Of Opinions and Facts in GMAT Critical Reasoning Questions

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomToday, we would like to discuss with you one of our most debated critical reasoning questions. It is an absolutely brilliant question – not just because the correct option fits in beautifully but because the other four options are also very well thought out. It is easy to write the incorrect four options such that the student community will be split between 2 options – the correct one and one of the four incorrect ones but when the jury is split between 4 or all 5 options, that’s when we know that we have come up with an absolute masterpiece. Of course, in such questions, a lot of effort is needed to convince everyone of the correct answer but it is well worth it.

This question brings an important point to the fore – the correct option in strengthen/weaken question is the one that supplies new information but in most cases, the new information has to be a fact, not an opinion. Let’s explain this in detail with the help of this question.

Question: According to recent research, a blindfolded person whose nostrils have been pinched so that smelling is impossible will have great difficulty in differentiating a bite of an apple from a bite of a raw potato. This clearly demonstrates that taste buds are not the only sense organs involved in determining the taste of a piece of food.

Which of the following premises, is an assumption required by the argument?

(A) All people agree that an apple and a potato differ in taste.

(B) There are no other senses involved in tasting other than taste, smell, and sight.

(C) The word “taste” can be used to describe an experience that involves sight or smell or both.

(D) The research was based on experiments that were conducted on a broad spectrum of the general population.

(E) People who have been blindfolded and whose nostrils are pinched can differentiate a bite of an apple from a bite of an onion more easily than they can differentiate a bite of an apple from a bite of a raw potato.

Solution:

Argument:

– If you remove sight and smell, people will have great difficulty in differentiating a bite of an apple from a bite of a raw potato.

Conclusion: Taste buds are not the only sense organs involved in determining the taste of a piece of food.

We will look at the options one by one:

(A) All people agree that an apple and a potato differ in taste.

Note that usually, people’s opinion will not count for much. Facts are the ones which are important. The only opinion we care about is the author’s. We cannot strengthen/weaken the author’s opinion by giving similar/dissimilar opinions of other people.

Say, the conclusion of an argument is:

Daniel Day-Lewis is the greatest actor of the 21st century.

The premises would perhaps list his great performances, talk about his acting prowess, his Oscars and so on.

Can you strengthen the conclusion by saying that “My friend also believes that he is the greatest actor.”? No. You cannot strengthen your opinion by giving the opinion of other people. You need to give facts to strengthen your view.

So this option is already suspect. It is giving you the opinion of people “All people agree that an apple and a potato differ in taste.” So it doesn’t seem to be the right choice.

Anyway, let’s try to negate (A) just to be sure since this is an assumption question.

Negation: Not all people agree that an apple and a potato differ in taste.
This means there is at least one person who does not agree that an apple and a potato differ in taste. Perhaps he feels that the experience of eating an apple – the smell, the look, the sweetness etc is the same as the experience of eating a potato. It is still possible that taste buds are not the only sense organs involved in determining the taste of a piece of food. Even after we negate (A), the conclusion is possible so (A) is not an assumption.

Think of it in another way: During the research, blindfolded people with pinched noses found it very hard to differentiate the taste. One person comes up and says that he himself cannot differentiate between the two while looking and smelling. Does it mean that senses other than taste buds are not involved? No. There could be many other people who feel that they can easily differentiate between an apple and a potato taste. So other senses could be involved and (A) is not your answer.

(B) There are no other senses involved in tasting other than taste, smell, and sight.

This is not an assumption. All we are saying is that taste buds are not the only sense organs involved in determining the taste of a piece of food. Any other organs could be involved including smell and sight.

(C) The word “taste” can be used to describe an experience that involves sight or smell or both.

This option highlights a very basic thing that needs to be true for our conclusion to hold. When we conclude: taste buds are not the only sense organs involved in determining the taste of a piece of food, how do we define “taste”? Taste buds, we know, tell us whether the food is salty/sweet/sour etc. But how do we say that “taste” is not defined by only these features? We are assuming that taste is defined by not just how the food sits on our tongue but by other features such as sight/smell too. If this option were not true, then we would have needed only taste buds to find the taste of food. Hence, our conclusion would fall apart. Hence, (C) is the correct answer.

(D) The research was based on experiments that were conducted on a broad spectrum of the general population.

The conclusion does not say that for people of most classes/regions, taste buds are not the only sense organs involved in determining the taste of a piece of food. It is acceptable if the research was conducted on a few people and it was determined that other senses are involved. Even if some people found it difficult to differentiate between the two things, we can say that other senses are involved.

(E) People who have been blindfolded and whose nostrils are pinched can differentiate a bite of an apple from a bite of an onion more easily than they can differentiate a bite of an apple from a bite of a raw potato.

This option tells us that apples and onions are more different on the tongue than apples and potatoes. This is out of scope and is certainly not an assumption.

Answer (C)

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!

What You Need to Know about Assumption Questions in GMAT Critical Reasoning

When it comes to Critical Reasoning on the GMAT, one question that continues to frustrate people is the assumption question. Quite simply, the question is asking you which answer choice is required to support the conclusion that has been drawn in the passage. To successfully navigate these questions, you should use the Assumption Negation Technique, which requires a negation of the answer choice to determine whether or not it was actually required. More than that, though, the correct answer choice must be within the scope of the question. An answer choice that goes too far will not be the correct answer to the question.

As an example, think about a passage that deals with the Super Bowl. It’s very possible that the passage will discuss how good the Seahawks’ defense is, or how good Tom Brady is as a quarterback. The conclusion could then be something like how the Patriots will likely win (disclaimer: this was written before the Super Bowl). If a question was asked about what assumption is needed to reach the conclusion, the correct answer choice must be about Tom Brady or the Seahawks’ defense, given that’s what was discussed as evidence. If an answer choice discusses the catching ability of Rob Gronkowski or the Patriots’ (alleged) (systemic) pattern of cheating, then it is going outside the scope of the question and cannot be the correct selection.

It is important to note that strengthen and weaken questions may sometimes provide new information, so you should be on the lookout for things that weren’t written verbatim in the text. Nonetheless, for assumption questions, it’s easy to select an answer choice that provides new information but goes outside the scope of what was discussed. A choice that has no basis in the passage is usually a clear indicator of a trap answer.

Let’s look at an example to demonstrate scope in assumption questions:

It is a mistake to give post office employees individual discretion as to when to inspect or open suspicious packages. If individual employees are allowed to open “suspicious” packages without first following a strict protocol, it is only a matter of time before all packages will arrive having already been opened due to some postal employee’s idle curiosity.

The conclusion above is based on which of the following assumptions?

(A)   Postal service managers are the only people with the authority to open suspicious packages.

(B)   Suspicious packages are indistinguishable from all other kinds of packages.

(C)   The efficiency of the postal service will be greatly reduced if more packages are inspected.

(D)   There is currently no protocol in place for the inspection of suspicious packages.

(E)    Postal employees desire to open packages out of curiosity.

This question is asking about which assumption is required for the conclusion, which warns that all parcels will eventually be opened by overzealous mail carriers. While it’s somewhat understandable to be concerned about the privacy of your mail, the author’s fears may be unfounded (I’m more concerned about the NSA). The evidence provided in the passage is about when packages are allowed to be opened and verified. The passage mentions that only suspicious packages are allowed to be opened, but there are protocols in place that dictate when this verification can occur.

For assumption questions, the best strategy is to employ the Assumption Negation Technique and negate each answer choice to see if the conclusion falls down without the negated assumption. This approach is similar to the strategy of knocking down beams in a home to see which one was load-bearing. (Not something I’d recommend). If the conclusion falls down without this assumption, then it was absolutely required. If it changes nothing, then it was purely decorative and can be ignored.

Beginning with answer choice A, let’s negate them and see if the author’s paranoia is still defensible. The negation will be underlined to differentiate the negated form from the original assumption:

(A)   Postal service managers are not the only people with the authority to open suspicious packages.

If this were true, then there might be even more people who could open errant parcels. This makes the author’s argument more likely to be true, as seemingly random people could have authority to open packages. If nothing else, it certainly doesn’t lessen the chances of the author’s prediction coming to be, so this assumption is not required.

(B)   Suspicious packages are not indistinguishable from all other kinds of packages.

This double negation is saying that suspicious packages are easy to distinguish from other kinds of packages. If this were true, the employees would be able to tell which packages were suspicious, but they would nonetheless have the authority to open any package. Therefore, the fact that they can ascertain in most instances what constitutes a “suspicious” package would not necessarily stop them opening other packages. The passage is arguing that postal workers would open everything if given unilateral power, whether the package was deemed suspicious or not. This answer choice is probably the closest incorrect choice, but the scope alerts us to the superfluous nature of this assumption.

(C)   The efficiency of the postal service will not be greatly reduced if more packages are inspected.

This answer choice is discussing how the efficiency of the postal office (which many people think is an oxymoron) would not be affected by increasing the number of inspected packages. While this may quell the fears of some people who assume that more inspections would slow down the service, the author’s argument is primarily concerned with the privacy aspect of the inspections. This answer choice is thus out of scope, as the efficiency of the post office was (somehow) never in question.

(D)   There is currently no a protocol in place for the inspection of suspicious packages.

This answer choice, negated, indicates that there is already a protocol in place for suspicious packages. If this were true, it would actually strengthen the argument, as there would be no reason to give postal workers additional power to open packages. The system would indeed be working fine the way it is, and this argument only demonstrates the author’s point, it does not weaken it.

(E)    Postal employees do not desire to open packages out of curiosity.

This answer choice, by process of elimination, must be the correct choice. However, let’s confirm that it makes sense. If postal employees did not want to open packages out of (idle) curiosity, then the author’s entire argument would fall apart. Indeed, the entire argument relies on the fact that the postal employees will open every package they possibly can. If we could ensure that this was not the case (say with a hypnotic suggestion or some Borg nanoprobes), then the whole argument would become moot. Answer choice E is an assumption required by the conclusion, because without it, the argument falls apart.

On questions such as these, it’s entirely possible to get reeled in by an enticing answer choice. Remember to use the Assumption Negation Technique to verify whether an assumption is actually necessary or whether it just sounds important. The incorrect answer choices provided are designed to tempt you, so keep an eye on the evidence provided in the passage as well. If the answer sounds good, but isn’t based on the evidence provided, then much like the guy at my gym with halitosis, it is out of scope.

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

GMAT Tip of the Week: The Super Bowl Provides Super GMAT Lessons

GMAT Tip of the WeekIt’s Super Bowl weekend, one of the busiest gambling weekends of the year. Maybe you’ll play a squares pool and end up with the dreaded 6:5 combination, maybe you’ll parlay three prop bets and lose on the third, and maybe you’ll bet on your team to win and lose both the game and your cash. How can you turn your gambling losses into investments?

Well, if you’re a GMAT student, you can think about what the odds mean in terms of probability and you can watch the announcers miss Critical Reasoning lesson after Critical Reasoning lesson. For example:

Probability

Before the last piece of confetti hits the turf on Sunday, oddsmakers will have posted their odds on next year’s winner. For example, New England and Seattle might open at 4:1, Green Bay might come in at 7:1, etc. And while you might look at those odds and think “if I bet $100 on the Packers I’ll win $700!” you should also think about what those mean. 7:1 for Green Bay is really a ratio: 7 parts of the money says that Green Bay will not win, and 1 part says that it will. So that’s a good bet if you think that Green Bay has a better than 1 out of 8 chance (so better than 12.5%) to win next year’s Super Bowl. And if those are, indeed, the odds (4:1 for two teams and 7:1 for another), Vegas is essentially saying that there’s a less than likely chance (1/5 + 1/5 + 1/8 = 52.5% chance that one of those two teams wins) that someone other than Green Bay, New England, or Seattle will win next year.

So consider what the probability of those bets means before you make them. Individually odds might look tempting, but when you consider what that means on a fraction or percent basis you might have a different opinion.

Probability #2

As you watch the Super Bowl, there’s a high likelihood that at some point the screen will start showing a line indicating the season-long field goal for either Steven Hauschka or Stephen Gostkowski (the Seattle and New England kickers…there’s a huge probability that someone named Steve will be incredibly important in this game!). And the announcers will use that line to say that it’s likely field goal range for that team to win or tie the game.

Where’s the flawed logic? If that’s the longest field goal he’s made all year, is it really likely that he’ll make another one from a similar spot with all that pressure? Or, in the case of a low-scoring game like many predict between these two elite defenses, how likely is either kicker to make two consecutive field goals from a relatively far distance?

Sports fans are pretty bad with that probability. Say that a kicker has been 70% accurate from over 50 yards. Is it likely that he’ll make two straight 50-yard field goals on Sunday (assuming he gets those attempts)? Check the math: that’s 7/10 * 7/10 or 49/100 – it’s less than likely that he makes both! Even a kicker with 80% accuracy is only 8/10 * 8/10 = 64% likely to make two in a row…meaning that fail to perform that feat 1 out of every 3 times he had the chance! Think of the probability while announcers talk about field goals as a near certainty on Sunday.

Critical Reasoning

The announcers on Sunday will try to use all kinds of data to predict the outcome, and in doing so they’ll give you plenty of opportunities to think critically in a Critical Reasoning fashion. For example:

“For the last 40 Super Bowls, the team with the most rushing yards has won (some massive percent) of them; it’s important for New England to get LeGarrette Blount rolling early.”

This is a classic causation/correlation argument. Do the rushing yards really win the game? It could very well be true (Weaken answer!) that teams that build a big lead and therefore want to run out the clock run the ball a lot in the second half (incomplete passes stop the clock; runs keep it going). Winning might cause the rushing yards, not the other way around.

Similarly, the announcers will almost certainly make mention at halftime of a stat like:

“Team X has won (some huge percentage) of games they were leading at halftime, so that field goal to put them up 13-10 looms large.”

Here the announcer isn’t factoring in a couple big factors in that stat:

-A 3-point lead isn’t the same as a 20-point lead; how many of those halftime leads were significantly bigger?
-You’d expect teams leading at halftime to win a lot more frequently; based on 30 minutes they may have shown to be a better team plus they now have a head start for the last 30 minutes. Over time those factors should bear out, but in this one game is a potentially-flukey 3-point lead significant enough?

Regardless of how you watch the game, it can provide you with plenty of opportunities to outsmart friends and announcers and sharpen your GMAT critical thinking skills. So while Tom Brady or Russell Wilson runs off the field yelling “I’m going to Disneyland!”, if you’ve paid attention to logical flaws and probability opportunities during the game, you can celebrate by yelling “I’m going to business school!”

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

Ariana Grande’s Real Problem with the GMAT

As a GMAT aficionado, I often find GMAT themes in everyday things. This is what happened last week when I was listening to the radio and Ariana Grande’s “Problem” started playing. I’d heard the song before, and despite its catchy melody, there is a glaring grammatical error in the chorus. This may not be that surprising: songs in general are dubious sources of grammar to begin with, and R&B songs often take additional liberties with their lyrics (Timbaland’s “The Way I Are” jumps to mind). However this error is the kind a lot of people make in their daily speech, so I figured I’d use it as an opportunity to improve our grammatical skills beyond what we hear on the radio.

Firstly, if you’ve never heard the song, please feel free to listen to it now. The chorus is discussing how Ariana would have “one less problem” without the person she’s currently serenading (surprisingly this isn’t a Taylor Swift song). The issue with the lyric is that problems are countable, and as such she should actually be singing “one fewer problem without you”. Perhaps the extra syllable messed up the harmony, or perhaps the songwriter hadn’t brushed up on their grammar prior to writing the song, but this is the type of issue students often struggle with because they don’t understand the underlying rule.

When it comes to counting things, there are two broad categories: items that are countable, and items that are not countable. The former comprises most tangible things we can imagine: computers, cars, cats, cookies, cans of Coke and countless conceivable commodities (This sentence brought to you by the letter C). The latter comprises things that are uncountable, such as water, sand or hair. You can count grains of sand or strands of hair, but you cannot count actual sand or hair, so these words get treated a little differently.

The rule is that for any noun that is countable, you must use “fewer” if you are going to decrease it. For any noun that is not countable, you must use “less” to decrease it. As an example, I want less water in my cup; I do not want fewer water in my cup. That example makes sense to most people. However, the converse is just as true: I want fewer bottles of water, not less bottles of water. If the item in question is scarce, similar words will be used. You can say that there is little water, but you wouldn’t say that there is few water left. Note how these words have the same etymology as “less” and “fewer”, respectively.

If the sentence calls for an increase, more is acceptable for both countable and uncountable elements. As an example, you can say that you want more water in your cup, or you can say that you want more bottles of water. Other synonyms exist as well, of course, but the delineation is much cleaner for decreases than for increases, so that structure appears more often on the GMAT. If the item in question is in abundance, similar words will also be used. You can say that there is much water, but you can’t say that there is many water. Much and many follow these same countable/uncountable rules.

The difference between items that are countable or uncountable is not unique to the GMAT, these rules apply to everyday language, they are simply enforced more rigorously on this test. Failure to choose the proper word in a Sentence Correction problem will result in an incorrect answer choice. As such, it behooves us to be aware of the grammatical difference between countable and uncountable elements, as it regularly comes up on the GMAT.

Let’s look at an example to illustrate the point:

The controversial restructuring plan for the county school district, if approved by the governor, would result in 20% fewer teachers and 10% less classroom contact-time throughout schools in the county.

A)     in 20% fewer teachers and 10% less

B)      in 20% fewer teachers and 10% fewer

C)      in 20% less teachers and 10% less

D)     with 20% fewer teachers and 10% fewer

E)      with 20% less teachers and 10% less

Looking at the answer choices, it becomes fairly clear that the correct answer will hinge primarily on the difference between “fewer” and “less”. If we recall the rules for countable vs. uncountable, anything that we can count must use the adjective “fewer”, while anything that is not countable must use the adjective “less”.

For this example, the first reduction is in the number of teachers. Teachers are human beings (often handsome ones!), and are therefore countable. You can want to spend less time with a specific teacher, but you cannot (correctly) say that you want the school to have less teachers. The request must be for fewer teachers. This already eliminates answer choices C and E because they use the incorrect term.

The second reduction is about classroom time. Time is a wondrous and magical thing (or so young people tell me), but it is not countable. Yes, you can break up time into countable units, such as seconds or minutes, just as you can break up sand into grams or ounces, but holistically time is intangible and therefore uncountable. The plan calls for less time in the classroom, not fewer time. This eliminates answer choices B and D because they use the incorrect term. Only answer A remains and it is indeed the correct answer.

As mentioned earlier, the rules around countable and uncountable nouns are fairly precise, but you are unlikely to be corrected in everyday conversation if you misuse a term. Since the GMAT is testing logic, precision and general attention to detail, it is a perfect type of question to try and trap hurried students who don’t always notice the difference. In daily conversation (and on the radio), you can often get away with imprecision in language. However, if you understand the nuances between countable and uncountable nouns, to paraphrase Ariana Grande, you’ll have one fewer problem on the GMAT.

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Stop Trying to Re-Write the Verbal Section of the Test

GMAT Tip of the WeekWhich ineffective habit do nearly all GMAT aspirants have when it comes to studying for the verbal section?

Thou doth protest too much. Meaning:

We all think we can write verbal questions better than the authors of the test.

When it comes to GMAT verbal questions, we critique but don’t solve Critical Reasoning problems, we correct rather than solve Sentence Correction problems, and we try to write but don’t thoroughly read Reading Comprehension questions. And this hubris can be the death of your GMAT verbal score, even if it comes from a good place and a good knowledge base.

Wander into a GMAT class or scan a GMAT forum and you’ll see and hear tons of comments like:

“I feel like the question should say people and not individuals.”

“I would never use the word imply like that.”

“I don’t think that’s the right idiom.”

“I would have gotten it right if it said X…I think it should have said X.”

Or you’ll hear questions like:

“But what if answer choice D said and and not or?”

“If that word were different would my answer choice be right? And if so would it be more right than B?”

And while these questions often come from a genuine desire to learn, they more often come from a place of frustration, and they’re the type of hypothetical thinking that doesn’t lend itself to progress on this test. Even if it’s not always perfect, the GMAT chooses its words very carefully. When the word in the Reading Comprehension correct answer choice isn’t the word you were hoping it would be (but it’s close), they picked that word for a reason – it makes the problem more difficult. When none of the Sentence correction answer choices match the way you or your classmates would have phrased it, that’s not a mistake – that’s an intentional device to make you eliminate four flawed answers and keep the strange-but-correct one. The GMAT can’t always match your expectations, not just because doing so would make it too easy but also because it’s trying to test other critical-thinking skills. It has to test your ability to see less-clear relationships, to make logical decisions amidst uncertainty, to find the least of five evils, and it has to punish you for jumping to unwarranted conclusions.

GMAT verbal is constructed carefully, and as you study it you have to learn how to answer questions more effectively, not to write better questions. The only thing you get to write on test day is the AWA essay; everything else you must answer on the GMAT’s terms, not on your own, so as you study you have to resist the urge to protest the problem and instead learn to see the value in it.

So as you study, remember your mission. Your job isn’t to find a flaw with the logic of the question, but rather with the logic of the four incorrect answers. When you get mad at a wrong answer, use that energy to attack the next problem with the lessons you learned from that frustrating mistake. Take the GMAT as it is and don’t try to justify your mistakes or fight the test.

Save your writing energy for the AWA essay; on the verbal section, you only get to answer the problem in front of you. When you accept that the test is what it is and commit yourself to learning how to attack it through critical thinking and not just general angst, you’ll have a competitive advantage over most frustrated examinees. Think like the testmaker, but don’t try to be the testmaker.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

How to Use Your Time Wisely on Reading Comprehension GMAT Questions

On the verbal section of the GMAT, students invariably spend more time on Reading Comprehension questions than on either Sentence Correction or Critical Reasoning problems. In fact, I’ve seen score reports where people spent more time on Reading Comprehension than on the other two question types combined! Students spend a lot of time on these passages because they are consistently packed with pointless information, run-on sentences and dense technical jargon. Attempting to untangle these passages can lead to a lot of frustration for test takers (Fortunately, there’s an app for that).

One reason people spend a lot of time on these questions is that they try to read the entire passage thoroughly. This is normal because this is how most reading is done, be it in newspapers or periodicals or novels. However, on the GMAT, speed is the name of the game. If I were doing a book report on Shakespeare’s works, then I would read the text multiple times, looking for nuance and symbolism. The goal on the GMAT is quite different: you have roughly eight minutes to read a passage and then answer four questions about it. That isn’t much time, but it can work if you’re question-focused.

Why be question focused? (Rhetorical question) A typical passage may have 300-400 words, and you could be asked 20-30 different questions about the information contained within it. In reality, you will only be asked 3-4-5 questions about this text, so becoming an expert on the minutiae contained within seems like a complete waste of time. In fact, considering that you only have ~2 minutes per question, it is not only a waste of time but a distraction that will waste precious time and lower your score. The vast majority of questions will require you to go back to the passage and reread the relevant portion, so your initial read is only there to give you a general sense of the text. After the initial read, you should be able to answer broad, universal questions. However, for questions that deal in specifics, you’ll have to go back to the text.

Specific questions deal with (drum roll please) specific elements of the passage. At first glance, you wouldn’t necessarily recall such minute details, but if you know where to go back in the text, it becomes a trivial case of rereading until you find it. As an example, you might not remember what Luke Skywalker was wearing on Tatooine when he first meets Obi-Wan Kenobi, but you could just rewatch the first act of Star Wars and see for yourself. There is no need to memorize every minor detail, as long as you know where to find the answer, you can just look it up.

Let’s look at a GMAT passage and answer a question that deals with a specific element of the passage (note: this is the same passage I used in October for a function question).

Nearly all the workers of the Lowell textile mills of Massachusetts were unmarried daughters from farm families. Some of the workers were as young as ten. Since many people in the 1820s were disturbed by the idea of working females, the company provided well-kept dormitories and boarding-houses. The meals were decent and church attendance was mandatory. Compared to other factories of the time, the Lowell mills were clean and safe, and there was even a journal, The Lowell Offering, which contained poems and other material written by the workers, and which became known beyond New England. Ironically, it was at the Lowell Mills that dissatisfaction with working conditions brought about the first organization of working women.

The mills were highly mechanized, and were in fact considered a model of efficiency by others in the textile industry. The work was difficult, however, and the high level of standardization made it tedious. When wages were cut, the workers organized the Factory Girls Association. 15,000 women decided to “turn out”, or walk off the job. The Offering, meant as a pleasant creative outlet, gave the women a voice that could be heard by sympathetic people elsewhere in the country, and even in Europe. However, the ability of the women to demand changes was severely circumscribed by an inability to go for long without wages with which to support themselves and help support their families. The same limitation hampered the effectiveness of the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA), organized in 1844.

No specific reform can be directly attributed to the Lowell workers, but their legacy is unquestionable. The LFLRA’s founder, Sarah Bagley, became a national figure, testifying before the Massachusetts House of Representatives. When the New England Labor Reform League was formed, three of the eight board members were women. Other mill workers took note of the Lowell strikes, and were successful in getting better pay, shorter hours, and safer working conditions. Even some existing child labor laws can be traced back to efforts first set in motion by the Lowell Mill Women.

According to the passage, which of the following contributed to the inability of the workers at Lowell to have their demands met?
(A) The very young age of some of the workers made political organization impractical.
(B) Social attitudes of the time pressured women into not making demands.
(C) The Lowell Female Labor Reform Association was not organized until 1844.
(D) Their families depended on the workers to send some of their wages home.
(E) The people who were most sympathetic to the workers lived outside of New England.

If you’ve been following the Veritas technique on Reading Comprehension, then you should have spent about two minutes reading through the passage and summarizing each paragraph in a couple of words. If you didn’t do this, feel free to go back and do it now. Once completed, your summaries of each paragraph should be something like:
1) Lowell Mills and context
2) Labor strife and consequences
3) Legacy of Lowell Mills

Your exact wording may vary, but you want to keep it at about 3-5 words or so. This should give enough of a framework so you know where to go in every question. If we look at the question at hand, it asks why were the workers at Lowell unable to have their demands met. This has to be in the second paragraph, as that was the part that dealt with the actual worker strife.

Rereading this paragraph, we go through a description of what prompted the strike and then how many people participated. Directly following this is the line: “However, the ability of the women to demand changes was severely circumscribed by an inability to go for long without wages with which to support themselves and help support their families”. This was their downfall: they needed money to support themselves and their loved ones (unsurprisingly the downfall of most strikes). The wording used may be somewhat obtuse, but the context makes it quite clear that the issue was money. Going through the answer choices, D is the only option that is remotely close to what we want, and is therefore the correct answer.

On Reading Comprehension questions, it’s very easy to experience information overload (TL;DR for the new generation). A lot of information is contained in each passage, and this is not an accident. The test is designed to try and waste your time with frivolous sentences, so your goal is to read for overarching intent and know that you’ll have to revisit the text on most questions. Specific questions tend to ask about something minor, or possibly tangential, and therefore usually require you to reread the passage. Practice Reading Comprehension timing and you will find that you can answer these specific questions faster.

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

A Closer Look at Parallel Structure on GMAT Sentence Correction Questions

The holiday season is upon us in North America, as many families unite for Thanksgiving, some decadent shopping, and the imminent Christmas season. While Thanksgiving and Christmas are independently two of the biggest holidays of the year, the fact that they always come together and are so habitually linked makes me think of the GMAT (yes a lot of things make me think of the GMAT, it’s what I do). Just as the thought of Christmas makes a lot of people think of Black Friday deals and line ups at their local stores, some elements on the GMAT are as inextricably linked together.

The most common constructs that come in pairs are idioms, which are accepted turns of phrase, and elements requiring parallel structure. Both of these concepts can come up in sentence correction questions, and both play into whether a sentence has been properly constructed. Idioms often come up in pairs because one part of a sentence necessitates a parallel structure down the road. Similarly, parallel structure needs to have consistent elements or the sentence loses efficacy and becomes hard to read (like reading the word efficacy in a non-GMAT context).

A common example of the duality of idioms is the “Not only… but also…” idiom, whereby something will be described as “not only this… but also that”. If you don’t have the second part of the idiom, the first part doesn’t make much sense. You can say: “Ron is eating turkey”, but if you say “Not only is Ron eating turkey.” There must be some logical conclusion to that sentence, or you’re committing a sentence construction error. As an example: “Not only is Ron eating turkey, but he’s also eating yams.” Now the sentence is complete, as the idiom requires a second portion to complete the entire thought.

A common example of the importance of parallel structure is when making lists (and checking them twice). As an example, consider: “Ron likes eating turkey, watching football and to spend time with family”. The parallel structure is not maintained in this sentence because the first two are participial verbs and the third is an infinitive. You could rewrite this example as “Ron likes eating turkey, watching football and spending time with family” and it would be fine. However, that is not the only option. You could also rewrite this as “Ron likes to eat turkey, to watch football and to spend time with family”, or even “Ron likes to eat turkey, watch football and spend time with family”. Any of these constructions would be acceptable, because they all maintain the consistency required in parallel structures.

Now that we’ve seen how important it is to stick together, let’s look at an example that highlights these concepts in sentence correction:

In a plan to stop the erosion of East Coast beaches, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed building parallel to shore a breakwater of rocks that would rise six feet above the waterline and act as a buffer, so that it absorbs the energy of crashing waves and protecting the beaches.

(A) act as a buffer, so that it absorbs
(B) act like a buffer, so as to absorb
(C) act as a buffer, absorbing
(D) acting as a buffer, absorbing
(E) acting like a buffer, absorb

One ongoing difficulty in sentence correction is that a problem is rarely about only one concept. Frequently multiple issues must be addressed, such as agreement, awkwardness and antecedents of pronouns (and that’s just the letter A!) As such, it’s paramount to identify the decision points and see which types of errors could potentially occur in this sentence. It may not be as obvious on test day as it is now to note that this sentence has some issues with parallelism, but the fact that some verbs are underlined while others are not can help guide your approach here.

There is a verb (rise) before the underlined portion, and another verb (protecting) after the underlined portion. (Rise and protect make me think this sentence is about Batman). The correct answer choice will have to work with both verbs effortlessly, so let’s evaluate them one at a time. The first decision point we have in the underlined portion is deciding between “act” and “acting”, and this verb must match up with the previous verb “rise” as both are being commanded by the wall of rocks that is their shared subject. Since “rise” is an infinitive, and it is not underlined, the correct match must be with “act”. This parallel structure eliminates answer choices D and E, as both have the verb in its participle form. As an aside, please note that you don’t need to know the grammatical terms; they’re listed primarily for clarity.

The second decision point is the other verb, which comes in three different forms (absorbs, absorb, absorbing) in the three answer choices. Since the verb at the end of the sentence is in its participle (protecting), the parallel structure dictates that the answer choice must be answer choice C, as it is the only remaining choice with “absorbing”. We have thus eliminated four answer choices using only parallel structure. While answer choice C is indeed the correct answer, we can also note the idiom “act as a buffer”, which is used correctly, as opposed to “act like a buffer” in answer choice B. This decision point could be sufficient on its own, but you can often knock out a single incorrect answer choice for multiple reasons. Answer choice C is the only choice that does not contain any sentence construction errors.

Often, I compare the concept of parallelism to the banal notion of wearing socks. Any two socks are acceptable as long as they match, but wearing unmatched socks is a sure-fire way to get mocked (by me). Similarly, parallel structure only requires that you remain consistent within the same sentence, not that lists must be constructed exclusively in a certain way. Parallelism is very important in sentence correction, as it’s often the only reason to eliminate an answer choice that otherwise makes grammatical sense.

If you’re studying for the GMAT during the holidays this year, I wish you the best of luck, and remember that studying well and succeeding on the GMAT go hand in hand.

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

Busting Some GMAT Sentence Correction Myths – Part II

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomA few weeks back, we wrote a post busting some Sentence Correction myths. Let’s continue from where we left.  We discussed how we can have pronouns referring to different antecedents in different clauses of the same sentence. Let’s take another example illustrating that principle. Also, we learn how to use ‘being’ correctly in GMAT.

Myth 3: Use of ‘being’ is always wrong on GMAT!

Often, the way we use ‘being’ in our day-to-day communication, is incorrect. For example,

Being a doctor, he is very well respected.

But there are correct ways of using ‘being’. Since most students believe that ‘being’ is wrong, don’t trust the GMAC to not use this nugget of information to misdirect the test takers. The correct answers of questions at higher ability are worded in such a way that they make the test takers uncomfortable!

So how is ‘being’ used correctly?

‘Being’ is used to express a temporary state.

The little boy started screaming when he saw his dog being impounded.

‘Being impounded’ is a temporary state and would be over – unlike being a doctor. So the use of being is correct here.

Let’s look at one of our own sentence correction questions now:

Question: The data being collected in the current geological survey are providing a strong warning for engineers as they consider the new dam project, but their greatest importance might lie in how they influence the upcoming decision by those same engineers on whether to retrofit 75 bridges in the survey zone.

A. The data being collected in the current geological survey are providing a strong warning for engineers as they consider the new dam project, but their greatest importance

B. The data being collected in the current geological survey provide a strong warning for engineers as they consider the new dam project, but its greatest importance

C. The data collected in the current geological survey is providing a strong warning for engineers as they consider the new dam project, but their greatest importance

D. The data collected in the current geological survey provides a strong warning for engineers in consideration of the new dam project, but its greatest importance

E. The data collected in the current geological survey provide a strong warning for engineers in consideration for the new dam project, but the greatest importance

Solution:  Let’s find the decision points:

First decision point: being collected vs collected

‘The data being collected’ is a temporary state here. Data won’t always be collected, but are being collected for a short time right now, so ‘being’ is used properly here. And the sentence makes it very clear that this is temporary; look at the word ‘current’ before ‘geological survey.’ If you were skeptical of the word ‘being’ before, that is understandable, but the word ‘current’ should serve as a clear warning that this is a temporary, ongoing event. (And furthermore, the non-underlined portion talks about an upcoming decision, even further cementing the idea that this is a temporary survey with data ‘being’ collected for a short period of time).   Alas, even with that temporary state, there isn’t really anything wrong with ‘The data collected in …’ either so we retain all answer options.

It’s worth noting that they put the ‘being collected’ vs. ‘collected’ decision early in the sentence/answer-choices as a great place to put a ‘false decision point.’  The authors of these questions know that they want to reward emphases on logical meaning and core grammar rules, and they also know that students like to study quick tips and tricks, so they leave that bait there for the tips/tricks folks while they hold off the bigger reward for those willing to prioritize decision points from most important to least and not just from left to right in order of appearance.

Second decision point: are/is

Technically, data is plural of datum. In academic writing it is almost always treated as plural. It is treated as singular in informal writing but GMAT favors treating it as plural.
Even if you do not know this, the use of “they influence the upcoming” – in the portion of the sentence that is not underlined – should tell you that ‘data’ is used in plural form here.

Hence the use of ‘are’ is appropriate. Hence, options (C) and (D) are eliminated.

Third decision point: Pronouns

There are many pronouns used here. Antecedent of each pronoun is present in the sentence. The usage clarifies which pronoun refers to data and which refers to engineers.

Original Sentence: The data being collected in the current geological survey are providing a strong warning for engineers as they consider the new dam project, but their greatest importance might lie in how they influence the upcoming decision by those same engineers on whether to retrofit 75 bridges in the survey zone.

they – only engineers can consider the new dam project so ‘they’ refers to engineers
their/its  – greatest importance will be of data, which is plural, so ‘their’ would be the correct usage. Eliminate option (D)

There is no ambiguity in the use of pronouns. The nouns are present and the usage clarifies the antecedent.

Now we are left with options (A) and (E). In option (E), “in consideration for the new dam project” is bad diction.  Also, it doesn’t tell us ‘whose greatest importance?’.

Answer is (A)

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!

Choosing from 2 Answer Choices in GMAT Critical Reasoning

In life, you are often given binary choices. This is true even if the word binary isn’t something you recognize right away. Binary comes from the Latin “bini”, which means two together, and is used to regroup decisions in which you have exactly two choices. On forms, you might see categories such as “smoker” or “non-smoker”, and you are prompted to answer exactly one of the options. At a restaurant, you might get asked “Soup or salad?” (super salad??), and you are expected to make a decision as to which appetizer you want. Very frequently, these two choices cover the entirety of your options. There is no third option to select.

Now, at a restaurant, you may be particularly hungry and decide to order both the soup and the salad (and the frog legs while we’re at it). Similarly, on forms, someone who selects both options is being confusing. Perhaps you’ve smoked once and didn’t like it. Perhaps you smoke only on long weekends when the Philadelphia Eagles have a winning record. Sometimes people decide they don’t want to pick between the two choices given. However, if the question were changed to “have you ever smoked a cigarette?” and then given yes or no options, the decision becomes much easier. You have to be in one camp or the other, there is no sitting on the fence (like Humpty Dumpty).

For questions that set up this kind of duality, the entire spectrum of possibilities is essentially covered in these two options. There is no third option; there is no “It’s Complicated” selection. There isn’t even a section for you to explain yourself in the comments below. On these questions, you have to either be on one side or the other, you cannot be in both. Equally, you cannot be in the “neither” camp either. Necessarily, to this point in your life, you have either smoked a cigarette or you have not. Since one of them must be true, this certainty offers some insight on inference questions in critical reasoning.

As you probably recall, inference questions require that an answer choice must be true at all times. This isn’t always easy to see as many answer choices seem likely, but simply are not guaranteed. Sometimes, on inference questions, you get two answer choices that are compliments of one another. You get two choices that say something to the effect of “Ron is always awesome” and “Ron is not always awesome”. Even I would go for the latter here, but clearly one of these must be correct. They cannot both be correct, but they also cannot both be false. Having two answer choices like this guarantees that one of them must be the correct answer, and makes your task considerably easier.

Let’s look at an example:

A few people who are bad writers simply cannot improve their writing, whether or not they receive instruction. Still, most bad writers can at least be taught to improve their writing enough so that they are no longer bad writers. However, no one can become a great writer simply by being taught how to be a better writer, since great writers must have not only skill but also talent.

Which one of the following can be properly inferred from the passage above?
(A) All bad writers can become better writers
(B) All great writers had to be taught to become better writers.
(C) Some bad writers can never become great writers.
(D) Some bad writers can become great writers.
(E) Some great writers can be taught to be even better writers.

Since this is an inference question, we must read through the answer choices because there are many possible answers that could be inferred from this passage. When reading through the passage, you probably note that answers C and D are somewhat complimentary. Either the bad writers can become great writers, or they can’t. However, some people might be miffed by the fact that “some writers” is vague and could mean different people in different contexts. However, while the term “some writers” is undoubtedly abstract, it can refer to any subset of writers one or greater (and up to the entire group). Any group of bad writers is thus conceivable in this passage, but the answer choice must be true at all times, so the groups comprised of “some writers” can mean anyone, and these two groups can be considered equivalent.

If you recognize that either answer choice C or answer choice D must be the answer, then you can easily skip over the other three choices. For completeness’ sake, let’s run through them quickly here. Answer choice A directly contradicts the first sentence of this passage: Some bad writers simply cannot improve their writing. Answer choice B contradicts the major point of this passage, which is that great writers have a combination of skill and talent, and you cannot teach talent. Answer choice E makes sense as an option, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be true. This is a classic example of something that’s likely true in the real world, but not necessarily guaranteed by this particular passage.

This leaves us with two options to consider. Can bad writers become great writers, or can they never become great writers? As mentioned above, great writers are born with some level of talent that cannot be mimicked by practice alone. The passage explicitly states “no one can one can become a great writer simply by being taught how to be a better writer”. Even though some bad writers can improve their writing with some help (perhaps even writing a Twilight Saga), some cannot improve their writing at all. If these bad writers cannot improve their writing, they necessarily will never become great writers. Answer choice C must be true based on the passage.

Looking at answer choice D in contrast, it states: “some bad writers can become great writers”. Perhaps some can, but this cannot be guaranteed in any way from the passage. It’s possible that all the writers are terrible even after year of practice. In fact, since we know that some will never improve (the opposite), this conclusion is certainly is not guaranteed. Answer choice C is supported by the passage, answer choice D seems conceivable in the real world, but it is certainly not assured.

On the GMAT, as in life, when confronted with two complimentary choices, you have to end up making a choice. In this instance, because you typically have five choices to consider, whittling the competition down to two choices already saves you time and gives you confidence. Recognizing which option must always be true is all that’s left to do, and that often comes down to playing Devil’s Advocate. When you’re tackling a decision such as this, consider what has to be true, and you’ll make the right choice.

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

Busting Some GMAT SC Myths

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomToday we will bust some SC myths using a question. The following are the myths:

Myth 1: Passive voice is always wrong.

Active voice is preferred over passive voice but that doesn’t make passive voice wrong.

Myth 2: The same pronoun cannot refer to two different antecedents in a sentence.

A pronoun, say ‘it’, can refer to two different objects in a single sentence, but it should not refer to two different objects in the same clause since that creates ambiguity.

We will explain these two points to you using a sentence correction question:

Question: Once the computer generates the financial reports, they are then used to program a company-wide balance sheet, so named because it demonstrates that every department’s accounting elements are in balance.

(A) Once the computer generates the financial reports, they are then used to program a company-wide balance sheet, so named because it demonstrates that every department’s accounting elements balance.
(B) Once the computer generates the financial reports, it is then used to program a company-wide balance sheet, named such because it demonstrated the balance of every department’s accounting elements.
(C) Once the computer generates the financial reports they are then used to program a company-wide balance sheet, which demonstrates the balance of every department’s accounting elements.
(D) Once the financial reports are generated by the computer, it is then used to program a company-wide balance sheet, so named because it demonstrates the balance of every department’s accounting elements.
(E) Once the financial reports are generated by the computer, they are then used to program a company-wide balance sheet, named such because it demonstrates that every department’s accounting elements are in balance.

Solution:  Let’s split the sentence into clauses:

–          Once the computer generates the financial reports,

–          they are then used to program a company-wide balance sheet,

–          so named because it demonstrates that every department’s accounting elements are in balance.

Find the decision points. The first clause is in active voice in the first three options and in passive in the other two. Both are correct.

The first decision point is they vs it. Should we use they or should we use it? The first clause talks about two things – computer (singular) and financial reports (plural). What do we want to refer to in the second clause? What do we use to program a balance sheet? A computer is used to program something. Reports cannot program anything. They can be used while programming but they cannot program. Hence, the use of ‘it’ would be correct here.

Only in options (B) and (D) do we use ‘it’ (singular) which refers back to the computer (singular). It cannot refer back to financial reports (plural). So eliminate options (A), (C) and (E).

Now comes our next decision point – we have to choose one of ‘named such’ and ‘so named’. ‘named such’ which is used in option (B) is awkward. Also, we use the past tense of the verb ‘demonstrate’ in option (B). This is not correct since a balance sheet is so called because is always demonstrates the balance of every element. It did not demonstrate it only in the past. Hence we need to use simple present tense.

This leads us to option (D). Everything is taken care of here.

Here are a couple of points about option (D):

(D) Once the financial reports are generated by the computer, it is then used to program a company-wide balance sheet, so named because it demonstrates the balance of every department’s accounting elements.

Sometimes, people eliminate it because it uses passive voice “the financial reports are generated by the computer”. Be aware that passive is not wrong. You have learned active passive in school. Passive is just a bit weaker form of writing than active and hence, given a choice, active is preferred but not at the expense of grammatical correctness! Using passive is not incorrect.

At other times, people have problems with the use of the pronoun ‘it’ for two different antecedents

– it (the computer) is then used to program a company-wide balance sheet,

– so named because it (the balance sheet) demonstrates the balance of every department’s accounting elements.

An OG problem has been pointed out here:

Starfish, with anywhere from five to eight arms, have a strong regenerative ability, and if one arm is lost it [animal] quickly replaces it [arm], sometimes by the animal overcompensating and growing an extra one or two.

The above answer is incorrect since the pronoun ‘it’ refers to two different antecedents in a single clause. Note that the pronoun ‘it’ refers to two different antecedents in the same clause. It is hard to understand what ‘it’ refers to.

But that is not the case in our option (D).

The first ‘it’ clearly refers to the computer since there is only one singular antecedent before it.

The second ‘it’ in the third clause clearly refers to the balance sheet because the clause talks about the balance sheet: … company wide balance sheet, so named because it …

There is no ambiguity of pronoun reference here.

We can’t re-iterate it enough – don’t try to learn up ‘rules’ for sentence correction. Every so called “rule” is not applicable in every situation. Use logic!

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!

 

Answer the Why in Reading Comprehension GMAT Questions

The most common question type that people tend to waste time on is Reading Comprehension. More than any other question type on the GMAT, students report reading and rereading the same sections of a passage, only to find themselves at the bottom of the page having retained no information. There are many reasons for this, from fatigue to mental inertia to daydreaming about the end of this test. However, it’s fairly common to have not internalized all the information in the passage, and still be able to answer the question asked.

Why would this be? (Rhetorical question) The passage may discuss many different facets, but each question is typically about one specific thing. As such, you don’t need to know everything; you only need to know about the information being asked in the problem. Better than that, the questions on Reading Comprehension passages can be categorized into four broad categories. This means that you can prepare for any question that could be posed, even if you haven’t read a word of the passage yet (like book reports in high school).

Today I’d like to delve deeper into one of the question types: Function questions. Function questions, like an inquisitive toddler, seek only to ask “why”. Why would the author say this? Why would this issue be mentioned? Why would the author use that specific word? The question is more interested in asking you “why” than in asking you “what”. In these instances, we must determine why something was mentioned, be it a word or a sentence, and what function it served in the passage.

The first strategy on these questions is always to read the surrounding sentences. The context often provides the framework for the passage or word in question, and helps explain it in a larger sense. The most important words will be contained in the sentence before or after what you’re being asked to evaluate, but the entire paragraph may be relevant to the issue. We expand our search in concentric circles from the epicenter and evaluate the entire context in order to ensure we capture the essence of what’s being asked.

Let’s look at an example of a function question and how to approach this type of Reading Comprehension question. As on the exam, we will begin with a passage and then the question:

Nearly all the workers of the Lowell textile mills of Massachusetts were unmarried daughters from farm families. Some of the workers were as young as ten. Since many people in the 1820s were disturbed by the idea of working females, the company provided well-kept dormitories and boarding-houses. The meals were decent and church attendance was mandatory. Compared to other factories of the time, the Lowell mills were clean and safe, and there was even a journal, The Lowell Offering, which contained poems and other material written by the workers, and which became known beyond New England. Ironically, it was at the Lowell Mills that dissatisfaction with working conditions brought about the first organization of working women.

The mills were highly mechanized, and were in fact considered a model of efficiency by others in the textile industry. The work was difficult, however, and the high level of standardization made it tedious. When wages were cut, the workers organized the Factory Girls Association. 15,000 women decided to “turn out”, or walk off the job. The Offering, meant as a pleasant creative outlet, gave the women a voice that could be heard by sympathetic people elsewhere in the country, and even in Europe. However, the ability of the women to demand changes was severely circumscribed by an inability to go for long without wages with which to support themselves and help support their families. The same limitation hampered the effectiveness of the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA), organized in 1844.

No specific reform can be directly attributed to the Lowell workers, but their legacy is unquestionable. The LFLRA’s founder, Sarah Bagley, became a national figure, testifying before the Massachusetts House of Representatives. When the New England Labor Reform League was formed, three of the eight board members were women. Other mill workers took note of the Lowell strikes, and were successful in getting better pay, shorter hours, and safer working conditions. Even some existing child labor laws can be traced back to efforts first set in motion by the Lowell Mill Women.

So after a lot of text (340 words), we can finally look at a function question. However, a rudimentary understanding of the passage would be helpful, so let’s can sum up some of the main elements of this text before proceeding. The passage is concerned with worker rights in 1820s at the Lowell Textile Mills, and at one point, these workers went on strike for better conditions. In the end the women who worked there couldn’t do much for themselves but their efforts led to many other workers acquiring better rights, and their legacy is unquestionable (also they may have founded LMFAO). Now that we understand the broad strokes of the passage, let’s look at the question:

The author uses the word “ironically” in the 1st paragraph to indicate that
(A) None of the people who ran the Lowell Mills expected that the workers would organize to express dissatisfaction with working conditions.
(B) The women who worked at the Lowell Mills did not realize how fortunate they were to work at such a place.
(C) It could be considered surprising that an early effort to demand better working conditions began in an environment that was especially designed to promote worker satisfaction.
(D) The people who created the working environment for the women at the Lowell Mills did not really understand what it was they needed.
(E) It was unusual for women workers of the time to organize, regardless of their work environment.

This question is asking about a specific word in the first paragraph, so we can already get a sense that correctly answering this question will hinge entirely on what we retain from the first paragraph. This would be an ideal opportunity to go back and reread the first paragraph (go ahead, I can wait). Apart from discussing how young the women were, the paragraph spends a lot of time going over the conditions of the workers. Specifically, the conditions seemed designed to assuage any fears about the workers’ condition. After several lines about how great the conditions were, and then states that “ironically, it was here that dissatisfaction with the conditions brought about a strike”

There’s a definite disconnect between extolling the features of the slave labor textile mills, and the fact that people actually revolted. The connection is that it’s ironic that a strike would begin here, of all places, as everything was designed to promote worker satisfaction. That’s our prediction, and one of the answer choices should more or less match that prediction. Looking at them one by one we can determine which answer is correct:

(A) None of the people who ran the Lowell Mills expected that the workers would organize to express dissatisfaction with working conditions.

This is close but it’s not about the organizer’s expectations, it’s about the fact that these conditions were likely better than everywhere else. Also the use of the word “none” is strong language and should raise eyebrows. What if one person expected it but nine didn’t? Would it still be valid? It wouldn’t be, which means this choice is incorrect.

(B) The women who worked at the Lowell Mills did not realize how fortunate they were to work at such a place.

How fortunate they were to be working long hours for low wages? Granted other jobs may not have been any better, but the author’s tone here is not this aggressive or patronizing. We cannot defend this choice.

(C) It could be considered surprising that an early effort to demand better working conditions began in an environment that was especially designed to promote worker satisfaction.

Bingo, this perfectly matches our prediction and will be our correct answer. We will evaluate the two others for completeness’ sake, though.

(D) The people who created the working environment for the women at the Lowell Mills did not really understand what it was they needed.

This may or may not be true, but it wouldn’t be ironic. (We could solve this issue with some sensitivity training!) This choice is incorrect.

(E) It was unusual for women workers of the time to organize, regardless of their work environment.

This is true, but again, it is not ironic. The irony is that the conditions were comparatively good, not that it was women organizing together. This choice is incorrect.

It’s important to remember that for many Reading Comprehension questions, having a full 360° understanding of the passage is not required to get the correct response. In this instance, it only took the information contained in the first paragraph to determine that the correct answer was C. Often, simply understanding a single paragraph or sentence can unlock the answer and allow you to move to the next question.

For function questions, the immediate context needs to be evaluated and then the function of the word (or paragraph) becomes apparent. I will delve into the other question types in subsequent blog posts, but for now hopefully you can practice putting the “fun” in function questions.

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Sentence Correction in Real Life

GMAT Tip of the WeekTotes McGotes. FML. Sorry for partying. I know, right? Of the common phrases that have permeated pop culture and everyday conversation, easily one of the most common is, wait for it…

Wait for it.

And that one phrase can totes make your GMAT score supes high. Like, for real.

How?

Perhaps the best example comes from an all-staff email sent at Veritas Prep headquarters this week regarding the holiday vacation schedule. It began “With pumpkin spice season nearing its apex, it’s…” Seeing that introduction, multiple Veritas Prep staffers commented later that “it’s” after the comma made them nervous, as the possessive of “season” is its, not it’s (which grammatically means “it is”).

Now later in that sentence it became clear that the intention was “it is” (…”it’s time to start making holiday vacation plans.”), but the fact that so many Sentence Correction experts were on the edge of their seats just seeing that contraction “it’s” next to a possessive should demonstrate for you how to become great at Sentence Correction. To be efficient and effective with Sentence Correction, it’s helpful to anticipate what types of errors you might see, rather than simply sit back and wait for them to appear. Those who are most successful at Sentence Correction read sentences looking for signs of potential danger; they’re proactive as they search for likely Decision Points. For example, if you were to read the introduction:

Particularly for a leadership or management role, it is important that a candidate be both…

your senses should be heightened for parallel structure with “both X and Y,” number one, and secondly you should be acutely aware that the word “be” precedes the word “both,” so there is a very high likelihood that there will be an extraneous “be” after the word “and” to follow. In other words, when you see “both,” wait for it…where’s the “and,” and is the portion directly after it parallel to the first portion?

Correct:

(A) qualified to perform the duties of most subordinates and able to inspire subordinates to perform those duties at a higher level.

Incorrect:

(B) qualified to perform the duties of most subordinates and be able to inspire subordinates to perform those duties at a higher level.

While the grammar of this problem is crucial, true expertise comes from knowing where to focus your attention and expend your mental energy. Analyzing every word of every answer choice is exhausting, so the experts train themselves to see clues and “…wait for it” focusing back in on the parts of the sentence most highly correlated with errors. Clues can be:

Signals of parallel structure: both, either, neither, not only

Signals of verb tense: since, from, until

Signals of pronoun or subject/verb agreement: it, they, its, their

To train yourself to spot those clues that tell you to “wait for it…”, pay attention not only (wait for it…) to the grammatical reasons that an answer choice is right or wrong in your homework, but also (here it is…is it parallel?) to the signals outside the underline that required the application of that grammar. Sentence Correction is to an extent about “what do you know” but to really excel it also has to be about “what do you do” – the clues and signals that tell you what to look for and where to spend your time and energy.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

2 Sentence Correction GMAT Questions Involving Participle Modifiers

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomToday, as promised last week, we will look at a couple of questions involving participle modifiers. We will take one question in which you should use the participle and another in which you should not.

Let’s see how we decide that.

Question 1: In the wake of the global housing crisis, and amid dramatically changing demographics, it is likely that a widespread shift in thinking is ahead, which will reduce demand for large suburban homes, thus increasing demand for smaller urban apartments.

(A) it is likely that a widespread shift in thinking is ahead, which will reduce demand for large suburban homes, thus increasing demand for smaller urban apartments.

(B) it is likely that a widespread shift in thinking is ahead, which will reduce demand for large suburban homes, and thus increase demand for smaller urban apartments.

(C) it is not unlikely that a widespread shift in thinking is ahead, reducing demand for large suburban homes, thus creating an increase in demand for smaller urban apartments.

(D) it is not unlikely that a widespread shift in thinking is ahead, reducing demand for large suburban homes and increasing demand for smaller urban apartments.

(E) it is not unlikely that a widespread shift in thinking is ahead, reducing demand for large suburban homes, increasing demand for smaller urban apartments.

Solution: Let’s start looking for decision points – the first decision point is ‘it is likely’ vs ‘it is not unlikely’ – both have similar meanings and are grammatically correct so we cannot eliminate any option based on this right now. The next decision point is the beginning of the modifier. Options (A) and (B) use ‘which clauses’. Options (C), (D) and (E) use present participle modifiers.

‘which’ is a relative pronoun but there is no noun before it which can act as an antecedent. Hence, the use of which is incorrect here. On the other hand, the use of participle modifier is acceptable here. Last week, we discussed that present participle modifier after a comma will modify the preceding clause. It provides additional information about the preceding clause. ‘reducing …’ tells us more about ‘widespread shift in thinking‘. Hence, let’s focus on options (C), (D) and (E).

In (C), the “thus” used to introduce the second participle is incorrect: the two participles should be linked with a coordinating conjunction without a comma. One is not really leading to the other – they are both byproducts of the change in thinking – reducing demand for large homes and increasing demand for urban apartments. Lastly, in option (C), the “creating an…” is unnecessary and redundant – you just need “increasing demand.”

For option (E), you need something to link the two participle phrases together – without it, there is a comma splice error. Hence we eliminate (E) as well.

Option (D) gets the structure and meaning correct – “the shift in thinking is reducing … and increasing …”

Answer is (D).

Now, let’s look at an official GMAT question.

Question 2: In 1984, medical researchers at Harvard and Stanford universities concluded that sedentary life-styles lead to heart and lung diseases that shorten lives, strongly recommending middle-aged people to undertake some form of regular exercise.

(A) strongly recommending middle-aged people to
(B) strongly recommending that middle-aged people should
(C) and strongly recommended for middle-aged people to
(D) and their strong recommendation was for middle-aged people to
(E) and they strongly recommended that middle-aged people

Solution: The given sentence has two clauses:

Main clause – medical researchers at Harvard and Stanford universities concluded

That clause – that sedentary life-styles lead to heart and lung diseases that shorten lives

If we use a comma and the present participle ‘recommending’ here, it will modify the ‘that clause’. So ‘recommending’ will be done by ‘sedentary life-styles’. Obviously, this is incorrect since the researchers are the ones who recommend exercise. So we cannot use the participle here. Hence we eliminate options (A) and (B).

Options (C), (D) and (E) use ‘recommend’ in verb form.

Options (C) and (D) are unidiomatic in their usage of the verb recommend.

You recommend X for Y (say a person X for position Y)

or

You recommend that X do Y (say a person X do Y)

Option (C) says ‘recommended for X to do Y’ and option (D) says ‘recommendation was for X to do Y’ – both are incorrect.

Option (E) uses recommend properly – ‘recommended that X do Y’. Also, ‘… researchers concluded that … and recommended that …’ have parallel structure. Hence, option (E) is correct.

Answer (E)

Hope you now understand how participle phrases are used.

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 in Detroit, Michigan, and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

1 Important Rule for GMAT Sentence Correction

Some sentence structures seemingly stupefy scholarly students. One of the main reasons the GMAT chooses to test logic through sentence correction is that the rules of grammar are much more flexible than most students realize. We (hopefully) remember some of the basic rules of sentences. Sentences should have a subject and a predicate, but you can often shorten sentences in specific contexts. Like this. The rules we’ve learned in high school are relevant, but (to paraphrase Pirates of the Caribbean) they’re more like guidelines.

The one “rule” I’d like to discuss in particular today is the notion that a sentence must always be in the same tense from beginning to end. This parameter is helpful and applicable in most situations, but it is in no way a restriction that can never be circumvented. In the absence of other incentives, it makes sense as a de facto plan, but it doesn’t have to be followed blindly. It’s like taking the subway to work and getting off at the station closest to your work. By default, you should get off at that station, but that doesn’t mean you can’t detour to a different station to pick up your boss’ favorite breakfast once in a while.

In a typical sentence, randomly shifting tenses doesn’t make any sense. Consider a sentence like “Ron watches Frozen on repeat and liked it when Elsa sings” (#Frozen). This sentence doesn’t make sense because it jumps from the present tense of watching the movie to the past tense for liking and then back to the presence for the singing. This sentence would have to be “Ron watches Frozen on repeat and likes it when Elsa sings” or “Ron watched Frozen on repeat and liked it when Elsa sang”. Either alternative provides a cohesive sentence that illustrates Ron’s adulation for animated movies.

However not all sentences are tied to the default structure of always maintaining the same verb tense. The meaning of the sentence will dictate the verb tense, so meaning must always be considered when considering possible answer choices in sentence correction. A sentence could read: “Ron beams with pride when he recalls how Frozen won best animated song at the Oscars”. The sentence discusses Ron’s present pride when thinking back to an event that happened in the past, so the fact that the third verb is in the past makes sense with the meaning of the sentence. The pride actively comes whenever he recalls the one specific moment in the past (performed memorably by Adele Dazeem).

Let’s look at an example of how varying verb tenses shouldn’t slow us down on an actual GMAT problem:

Attempts to standardize healthcare, an important issue to both state and national officials, has not eliminated the difference in the quality of care existing between upper and lower income families.

(A) Has not eliminated the difference in the quality of care existing
(B) Has not been making a difference eliminating the quality of care that exists
(C) Has not made an elimination in the quality of care that exists
(D) Have not eliminated the difference in the quality of care that exists
(E) Have not been making a difference eliminating the quality of care existing

This sentence has more issues than simply verb tense, as we can quickly identify a 3-2 split between has and have in the first word. Simply being able to determine which of these elements is correct will eliminate at least two choices, so it’s the first decision point we should tackle.

The modifier “…an important issue…” can be ignored for the purposes of identifying the subject in this sentence. Thus the sentence essentially reads “Attempts to standardize healthcare has not eliminated…” which highlights the fact that “Attempts” is the subject, and thus the verb should be plural instead of singular. This means that answer choices A, B and C can all be eliminated. The correct answer must be either choice D or choice E.

Looking at answer choice D: “Attempts to standardize healthcare… have not eliminated the difference in the quality of care that exists…”we may notice the verb tense discrepancy I mentioned earlier. The sentence describes issues in the past, but then mentions their ramifications in the present. This is acceptable because the meaning of the sentence is preserved. Attempts to make changes in the past have not yet had the desired effect in the present. Many students eliminate answer choice D because of the verb tense issue, but this is not a valid reason as the sentence structure is logical. Let’s look at answer choice E and see if we can eliminate it and leave D as the last answer standing (coming to NBC this fall).

Answer choice E: “Attempts to standardize healthcare… have not been making a difference eliminating the quality of care existing” is perhaps more tempting because the verb is a participle (existing). However the meaning of this sentence changes from the original meaning, as the attempts now do not make a difference in eliminating the quality of care. This is much worse than the original intent, and can be eliminated because of the meaning alteration alone. Answer choice E is incorrect, and thus the answer must be answer choice D.

When choosing between two (or more) answer choices, it’s important to always consider the meaning of the sentence. If the meaning of the sentence is logical, then the grammar may have been purposely chosen to make you doubt the answer choice. Remember that sentences do not always need to have the same verb tense, and that the logic of the sentence will play a big role in determining whether an answer choice is acceptable. If you keep these elements in mind, you’ll start finding sentence correction much less tense.

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

Understanding Participles on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomThere is a lot of confusion surrounding the topic of Participles so let’s take a look at it today.

Quite simply, participles are words formed from verbs which can be used as describing words (on the other hand, gerunds are verbs used as nouns, but that is a topic for another day!).

There are two types of participles:

1. The Past Participle – usually ends in -ed, -d, -t, -en, or –n

For Example: chosen, danced, known, sung etc

2. The Present Participle – ends in –ing

For Example: choosing, dancing, knowing, singing etc

These participles often start the participle phrases used to describe nouns/noun phrases/entire sentences. The participial phrases are underlined in the examples given below.

Examples:

I want to stand next to the girl wearing the yellow dress.

Standing next to the tall gentleman, she looked petite.

Battered by hail, the car collapsed.

The most important crop of this region is rice, sown in the month of June and harvested in October.

Here is how participle phrases are usually used:

Present Participle Phrases (the underlined parts of the sentences are participial phrases):

1. At the beginning of a sentence followed by a comma and then a clause (present participle phrase + comma + clause) – In this case, the participle phrase could modify the subject of the clause or the entire clause.

Examples:

Wagging its tail, my dog ran up to me. (modifies ‘my dog’)

Silencing the students, the principal stepped on to the podium. (modifies the entire clause because the principal silenced the students by stepping on to the podium)

2. At the end of a sentence separated from the clause using a comma (clause + comma + present participle phrase) – In this case, the participle phrase modifies the entire preceding sentence.

Example: The principal stepped on to the podium, silencing the students. (modifies the entire preceding clause)

3. Following a noun without a comma – In this case, the participle phrase modifies the noun.

Example: I want to stand next to the girl wearing the yellow dress. (modifies ‘the girl’)

Past Participle Phrases (the underlined parts of the sentences are participial phrases):

1. Following a noun separated by a comma (noun + comma + past participle phrase) – In this case, the participle phrase modifies the noun.

Example: The most important crop of this region is rice, sown in the month of June and harvested in October . (modifies ‘rice’)

2. At the beginning of a sentence followed by a comma and then a clause (past participle phrase + comma + clause) – In this case, the participle phrase modifies the subject of the clause.

Example: Battered by hail, the car collapsed. (modifies ‘the car’)

Next week, we will take some questions to show the classic usage of participle modifiers in GMAT. But today we need to move on and discuss an important point regarding the rules discussed.

Important Note: In regular English grammar, a past participle phrase following a clause and separated by a comma (clause + comma + past participle phrase) could modify the entire preceding clause. But GMAT is not very keen on this usage; so avoid it. That said, remember that studying grammar rules in isolation is worthless. If the sentence demands such a construction, then it is correct to use it. We cannot explain this point without a question so let’s take one from our own collection.

Question: Due to the slow-moving nature of tectonic plate movement, the oldest ocean crust is thought to date from the Jurassic period, formed from huge fragments of the Earth’s lithosphere and lasted 200 million years.

(A)   formed from huge fragments of the Earth’s lithosphere and lasted 200 million years.

(B)   forming from huge fragments of the Earth’s lithosphere and lasting 200 million years.

(C)   forming from huge fragments of the Earth’s lithosphere and lasted 200 million years.

(D)   formed from huge fragments of the Earth’s lithosphere and lasting 200 million years.

(E)    formed from huge fragments of the Earth’s lithosphere and has been lasting 200 million years.

Here is our official solution:

The correct response is (D).

The meaning of the sentence is that the “oldest ocean crust” was “formed” in the past during the Jurassic period and is currently still “lasting” (since if it’s the “oldest” it must still be around!). We need the past tense/participle verbs to be used correctly.

If you chose (A), the ocean crust was “formed” in the past” but if “lasted” is past tense then the oldest ocean crust is no longer around, which would mean it couldn’t be the “oldest.”

If you chose (B) or (C), “forming” implies the crust is still being formed. While it’s true the Earth’s crust is constantly in flux, we’re concerned with the “oldest ocean crust” – that part that is no longer continuing to form, but was formed at some point during the Jurassic period.

If you chose (E), you correctly used “formed,” however the present perfect “has been lasting” is unnecessarily wordy. The simple participle verb form will suffice.

Does logic dictate that (D) is the correct answer? Yes. Will you ignore it because it uses past participle form modifying the previous subject/clause instead of ‘Jurassic Period’? No. Note that it is correct grammatically and you should know it. Whatever we can infer about the preferences of GMAT is from the questions it gives. GMAT doesn’t clarify its stand on every grammatical issue and the stand is probably flexible depending on the sentence under examination. So you need to be flexible in your understanding of what is and is not acceptable in GMAT. Use logic – remember, GMAT is a test of your reasoning skills. Get to the best answer under given circumstances.

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 in Detroit, Michigan, and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

GMAT Tip of the Week: Getting Specific About Reading Comprehension

GMAT Tip of the WeekPop quiz!

1) What is the VIN number on your car?

2) What is your health insurance policy number?

3) What day does Daylight Savings Time start this coming spring?

If you’re like most people, your answer to all three is “I’d have to look that up.” And if you’re like most successful GMAT test-takers, that should be your answer to most Reading Comprehension questions, too. Particularly for questions like:

1) According to the passage, researchers were able to make the startling discovery because ______________.

2) It can be inferred from the passage that were a roundworm’s cilia become unable to sense temperature, _____________.

3) According to the passage, the reason that the antigen-antibody theory had to be seriously qualified was that ______________.

The answers to these questions are likely too obscure for you to have remembered from your initial read of the passage, and the answer choices are likely too dense to match exactly something from your memory, anyway, so when Reading Comprehension questions ask for a detail, you should always return to the passage. Thinking strategically, this means that you should:

*Not read too closely on your first read. Since you have to go back for details, they’re not all that important to remember your first time out. PLUS the main reason that people waste time and struggle on Reading Comprehension passages/questions is that they spend too much time processing and worrying about details on their first read. Much like the questions at the beginning of this post, details are only important if they ask you about them, so you shouldn’t spend too much time trying to understand or remember them until they come up in a question.

*When you’re asked about a detail, pay specific attention to the question being asked. Many details from wrong answer choices will appear next to the keyword (maybe as a cause while the question is looking for an effect, etc.) so you’ll need that time you saved from not worrying about details to help you focus in on what’s important on the question.

*Read effectively your first time through to know where certain things are discussed so that you minimize the time it takes you to go back. Give yourself “titles” for each paragraph so that you know where, for example, details of the new theory are discussed or problems with the old system appear. You will have to go back, so your first read is really about getting organized for each of those battles.

In Reading Comprehension as in life, there are often too many details to be concerned with until you absolutely have to. Know that going in, and be ready to go back and look up whatever you need when you need to.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

Deciding Between the 2 Remaining Answer Choices on the GMAT

There is one feeling that hampers momentum and takes all the wind out of your sails on the GMAT. That feeling is the thrill of quickly eliminating three incorrect answer choices on a question, followed by complete uncertainty between the last two choices. This paralysis is very frustrating, because your progress is halted in dramatic fashion, and you’re left with two options that both seem to make perfect sense as the correct answer.

Students routinely report that they end up in this exact situation multiple times on test day, particularly on Critical Reasoning questions in the verbal section. Sometimes, you can predict the correct answer before perusing the answer choices, and avoid this dilemma. However, inference questions frequently ask for the best implication of the sentence, and many correct possibilities could exist. This leads to considering two answer choices as accurate, when in fact only one of them is correct.

As a simple example, a question could indicate that Ron is taller than Tom, and then ask for inferences based on this conclusion. Valid inferences that can be drawn from this situation include “Tom is shorter than Ron”, “Ron and Tom are not the same height”, and even (my personal favorite) “Ron is taller than Tom”. Indeed the exact same idea could be inferred from the conclusion because it must logically be true. More generally, multiple conclusions can all be inferred from the same statement, from the mundane to the insightful.

The one element that must always be considered is that any statement that can be inferred must be true in all situations. Oftentimes when you’re stuck selecting between two choices, one must actually be true whereas the other simply seems to be true. Our brains are trained to complete incomplete data, such as filling in missing letters in words and assuming relevant context (this is a perfet exmple). The GMAT test takers know this about human nature, so we must be careful not to fall into their clever traps and consider fringe corner situations when selecting between two tempting choices.

Let’s look at an example and see how the test makers exploit subtle differences in the answer choices:

SwiftCo recently remodeled its offices to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that certain businesses make their properties accessible to those with disabilities. Contractors built ramps where stairs had been, increased the number of handicapped parking spaces in the parking lot, lowered door knobs and cabinet handles, and installed adaptive computer equipment.

Which of the following is the most likely inference based on the statements above?

(A)   SwiftCo is now in compliance with ADA requirements.

(B)   SwiftCo has at least one employee or customer who uses a wheelchair.

(C)   Prior to the renovation, some doors and cabinets may have been out of reach for some employees.

(D)   The costs of renovation were less than what SwiftCo would have been liable for had it been sued for ADA violations.

(E)    Businesses without adaptive computer equipment are in violation of the ADA.

The situation (not the abs guy from Jersey Shore) above describes a recent remodel to the SwiftCo offices in order for them to comply with ADA regulations. The changes are described in some detail, from ramps to parking spots to door knobs. The question then asks us about which statement below is the most likely inference, which really means which of these must be true whereas the other four don’t have to be. Let’s do an initial pass to eliminate obvious filler.

Answer choice A “SwiftCo is now in compliance with ADA requirements“ seems perfect. The changes were made due to ADA standards, so A seems like a great choice. Let’s keep going.

Answer choice B “SwiftCo has at least one employee or customer who uses a wheelchair” makes some semblance of sense, because otherwise why install the ramps? However this clearly doesn’t have to be true, SwiftCo can simply be acting proactively in order to comply with standards. Answer choice B does not have to be true, and can thus be rapidly eliminated.

Answer choice C “Prior to the renovation, some doors and cabinets may have been out of reach for some employees” seems like another great choice. After all, why remodel if everything was already handy. This could easily be correct as well. Let’s keep going.

Answer choice D “The costs of renovation were less than what SwiftCo would have been liable for had it been used for ADA violations” makes a completely unsupported claim. (As Harvey Specter would say: “Objection. Conjecture”.) We can quickly eliminate this unconfirmed option as it does not have to be true.

Answer choice E “Businesses without adaptive computer equipment are in violation of the ADA” makes a similar claim to answer choice D, but at least has a little bit more logic behind it. If the company is installing adaptive equipment, it might be in order to comply with ADA regulations; however it might also be another proactive practice put in place by management of their own volition. Answer choice E doesn’t have to be true, and thus can be eliminated.

And thus we’re left with two answer choices that both seem reasonable. And yet there can be only one (so says Connor MacLeod). How do we select between answers A and C? Quite simply, we must look at every possible scenario and see if each option must still hold. This can be an arduous process, but sometimes the evaluation of discarded answer choices helps to guide our approach.

In evaluating answer choice E, the issue of whether or not these changes were exactly aligned with ADA requirements came up. It’s entirely possible that adaptive computer equipment is not required by ADA guidelines; however it’s also possible that it is required. We simply don’t have enough information to make that decision with the information given. That same logic, taken in a broader context, hints that the changes made may or may not align SwiftCo with ADA regulations. Therefore, although answer choice A could be true, it does not necessarily have to be. Perhaps ADA regulations call for other changes that weren’t effectuated for whatever reason (budget, space, zombies).

Comparing with answer choice C, some doors and cabinets may have been out of reach for some employees. The phrase does not even give 100% certainty that the handles were out of reach, it merely states that it was a possibility. If the handles were lowered, it’s likely because some people couldn’t reach them, but it could also have been a practical improvement. No matter the situation, answer choice C must therefore be true.

Often when pitting two choices against each other, students report that they couldn’t find any differences and essentially flipped a coin. (Always pick Heads!) There will always be a difference between two answer choices, and the trick is to determine in which situations the two options actually differ. One will always work, whereas the other one will have one or two corner cases in which it doesn’t hold. If you master the art of correctly separating the last two options, your coin flip becomes a much more attractive proposition. Heads I win. Tails the GMAT loses.

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

How Well Would Mark Twain Do on the GMAT?

I’ve often contemplated who would excel at the GMAT. After all, the exam is about logic, analytical skills, problem-solving abilities and time management. Surely to shine on the exam a test taker should be smart, methodical, insightful and perceptive (and blindingly handsome). Clearly, some people have done quite well on this exam, but others never got the chance because they never actually took the test. While some have been intimidated by the nature of the test, others simply were born too early to have even heard of this exam.

The GMAT was first administered in 1953, and roughly 250,000 students take this exam on a yearly basis. Every year, I see students studying for the exam, hoping that a good grade gets them accepted to the business school of their choice. However, I believe one person who would have fared well on the test died about 40 years before the first exam was even introduced. I’m referring to noted American author Mark Twain.

Mark Twain is often referred to as the father of American literature, but his off colour remarks made him something of a celebrity in the 19th Century. He was known for quotes that could be construed as inconsiderate, but often were just humorous observations on everyday minutiae (like a historical Seinfeld). As a renowned author, he undoubtedly could have excelled at the verbal section of the GMAT by noticing little details that others could overlook.

As this blog is nothing if not introspective, let’s look at a sentence correction problem about Mark Twain, and solve it in the way Twain likely would (Inception).

A letter by Mark Twain, written in the same year as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were published, reveals that Twain provided financial assistance to one of the first Black students at Yale Law School.

(A)   A letter by Mark Twain, written in the same year as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were published,

(B)   A letter by Mark Twain, written in the same year of publication as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,

(C)   A letter by Mark Twain, written in the same year that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published,

(D)   Mark Twain wrote a letter in the same year as he published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that

(E)    Mark Twain wrote a letter in the same year of publication as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that

An astute observer such as Mark Twain would first notice that there is a clear 3-2 split between answer choices that begin with “A letter by Mark Twain” and “Mark Twain wrote a letter…” It is possible that either turn of phrase could be correct, but it is more likely that we can eliminate one selection entirely because it does not flow properly with the rest of the sentence.

The original sentence (answer choice A) postulates that a letter by Mark Twain reveals that he provided financial assistance to an aspiring young law student many years ago. This phrase makes logical sense and does not have to be automatically discarded. The other options begin with “Mark Twain wrote a letter that reveals that Twain provided financial assistance…” Even without the redundancy of “that reveals that”, the timeline of this sentence does not work properly. If Mark Twain wrote a letter in the past, then the letter would have “revealed” the information, and would have needed to have been conjugated in the past. An author like Twain would eliminate answers D and E as the timeline construction does not make sense.

With only three options remaining, Twain would examine the differences between answer choices A, B and C more closely. The only real difference between answer choices A and C is the verb agreement of the publication of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Answer choice proposes that the verb be plural, while answer choice C contains the singular conjugation of the verb. While “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” sounds plural, it is actually the title of a single book and therefore must be treated as a singular noun. Answer choice A can thus be eliminated because of the agreement error.

Having narrowed the quest down to only two choices, Twain would likely contrast the two choices again and note the construction of answer choice B is faulty.  If we follow the logic: “A letter by Mark Twain, written in the same year of publication as Huck Finn…” doesn’t make any sense. Grammatically, the letter is supposed to have been written in the same year that the novel was published, yet the grammar indicates that both the letter and novel were published in the same year. This change in meaning eliminates answer choice B, and leaves only answer choice C as the correct option.

Eliminating incorrect answer choices is the name of the game in Sentence Correction, and a shrewd reader can easily differentiate between turns of phrase that are acceptable and garbled prose that doesn’t mean anything. Remember that only one answer choice can be correct, so you must eliminate incorrect answer choices by any means you have available to you. It’s fine to think of yourself as a 19th Century author and begin to decimate the given answer choices. Just because most people don’t think of themselves as Cosplayers during the GMAT (they just can’t pull off the elaborate costumes), that doesn’t mean you can’t use your imagination to your advantage. To quote Twain: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect”.

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

A Closer Look at Absolute Phrases on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomRead the following sentences:

  1. About 70 percent of the tomatoes grown in the United States come from seeds that have been engineered in a laboratory, their DNA modified with genetic material not naturally found in tomato species.
  2. The defense lawyer and witnesses portrayed the accused as a victim of circumstance, his life uprooted by the media pressure to punish someone in the case.
  3. Researchers in Germany have unearthed 400,000-year-old wooden spears from what appears to be an ancient lakeshore hunting ground, stunning evidence that human ancestors systematically hunted big game much earlier than believed.

Which grammatical construct is represented by the underlined portions of these sentences?

These are called absolute phrases. They often confuse people but once you understand properly what they are and what they do, they will not be intimidating.

What is an Absolute Phrase?

An absolute phrase is a type of modifier that modifies an independent clause as a whole.

Structure of an Absolute Phrase

Often (but not always), this is the structure of an absolute phrase:

noun + participle (could be -ing or -ed) + optional modifier or object

Usage of an Absolute Phrase

It is often useful in describing one part of the whole person/place/thing or in explaining a cause or condition etc.

For example:

There was no one in sight and Sanders, his hands still jammed in his pockets, scowled down the empty street. (The underlined absolute phrase describes just the hands of Sanders)

We devoured the yummy pastries, our fingers scraping the leftover frosting off the plates. (The underlined absolute phrase describes just our fingers)

The underlined absolute phrase in sentence 1 above describes the DNA of the seeds.

The underlined absolute phrases in sentences 2 and 3 above describe conditions.

Some Alternative Structures of Absolute Phrases

Some absolute phrases have a different structure.

  1. The participle being is often omitted in an absolute phrase, leaving only a noun and a modifier:

The boys set off for school, faces glum, to begin the winter term.

  1. Also, an absolute phrase may contain a pronoun instead of a noun, or an infinitive (to + a verb) instead of a participle:

The customers filed out, some to return home, others to gather at the piazza.
[pronoun ‘some’ + infinitive ‘to return’ ; pronoun ‘others’ + infinitive ‘to gather’]

Now let’s look at the sentence correction question which uses statement 2.

Question: The defense lawyer and witnesses portrayed the accused as a victim of circumstance, his life uprooted by the media pressure to punish someone in the case.

(A) circumstance, his life
(B) circumstance, and his life
(C) circumstance, and his life being
(D) circumstance; his life
(E) circumstance: his life being

Solution:

“his life uprooted by the media pressure to punish someone in the case.” and “his life being uprooted by the media pressure to punish someone in the case.” are not independent clauses because they have no finite verbs in them.

With the coordinating conjunction (‘and’) and semi colon, you need an independent clause.

Accuracy wise, the use of ‘being’ is still suspect. ‘Being’ is not used to describe a state; it is used to describe an ongoing action such as ‘the tree is being uprooted’.

Colon is used if you need to give a list and hence, is not suitable here. Hence, options (B), (C), (D) and (E) are wrong.

Only option (A) describes circumstances suitably using the absolute phrase: his life uprooted by the media pressure to punish someone in the case.

Answer (A)

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!

Common Errors to Avoid on Sentence Correction GMAT Questions

There are many famous expressions in the English language. Many of them are clever turns of phrase that refer to commonplace ideas and concepts in everyday life. You obviously don’t need to memorize these for the GMAT (A house divided against itself is not an integer), however some expressions can be easily applied to various GMAT problems. One common expression is that you’re comparing apples and oranges. This expression typically means that you are attempting to compare two elements that are not analogous and therefore incomparable. This idiom can be particularly apt in sentence correction problems.

When looking over Sentence Correction questions, there are common errors that appear over and over as potential gaffes that must be avoided in the correct answer. One such error is that of the false comparison, where the author erroneously compares one thing to another of a different type. Consider the frequently misused example of “The Yankees’ record is more impressive than the Mets.” Without adding a possessive determiner (Mets‘) at the end of the sentence, we are comparing the Yankees’ record with the actual Mets team. This is clearly an illogical comparison, yet one that often goes unnoticed.

Some questions will contain more than a simple comparison issue, and the other rules of English grammar we know must also be followed, but comparison issues tend to disproportionally mess students up. These errors frequently occur in daily life without anyone batting an eyelash (well, except for those studying for the GMAT), so they’re often difficult to spot.

Let’s look at an example that highlights this issue:

Unlike the terms served by Grover Cleveland, separated by four years, all former two-term U.S. Presidents have served consecutive terms.

(A)   Unlike the terms served by Grover Cleveland, separated by four years

(B)   Besides the terms of Grover Cleveland that were separated by four years

(C)   Except for Grover Cleveland, whose terms were separated by four years

(D)   Aside from the terms of Grover Cleveland that were separated by four years

(E)    Other than the separated terms of Grover Cleveland, of four years

Many amateur historians will stop to consider the accuracy of the subject matter (feel free to check “the Google”), but more astute GMAT students will quickly recognize that the original sentence contains a comparison trigger word. The word “unlike” typically signals that we’ll be comparing two or more elements; however these elements may or may not be congruent. If they are not comparable, we’ll be dealing with a glaring comparison error. This may not be the only error we have to sort through, but it’s undeniably a good place to begin our analysis.

The sentence begins by comparing the terms of the 22nd (and 24th) U.S. president to the other 11 presidents who have served two presidential terms. This connection should immediately seem incorrect, as presidential terms and people are not interchangeable. The underlined portion will thus need to be changed as the second half of the comparison is not underlined and therefore must remain untouched. Answer choice A can be eliminated because of this comparison mistake.

Looking through the other choices, answer choice B changes a couple of words in the answer choice, but still starts by comparing terms to humans. It can therefore be eliminated. Answer choice C changes the wording to begin with “Except for Grover Cleveland, whose terms…”, which changes the comparison to one person versus other people. This comparison is logical and acceptable, and the rest of the sentence seems fine as well. We can eliminate answer choices A and B so far, but not answer choice C. Let’s look at the two remaining choices before we look for another error.

Answer choice D again tries to compare terms to a person, which can easily be eliminated. Answer choice E makes the same mistake, and this sentence makes more mistakes as we read through all of it, however one strike is all you get on the GMAT. Only answer choice C correctly compares the 24th (and 22nd) U.S. president to the other presidents. Answer choices A, B, D and E are all eliminated because of the same comparison error, and choice C must be the correct answer.

Sentence Correction on the GMAT is full of questions like this, where one issue will get you to the correct answer, but if you don’t see it, you’ll spend time dissecting slight meaning differences between synonyms. If you don’t recognize the comparison error, you might think that this question is asking you to choose between “Aside” and “Unlike” in a sentence, which is a fool’s errand. Recognizing the common errors that pop up on the GMAT helps both your success rate and your pace, helping build confidence. Best of all, it ensures you’re comparing apples with apples.

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Come On,Commas! 3 Reasons You Should Look Forward To Commas On Sentence Correction

GMAT Tip of the WeekAdmit it – perhaps your favorite thing about the social media revolution is that you’re (or is it “your”?) almost done having to think about punctuation ever again. Hashtags don’t allow for punctuation, and with only 140 characters to express your point of view or challenge three friends to dump water on their heads, who can afford to waste a character on a comma or semicolon?

But regardless of how you feel about punctuation in your own writing, you should look forward to seeing a certain type of punctuation on GMAT Sentence Correction questions. Why?

Commas are clues.

While you’re doing Sentence Correction problems, commas can alert you to three very important Decision Points or strategic uses:

1) Commas help you identify Modifier errors.

Consider this sentence, which comes straight from the Official Guide for GMAT Review:

Architects and stonemasons, huge palace and temple clusters were built by the Maya without the benefit of the wheel or animal transport.

That comma should jump off the screen at you – when a comma appears in the first 10 words of a sentence and is underlined or touches the underlined portion, there’s an incredibly high likelihood that you’re dealing with a Modifier error in at least a couple answer choices. Even more so, if the comma is at the beginning or end of the underline, that probability creeps up to almost 100% – most modifiers are set off by commas, and the most hard-and-fast rules for modifiers apply toward the beginnings of sentences (participial and appositive modifiers get to take some liberties toward the ends of sentences), so in a case like this you should be salivating when you see that comma after the third word and touching the underline. Since “Architects and stonemasons” is a modifier here, it has to logically be able to describe the next noun, and here it cannot (palaces and temple clusters can never be architects), so you have not only eliminated A but also identified the “game” in the sentence – now you have to go find a proper modifier or continue to eliminate flawed ones.

2) Commas signal nonessential modifiers, helping you lighten your load.

What if the sentence above were changed to:

Architects and stonemasons, the most respected of early Mayan craftsmen, were built without the benefit of the wheel or animal transport.

That comma in the same place still alerts you to a modifier, but in this case “the most respected of early Mayan craftsmen” can logically modify “Architects and stonemasons.” So you can’t eliminate this sentence. But since you have identified a *valid* modifier, you have another tool at your disposal – you can ignore it! We call this the “Use It or Lose It” modifier strategy. When you see a modifier, if you don’t “Use It” to eliminate the answer choice (because the modifier is flawed) then “Lose It” – that modifier just adds extra description that isn’t totally necessary to the meaning of the sentence, so you can stop reading at the first comma and start reading again at the second, making the sentence:

Architects and stonemasons were built without the benefit…

And there you should see the mistake – logically that doesn’t work, since architects aren’t “built.” The modifier in this iteration of the sentence is there to distract you from the subject of the sentence, but by identifying commas that set apart a valid modifier, you can lift out that part of the sentence and more quickly cut to the chase.

3) Commas signify lists (which in turn need to be parallel).

Consider another sentence from the GMAT Prep Question Pack:

Displays of the aurora borealis, or “northern lights,” can heat the atmosphere over the arctic enough to affect the trajectories of ballistic missiles, induce electric currents that can cause blackouts in some areas and corrosion in north-south pipelines.

In this sentence, look at that underlined comma next to “induce.” “Induce” is a verb and is not used here as a description, so that comma-verb combination should jump out at you as a clue. This may well be setting up a list of verbs that all stem from one subject or action, like “the race requires competitors to swim in frigid waters, bike across rugged terrain, and run along challenging trails” in which the list of verbs “swim, bike, and run” all must be parallel.

Here, notice that the verb prior to “induce” is “to affect” – this should show you that the displays of the northern lights heats the atmosphere enough to do at least two things:

*affect (the trajectories)
*induce (electric currents)
*and…anything else?

That comma before “induce” should have you on a hunt for that third item in the list, preceded by the word “and” – if you can’t find it, the sentence is wrong. You can’t say “Tonight I plan to exercise, eat dinner.” It has to be “…exercise, eat dinner, and (third verb)” or “…exercise and eat dinner.” So when you see that comma before the verb, you should check to see if you’re dealing with a list, and then make sure that the list is complete (with a connector like “and” or “or” before the last item) and parallel.

Commas may be going the way of bookstores and newspapers, a bit outdated for the social media generation, but at least on GMAT Sentence Correction they’re still important. So in your question for a GMAT score that’s well above “comma” it will pay to look for the comma.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

GMAT Tip of the Week: The 2 Most Important Lessons You Will Learn from Mrs. Doubtfire

GMAT Tip of the WeekFor those considering higher education this week, Robin Williams’ memory looms large. The lessons he taught in Dead Poets’ Society and Good Will Hunting have made their way around the internet more quickly and in more contexts than even Williams’ genie character from Aladdin could throw out references.

But for GMAT test-takers, perhaps the greatest lessons a Robin Williams character can teach come from Mrs. Doubtfire.

 

Mrs. Doubtfire Lesson One: Look at Verbs! 

Why was Mrs. Doubtfire even called Mrs. Doubtfire? Fans of the movie will remember – when Williams’ character was on the phone applying to be the nanny for his children, he needed a fake name and looked at the newspaper on the table. The San Francisco Chronicle headline that caught his eye: Police Doubt Fire Was Accidental.

And your favorite movie from your childhood could have been called “Mrs. Firewas” or “Mrs. Accidental” or even “Mrs. Crumrise” (trivia question: what was the name of the author of that article?). But Robin Williams – once an English teacher at a New England prep school, then a professor at MIT – knew what GMAT test-takers need to know on Sentence Correction:

Look for the verb.

He looked for the verb – “doubt” – and hence movie history was made. Mrs. Doubtfire became an instant classic, and if you’d like to meteorically rise to prominence at elite New England schools like so many Williams characters, you, too, should learn to look for the verb. Why? Because verbs come with two extremely common and extremely actionable GMAT decision points: verb tense and subject-verb agreement. You can become an expert on those two items much more easily than you can become an expert on other, more nuanced facets of grammar, so look for the verb first. For example:

So devastating the fire, so specific its victim, that police doubt the fire was accidental.

(A) So devastating the fire, so specific its victim, that police doubt the fire was accidental.

(B) The fire was so devastating and had such a specific victim that police doubts the fire was accidental.

(C) So devastating was the fire and its specific victim that police doubted it is accidental.

(D) So devastating the fire, so specific its victim, that police had doubted it accidentally.

(E) The fire was so devastating, its victim so specific, that police doubts it was accidental.

If you read this sentence from left to right, you may well dislike the initial wording (So X, So Y, that…) and try to fix that. But you’re likely not an expert on “unique grammatical structures” – the structure in the original sentence is, indeed, valid (called anaphora). But you don’t need to know that, either – if you look to the verbs (doubt/doubts/doubted and was/is) toward the right hand side of each answer choices, you’ll notice that B and E screw up the subject-verb agreement and C and D botch the tense/timeline. The verb decisions are much easier to make than the structure decision, and if you use the verbs properly the only structure left is A. So learn from Mrs. Doubtfire – look for the verb!

Mrs. Doubtfire Lesson Two: GMAT Questions Often Dress In Drag (or at least in disguise).

Just as Robin Williams donned a mask, wig, and dress in order to appear more kind, friendly, and nurturing, so many GMAT questions are designed to look calming and “easy” when in fact they’re quite difficult. So while your instinct when you see an “easy” problem may well be to rush through it and create some doubt about how you’re performing on the computer-adaptive test, make sure you keep Mrs. Doubtfire in the back of your mind – the question that seems like Mary Poppins might actually be a little darker and scarier (like Williams’ character in One Hour Photo). Paraphrasing Williams’ Good Will Hunting co-star Matt Damon in his Rounders role “if you can’t spot the sucker in the first short while, you probably are the sucker.” Meaning that easy questions – those you might see as absolutely no problem and be able to answer in 30 seconds or so – may deserve a second look. Behind that comforting exterior might well be a trickier question (or your ex-husband who hates Pierce Brosnan).

Consider as an example:

Because he’s taxed by his home planet, Mork pays a tax rate of 40% on his income, while Mindy pays a rate of only 30% on hers. If Mindy earned 3 times as much as Mork did, what was their combined tax rate?

(A) 32.5%
(B) 34%
(C) 35%
(D) 36%
(E) 37.5%

If your mind immediately thought “the average of 30% and 40% is 35% – C!” you’re not alone…but you may be falling for the old Mrs. Doubtfire routine, mistaking a more-difficult question for one that’s sweet, nurturing, and easy. Because Mork & Mindy don’t earn the same amount, their average must be weighted, meaning that the correct answer is A (since Mindy’s income carries 3/4 of the weight, the weighted average will be 3/4 of the way toward her income). And the lesson – when a GMAT question seems a bit too easy, don’t merely assume that it’s easy and that you’re doing poorly. Think about Mrs. Doubtfire playing soccer in the park and Aerosmith singing “Dude Looks Like Lady” (or “Hard Looks Like It’s Easy”…same rhythm) and see if you’re falling for a hard problem disguised as an easy one.

Robin Williams will be remembered for the many ways he inspired us and the many lessons he taught us. While, sadly, you won’t be able to have a conversation with him on a park bench in Boston Common, remembering his Mrs. Doubtfire character on the GMAT will help you on your quest to find similarly-inspiring professors of your own.

Thank you, O’ Captain.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

How to Approach Mimic the Reasoning GMAT Questions

The GMAT is known to be a demanding exam. Most students recognize that a lot of preparation is required in order to get the best score possible. Most students undertaking the GMAT are also used to studying for tests and have worked out their own strategies and their own methods of preparation. Indeed, people overwhelmingly study the GMAT in an orderly and structured way. This is a positive thing, but it can have its drawbacks.

Usually, order is a positive thing that gives structure to what we’re doing. Today I’m studying reading comprehension, tomorrow I will study algebra. This method allows our brains to classify different concepts and keep them neatly separated in our minds. The alternative is to have things haphazardly stored in our memories and try to recall the information as it comes up. It’s the same principle as a library. If the books are stored by alphabetical order, then it’s easy to find the book you’re looking for (say Fifty Shades of Gray), whereas a pile of books scattered on the floor may or may not contain the book you want.

However, with this order comes some level of compartmentalization, which can be problematic on compound problems. For example, if a question deals with geometry, it may also contain some elements of algebra. Typically, when you see a triangle, your brain is busy scanning through the properties it recognizes (area, isosceles rules, etc), and doesn’t bother with perfect squares or exponent rules. More difficult questions require you to combine seemingly disparate concepts and utilize them on the same question. This becomes difficult because it breaks the order we’ve neatly established and requires us to sometimes jumble information.

This phenomenon is not limited to math problems. Indeed, it shows up very frequently on “Mimic the Reasoning” questions, in which we’re asked to construct a similar argument to the one in the question stem. The problem is the logic is almost never in the same order in the answer choices as in the question stem. Let’s review one and see how we can approach these questions:

Some political observers believe that the only reason members of the state’s largest union supported Senator Hughes in his recent re-election campaign was that the union’s leaders must have been assured by Hughes that, if elected, he would stay out of their coming negotiations with the union’s national leadership, whose members have been financial backers of several close associates of Hughes. More likely, the union’s members believed that Hughes deserved to serve another term in office.

Which of the following best parallels the method of argument used by the author?

(A) The popularity of Deap, a powerful carpet cleaning system that can be used by the homeowner is, some industry observers say, due to an agreement made by a leading professional carpet cleaning company to supply Deap with the chemicals that are sold as accessories. This does not, however, fully explain the sudden popularity of the product in the last three months.

(B) After a rocky start, Shade, a new cosmetics line, is now selling briskly. The reason for the turnaround is almost certainly that Shade is now being marketed to women in their twenties, not just to teens. This has helped the product achieve a more sophisticated appeal, which has translated into greater sales in every age group.

(C) The Shakelight, a small flashlight that can be powered for several minutes by a shaking motion, has once again proven a popular gift item this holiday season. Other similar devices are available, but none has been as successful, and the reason is simple: the cost of The Shakelight has fluctuated so that it has always been at least one dollar less than that of any competitor. The manufacturers’ claim that they have a better product is nonsense.

(D) The continued success of the Daddo line of toys is due to the simple appeal that these toys have for kids between three years of age and six. Others disagree. One industry journal ascribed the brand’s popularity to a deal made with a major toy retailer guaranteeing that the retailer would carry the coming line of Daddo products exclusively for three months.

(E) As with last year, this year’s best selling foreign policy journal is World Opinion. It may be that the content in World Opinion is simply more exhaustive and better presented than that of similar publications, or it may be that the journal’s publishers have the substantial support of their parent company, which has been a good friend to bookstores and other outlets.

One of the uncontestable issues with a question like this is that it’s very long. A quick word count reveals that this question is over 400 words, but thankfully we’re skimming the answer choices looking for a match to the original argument. The passage states that there are two potential reasons for the re-election of a certain Senator, one that’s more conspiracy-oriented and one that’s more straight forward (we may want Occam’s Razor for this). We must now peruse the other answer choices looking for a similar pattern of reasoning.

Answer choice A only gives one explanation and then elaborates on how this may not actually be correct because it doesn’t explain everything. No alternative is given. The logic is not the same and therefore this choice can be eliminated.

Answer choice B similarly gives one explanation and then defends it as the only plausible choice. While this is a reasonable logic to follow, it does not mimic that of the passage.

Answer choice C is a little closer. The Shakelight is known to be a popular gift, and there is one reason given. Another possible reason is mentioned, but ignored out of hand because it is preposterous. This choice at least presents the illusion of two possibilities, even if one of them is never seriously considered. The logic is not the same as the original passage, but it is closer than the two previous choices.

Answer choice D is essentially the same logic as that of the passage. Two possible choices are given, and one is more likely than the other. Both choices are considered, even if one choice is given more credence. This is a good match to the original passage and answer choice D is the correct answer.

For completion’s sake, let’s also look at answer choice E. This logic is not that far from the original, but it is in the opposite direction from answer choice C. Two possibilities are given, but neither one is decreed to be more likely than the other. This logic is again similar to the original passage, but not exactly the same.

This question somewhat mirrors the goldilocks parable. Answer choice E postulates that either possibility could be good (too big), while answer choice C completely disregards the second option (too small). Only answer choice D (just right) correctly mirrors the logic in the original passage, albeit in a different order. It is important on the GMAT to be able to see the logic in the statements, even if it’s presented in a different order than you’re used to. The exam rewards those test takers who demonstrate mental agility and can correctly decode order from the chaos.

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

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:

Since

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”.

When

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.

Before

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).

After

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.

From

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.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

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

How to Successfully Complete Your Thoughts on Critical Reasoning GMAT Questions

In today’s world of instant gratification and ubiquitous mobile phone usage, we are becoming used to things going fast. Multitasking has become the new norm, and it seems like no one takes the time to finish anything before jumping off to the next task. While this hectic pace may allow more tasks to be accomplished (although not necessarily well), it also makes it harder for any one task to be attentively completed. In short, it’s becoming harder to finish any one thought.

The GMAT is an exam that tests many different facets of understanding, and some questions are designed to test your ability to finish a thought. In Critical Reasoning, we are often asked to establish which answer choice is the correct answer to a given question. However, sometimes there is no actual question posed, but simply an unfinished thought that must be completed. The thought cannot end in multiple different ways, but rather, it must end in the only answer choice that is coherent with the rest of the passage. These questions combine elements of strengthen, weaken and inference questions and ask you to best complete the passage given.

These questions do tend to be harder than a typical Critical Reasoning question, and therefore may not show up that frequently on any one test. However, they are important to understand because they ______________

A) Build confidence

B) Underscore important concepts

C) Squirrel!!

The answer to my little trivia game was B, but you could make a case for any of the given answers. Let’s try it again with an actual GMAT question:

Environmentalists support a major phase-down of fossil fuels and substitution of favored ‘non-polluting’ energies to conserve depleting resources and protect the environment. Yet energy megatrends contradict those concerns. Fossil-fuel resources are becoming more abundant, not scarcer, and promise to continue expanding as technology improves, world markets liberalize, and investment capital expands. However, these facts do not mean a smaller role of the non-polluting sources of energy in the long run given that ______________

A) The costs of producing energy from non-polluting sources of energy have remained constant in the last five years.

B) The availability of fossil fuels does mean an increased use of the same.

C) The amount of confirmed deposits of fossil fuels is sufficient to serve the world energy needs at least over the next two centuries.

D) There is an increasing sense of acceptance across the world on the harmful effects of the use of fossil fuels on the environment.

E) Non-polluting sources of energy are less cost-effective than fossil fuels.

The correct answer must correctly finish the thought as if it were always supposed to be there. If there are any contradictions or illogical conclusions drawn, that answer choice must be incorrect. The thought began by discussing fossil fuels and how environmentalists are calling for decreasing their use. However, the worldwide trend is that their use is increasing (#FossilFuels). These facts must somehow combine to indicate that non-polluting sources of energy will still be prevalent in the future, and we must select the answer choice that supports that. Let’s examine them one by one.

Answer choice A “The costs of producing energy from non-polluting sources of energy have remained constant in the last five years” introduces cost into the equation. There was no mention of cost prior to this, so it seems illogical that cost will be a determining factor in this issue. We can safely eliminate A.

Answer choice B “The availability of fossil fuels does mean an increased use of the same” is actually a 180°. If this were true, then there would be ever more fossil fuel use, and the alternatives would be significantly reduced. Answer choice B may seem tempting, but it’s going the wrong way.

Answer choice C “The amount of confirmed deposits of fossil fuels is sufficient to serve the world energy needs at least over the next two centuries” brings up an arbitrary timeframe for the purposes of sounding grandiose. Two centuries seems like a long time, but it’s also unfounded and irrelevant to the process. What if the answer choice had been two decades instead? Or two millennia? Would that make it more or less likely to be true? The arbitrary timeframe does not have any bearing on this thought, so we must eliminate answer choice C.

Answer choice D “There is an increasing sense of acceptance across the world on the harmful effects of the use of fossil fuels on the environment” brings the argument back to the cause of the environmentalists. This harkens back to the first sentence of the passage, and logically concludes why the facts may indicate something, but the long term trend will eventually indicate something else. Answer choice D is correct.

Answer choice E “Non-polluting sources of energy are less cost-effective than fossil fuels“ can be particularly tempting, because it is actually true in real life. However, just like with answer choice A, the concept of cost is parachuted into the passage with no antecedent to build upon. This factoid may be largely true in 2014, but does that mean it will be true in 2015 or 2025? We cannot select answer choices that seem correct in real life but are unsupported in the text. Answer choice E can also be eliminated.

When it comes to finishing a thought, it is important to note that the conclusion is often the most interesting part. Even if you’re already contemplating the next element or task, ensure that you do a thorough job finishing up the previous job. No one likes to leave loose threads, and it completely undermines your conclusion when the last portion is unclear or unfinished. Above all, the most important thing is to always…

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

Determine Which Type of GMAT Question This Is: Assumption or Inference?

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomWe will continue our Quant 48 to 51 journey in the coming weeks but today, we need to discuss an important distinction between assumptions and inferences. Most of you will be able to explain the difference between an assumption and an inference but some questions will still surprise you. After all, both assumptions and inferences deal with the same elements in the argument. The way they are worded makes all the difference.

In simple words, when you have enough data given and you can infer something from it without doubt, it is called an inference/conclusion.
When you have author’s opinion (conclusion of the argument) and you need something to be true for the opinion to hold, that is an assumption.

Let us explain with a simple example.

All A are B.
All B are C.

You can conclude that: All A are C. This must be true. It is a conclusion.

If you conclude that ‘All C are A’ (your opinion, not necessarily a fact), you are assuming that A, B and C overlap i.e. they all have exactly the same elements.

Look again:

Argument 1:

Premises:

All A are B.
All B are C.

Conclusion: All A are C.

Argument 2:

Premises:

All A are B.
All B are C.

Conclusion: All C are A.

Assumption: A, B and C overlap.

The conclusion of argument 2 will not hold if the assumption is negated.

If you are wondering why we are emphasizing it again and again even though it looks really simple, here is an official question that might help you understand the reasons for our misgivings. We will give you the argument but not the question stem. We will also give you the correct answer. You will need to decide whether the question stem asks for a conclusion or an assumption.

Question: Among the more effective kinds of publicity that publishers can get for a new book is to have excerpts of it published in a high-circulation magazine soon before the book is published. The benefits of such excerption include not only a sure increase in sales but also a fee paid by the magazine to the book’s publisher.

(A) The number of people for whom seeing an excerpt of a book in a magazine provides an adequate substitute for reading the whole book is smaller than the number for whom the excerpt stimulates a desire to read the book.

(B) Because the financial advantage of excerpting a new book in a magazine usually accrues to the book’s publisher, magazine editors are unwilling to publish excerpts from new books.

(C) In calculating the total number of copies that a book has sold, publishers include sales of copies of magazines that featured an excerpt of the book.

(D) The effectiveness of having excerpts of a book published in a magazine, measured in terms of increased sales of a book, is proportional to the circulation of the magazine in which the excerpts are published.

(E) Books that are suitable for excerpting in high-circulation magazines sell more copies than book that are not suitable for excerpting.

The correct answer is (A). What is the question?

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!

5 Errors to Look For in Sentence Correction Questions on the GMAT

I recently received the following question from a student. “I often get into trouble with ambiguous pronouns. If it is not clear what “they” or “it” refers to I eliminate the answer choice. I like to do this because it seems easy, but I keep getting burned using this technique. So my question is, if it is not clear what a pronoun refers to is that answer choice wrong?”

I replied to the student by discussing the Process Pyramid for Sentence Correction. Here is what the pyramid looks like.

 

Brevity

Clarity      Specificity

      Logic                   Grammar

 

Logic and Grammar Come First

You can see that the bottom level – the foundation of sentence correction – is logic and grammar, (including proper comparisons and parallelism).  This is where your analysis should begin. If the answer choice has a flaw in grammar, such as subject-verb agreement or an error in logic, such as an illogical modifier then that answer choice should be eliminated.

This type of error is less subjective than something like an ambiguous modifier. That is why you should begin with logic and grammar, these errors are not a matter of judgment and the rules are easier to master. In particular students get a tremendous return on investment from mastering the rules of the common modifiers, including participial phrases, prepositions, appositives, and relative clauses.

Next Clarity and Specificity

The initial level of analysis should eliminate most answer choices based on flaws in grammar and logic. However, sometimes there will be more than one answer choice that has (or seems to have) no errors in grammar or logic. At this point you can move to clarity and specificity as a way to distinguish between answers. This is when it is appropriate to eliminate answer choices that have pronouns that are not clearly matched to antecedents.

The Official Guide for GMAT Review, 13th Edition (written by the people who make the GMAT exam) states that a correct answer should avoid being “awkward, wordy, redundant, imprecise, or unclear” and that an answer that is any of these things can be eliminated even if it is “free of grammatical errors.”  This group of secondary errors is referred to as problems with “rhetorical construction.”

The following answer choice is from question #44 of the sentence correction portion of the Official Guide 13th  Edition:

“The plot of the Bostonians centers on the active feminist, Olive Chancellor, and the rivalry with the charming and cynical cousin Basil Ransom, when they find themselves drawn to the same radiant young woman whose talent for public speaking has won her an ardent following.”

This answer choice is eliminated not for a grammatical flaw, but because it is lacks clarity and specificity. It is unclear in this particular answer choice that “Olive Chancellor is a party to the rivalry” with Basil Ransom.

Finally, Brevity

At the top of the Process Pyramid is Brevity. Most sentence correction questions do not require you to climb so high on the pyramid. It is only when two or more answers are logically and grammatically acceptable AND are each clear and specific that you need to bring brevity into the equation.  However, the Official Guide describes many answer choices as “unnecessarily wordy.” So if you do find that you have two or more answer choices that satisfy the first two levels of the process pyramid only then do you eliminate the one that is “wordy.”

Looking for an error such as an ambiguous pronoun is fine; just make sure that you do so at the proper time. Use the process pyramid to organize errors and address those errors in the proper order: Grammar and logic, clarity and specificity, and finally, brevity.

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David Newland has been teaching for Veritas Prep since 2006, and he won the Veritas Prep Instructor of the Year award in 2008. Students’ friends often call in asking when he will be teaching next because he really is a Veritas Prep and a GMAT rock star! Read more of his articles here.

Increase Your Speed on Reading Comprehension GMAT Questions

One common complaint that people have when finishing the GMAT is that they are mentally exhausted. Indeed the exam is a marathon that tests your overall endurance, but also your time management skills. You have about two minutes per question in the math section, and slightly less than that on the verbal part.  Since timing is such an integral part of the exam, it’s important not to lose too much time on any specific question type on the exam. It’s perfectly natural to be more at ease with certain question types and thus process them faster than others, but you don’t want to have entire categories of questions you’re trying to avoid (or at least, not too many of them).

Last week, I discussed timing issues on a quantitative question, and many of the concepts covered are applicable to the verbal section as well. Maintaining a good pace and avoiding spending undue time on perplexing questions are fundamental elements of a good GMAT score. However, I wanted to delve further into a particular type of question that often causes timing issues on the exam. Particularly when exhausted near the end of the test, students often dread coming across protracted Reading Comprehension passages.

Reading Comprehension (or RC for friends and family) poses a unique challenge on the GMAT. Every quantitative question and every other type of verbal question is entirely self-contained. A question will ask you about something, and then the following problem will be a completely different question about a completely different topic. Reading Comprehension questions ask you three, four and even five questions about the same prompt, and the prompts can be dozens of lines. Indeed, the first question on Reading Comprehension expects you to read through the entire passage, creating an inherent timing concern. Surely you can’t be expected to read through the entire passage in 2 minutes? (You are expected to do so, and don’t call me Shirley.)

Indeed, you can read through the passage in about two minutes, but you’re unlikely to be able to both read the passage and answer the (first) question posed during that span. For RC questions, I often find the best strategy is to separate the passage from the questions. If you read the question first, you risk skewing the analysis of the passage towards the question you have in mind, so it’s best to read the passage first without reading the question on the opposite side of the screen. The goal of this initial reading is to be able to identify the main idea of each paragraph and the primary purpose of the passage as a whole. You can read the passage in about 2 minutes and then spend about 1.5 minutes on each question, yielding a total of 8 minutes for 4 questions, roughly what you’d expect to spend holistically.

Let’s try this approach on a GMAT Reading Comprehension passage. At the end of each paragraph, try to summarize the main idea in about 3-5 words. You can even write these words down if you want, but it should be sufficient to think about the ideas.

Biologists have advanced two theories to explain why schooling of fish occurs in so many fish species. Because schooling is particularly widespread among species of small fish, both theories assume that schooling offers the advantage of some protection from predators. Proponents of theory A dispute the assumption that a school of thousands of fish is highly visible. Experiments have shown that any fish can be seen, even in very clear water, only within a sphere of 200 meters in diameter. When fish are in a compact group, the spheres of visibility overlap. Thus the chance of a predator finding the school is only slightly greater than the chance of the predator finding a single fish swimming alone. Schooling is advantageous to the individual fish because a predator’s chance of finding any particular fish swimming in the school is much smaller than its chance of finding at least one of the same group of fish if the fish were dispersed throughout an area.

However, critics of theory A point out that some fish form schools even in areas where predators are abundant and thus little possibility of escaping detection exists. They argue that the school continues to be of value to its members even after detection. They advocate theory B, the “confusion effect,” which can be explained in two different ways. Sometimes, proponents argue, predators simply cannot decide which fish to attack. This indecision supposedly results from a predator’s preference for striking prey that is distinct from the rest of the school in appearance. In many schools the fish are almost identical in appearance, making it difficult for a predator to select one. The second explanation for the “confusion effect” has to do with the sensory confusion caused by a large number of prey moving around the predator. Even if the predator makes the decision to attack a particular fish, the movement of other prey in the school can be distracting. The predator’s difficulty can be compared to that of a tennis player trying to hit a tennis ball when two are approaching simultaneously.

According to one explanation of the “confusion effect,” a fish that swims in a school will have greater advantages for survival if it

(A)   tends to be visible for no more than 200 meters.

(B)   stays near either the front or the rear of a school.

(C)   is part of a small school rather than a large school.

(D)   is very similar in appearance to the other fish in the school.

(E)    is medium-sized.

This passage only has two main paragraphs, and really each one is mostly about a theory as to why fish form schools (theory C: to get business degrees). We can summarize the first paragraph as the evasion theory and the second paragraph as the confusion theory. Overall the passage is primarily concerned with differing theories as to why fish tend to regroup in many disparate situations.

Looking over the question, it is specifically concerned with the “confusion effect”, which was theory B in the second paragraph. We can now focus our attention on the second paragraph to answer the question about survival. Rereading the passage, nothing was mentioned about the front or back of a school, as well as the size of the school, which eliminates answer choices B and C. Answer choice E similarly makes decisions based on the size of the fish, which was only discussed in terms of small fish. We can fairly quickly eliminate this choice as being a medium sized fish was never even mentioned.

Only answer choices A and D remain. Answer choice A is mentioned in the general sense for all fish in schools, and so would be a dubious choice as a great advantage since it applies to all fish in a given school. This is equivalent to saying we should promote Bob because he breathes oxygen. Answer choice D offers a logical choice, which is almost verbatim in the middle of the second paragraph “In many schools the fish are almost identical in appearance, making it difficult for a predator to select one.” This answer lines up with the text and we’ve eliminated the other four choices, making D an easy selection (also possibly recalling memorable moments from Disney’s Finding Nemo).

The questions on Reading Comprehension tend to be somewhat less tricky than the other verbal sections (Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning). This difference is somewhat due to the fact that reading through passages takes time and inherently contributes to the difficulty of the question. The trouble isn’t just finding the right answer, it’s reading through 300 words of drivel without falling asleep and then isolating the important aspect to answer the given question. Especially since the verbal section is the last section of this test, it’s important not to waste too much time and get mentally fatigued. A good timing strategy is crucial to getting the best possible result on your GMAT.

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

Connect the Sentence Correction Dots and Succeed on the GMAT

Studying for GMAT sentence correction questions can seem like a primer on grammatical rules. This is because any given phrase could have a pronoun issue, or a verb agreement issue, or even a logical meaning issue. Most GMAT preparation involves at least some amount of time on the specific issues that are frequently tested on the GMAT. There is, however, one important rule that must always be adhered to and that cannot be easily pigeonholed. This rule should cross your mind on every single sentence correction problem you may see, and is often overlooked when speeding through practice questions. Quite simply: the underlined portion of the phrase must work seamlessly with the rest of the sentence.

You may wonder why such a simple rule is often overlooked. The problem is often one of perspective. When evaluating five different choices, it is easy to concentrate on the differences among the options given and ignore the rest of the world (like watching Game of Thrones). Whichever choice you select must merge effortlessly with the rest of the sentence. If it doesn’t, the answer choice selected cannot possibly be the correct answer.

It’s surprisingly easy to overlook this aspect of sentence correction. However, there’s a simple strategy to combat this inertia: (i.e. There’s an app for that) we must ensure to pay special attention to the first and last words of the underlined portion. These are the connector words that link the sentence fragment back to the rest of the sentence. It’s possible that there is only one such word if the underlined portion is at the beginning or at the end. As long as the whole sentence isn’t underlined (which brings a whole different set of problems to the table), pay attention to the connector word(s) and any syntax that must be respected.

Let’s look at a typical Sentence Correction question to illustrate the point:

To Josephine Baker, Paris was her home long before it was fashionable to be an expatriate, and she remained in France during the Second World War as a performer and an intelligence agent for the Resistance

(A)   To Josephine Baker, Paris was her home long before it was fashionable to be an expatriate

(B)   For Josephine Baker, long before it was fashionable to be an expatriate, Paris was her home

(C)   Josephine Baker made Paris her home long before to be an expatriate was fashionable

(D)   Long before it was fashionable to be an expatriate, Josephine Baker made Paris her home

(E)    Long before it was fashionable being an expatriate, Paris was home to Josephine Baker

Since I’ve spent three paragraphs discussing the perils of ensuring that the underlined portion flows flawlessly with the rest of the sentence, let’s start the discussion there. The underlined portion ends with a comma, and then there’s immediately an “and she” that we cannot modify. This means the subject of the underlined portion must unequivocally be “Josephine Baker”, lest we not have a clear antecedent for the pronoun. Let’s look at the answer choices one by one and eliminate them if they do not make logical and grammatical sense until only one remains.

The original answer choice “To Josephine Baker, Paris was her home long before it was fashionable to be an expatriate“ doesn’t work because the sentence contains a modifier error. The sentence is also set up so that Paris seems to be the subject, making the “she” pronoun unclear (is this referring to Paris Hilton, perhaps?) This sentence is grammatically incorrect, and the transition into the rest of the sentence highlights this discrepancy.

Moving on, answer choice B “For Josephine Baker, long before it was fashionable to be an expatriate, Paris was her home” suffers from the same ambiguity. We can mentally strike out the modifier “long before it was fashionable to be an expatriate” as it adds nothing to the grammatical structure of the sentence. This leaves us with “For Josephine Baker,…, Paris was her home, and she…”. This time the pronoun should refer back to Paris, clearly incorrect. In the best case this sentence is hopelessly unclear, and in the worst case it’s inadequate and unnecessary (Some would argue that’s another Paris Hilton reference).

Answer choice C “Josephine Baker made Paris her home long before to be an expatriate was fashionable” actually works fairly well with the rest of the sentence. However it’s often the first answer choice to be eliminated because of the phrasing “long before to be an expatriate”, which is clearly wrong. The underlined portion must gel with the rest of the sentence, but that is not the only criterion that matters.

Answer choice D “Long before it was fashionable to be an expatriate, Josephine Baker made Paris her home”, seems to work. It puts the modifier at the beginning of the sentence and clearly identifies Josephine Baker as the subject. The rest of the sentence flows naturally from this sentence. D should be the correct answer, but we should still eliminate E for completion’s sake.

Answer choice E “Long before it was fashionable being an expatriate, Paris was home to Josephine Baker” recreates the same problem that’s pervaded this sentence since answer choice A. This sentence clearly has Paris as a subject, and everything after the comma naturally refers to Paris. Answer choice E is incorrect, cementing our decision that answer D is correct (Final answer, Regis).

On sentence correction problems, it’s very easy to get so enthralled by the underlined text that you ignore the rest of the sentence. While the underlined portion is the most important part, focusing exclusively on those words makes you lose perspective and gives you a fishbowl mentality (Orange Is the New Black style). The words that aren’t underlined may be indispensable to selecting the correct answer, especially the connector words that link the underlined text back to the rest of the sentence. To see the big picture, sometimes you have to make sure to connect the dots.

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

Understanding Conjunctions on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomWe would like to discuss a bit about conjunctions today – just whatever is relevant for GMAT. We will start by defining the kinds of conjunctions, then move on to the different ways in which they are used, and finally, we will see how they can be tested in a question.

Conjunction is a word that connects or joins together words, phrases, clauses, or sentences. There are two kinds of conjunctions:

1. Coordinating conjunctions – Connect two equal parts of a sentence

Further, coordinating conjunctions are of two types:

Pure Conjunctions – and, but, or, for, nor, yet, so (the first letters of these make the acronym FANBOYS) – try to keep these in mind.

Conjunctive Adverbs – These words sometimes act as conjunctions and at other times, as adverbs – accordingly, in fact, again, instead, also, likewise, besides, moreover, consequently, namely, finally, nevertheless, for example, otherwise, further, still, furthermore, that is, hence, then, however, therefore, indeed, thus

2. Subordinating conjunctions – Connect two unequal parts of a sentence e.g. independent and dependent clauses – after, since, when, although, so that, whenever, as, supposing, where, because, than, whereas, before, that, wherever, but that, though, whether, if, though, which, in order that, till, while, lest, unless, who, no matter, until, why, how, what, even though

Things to note about conjunctions:

1. Two independent clauses can be joined by a comma and a pure conjunction. However, a comma by itself will not work to join together two sentences and will create a comma splice!

Examples:

The rain slashed the town, and the people scurried for shelter.

The policeman dodged the bullets, but a bystander was shot.

If you omit the conjunctions ’or’ and ‘but’ above, you will create a comma splice.

2. When two independent clauses are joined by a conjunctive adverb we need to insert a semicolon between the two clauses. Note that conjunctive adverbs are not really full conjunctions, and they can’t do that job by themselves. It is the semicolon that does the real job of joining the two independent clauses.

Examples:

The rain slashed the town; furthermore, the people scurried for shelter.

The policeman dodged the bullets; however, a bystander was shot.

Note that if we use a comma instead of a semicolon in the examples above, we will create a comma splice.

3. A dependent clause at the beginning of a sentence is introductory, and it is usually followed by a comma.

Examples:

While the rain slashed the town, the people scurried for shelter.

Although the policeman dodged the bullets, a bystander was shot.

On the other hand, no punctuation is necessary for the dependent clause following the main clause.

Let’s take one of our own questions to understand the application of these concepts:

Question: Unlike the previous year’s bidding, the contract was awarded not simply to the firm offering to complete the work on time for the least cost; the thoroughness of the design submission was also factored into the decision.

(A) Unlike the previous year’s bidding, the contract this year was awarded not simply to the firm offering to complete the work on time for the least cost;

(B)   This year, unlike last year, the contract was awarded not simply to the firm offering to complete the work on time for the least cost;

(C)   Unlike the previous year’s bidding, this year the contract was awarded not simply to the firm offering to complete the work on time for the least cost;

(D)   Unlike the previous year’s bidding, the bidding for the contract this year was awarded not simply to the firm offering to complete the work on time for the least cost, instead

(E)    Unlike the previous year’s bidding, the contract’s bidding this year were awarded not simply to the firm offering to complete the work on time for the least cost;

Solution: Other than the comparison errors contained in (A) – compares bidding with contract – and (C) – compares bidding with year – we have sentence structure errors.

There are two independent clauses here:

–          the contract was awarded not simply to the firm offering to complete the work on time for the least cost.

–          the thoroughness of the design submission was also factored into the decision.

There are two ways to join them – we can use a conjunction or a semi colon. Options (A), (B), (C) and (E) use a semi colon.

Option (D) tries to use a conjunction with a comma but note that “instead” is a conjunctive adverb. It needs a semi colon before it. The use of instead with a comma has created a comma splice. Options (D) and (E) also have meaning errors since they award ‘bidding’ to the firm instead of awarding the ‘contract’ to the firm. (E) is also incorrect in its use of ‘were awarded’. The contract is singular and hence, ‘was awarded’ should be used.

Option (B) rectifies all these errors and is the answer!

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!

GMAT Tip of the Week: Free Points On Sentence Correction

GMAT Tip of the WeekWhile summer hasn’t officially started with the solstice coming in a few weeks, this post-Memorial-Day short week and a final farewell to winter weather has started the summer season in earnest for most Northern Hemispherians. And thus beginneth the season of sentences like:

It’s not only the heat but also the humidity.

and

Both the heat and the humidity have been awful this summer.

And while you lament the oppressive heat waves with such sentences this summer, you can not only wish you had air conditioning but also prepare for the GMAT. “Not only…but also;” “Both _____ and ______;” “Just as X, so Y;” and other similar phrases should be free points for you on the GMAT if you heed this advice (which is not only valid GMAT advice but also terrific summertime skin care advice):

Cover up.

As an example, consider this partial sentence correction question:

This weekend, Anna will either go surfing at Paradise Cove or sailing at Montego Marina.

(A) go surfing at Paradise Cove or sailing

(B) surf at Paradise Cove or she will sail

(C) go surfing at Paradise Cove or go sailing

The technique? Cover up everything from “either” through “or” (or from “not only” through “but also” or from “both” through “and” when you see those structures) and if the sentence doesn’t still make sense, it’s wrong. Try it:

(A) This weekend, Anna will…sailing at Montego Marina.

(B) This weekend, Anna will…she will sail at Montego Marina

(C) This weekend, Anna will…go sailing at Montego Marina

As you should see, C is the only one that makes sense, so it has to be right. The reason? These “structures that split in two” require parallel construction – if there’s a verb right after “either” there has to be a verb right after “or.” But if the subject comes right after “either,” there has to be a subject (like she) right after “or.” And the byproduct of that is that if that parallel structure is broken, the second half of the sentence won’t make sense – it will either be missing an important word or it will include a redundant word or phrase (like “it will”).

So when you see any of these constructions:

Both X and Y

Either X or Y

Neither X nor Y

Just as X, so Y

Not only X, but also Y

Seize the opportunity and cover up everything between (and including) those structural phrases. If the resulting sentence doesn’t make sense, that answer is wrong. And since people often struggle mightily with parallel structures, the “Cover Up” strategy should give you free points on that question. So while you may not be a fan of either the heat or the humidity this summer, paying attention to parallel structure when you issue those complaints can help you get into both Harvard and into Stanford in the fall.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

GMAT Tip of the Week: The Most Important Word on the GMAT

GMAT Tip of the WeekOver the course of your GMAT exam, you’ll read thousands of words. Each Reading Comp passage, for example, will have ~300 of them; each Sentence Correction prompt will have ~40. And while you won’t spend much time reading the words in the Data Sufficiency answer choices, having long since internalized what each letter means, you’ll spend plenty of time poring over keywords in the question stem. You’ll need to process tons of words as you take the GMAT, but on most questions one word will make all the difference:

The word they didn’t have to say.

Consider this new Data Sufficiency question from the Veritas Prep Question Bank:

What is the value of n?

(1) 36n > n^2 + 324

(2) 325 > n^2 > 323

Many will see statement 1 with its quadratic mixed with inequality and think “well, n could be anything”. But look a little closer – what word (or in this case symbol) did the question not have to use? What rare qualifier is in there?

That’s right – it’s not “greater than,” it’s “greater than OR equal to”. That little underline should stand out to you – almost any time we use an inequality we use > or >.

And here that should be your clue that it’s worth it to do the math. When you’re asked for a specific value and given a one-sided inequality (as opposed to a bracketed inequality like you see in statement 2) that usually isn’t going to help you. But that underline should indicate to you that something’s up…that you need to do some work. And if you do:

36n > n^2 + 324

becomes a quadratic:

0 > n^2 – 36n + 324

which factors:

0 > (n – 18)^2

meaning that:

0 is greater than OR equal to (n – 18)

And here’s where that sixth sense really kicks in…you know something’s up, so you investigate a little further. 0 can’t be greater than a square, as anything squared, no matter how negative, is either 0 or positive. So (n – 18) MUST BE 0, the “or equal to” portion. (and since statement 2 allows for noninteger values of n, too, the answer is A).

And the real lesson? Pay attention to the word (or symbol, or phrase) that the question doesn’t have to say. If there’s a word that seems out of the ordinary, it’s usually there for a reason and that’s your clue as to what will make the question interesting or challenging.

In a Critical Reasoning context this happens frequently, too. Consider:

Raisins are made by drying grapes in the sun. Although some of the sugar in the grapes is caramelized in the process, nothing is added. Moreover, the only thing removed from the grapes is the water that evaporates during the drying, and water contains no calories or nutrients. The fact that raisins contain more iron per food calorie than grapes do is thus puzzling.

Which one of the following, if true, most helps to explain why raisins contain more iron per calorie than do grapes?

(A) Since grapes are bigger than raisins, it takes several bunches of grapes to provide the same amount of iron as a handful of raisins does.
(B) Caramelized sugar cannot be digested, so its calories do not count toward the food calorie content of raisins.
(C) The body can absorb iron and other nutrients more quickly from grapes than from raisins because of the relatively high water content of grapes.
(D) Raisins, but not grapes, are available year-round, so many people get a greater share of their yearly iron intake from raisins than from grapes.
(E) Raisins are often eaten in combination with other iron-containing foods, while grapes are usually eaten by themselves.

Look at that question stem – what doesn’t it have to say? It could say:

Which one of the following, if true, most helps to explain why raisins contain more iron per calorie than do grapes?

And very few would notice or care that “per calorie” is missing. So that phrase “per calorie” becomes supremely important – it’s not about raising having more iron…it’s about a change to the iron-per-calorie ratio. That little phrase that didn’t really need to be said is what makes this question interesting, and what determines the correct answer B (which changes the iron/calorie ratio by reducing the number of calories in that ratio).

So train yourself to look for that word, symbol, or phrase that doesn’t really need to be there but that should now stick out like a sore thumb to you. If a question says that:

x and y are distinct integers —> that word “distinct” doesn’t need to be there, so it’s going to be important that x can’t equal y

Therefore, Company B will need to reduce its shipping costs in order to remain profitable –> that word “shipping” doesn’t need to be there, so it’s going to be important

What is the value of nonnegative integer y? –> “nonnegative” is just so slightly different from “positive” – it’s going to be important that y could also be 0

There are lots of words on the GMAT, but in many questions one word reigns supreme in importance over all the others. Train yourself to notice that word that doesn’t need to be said, and “your GMAT score” will require that extra word in there to read “your high GMAT score.”

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

Use This Process When Solving Sentence Correction Questions on the GMAT

Sentence correction questions are among the least understood questions on the GMAT. Many native English speakers feel they can get by using their ears on sentence correction. However, the questions chosen on the GMAT generally have specific logical elements that must be evaluated in order to get to the right answer. Simply put, the grammar matters, but it’s more about the meaning than about the grammar.

The golden rule in sentence correction is that you should eliminate incorrect answer choices until you’re left with only one option. This process of elimination approach is helpful in an environment when there are many (or several) ways of expressing (or phrasing) the same ideas (or data). One easy way to eliminate an answer choice is if it creates an illogical meaning. The intent of the sentence must be clear, which means if a choice changes the original intent or produces something that just doesn’t make sense, it cannot be the correct answer.

By that same token, an answer choice that creates an unclear or uncertain meaning must also be an incorrect answer. If the correct answer must be clear and devoid of ambiguity, then any statement that is unclear or ambiguous cannot be the right choice. This distinction extends to all facets of the sentence, from nouns to verbs to pronouns and even to the syntax. If the syntax is ambiguous, or could mean two different things, then it’s not the correct answer.

Syntax errors are not the most common issues in sentence correction, but they do appear, and so it’s worth ensuring that the syntax works with the other key elements of the sentence. In honor of mother’s day last week, let’s examine a question that everyone deals with on day one:

As a baby emerges from the darkness of the womb with a rudimentary sense of vision, it would be rated about 20/500, or legally blind if it were an adult with such vision.

A) As a baby emerges from the darkness of the womb with a rudimentary sense of vision,
it would be rated about 20/500, or legally blind if it were an adult with such vision.

B) A baby emerges from the darkness of the womb with a rudimentary sense of vision that
would be rated about 20/500, or legally blind as an adult.

C) As a baby emerges from the darkness of the womb, its rudimentary sense of vision would
be rated about 20/500; qualifying it to be legally blind if an adult.

D) A baby emerges from the darkness of the womb with a rudimentary sense of vision that
would be rated about 20/500; an adult with such vision would be deemed legally blind.

E) As a baby emerges from the darkness of the womb, its rudimentary sense of vision,
which would deemed legally blind for an adult, would be rated about 20/500.

The first thing we can note is that the entire sentence is underlined, so we don’t have to worry about connectors or how the underlined portion relates to the rest of the sentence. Apart from that, we can see that children probably don’t have very good vision (which is why I don’t support infant drivers), but all the sentences seem to say roughly the same thing. The most logical place to start would be to look for low hanging fruit (i.e. easy to spot errors) in the original sentence.

Looking at the sentence, it describes the baby’s momentous escape from the womb, and then discusses the dreadful eyesight all babies possess. After a comma, the sentence continues with the pronoun “it”. This pronoun could refer back to the baby, the vision, or potentially even the womb, as any singular noun in the sentence could potentially be the correct antecedent. The context kind of guides you into understanding that the vision must be what’s considered, because babies are not rated 20/500 (except on Toddlers & Tiaras). The presence of another “it” later on, ostensibly referring to the child this time, cements the notion that the pronouns are unclear and the answer cannot be A.

Looking through the other choices, answers C and E commit the same pronoun error, and can be eliminated for the same reason. It’s interesting to note that commas can be used to elaborate on the previous word (womb, vision) or the subject of the sentence (baby), and either would be grammatically acceptable. Therein lies the strength of the English language, its versatility and flexibility apparent (I’d give it a 9 on the parallel bars). However, this same strength is also a weakness to be exploited: on the GMAT, the sentence must be crystal clear or it is incorrect.

We can also eliminate option C because the semi-colon should link two sentences that could stand on their own, whereas the second portion is clearly dependent on the first section. Similarly answer choice E is missing a crucial “be” between the words “would” and “deemed”. We’ve already eliminated these choices, but it’s noteworthy that there are often multiple errors and it’s just a question of which one you notice first. No matter how you eliminate the answer choices, you should be left with two options: B and D.

Examining answer choice B: A baby emerges from the darkness of the womb with a rudimentary sense of vision that would be rated about 20/500, or legally blind as an adult. Until the comma, the sentence is a bit of a run-on, but it makes logical sense; everything after the comma changes the meaning of the sentence. The portion: “…rated about 20/500, or legally blind, …” would have been acceptable had the sentence ended with something about the baby. However the way the sentence is written does not convey the meaning that the baby’s eyesight is just dreadful. Instead it implies that the vision would be an adult, which is completely nonsensical. This answer choice cannot be correct.

By process of elimination, it must be answer choice D: As a baby emerges from the darkness of the womb, its rudimentary sense of vision, which would deemed legally blind for an adult, would be rated about 20/500. This sentence uses syntax correctly and avoids ambiguous pronoun usage. The pronoun which is used properly (it always refers to the term right before the comma), and the meaning is clear and unambiguous. Not only are the four other answer choices incorrect, this choice is grammatically flawless and aesthetically pleasing. On sentence correction, always make sure to eliminate answer choices that contain grammatical errors, and keep going until there is only one clear choice (vote Ron in 2016: The Clear Choice).

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

How to Keep a Proactive Approach when Solving Critical Reasoning Questions on the GMAT

Critical reasoning on the GMAT requires you to evaluate the author’s conclusion and select the answer choice that best answers the given question. While there are four broad categories of questions, the two most common types of questions are the ones that ask the student to either strengthen or weaken the conclusion provided. In actuality, strengthen and weaken questions are two sides of the same coin (possibly Two Face’s trick coin) and together account for roughly ¾ of the critical reasoning questions on the exam. With stats like these, it’s important to be comfortable with these questions!

First, we must identify the author’s conclusion. This usually is done by trying to understand the author’s main point. Likely, the main idea being pushed will be the conclusion. You can usually recognize a conclusion if it contains a call for action or begins with conclusion language. This conclusion language is usually a telltale word like “Thus” or “Therefore” (or my favorite: “In conclusion”). The conclusion is likely based on the premises or evidence in the passage, so continuously asking yourself “why?” will usually help identify the conclusion. If there is an answer to the question “why” in the text, you might have the conclusion in your sights.

Once you have identified the conclusion of the passage, the next important element to look for is the supporting evidence in the passage, particularly in terms of gaps that can be exploited. Very frequently the gap between the evidence and the conclusion will yield the crux of the question. If you think the Miami Heat will win the NBA championship because Miss Cleo told you, there might be a gap to exploit…

If you’ve properly identified the conclusion and the evidence, the inevitable gap in logic between the two will form the basis of your prediction of the answer. Predicting the answer is a key step in correctly solving strengthen/weaken questions, as the erroneous answer choices are specifically chosen to tempt you into considering them as potentially worthy candidates. If you go in with an open mind, you might end up picking something that sounds reasonable but is irrelevant to the situation at hand (think of late night TV shopping: Yes I do need a knife that cuts through a shoe).

Once you feel comfortable in this approach, let’s try and apply it to a real GMAT question:

The retail price of decaffeinated coffee is considerably higher than that of regular coffee. However, the process by which coffee beans are decaffeinated is fairly simple and not very costly. Therefore, the price difference cannot be accounted for by the greater cost of providing decaffeinated coffee to the consumer.

The argument relies on assuming which one of the following?

(A)   Processing regular coffee costs more than processing decaffeinated coffee

(B)   Price differences between products can generally be accounted for by such factors as supply and demand, not by differences in production costs

(C)   There is little competition among companies that process decaffeinated coffee.

(D)   Retail coffee-sellers do not expect that consumers are content to pay more for decaffeinated coffee than for regular coffee.

(E)    The beans used for producing decaffeinated coffee do not cost much more before processing than the beans used for producing regular coffee.

If we apply the strategy above, the conclusion is clearly the last sentence of the passage (Therefore kind of gave it away). The conclusion states that the price difference cannot come from the cost of providing decaffeinated coffee. What is the evidence provided? Only that the process of decaffeination is simple and cheap. What could be an alternative explanation for the price difference? Anything else! For example, if the material provided cost more money or the process can only be performed by Tibetan monks on the third Saturday of the month. Any given reason could be valid to increase the price (sort of like cartels).

Let’s look through the answers to see which of these could cause legitimate increases in cost:

A)     Processing regular coffee costs more than processing decaffeinated coffee.

This choice is actually out of scope. The answer choice purports that regular coffee is more expensive than decaf. If we negate it, it tells you that processing regular coffee costs LESS than processing decaf. But we already know processing decaf is inexpensive, so this answer choice doesn’t help anything. Whether it’s true or false, it doesn’t give any more insight into producing decaf coffee.

B)      Price differences between products can generally be accounted for by such factors as supply and demand, not by differences in production costs.

This is a very tempting answer because many people know it to be true. However, it is incorrect because it is tangential to the point we’re trying to prove. Were this not true, would it change anything to the cost of processing coffee beans? Not at all. This answer choice is true in the vast majority of situations; however it is irrelevant to the author’s conclusion and therefore cannot be the correct answer.

C)      There is little competition among companies that process decaffeinated coffee.

Similar to the choice above, but much less tempting. What does this have to do with anything? There’s competition. If anything, that should drive the costs down, not up. This answer choice is also irrelevant to the conclusion, and if it were relevant, it would be pointing in the wrong direction.

D)     Retail coffee-sellers do not expect that consumers are content to pay more for decaffeinated coffee than for regular coffee.

This is a 180°. The answer choice suggests that people do not want to pay more for decaf, so why would the decaf coffee be so much more expensive? If anything, it should be cheaper. This answer choice is also incorrect.

E)       The beans used for producing decaffeinated coffee do not cost much more before processing than the beans used for producing regular coffee.

This is the correct answer. My prediction was to ensure nothing else was driving up the price of coffee. If the beans were much more expensive, then the cost of providing decaffeinated coffee could be very high even though the process is inexpensive. In economic terms, the labor was cheap but the capital was expensive. This answer choice would strengthen the argument tremendously, and without it, the argument has a sizeable flaw that could be exploited.

On strengthen and weaken questions, it’s very easy to get confused as to what the question is actually asking you, especially after 3 hours of brain taxing concentration. Actively predicting what the answer choice should look like will help you avoid tempting trap answer choices. When fatigue starts to creep in during the verbal section, keeping a proactive approach to critical reasoning questions will help you select the correct answer and keep your concentration level high. This is especially important if the only coffee beans you’ll get on the GMAT will be in critical reasoning questions.

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Mother Knows Best on Sentence Correction

GMAT Tip of the WeekSo it’s Mother’s Day weekend, and all of us should be thanking our moms this weekend. For all kinds of things, of course, but for one that you may not have realized all these years growing up:

Your mom taught you one of the greatest Sentence Correction lessons you’ll ever learn.

How? She told you to clean your room. Now, remember – when your mom told you to clean your room you were rarely doing it with disinfectant or using a deep-cleaner on the carpet. Your job wasn’t so much to deep clean your room chemically, but more to just “declutter” it, putting things away and tidying up for a cleaner, more livable space. She taught you the virtue of “everything in its place and a place for everything,” and in doing so gave you the tools you need to make Sentence Correction significantly easier.

Let’s demonstrate with a problem:

Visitors to the zoo have often looked up in to the leafy aviary and saw macaws resting on the branches, whose tails trail like brightly colored splatters of paint on a green canvas.

(A) saw macaws resting on the branches, whose tails trail
(B) saw macaws resting on the branches, whose tails were trailing
(C) saw macaws resting on the branches, with tails trailing
(D) seen macaws resting on the branches, with tails trailing
(E) seen macaws resting on the branches, whose tails have trailed

Much of this sentence is simply clutter. So many of the phrases add extra description, but are the kinds of things your mother would tell you to put away and “declutter” – namely, the prepositional phrases. So let’s get rid of the clutter with “to the zoo”; “often”; “in to the leafy aviary”; “on the branches”; and “whose tails trail like brightly colored splatters of paint on a green canvas”. On the GMAT, description often serves as clutter, so if you can envision the sentence without the descriptive clutter (similar to how your mom wanted to envision your bedroom), you’d be left with;

Visitors have looked up and saw macaws resting.

Without all of the clutter, your ear should tell you that this is just wrong – the expression should be parallel in timeline: “Visitors have looked up and seen macaws.” And that only leaves D and E.

Now, to make this next decision you’ll need to bring back some of the description, as you can see that the only remaining decision is between “with tails trailing” and “whose tails have trailed”. And here, yet again, is where your mother’s life lessons can help you. What did you often do to make sure your room passed your mom’s test? You took anything that *might* be considered clutter, buried it in a closet or under a bed, and then dug back in to pull out the things that you really wanted. And that’s the case on GMAT Sentence Correction – when you “eliminate” clutter you don’t get rid of it forever, you just ignore it temporarily. Here if you bring back the description in question, you have:

(D) seen macaws resting on the branches, with tails trailing
(E) seen macaws resting on the branches, whose tails have trailed

Here the description/modifiers are important, and astute test-takers should see that branches don’t have tails, but birds do (your mom probably took you to the zoo, too – one more lesson to thank her for). So E cannot be right, and the answer is D.

Most importantly here, remember what your mother taught you – a clean room is a happy room, and a clean, clutter-free sentence makes for much happier and more effective Sentence Correction. This weekend you have millions of reasons to thank your mom, but as you study for the GMAT you know that she’d be thrilled with even 700…

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

Don’t Judge a GMAT Sentence by the Way it Sounds

When answering sentence correction problems on the GMAT, it’s very common to use your ear as a barometer of how the answer choice sounds. Particularly for native English speakers, this is often the number one way they approach any given sentence. The problem with this strategy is that sentence correction is often much more about the meaning than about the grammar. By extension, the test makers of the GMAT know they can fool many students by simply making the correct answer choice unappealing to the students’ ears (Won’t get fooled again!).

Anything that makes a sentence sound more awkward than it should is fair game to try and get test takers to pick the wrong answers. Some strategies come back more often than others, and today I want to discuss these types of errors as it pertains to the timeline of a sentence. Students often have preconceived notions hammered in during high school that a sentence must always be in the same tense, no matter what. While this is a nifty rule of thumb, it doesn’t have to be the case in every sentence.

As an example, consider a student studying for the GMAT. The student could say “I have studied for the GMAT” or “I will study for the GMAT”. Both of these options make sense. What about “I will be ready for my GMAT next week because I have been studying for months”? This sentence is also fine, even though one verb tense is in the future and the other is in the present perfect continuous. As long as the phrase makes logical sense and what is being described in the past took place in the past, the sentence is valid.

The trick on the GMAT that gets students confused is that you have to pick one sentence out of the five answer choices. However, none of them might be exactly what you’re expecting. In other words, if given “carte blanche”, I could rewrite this sentence in a much clearer way than any of these five middling choices. That’s half the difficulty, though, because you have to pick the sentence from among the choices that contains no grammatical mistake, even though you don’t necessarily like everything in the answer choice.

Let me highlight this with a sentence correction question that regularly gives students fits:

A 1999 tax bill changed what many wealthy taxpayers and large corporations are allowed to deduct on their tax returns.

(A)   changed what many what many wealthy taxpayers and large corporations are allowed to deduct on their tax returns

(B)   changed wealthy taxpayers’ and large corporations’ amounts that they have been allowed to deduct on their tax returns

(C)   is changing wealthy taxpayers’ and large corporations’ amounts that they have been allowed to deduct on their tax returns

(D)   changed what many wealthy taxpayers and large corporations had been allowed to deduct on their tax returns

(E)    changes what many wealthy taxpayers and large corporations have been allowed to deduct on their tax returns

Going through the answer choices, it seems fairly clear that 1999 is in the past. Whether it’s 2014 or 2015 or whenever, you would not reference 1999 in the future (unless you’re Prince). As such, we can eliminate answer choices C and E because both use the present tense and make it sound like this bill is happening right now and not 15+ years ago.

Similarly, answer choice B changes the meaning of the sentence. The sentence is saying the bill will change what people are allowed to deduct, whereas answer choice B modifies the meaning to just the amount they are allowed to remove. There is a significant difference between deducting 500$ for school expenses or 700$ for school expenses versus deducting school expenses or capital gains expenses. There is a niche corner case where the two may have exactly the same meaning, but the original sentence has a much broader definition and thus can’t be pigeonholed into answer choice B.

This leaves the two most common answer choices: A and D. If you’re going by sound, you likely think that answer choice D is the correct answer. However, even though answer choice D sounds like what you’d expect to hear, it creates an illogical timeline. Let’s look at a sample timeline and determine when the changes were made:

 

_____________________________X______________________________________________X

1999 tax bill                                                                                    present

 

Answer choice D uses the past perfect continuous (had been allowed) which can only be used if the event described happened before another event in the past. Example: By the time I took the GMAT in 2007, I had been studying for over two months. You cannot have a tax code change in 1999 that affects the years prior to 1999. Otherwise everyone would have to resubmit their taxes for the past 6 years to reflect the change. Any tax code change can only come change future tax years.

Answer choice D meaning, with the period having been changed in red.

 

_____________________________X______________________________________________X

1999 tax bill                                                                                    present

 

Answer choice A meaning, with the period having been changed in red.

 

_____________________________X______________________________________________X

1999 tax bill                                                                                    present

Answer choice A, even though it uses the present tense (are) can be considered grammatically correct here as long as the law wasn’t repealed. Since there is no indication of the law having been changed, answer choice A is a valid (although awkward sounding) way of rewriting this sentence.

I would like to further illustrate this point using the Stampy example of the seminal Simpsons episode where Bart gets an elephant. In the episode (titled Bart gets an elephant), Homer realizes that he can make money off the elephant, and decides to charge people 1$ to see the elephant and 2 $ to ride the elephant. Upon realizing that he’s still losing money, he updates his prices to 100$ and 500$ respectively. Since this drives away all of his business, Homer visits the homes of his friends and tells them:

Homer: “Millhouse saw the elephant twice and rode him once, correct?

Millhouse’s dad: “Yes, but we already paid you the 4$”

Homer: “That was under our old price structure. Under our new price structure, you owe me 700$”

Millhouse’s dad: “Get out of my house”

Hopefully this little skit helped drive home the point I’m trying to make. You cannot retroactively change what people can deduct. You can only change things going forward. Answer choice A may not be the preferred way to rewrite this sentence (Example:  “changed what people would be allowed to deduct” would have been clearer), but there is no grammatical error contained within it. When it comes to sentence correction, make sure you understand the logic of the sentence and don’t depend on your ear as your only line of defense.

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

How to Master Sentence Correction on the GMAT

When preparing for the GMAT, there are many different types of questions that you must master. You know the verbal section will force you to answer questions about tedious passages, strengthen dubious arguments and correct unclear sentences. The ability to juggle these three elements will be paramount to your success as the question types are interspersed throughout the 75 minute verbal section. You cannot break down the exam into 25-minute sections each based on one broad topic and then move on. You don’t know what type of question is coming next, so you have to constantly be ready for any of the three major topics.

Similarly, when answering a Sentence Correction question, there are many types of errors that can appear in a single sentence. Some questions will be one-trick ponies (I’m looking at you, Bitcoins), in which you can just solve one issue and get the correct answer. However, most will have two or three types of errors that you need to avoid, and identifying these errors will often make the difference between knowing which answers cannot be correct and guessing based on how the sentence sounds.

When looking through the initial sentence, you might notice some errors right away, such as pronoun (she vs. they) or verb agreement (is vs. are) errors. However some errors are more subtle and you must look through the answer choices to confidently narrow down the options. Once you have a good handle on the types of errors occurring in the sentence, you can begin eliminating answer choices that do not dodge (or dodgecoin) the error.

Let’s look at a question that contains multiple issues, but they may not be obvious upon first glance:

An auteur whose movies define the genre, Jean-Luc Godard’s films are to the French New Wave what Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is to the spaghetti western.

(A)   Jean-Luc Godard’s films are to the French New Wave what

(B)   Jean-Luc Godard’s films are to the French New Wave like

(C)   Jean-Luc Godard’s films are to the French New Wave just as

(D)   Jean-Luc Godard directed films that are to the French New Wave similar to

(E)    Jean-Luc Godard directed films that are to the French New Wave what

The sentence begins with a modifier that is not underlined, which means the subsequent underlined portion must necessarily be the subject of the modifier. If it is not, then the sentence will contain a modifier error from the get go and will not be the correct choice. A little further on, a comparison is made between films and other films. If the comparison were to be between two incongruent items (worse than apples and oranges, say apples and androids), the sentence would contain a comparison error. There may be other errors but these are the two most glaring issues to keep in mind.

Looking over the answer choices, we see a 3-2 split between the choices that keep the director’s films as the subject of the verb and the choices that change the subject to the director himself. From a comparison point of view, all the choices seem to keep the comparison between Godard’s films and Leone’s cult masterpiece.

The non-underlined first part of the passage is a modifier that is describing a specific person. The sentence even begins with “An auteur”, which is the French word for author. The subject of the sentence must therefore be a noun that can logically be described by the modifier at the beginning of the sentence. However, the restriction of the comparison also dictates that the sentence compare films with films. The only way to accommodate both limitations is to select either answer choice D or E, both of which keep Jean-Luc Godard as the subject of the phrase while supplying the proper film comparison at the end.

How do we go about differentiating between answer choices D and E (other than flipping a coin)? The difference is in the idiom that connects the underlined portion to the second part of the sentence. The first option indicates that the films are to a certain group similar to another movie to a different group. Apart from not being a correct idiom, it also doesn’t make logical sense. The second option indicates that the films are to a certain group what another film is to the different group. This is a perfectly acceptable idiom that conveys the meaning properly.

The only answer choice that avoids making a modifier error, a comparison error or a logical error is answer choice E. These errors may not have all been evident at first glance, but we can see why the four other answer choices contain some kind of error. Even though the comparison error ended up being largely irrelevant in this process of elimination, it is the type of error you always need to be aware of when correcting sentences. In fact, juggling many potential error types is a vital skill in solving these types of questions. While not always obvious, the correct answer will be the only option that doesn’t make at least one of the errors you’ve identified. Remember that, no matter how hard the GMAT may seem at times, it is easier (and safer) than juggling flaming chainsaws.

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

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.