The Simple Equation for Success at Sentence Correction

The Simple Equation for Success at Sentence Correction
Eliminate the clutter of modifiers to simplify the sentence (Photograph by David Elfstrom/Getty Images)
Photograph by David Elfstrom/Getty Images

This tip for improving your GMAT score was provided by David Newland at Veritas Prep.

If you are better at algebra than you are at sentence correction, it may be that you are using the proper approach for one and not the other.

Consider the following question: “If 35x + 50 – (13 * 2) + 5x – 13y = 9x + 112 – 27x – 30 – 13y, what does x equal?”

That is a long, seemingly complicated equation. How did you begin to address this problem? I bet you combined the variables and the numbers to get a simplified picture of this equation. What is written above simplifies to “58x = 58.” When you simplify, the problem becomes easier.

Without this first step, you do not even have a clear idea of what you have to work with. In the original equation, you appear to have two variables, but the “-13y” on each side cancel each other out, and you are left with just one variable. In algebra, the first step is to simplify.

Simplify Sentence Correction, Too

Why would you treat sentence correction differently? The long, scary-looking equation above is like a long convoluted sentence. If you don’t answer algebra questions without simplifying, why would you attempt sentence correction without “eliminating the clutter?”

Take the following item from the Veritas Prep Sentence Correction book as an example:

“Sulfur Dioxide, which smells like rotten eggs, is formed in smokestacks from sulfur and oxygen, two of the major elements consumed in coal smelting, react with each other.”

(A) is formed in smokestacks from

(B) is formed in smokestacks when

(C) is formed in smokestacks, and when

(D) formed in smokestacks when

(E) formed in smokestacks from

Before you begin to analyze this sentence, simplify it as you would an equation.

To eliminate the clutter, you want to “ignore” (since you cannot cross things out on the computer on test day) such things as:

Modifiers that are not underlined and not touching the underlined (in this case, “two of the major elements consumed in coal smelting” is a modifier that is modifies sulfur and oxygen. Since this modifier is not underlined, it cannot be changed, so it must be correct, and it can be ignored).

• Modifiers that are underlined or touching the underlined but are not misplaced (in this case, “which smells like rotten eggs” is touching the underlined, but since it properly modifies Sulfur Dioxide, this modifier can also be ignored.

• Prepositional phrases, even if they are underlined, can usually be safely ignored as well (In the above sentence, “in smokestacks” can be ignored).

Simple … Results

The simplified sentence reads:

“Sulfur Dioxide… is formed … from sulfur and oxygen … react with each other.”

Do you see how much clearer that is? Much as the equation “58x = 58” is quite easy to work with, this sentence is clearly not correct. We cannot say “is formed from … react with each other.” A quick scan of the answer choices shows that the other option is “when.”

Replace “from” with “when,” and you get “Sulfur Dioxide … is formed … when sulfur and oxygen … react with each other.” This is answer choice B, the correct answer.

While answers C and D also have the word “when,” neither is correct. In choice C, an unnecessary “and” is added, which makes the sentence read “Sulfur Dioxide … is formed … and when sulfur and oxygen … react with each other.” With the addition of “and,” the sentence becomes incomplete.

Choice D does not have the word “is,” as in “is formed,” so that choice reads “Sulfur Dioxide … formed … when sulfur and oxygen … react with each other.” You can see that this sentence now lacks the main verb and is clearly incorrect.

By simplifying the sentence, you have made the correct answer easy to spot. The errors in the other choices, which would have been masked by modifiers (like this one), become very apparent when you eliminate the clutter. Give sentence correction the same treatment that you give algebra: It is the simple equation for success.

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