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Sentence Correction

Sentence Correction

GMAT verbal sentence correction
Sentence Correction (SC) questions test your knowledge of English grammar, style, and expression. You are given a sentence, part or all of which is underlined. This is followed by five answer choices. Your objective is to choose the answer that fits best (not necessarily perfectly) within the original sentence. Answer A is always exactly the same as the underlined portion of the original sentence; pick A if you believe that the original sentence is fully correct as written. The other four answers are variations of the underlined portion.
 

Concepts Tested on Sentence Correction

English grammar is a broad subject, but fortunately the GMAT tends to focus on some specific types of grammar issues. Below we introduce the most commonly-tested grammar issues. Other grammatical and stylistic issues tested on the GMAT include active vs. passive voice, adjectives vs. adverbs, gerunds, possessives, redundancy, and subjunctive mood.

  • Verb agreement and tense. A verb should agree in plurality with its corresponding noun, and should take the appropriate tense for the sentence. With tense, we must consider time period (past, present, or future) and aspect (simple, progressive, or perfect).
  • Pronoun ambiguity and agreement. A pronoun should unambiguously refer to the appropriate noun, and should agree in plurality with that noun.
  • Parallel construction. Parts of a sentence that serve the same purpose within the sentence should be structured similarly. This often arises with lists and comparisons.
  • Misplaced modifiers. A modifier provides additional detail within a sentence, and can range in length from one word to a lengthy clause. A modifier should unambiguously refer to the appropriate noun or action.
  • Idioms. Certain words and phrases require a specific usage or construction in order to be correct. These are unique rules that apply to the given word or phrase. To ensure that international students are not at a disadvantage, the GMAC has eliminated “American-centric” idioms (as it classifies them) from the GMAT.
  • Comparison and quantity words. There are specific rules associated with words and phrases used for comparisons and for describing quantities. Although we can consider these special types of idioms, they deserve special mention because of the frequency with which they appear on SC questions.

Although grammar is critical, it is not the only aspect of Sentence Correction. Expression and meaning are also essential elements of SC questions. Expression refers to how a sentence is written. All else equal, a sentence should be clear (not ambiguous) and concise (not unnecessarily wordy). Meaning refers to the intended meaning of a sentence. When read literally, a sentence should make logical sense, not imply something illogical. Also, the sentence’s focus should be on the primary idea that the author wishes to convey. Finally, our preference should be to keep the original meaning of a sentence, unless we need to fix a logical issue or change the focus to the primary idea. As the GMAC has tried to prevent students from doing well by simply memorizing certain grammar rules, meaning has become increasingly important on SC questions.


How to Approach Sentence Correction

In approaching SC questions, process of elimination is very important. We should first read the original sentence carefully and try to identify any grammatical or other errors. If we find an error, we can immediately eliminate answer A (always a repeat of the original underlined portion). Furthermore, we can skim the other four answers and eliminate those that retain the original error. Of course we will not always find an error, either because we just missed the error or because there is no error (i.e. answer A is correct).

After this, we want to scan the answers for “splits”, or differences in construction. For example, perhaps two answers use a certain word and the three other answers use an alternate word choice. Not every SC question will have splits, but most of them do, particularly at the beginning and at the ending of the answer choices. Upon observing a split, we can try to make a decision as to which is the correct form and which are incorrect. Based on this, we can further eliminate some answer choices. Only after exhausting splits should we analyze each of the remaining answers one at a time, because doing so is more time consuming.


Sample GMAT Sentence Correction Problem

Let’s try a sample problem. Attempt the problem on your own before viewing the answer and explanation.

A human sperm cell will transform into a baby boy or a baby girl after it fertilizes a human egg cell, depending on its XY chromosome.

(A) A human sperm cell will transform into a baby boy or a baby girl after it fertilizes a human egg cell, depending on its XY chromosome.
(B) After it fertilizes a human egg cell, depending on its XY chromosome, a human sperm cell will transform into a baby boy or a baby girl.
(C) After it fertilizes a human egg cell, a human sperm cell’s XY chromosome will determine if it transforms into a baby boy or a baby girl.
(D) Its XY chromosome determines whether a human sperm cell, after it fertilizes a human egg cell, will transform into a baby boy or a baby girl.
(E) The XY chromosome of a human sperm cell, after it fertilizes a human egg cell, will determine whether it transforms into a baby boy or a baby girl.

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