Want to boost your GMAT score? Improving the Sentence Correction section is the most effective place to start.
Even if you’re already good at Verbal and more concerned with Quant topics, spending even a couple of hours tweaking Sentence Correction could easily give many people a boost of 3-5 points in scaled score.
The first place to start is to understand the mechanics of GMAT grammar – to determine whether there are any legitimate gaps in knowledge: things you thought were right but aren’t; and things you didn’t even know were grammar errors.
As takers of the GMAT realize – sometimes painfully – a grammar review is necessary for both native and non-native English speakers. The main difficulty with the Sentence Correction section is that people think it is going to be easy. This is not true.
In my nearly ten years of teaching and consulting for GMAT students, I have noted that the Sentence Correction section is the one in which students improve the most over the shortest period of time. Nevertheless, I also find it to be the section where students never quite get it right.
Even people who score 780-790 often miss most of their questions in the Sentence Correction section. This separates it from the other sections, where enough training will allow this type of mastery.
A large part of successfully eliminating incorrect answers is understanding what “incorrectnesses” actually exist.
There are five possible answer choices, often with 3-5 errors per choice, and there is no guarantee that the correct choice is actually going to sound “poetic” or “appealing”.
Remember, the GMAT is more about eliminating incorrect answer choices than about choosing a correct answer choice. You have to be able to discount the incorrect answer choices before you can be absolutely certain that the choice that sounds good is in fact the best choice.
The GMAT does a remarkable job of writing answers that don’t sound particularly good, or don’t seem quite right to the ear. Sometimes there is an answer choice that sounds better, or more like speech. For most of us, that is how we choose what is “correct”.
As usual with the GMAT, we must learn fast methods of eliminating as many answer choices as possible. We can do this by following the Standard Sentence Choice Procedure (SCP):
Imagine reading the sentences aloud. Listen to them. Some of these sentences sound particularly awful, particularly awkward, or simply don’t sound like reasonable sentences.
If your ear tells you that the sentence is unreasonable, there is a good chance that it is. Often this will eliminate 3-4 of the answer choices. However, there is a point where it breaks down.
The sentences that sound the best are sometimes technically incorrect, and the sentences that sound “not as good” are actually technically correct. Thus we must find a more reliable method to determine exactly how to choose an answer. This brings us to the second point.
2. Question Structure
Many questions will have two answer choices with the same basic grammatical structure, and three answer choices with a different basic grammatical structure. You can disprove one of these grammatical structures quite easily.
If, for example, you determine that a particular preposition usage is incorrect and two sentences have the same preposition usage, then both of those sentences must automatically be incorrect. Even better, if you disprove a usage where you have three sentences with the same usage, you have disproven all three of those sentences.
The combinations tend to be 3-2, 2-2-1, 2-1-1-1, and variations thereof. It is rare to find a question where none of the five sentences share any similarities.
If you disprove a particular usage, you have disproven every sentence that also relies on that usage.
3. Check Grammar
Quite simply, no one’s grammar is good enough for the GMAT. Even a newspaper copy editor or the editors of the Chicago Manual of Style will have to adjust their “correct” usage to the arbitrarily correct “GMAT usage”, which is of course what matters on the exam.
Remember that the GMAT provides questions that invariably ask you to eliminate incorrect answers and not to choose correct answers. The primary purpose of learning grammar for the GMAT is to learn how to eliminate incorrect sentences.
4. Make an Educated Guess
This is where the technique becomes a little more subtle. If you remember the first choice that appealed to you when you looked at the answer choices, go with it.
Use your intuition – but intuition can be difficult to access and it is very easy to second-guess yourself. When you see an answer that appeals to you but you can’t justify it, that’s when you move to the other three methods. They are there simply to justify your answers.