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Which GMAT topic do you consider the most difficult? Which type of question always sends you running in circles, makes you second-guess your instincts, or just leaves you completely stumped?
For many people, it’s sentence correction. Those long and winding statements, designed to confuse—and those answer options! A frustrating selection of variants that befuddle your brain and drain your time.
If you dread those tricky SC questions, you’re definitely not alone. In a recent Business Insider story on the toughest GMAT questions, sentence correction ranked #2 in the top 5.
Even if you consider yourself a “Verbal” person, or did a Humanities degree, these trap-laden problems can throw you for a loop.
So what are some techniques students can use to break down and simplify SC problems? Here are 5 tips to keep in mind.
1. Strip away “decorative” elements
The sample sentences you’ll see on the GMAT will be convoluted, long, and wordy. Your first mission is to strip away all of the non-essential elements—the decorative details (adjectives, modifying phrases) that are there to distract and confuse you.
Practice identifying and removing those distractions so you can see the core structure of the sentence, and more easily identify errors.
2. Quickly scan & eliminate answers
The quickest way to waste time on SC questions is to thoroughly read all of the answer options. Instead, quickly scan and sort them into yes, no, and maybe categories.
Identify the “throw-away” response, and begin looking for clues and patterns among the remaining distractors.
As your GMAT prep progresses, you’ll notice that distractors try to trick you in predictable ways. These tactics often include:
- subject-verb agreement errors
- comparison errors
- incorrect modifiers
- wrong pronoun usage
- missing verb
With practice, you’ll get faster at spotting these traps within the sample sentence and answer options, thus speeding up your overall SC response time.
3. What if you can’t decide on an answer?
Getting stuck can happen at any point during sentence correction problems. You might feel confused right off the bat, and have trouble following the logic of the sentence.
Or, you may narrow down your answer options to two, and feel unable to make a final decision.
If you’re struggling to understand the original sentence, try swapping in one of the sample responses, and see if that clarifies things.
If you can’t decide between answer options, give yourself a time limit to compare them and settle on a choice. Still stuck? Pick one and move on.
Don’t get trapped in the SC maze by reading the answers over and over again. Part of a smart GMAT strategy is knowing when to say when.
4. Don’t forget to evaluate “style”
Some students get so absorbed in identifying grammatical errors in SC questions, that they forget all about style.
When narrowing down the best answer (or deciding between two final options) be on guard for stylistic blunders, such as redundancy and idiomatic errors.
5. Never rely on instinct alone
Feel you already have a strong grasp of English because you read often, consider yourself articulate, or always did well on essays? Believe your finely tuned ear will help you spot SC errors without much practice?
Careful! GMAT sentence correction questions follow the strict rules of Standard Written English. Trust us, many of these rules will not feel familiar when you meet them on the exam.
You won’t be able to rely on instinct alone when decoding these clunky and complex sentences. Even the correct answer won’t always “sound” right to your ear.
This is because most people don’t actually use perfect grammar—and our popular media certainly doesn’t follow standard rules!
To be successful, you must learn a standardized approach to SC problems. Not sure which approach to adopt? Consider taking an intensive sentence correction GMAT course.
Learn the best techniques, and then continue practicing them on your own.
Looking for more GMAT help to conquer tough Verbal challenges? Consider attending a free Verbal Refresher for tips, tricks, and study advice.
Need more advanced, comprehensive GMAT help with both Math and Verbal topics?