ‘Unlike’?” and “where should ‘by’ go?”. And now you’re in attack mode – the comparison/modifier is about boats/crafts in different countries, not the countries themselves, so you need the construction in C and D. And the non-underlined portion doesn’t have a “by” next to “tradition” so “both by ancient beliefs and (you need “by” here) tradition” isn’t parallel. So the answer has to be D, and if you took a mental snapshot your work was already cut out for you well before you started reading.

So steal a page from Instagram – take a quick snapshot of each Sentence Correction question before you start reading, and train yourself to recognize common clues in those snapshots so that you’re always reading with a purpose. Sentence Correction problems can go up to 56 words, but if you use your snapshot to read strategically you’ll usually find that well fewer than 140 characters really matter.

Take a Sentence Correction snapshot on test day, and your next big decision will be what filter to use when posting a snapshot of your 700+ score report.

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By Brian Galvin