GMAT Tip: Becoming a Sentence Correction 'MVP'
This tip on improving your GMAT score was provided by Brian Galvin at Veritas Prep.
When students lament that GMAT sentence correction questions are difficult because of “all the grammatical rules,” they’re usually missing the mark entirely. Sentence correction isn’t an exercise in learning dozens of grammatical rules so much as an exercise in finding opportunities to employ the handful of grammatical rules you know extremely well. And you’ll find that the best way to do that is to look first for the “MVP” decision points:
Modifiers: Does a modifying phrase logically describe the noun or event to which it is assigned?
Verbs: Do the verb tenses express a logical timeline of events? Do singular subjects go with singular verbs and plural with plural?
Pronouns: Is it clear which noun each pronoun refers to? Are singular pronouns paired with singular nouns, and plural pronouns with plural nouns?
By far, most sentence correction problems involve one or more of these three decision points, so those who train themselves to focus first on the MVP categories can usually avoid the more technical “there’s so much grammar to learn!” decisions altogether. Consider an example of a sentence correction question and note the instructions. Your job is to select the answer choice that properly expresses the underlined portion of the sentence prompt, usually meaning that your goal is to eliminate the four flawed answers:
Unlike computer skills or other technical skills, there is a disinclination on the part of many people to recognize the degree to which their analytical skills are weak.
(A) Unlike computer skills or other technical skills, there is a disinclination on the part of many people to recognize the degree to which their analytical skills are weak.
(B) Unlike computer skills or other technical skills, which they admit they lack, many people are disinclined to recognize that their analytical skills are weak.
(C) Unlike computer skills or other technical skills, analytical skills bring out a disinclination in many people to recognize that they are weak to a degree.
(D) Many people, willing to admit that they lack computer skills or other technical skills, are disinclined to recognize that their analytical skills are weak.
(E) Many people have a disinclination recognizing the weakness of their analytical skills while willing to admit their lack, of computer skills or other technical skills.
In sentences such as these, with the entire sentence underlined and many differences between the answer choices, having an MVP focus can be particularly helpful. When sentences begin with a word such as “unlike” followed soon after by a comma, that’s a pretty strong indication that that phrase is a modifier. What’s more, that modifier “unlike” must be describing something that could be similar to the description but in this case isn’t. For example, you’d never say “Unlike my brother, tuberculosis is …,” because they’re nowhere near similar, so it’s not a valid comparison. You could, however, say that “Unlike my brother, my sister is very mechanically inclined,” because that’s a logical distinction point—two people whom you might expect to be similar differ in this one way.
So in this case, you should fixate immediately on “unlike” and test the modifier before you even worry about the rest of the sentence. In choice A, the modifier “unlike computer skills …” doesn’t have a valid noun next to it, perhaps another type of skill, so it’s incorrect. Similarly, choice B tries to use the modifier “unlike computer skills” to modify “many people,” and people are never going to be like skills, so that’s incorrect.
Choice C passes the modifier test (“unlike computer skills … analytical skills” is a valid comparison), and choices D and E avoid that distinction altogether. So it’s time to look for another facet of MVP, and you’ll see in choice C that the pronoun “they” appears. In that sentence, “they” could correspond to multiple plural nouns (Are the people weak? Are the skills weak?), so it’s an unclear pronoun and therefore incorrect. And choice E involves a tenuous verb—“recognizing” creates an unclear meaning. (Is the disinclination doing the recognizing? Does the disinclination only happen while that person is recognizing?)
So the correct answer is D, but more important than the answer is the process. By focusing on MVP, you can avoid making much more difficult decisions, and in many cases you can avoid having to get lost in the details of an entire sentence five times as you go through all five answer choices. MVP usually allows you to eliminate two to three answer choices before you’ve read all the way through the sentence, saving time, energy, and focus while you’re also working as accurately possible.
Plan on taking the GMAT soon? Sign-up for a trial of Veritas Prep GMAT on Demand.