Think ‘Better,’ Not ‘Best,’ on Sentence Correction: Part 2

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

In the first part of this article, we learned the importance of making small decisions between two options rather than trying to compare the entire list of answer choices. In this way you are making the logical, clear choice as to which is “better,” rather than the difficult, subjective choice as to which of the five choices is “best.”

By making a series of choices and continually selecting the better option, you arrive at the best possible answer choice. It may not be the answer you would have written yourself, but it will be the best option according to the rules of grammar and logic.

Let’s take the following example from The Official Guide for GMAT Verbal Review 2015:

The root systems of most flowering perennials either become too crowded, which results in loss in vigor, and spread too far outward, producing a bare center.

(A) which results in loss in vigor, and spread
(B) resulting in loss in vigor, or spreading
(C) with the result of loss of vigor, or spreading
(D) resulting in loss of vigor, or spread
(E) with a resulting loss of vigor, and spread

A Series of Choices
There are several errors in the original sentence. This abundance of errors can actually become confusing and lead many people to want to go choice by choice looking for the “best” answer—the one that’s free from all errors. This, however, is neither the most efficient nor the most accurate way.

Instead, look at this as a series of choices. There are several differences between answer choices, which can be used to eliminate incorrect answers. Here are some of the decisions to be made: “and” vs. “or”; “spread” vs. “spreading”; “in vigor” vs. “of vigor”; and the choice of word to begin the answer (“which,” “resulting,” “with”). Of course, you will not need to utilize—or even recognize—all of these differences. But the better you are at seeing these choices, the better you will be at sentence correction, because seeing the various differences allows you to choose which decision to make first. Remember that you are looking to begin with decision points that have a clear right and wrong answer, ones that you are comfortable using.

For this question, I might start with the “and” vs. “or” decision. I chose this one because it is a clear right/wrong decision point that I can comfortably use. Earlier in the sentence we have an “either,” which should be paired with “or,” not “and.” The phrase is “either x or y.” This eliminates choices A and E. Answer choice E has been eliminated without any additional work.

The remaining choices—B, C, and D—feature several additional decision points. I would next move to the choice between “spread” and “spreading.” With the “either … or” construction, you need parallel elements. If we return to the fixed portion of the sentence we find “either become too crowded,” so we need the parallel verb “spread,” not “spreading.” This eliminates B and C, and we are left with D as the correct answer.

One Decision at a Time
Making one decision at a time can be especially critical toward the end of the test, when your mind has already made hundreds of calculations and decisions. Just as the optometrist knows that it will be difficult for you to differentiate between 10 different options for lenses at one time, you should recognize that you’ll likely struggle to make multiple concurrent decisions within a sentence that’s designed to be extra verbose and descriptive.

Making one definitive decision at a time is an efficient way to manage your time, energy, and focus on these problems to quickly, accurately, and confidently answer them. Use “Better not Best,” and you will be better at sentence correction.

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