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GMAT Tips from Veritas Prep

GMAT Tip: Becoming a Sentence-Correction Pro

GMAT Tip: Becoming a Sentence-Correction Pro

Photograph by Lola Allum

This tip on improving your GMAT score was provided by Brian Galvin at Veritas Prep.

If you’re like many GMAT test-takers, you’re sick of studying grammar rules and are often frustrated that none of the answer choices for a sentence correction problem “sound good.” You may just throw up your hands, not knowing where to begin.

If that describes your current sentence-correction situation, you’re in luck. A high percentage of sentence-correction questions come with a ready-made, user-friendly starting point: The pronoun.

Here’s what’s great about pronouns in GMAT sentence correction questions:

1. They’re easy to spot because they’re just one word. When you see “it” or “they,” you know you have a pronoun, whereas those parts of speech or sentence structures that involve multiple words (such as modifiers and parallel structure) can take some thought merely to recognize.

2. They have fixed rules. A singular pronoun must refer to a singular noun, and a plural pronoun has to refer to a plural noun. If you can’t clearly identify the noun to which the pronoun refers, you’re probably dealing with a reference error.

So to improve both your accuracy and efficiency on sentence-correction questions, you should make scanning for pronouns one of your first actions every time you see a problem. For example, consider answer choices (A) and (B)—the first of five—for the underlined portion of the following sentence correction problem:

The deer, despite having traveled hundreds of miles from their home to reach the Canadian wilderness and therefore being free to roam without fear of highway traffic or other man-made dangers, struggled to acclimate to the habitat that wildlife biologists had predicted would enable it to thrive.

(A) despite having traveled hundreds of miles from their home to reach the Canadian wilderness and therefore being free to roam without fear of highway traffic or other man-made dangers

(B) despite having traveled hundreds of miles from home to reach the Canadian wilderness that offered freedom to roam without fear of highway traffic or other man-made dangers

First, note a few things. This is a long sentence that many will find tedious to read, particularly under test conditions and with three more answer choices to review. There are multiple differences between the two answer choices. And there are two pronouns in the original question. One is the word “their” in the underlined portion, but the other is a little more hidden as the third-to-last word, the singular pronoun “it.” If you’ve scanned the whole sentence for pronouns, you can see that the deer in the sentence is singular because the fixed portion of the sentence uses “it.” So answer choice A, which mixes that up with a plural “their” is wrong, and the important difference between the answer choices is that B removes the pronoun altogether.

What can you learn from this?

Pronouns make great primary decision points—they’re easier to spot than most other errors; once you’ve identified them, your decision is often a quick one. But the GMAT doesn’t always hand them to you on a silver platter. Difficult questions will often “hide” a pronoun far from the underlined portion of the sentence, making it difficult for many to answer the question but rewarding those who know to scan for pronouns in their first pass at the sentence.  So take that as a lesson: Pronouns offer great rewards for those who know to look for (wait for it …) them.

Brian Galvin has studied the GMAT full time since 2006 as the director of academic programs for Veritas Prep. He received a Masters in Education from the University of Michigan and is the proud owner of a 99th percentile GMAT score.

For more GMAT advice from Veritas Prep watch “GMAT Tip: Master Sentence Correction By Focusing on Pronouns”


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