Why Grammar is the Enemy of Sentence Correction

Posted on June 21, 2015 | Filed in GMAT

Why Grammar is the Enemy of Sentence Correction

Find out why a strong knowledge of grammar can potentially be a weakness on the Sentence Correction portion of the GMAT exam. The Sentence Correction section of the GMAT exam aims to test analytical and critical thinking, not knowledge of Standard English grammar.

As a professional writer of many years I never believed that the Sentence Correction section of the GMAT exam would be my Achilles’ heel. It was with tears in my eyes that I discovered just how wrong I was. I found myself consistently answering questions wrong during the grueling process of test-preparation and had no explanation as to why. The right answers did not distinguish themselves from the wrong ones making it impossible to identify what was being asked. Sacrificing an entire section of the exam due to ignorance was not an option and so I deflated my wordsmith ego and took the logical steps forward. I sought help and as a result had a complete blowing of my mind as to what was actually expected from me as a test-taker on the Sentence Correction section.

The GMAT is an exam that assesses a student’s analytical and critical thinking. Every aspect of the exam is aimed at forcing a student to make a logical decision. The math section is not constructed to test a student’s knowledge of mathematic concepts, but rather, uses math as a tool to create brain-teasing questions. This same concept is applied to the verbal section. The test doesn’t aim to test the student on their knowledge of the English language; the English language is simply used to create questions that gauge critical thinking. Once this concept was made clear to me I began to understand what I was doing wrong. When a sentence was presented to me as being incorrect my instinct was to correct the grammatical structure. This style of thinking led me down a rabbit hole of false answers and confusion when presented with the correct answers. I was not being asked to identify if the grammar was correct, I was being asked if the message was clear. I was to identify the intent of the author and select the answer that best conveyed that intent. My confusion, although slightly alleviated, was still present.

What does it mean to identify the test-maker’s intent? The answer to this question involves a series of steps that can be referred to as BAD. These steps are:

  1. Break down

    The first step is to break down the underlined portion of the provided statement. This underlined section is either correct as written or needs to be replaced with the best logical alternative. Identify what words are being used and what those words represent. What are the nouns, the prepositions, the modifiers, and so forth? Identify what tense you are dealing with. Is there a comma? How is the comma being used? By breaking down both the underlined and not underlined portion of the text you can easily identify which word is the focus of the question. Generally, on the Sentence Correction section of the exam, each question comes down to whether or not a word is being properly used to convey a particular message.

  2. Analyze

    Once the sentence is broken down you must analyze what is the intended message. Ask yourself who is being talked about. What is the true subject of the text? If the subject is underlined analyze and identify every specific detail. If the subject is an animal ask yourself if it is a single specimen, a group, or an entire species that is being referred to. The quicker you can identify who or what is being described the quicker you can identify what parts of the text need to match.

  3. Decide

    Once the text has been broken down and analyzed the only logical step left is to decide what is the best answer. You don’t need to break down and analyze each answer choice because if you followed the first two steps when reading the provided text then you already know what you are looking for. Your focus should be on key words and your decision should be dictated based on what the text requires in order to make total sense. Total sense does not refer to grammatical sense, but rather, intended message.

The most important factor to mastering the Sentence Correction section on the GMAT exam is practice. It is difficult to recondition literary instincts developed over many years. People often read passively and accept a text as correct if the text can easily be understood. To master the GMAT you need to become an active reader because you are not reading for pleasure, you are reading as a detective on the look out for possible culprits. Once the BAD system is understood it is important to implement it during an extensive study period. Question after question need to be attacked using the BAD method in order to develop new instincts.

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