Understanding the GMAT Sentence Correction

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GMAT aspirants often find Sentence Correction questions the most difficult to tackle, while preparing for GMAT Verbal Ability section. This article is intended to instill an overall understanding of what the Sentence Correction on GMAT entails and provide a framework for GMAT aspirants to prepare for Sentence Correction question.

Most often, the anxiety among GMAT aspirants arises largely due to lack of understanding of what the Sentence Correction questions actually test.

WHAT DOES SENTENCE CORRECTION NOT TEST:

Before we go into details of what Sentence Correction actually tests, it would be worthwhile to clear the air on what Sentence Correction does not test:

Ability to memorize exotic grammar rules
Ability to memorize Idioms
Vocabulary and Spellings
The above items that are not tested on GMAT, make books such as Wren and Martin (for English Grammar) and Norman Lewis (for Vocabulary) redundant; while these are great books in their own right, they are an overkill when it comes to GMAT.

HOW MUCH GRAMMAR SHOULD YOU KNOW:

Having said that, a basic understanding of English Grammar is a prerequisite for performing well in this section. Some of the key basic concepts that GMAT aspirants should be very comfortable with are:

Ability to identify and distinguish between various Parts of Speech (Nouns, Pronouns, Verbs, Adjectives and Adverbs):Parts of Speech are the basic building blocks of English language and lay the foundation for comprehending the sentence structure. For the most part, GMAT aspirants should not bother about going deeper into the types of each of these parts of speech.
Participles: A thorough understanding of Participles is the key to tackling the two most prominently tested concepts in GMAT: Modifiers and Parallelism.
Phrases and Clauses: A basic understanding of phrases and clauses helps substantially in many questions that test parallelism.
WHAT DOES SENTENCE CORRECTION SECTION REALLY TEST?

The English that we use in our day to day communication is far from perfect. But as listeners, we are still able to comprehend the intended meaning of the speaker. Let us take an example:

If the speaker says:

Sam likes to have his ice-cream with chocolate, Michelle with nuts.

The way we would comprehend it is:

Sam likes to have his ice-cream with chocolate, Michelle likes to have her ice-cream with nuts.

But wait a moment…the original sentence can be interpreted as:

Sam likes to have his ice-cream with chocolate, Sam likes to have Michelle with nuts!!

Am sure you are wondering if we are nuts to interpret the sentence this way, but grammatically, there really is nothing in the original sentence that prevents us from interpreting the sentence in the above manner. In other words, the way the original sentence was articulated, was far from perfect.

Let us take another example:

If the speaker says:

While taking a sharp turn around the corner, the slippery road resulted in the car skidding off the track.

The way we would comprehend it is:

While taking a sharp turn around the corner, the car skidded off the track due to slippery road.

But the original sentence can be interpreted as:

The slippery road was taking a sharp turn around the corner, when the car skidded off the track.

Again, while this interpretation sounds nonsensical, this is exactly how the original sentence will be grammaticallyinterpreted. Again, the way the original sentence was articulated, was far from perfect.

THE CRUX OF GMAT SENTENCE CORRECTION

The above examples exemplify the main issue that GMAT Sentence Correction tests.

The intended meaning (logical meaning) and the articulation (Grammatical construction) just point in different directions! In other words, the way the sentence is articulated, does not support the intended meaning of the sentence. The characteristic of wrong sentences is that what they grammatically convey is different from what the sentence is logicallyintended to convey. For example, in the above sentence:

  1. Grammatically, the sentence conveys that the slippery road was taking a sharp turn
  2. Logically, the sentence intends to convey that the car was taking a sharp turn

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Our task in Sentence Correction is to choose an option that supports the intended meaning of the sentence. In other words, a sentence should be:

Articulated in a way that conveys the intended meaning of the sentence
Does not lend itself to ambiguity in interpretation

 

CorrectIn fact, even the simplest of Subject-Verb agreement sentences can be analyzed within this framework. Let us look at the following sentence:

The tiny drops on the rose glistens in the rays of the sun.

1. Grammatically, the sentence conveys that the rose glistens in the rays of the sun (because the singular verb glistens can only grammatically align with the singular noun rose)

2. Logically, the sentence intends to convey that the drops glisten in the rays of the sun

Hence, the way that this sentence is articulated does not convey the intended meaning of the sentence. The correct sentence would obviously be:

The tiny drops on the rose glisten in the rays of the sun.

BOTTOM LINE

GMAT aspirants should not consider Sentence correction as a complex exercise of applying myriad Grammar rules. We must appreciate that Grammar is only an enabler to articulating the sentences in such a way that the meaning of the sentence (the logical intent) is clearly communicated by the way the sentence is framed (articulated).

It would be worthwhile to browse through the following article published by GMAC (the organization that conducts GMAT)http://officialgmat.mba.com/2011/09/29/idioms-sentence-correction-and-the-gmat-exam/. This article says: In recent years, GMAT item writers have been concentrating on the reasoning aspects rather than the purely grammatical aspects of Sentence Correction skills. This underscores how crucial “meaning” is to tackling sentence correction.

As future managers and leadership aspirants, unambiguous communication is clearly a desired attribute. Sentence correction is GMAT’s way of testing you on this attribute.

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