GMAT Tip of the Week: Marco Rubio, Repetition, and Sentence Correction

GMAT Tip of the WeekLet’s dispel with the fiction that Marco Rubio doesn’t know what he’s doing on Sentence Correction problems. He knows exactly what he’s doing. In his memorable New Hampshire debate performance this past week, Rubio famously delivered the same 25-second speech several times, even in direct response to Chris Christie’s accusation that Rubio only speaks in memorized 25-second speech form.

In doing so, he likely cost himself delegates in New Hampshire and perhaps even cost himself the election (was this his Rick Perry “I can’t remember the third thing” or Howard Dean “Hi-yaaaah!” moment?), but he also provided you with a critical Sentence Correction strategy:

Find what you do well, and keep doing it over and over until you just can’t do it anymore.

This strategy manifests itself in two ways on GMAT Sentence Correction problems:

1) Look for primary Decision Points first.
Rubio came into the debate with one strong talking point, and his first inclination – regardless of the question – was to go straight to that point. On Sentence Correction problems, that is the single most important thing you can do. Much like a debate moderator, the GMAT testmaker will try to get you “off message” by offering you several decisions you could make. And often the decision that comes first is one you’re just not good at, or that actually isn’t a good differentiator. For example, you may think you need to decide between:

“…so realistic as to…” vs. “…so realistic that it…”

“…not unlike…” vs. “…like…”

“…all things antique…” vs. “…all antique things…”

And in any of those cases, you might find that both expressions are actually correct; those are differences between answer choices, but they’re not the difference between correct and incorrect. Idiomatic differences, changes in word choice, etc. may seem to beg your attention, but like Marco Rubio, you should head into each question with your list of points you want to address: modifiers, verbs, pronouns, parallel structure, etc. Look for those primary decision points first and attack them until you’ve exhausted them. Nearly always, you’ll find that doing so eliminates enough answer choices that you never have to deal with the trickier, more obscure, and often irrelevant differences between choices.

Approach each Sentence Correction problem with your scripted and heavily-practiced Decision Points in mind first. Sentence Correction is a task tailor-made for Rubio-bots.

2) Once you identify an error, stay on message as long as you can.
Rubio’s strategy backfired, but that doesn’t mean that it was a poor strategy to begin with – in fact, it’s one that will immensely help you on Sentence Correction problems. He identified a message that resonated, and he decided to do that until he was – quite literally – forced to do something else. This is a critical Sentence Correction tactic: if you find a particular error (say, an illogical modifier), you should then hold each answer choice up to that standard checking for the same error. Nearly always, if you find an error in one answer choice that same type of error will appear in at least one more.

Don’t treat each individual answer choice as a “unique snowflake” that you’ve never seen before. If there’s a verb tense / timeline error in choice B, then immediately scan C, D, and E checking those verb tenses and quickly eliminating any choices with a problem.

For example, consider the problem:

The economic report released today by Congress and the Federal Reserve was bleaker than expected, which suggests that the nearing recession might be even deeper and more prolonged than even the most pessimistic analysts have predicted.

(A) which suggests that the nearing recession might be even deeper and more prolonged than even the most pessimistic analysts have predicted.
(B) which suggests that the nearing recession might be deeper and more prolonged than that predicted by even the most pessimistic analysts.
(C) suggests that the nearing recession might be even deeper and more prolonged than that predicted by even the most pessimistic analysts.
(D) suggesting that the nearing recession might be deeper and more prolonged than that predicted by even the most pessimistic analysts.
(E) a situation that is even more deep and prolonged than even the most pessimistic analysts have predicted.

If you’re attacking this problem like a Rubio-bot, you’ll notice before you ever look at the sentence that the answer choices supply different modifiers. A and B use the relative modifier “which,” D uses the participial phrase “suggesting,” and E uses an appositive “a situation.” Noticing that, you should begin reading the sentence with that Modifier talking point in mind.

When you realize that “which” is used incorrectly in A, you don’t need to read the rest of B to see that it makes the exact same mistake. Since the sentence calls for a modifier (the portion before the comma and underlined is a complete sentence on its own, so the role of the underlined section is to further describe) and the only correct modifier in this situation is the participial “suggesting,” you can eliminate three answer choices (A, B, and E) just with that one Decision Point and quickly arrive at the correct answer, D.

More importantly, remember the overarching strategy: before you attack any Sentence Correction problem, know the grounds upon which you’re hoping to attack it – have your primary Decision Points in mind before you’re ever asked the question. And then when you do find one of those Decision Points that you can use, repeat it ad nauseum until it no longer applies.

Let’s dispel with the fiction that Marco Rubio doesn’t know what he’s doing when he repeats the same talking point over and over again; he knows exactly what he’s doing…it just works better on the GMAT than it does in a presidential debate.

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By Brian Galvin.