### Archives For Sentence Correction

Last time, we talked about how to find a starting point on a Sentence Correction problem when the starting point doesn’t leap out at you. If you haven’t read that article yet, go ahead and do so.

The first step of the SC process is a First Glance, something that didn’t help out a whole lot on last week’s problem. Let’s try out the First Glance again and see what happens!

This GMATPrep® problem is from the free exams.

* “Often incorrectly referred to as a tidal wave, a tsunami, a seismic sea wave that can reach up to 150 miles per hour in speed and 200 feet high, is caused by underwater earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.

“(A) up to 150 miles per hour in speed and 200 feet high, is

“(B) up to 150 miles per hour in speed and heights of up to 200 feet, is

“(C) speeds of up to 150 miles per hour and 200 feet high, are

“(D) speeds of up to 150 miles per hour and heights of up to 200 feet, is

“(E) speeds of up to 150 miles per hour and as high as 200 feet, are”

What did you do for the First Glance? The glance is designed to give you an upfront hint about one issue that the sentence might be testing before you actually start reading the full sentence. Take a look at the beginning of the underline, including the beginning of all five answer choices.

The split is between up to and speeds of up to. There isn’t an obvious grammar rule here, so the issue is likely to revolve around meaning: do we need to say speeds of or is it enough to say just up to?

The phrase reach up to could go in several different directions—is it going to say up to 150 miles in length? up to 150 feet high?—so it’s preferable to clarify right up front that the wave is reaching speeds of up to 150 miles per hour.

In addition, the sentence contains parallelism:

can reach up to X [150 miles per hour in speed] and Y [200 feet high]

The portion before the parallelism starts must apply to both the X and Y portions, so the original sentence says:

can reach up to 200 feet high

That might sound kind of clunky and it is: up to and high are redundant.

Okay, answer (A) is incorrect and answer (B) repeats both issues (it neglects to specify speeds of up to 150 and it contains faulty parallelism.).

Check the parallelism in the other choices:

“(C) speeds of up to [150 miles per hour] and [200 feet high]

“(D) [speeds of up to 150 miles per hour] and [heights of up to 200 feet]

“(E) speeds of [up to 150 miles per hour] and [as high as 200 feet]”

In answer (C), the Y portion is the measurement (200 feet), so the X portion should also be the measurement…but it’s nonsensical to say speeds of up to 200 feet high. Likewise, in (E), the Y portion is a prepositional phrase, so it matches the prepositional phrase in the X portion. Now, the sentence says speeds of as high as 200 feet—equally nonsensical.

The only one that makes sense is answer (D): speeds of up to 150 and heights of up to 200.

You might also have noticed, in the original sentence, that the last underlined word is the verb is. Sentence Correction problems always have at least one difference at the beginning of the underline and at the end, so glance down the end of the choices.

Interesting! Is vs. are. What subject goes with this verb? Here’s the original sentence again:

Often incorrectly referred to as a tidal wave, a tsunami, a seismic sea wave that can reach up to 150 miles per hour in speed and 200 feet high, is caused by underwater earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.”

The modifiers have been crossed out. The subject is tsunami, a singular noun, so the verb should be the singular is. Answers (C) and (E) are incorrect for this reason.

Key Takeaways: The First Glance in Sentence Correction

(1) Before reading the original sentence, make it a habit to glance at the word or couple of words at the start of the underline and each answer choice. Sometimes, the split will be obvious: an is vs. are split, for example, clearly indicates subject-verb agreement.

(2) Sometimes the split will be less obvious, as with up to vs. speeds of up to. In this case, if the split is fairly easy to remember, just keep the variations in mind as you read the original sentence, so that you can analyze the difference right away. You may see immediately that speeds of up to is more clear, and your knowledge that the sentence is testing this meaning might also alert you to some of the meaning issues introduced by the faulty parallelism.

(3) Making a subject-verb match in the midst of a bunch of modifiers can be tricky. Learn how to strip the modifiers out and take the sentence down to its basic core structure.

* GMATPrep® questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.

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On some Sentence Correction (SC) problems, an error jumps out at you immediately. On others, you’re left trying to figure out where to start. How do you dig in when the starting point isn’t obvious?

Try this GMATPrep® problem from the free exams and then we’ll talk about it.

* “A recording system was so secretly installed and operated in the Kennedy Oval Office that even Theodore C. Sorensen, the White House counsel, did not know it existed.

“(A) A recording system was so secretly installed and operated in the Kennedy Oval Office that

“(B) So secret was a recording system installation and operation in the Kennedy Oval Office

“(C) It was so secret that a recording system was installed and operated in the Kennedy Oval Office

“(D) A recording system that was so secretly installed and operated in the Kennedy Oval Office

“(E) Installed and operated so secretly in the Kennedy Oval Office was a recording system that”

The first step on SC is to glance at the start of the underline (even before you read the sentence) in order to see whether the opening change in the answers gives you a clue about where to start. In this case, the underline starts right at the beginning of the sentence. A scan down the beginning of each answer choice signals exactly nothing on this problem. Now what?

Okay, on to step 2: read the original sentence (for both meaning and grammar). What do you think?

The sentence sounds kind of clunky. It uses an idiom (so X that Y). Is the idiom used correctly? Here are some correct examples.

She was SO extraordinarily lucky THAT she actually won the lottery three separate times.

The CEO was SO preoccupied with profits THAT he missed the signs of a market collapse.

Notice the structure in these examples. There are actually two subject-and-verb pairs—one set before the word that and one set after. In addition, the Y portion of the sentence (after that) represents evidence to support the scenario in X or some consequence of that scenario. The fact that she won the lottery three times is evidence that she’s really lucky. The CEO’s preoccupation actually caused the CEO to miss signs of the collapse.

The original sentence has this same structure:

(A) The system was SO secretly installed THAT even Sorensen did not know it existed.

This structure, then, is correct in the original sentence. What about the other answers?

Here’s where things start to get messy! Strip down the structures for each choice:

(B) SO secret was the system (even Sorensen did not know it existed.)

(C) It was SO secret THAT a system was installed (even Sorensen did not know it existed.)

(D) A system that was SO secretly installed (even Sorensen did not know it existed.)

(E) Installed SO secretly was a system THAT (even Sorensen did not know it existed.)

Answer (B) is missing the that portion of the idiom. People often skip this word in real life but notice what happens when you do so:

She was so late, I wasn’t even sure she was coming!

There are two complete sentences connected only by a comma. That’s a comma splice error! Eliminate (B).

Answer (D) does have the word that, but it’s before the so. This sentence turns out to have no main verb for the subject (system). That was so secretly installed modifies system, and even Sorensen… doesn’t provide a verb for system. Eliminate (D).

In both cases, the missing that signaled a problem with sentence structure.

Answer (C) has the that…but wait a second. It moved. Is it still okay?

No! That a system was installed is just a modifier of secret; it’s not actually finishing off the idiom by providing some follow-on info or consequence of the so portion. There should still be a that before even Sorensen:

It was SO secret that a system was installed THAT even Sorensen did not know it existed.

(That sentence may still sound clunky to you. The double that may be tripping your “sounds bad!” instincts, or possibly the passive It was opening. I definitely wouldn’t write the sentence this way myself!)

The so X portion of the sentence should provide the opening information that is later addressed in the that Y portion. What was so surprising that Sorensen didn’t know?

The surprise was that this system had been installed and was being operated in the area where he worked. In answer (E), though, those verbs come before the so—that is, they are not part of the X portion of the sentence. Eliminate (E).

Only answer (A) uses the idiom to convey the proper meaning: This system was SO secretly installed and operated THAT even someone who worked there didn’t know about it!

Key Takeaways: Meaning, Structure, and Idioms in SC

(1) When you don’t spot an obvious way into the sentence, consider examining the core sentence, particularly if the sentence contains a structure that extends across nearly the whole thing, such as parallelism or an idiom (as in this case).

(2) Messing up an idiom can lead to both meaning and structure errors. Even if you don’t know the idiom, then, you might still be able to narrow down the answers! In the problem above, answer (B) was a run-on and answer (D) was a fragment, all because the usage of the idiom was messed up.

(3) Stripping the sentence down to the minimum necessary to test the sentence (and idiom) structure takes some time but may be your best shot at answering the question. This may not get you all the way to the right answer, but there’s a good chance it will help you eliminate some wrong answers.

* GMATPrep® questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.

Read the next part of this series: GMAT Sentence Correction: Where do I start? (Part 2).

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Studying for the GMAT? Take our free GMAT practice exam or sign up for a free GMAT trial class running all the time near you, or online. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter!

Welcome to the final installment in a series of three articles about meaning and sentence structure in sentence correction. Our first one tested meaning and also covered issues related to having to break the sentence into chunks. In the second, we talked about how to use that chunk idea to strip the sentence down to the core structure vs. the modifiers.

Today, I’ve got a third GMATPrep® problem for you following some of these same themes (I’m not going to tell you which ones till after you’ve tried the problem!).

* “Today’s technology allows manufacturers to make small cars more fuel-efficient now than at any time in their production history.

“(A) small cars more fuel-efficient now than at any time in their

“(B) small cars that are more fuel-efficient than they were at any time in their

“(C) small cars that are more fuel-efficient than those at any other time in

“(D) more fuel-efficient small cars than those at any other time in their

“(E) more fuel-efficient small cars now than at any time in”

The first glance doesn’t indicate a lot this time. The answers change from small cars to more (fuel-efficient small cars), which isn’t much of a clue. Go ahead and read the original sentence.

What did you think? When I first read it, I shrugged and thought, “That sounds okay.” If you can’t come up with something to tackle from the first glance or the first read-through, then compare answers (A) and (B), looking for differences.

Hmm. I see—do we need to say that are more fuel-efficient? Maybe. Answer (C) uses that same structure. Oh, hey, answer (C) tosses in the word other! I know what they’re doing!

If you’ve seen the word other tested within a comparison before, you may know, too. If not, get ready to make a note. Take a look at these two sentences:

Last time, we tried a problem that tested meaning; we also discussed how to compare entire chunks of the answer choices. Today, we’re going to combine those two things into a new skill.

Try this GMATPrep® problem from the free exams and then we’ll talk about it.

* “The striking differences between the semantic organization of Native American languages and that of European languages, in both grammar and vocabulary, have led scholars to think about the degree to which differences in language may be correlated with nonlinguistic differences.

“(A) that of European languages, in both grammar and vocabulary, have

“(B) that of European languages, including grammar and vocabulary, has

“(C) those of European languages, which include grammar and vocabulary, have

“(D) those of European languages, in grammar as well as vocabulary, has

“(E) those of European languages, both in grammar and vocabulary, has”

At first glance, the underline isn’t super long on this one, Glance down the first word of each answer. What does a split between that and those signify?

Both are pronouns, so they’re referring to something else in the sentence. In addition, one is singular and one is plural, so it will be important to find the antecedent (the word to which the pronoun refers).

Next, read the original sentence. What do you think? It isn’t super long but it still manages to pack in some complexity. Learn how to strip it down and you’ll be prepared for even more complex sentence structures.

My first thought was: okay, now I see why they offered that vs. those. Should the pronoun refer to the plural differences or to the singular organization?

It could be easy to get turned around here, so strip down the sentence structure:

Sentence Correction tests grammar, yes, but it also tests meaning. In fact, a decent chunk of grammar actually revolves around meaning in the first place.

Try this GMATPrep® problem from the free exams and then we’ll talk about it.

* “In the mid-1920s the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Company was the scene of an intensive series of experiments that would investigate changes in working conditions as to their effects on workers’ performance.

“(A) that would investigate changes in working conditions as to their effects on workers’ performance

“(B) investigating the effects that changes in working conditions would have on workers’ performance

“(C) for investigating what the effects on workers’ performance are that changes in working conditions would cause

“(D) that investigated changes in working conditions’ effects on workers’ performance

“(E) to investigate what the effects changes in working conditions would have on workers’ performance”

What did you think? I did give away that this problem tests meaning; did you spot any meaning issues?

The first step on SC is to glance at the start of the underline (even before you read the sentence). The underline starts halfway through on the word that. The word that can signal issues with modifiers or with the underlying sentence structure, so keep these possibilities in mind as you move to the next step, reading the sentence.

Did you like the original sentence or did you think there was something wrong with it?

In fact, the original has a meaning issue! We have a starting point. The sentence talks about something that happened nearly 100 years ago, so it doesn’t make sense to say that these experiments would investigate something. The place was the scene of the experiments conducted at that time in the past.

You can use would properly in certain past conditions: She would have eaten the fish if she hadn’t been allergic. If she ate fish, she would have an allergic reaction. The test results showed that feeding her fish would cause an allergic reaction.

You can’t, then, just cross off any other answers that also contain would; you’ll have to read to figure out the meaning.

Answers (B), (D), and (E) all use would, but they don’t say would investigate. Instead, all three talk about what effects changes in working conditions would cause or would have.

This usage is acceptable because the information is conveying a cause-effect relationship: changes cause effects. By definition, the effects have to happen later than the changes. The word would can be used to indicate a “future in the past” meaning, similar to the example The test results showed that feeding her fish would cause an allergic reaction.

Hmm, that starting point allowed the elimination of only one answer, (A). Back to the drawing board. What next?

If you noticed anything else about the original sentence that you didn’t like, try that next. Otherwise, scan the answers vertically to spot differences and tackle one of those differences. Let’s follow the latter path next.

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been learning the 4-step SC Process. (If you haven’t read that two-part article yet, go do so now!) Also, grab your copy of The Official Guide 13th Edition (OG13); you’re going to need it for the exercises in this article.

People often ask what they should check “first” in SC, or in what order they should check various potential grammar problems. It would take too long to check for a laundry list of error types every time, though, so what to do? You take a First Glance: a 2-3 second glance at the screen with the goal of picking up a clue or two about this problem before you even start reading it.

Open up your OG13 to the SC section right now—any page will do—and find a really long underline. Now find a really short one.

A really long underline increases the chances that “global” issues will be tested. These issues include Structure, Meaning, Modifiers, and Parallelism—it’s easier to test all of these issues when the underline contains a majority of the sentence.

A really short underline (around 5-6 words or fewer) should trigger a change in strategy. Instead of reading the original sentence first, compare the answers to see what the differences are. This won’t take long because there aren’t many words to compare! Those differences can give you ideas as to what the sentence is testing.

Either way, you’ve now got some ideas about what might be happening in the sentence before you even read it—and that is the goal of the First Glance.

## Read a Couple of Words

Next, we’re going to do a drill.  Flip to page 672 (print edition) of OG13 but don’t read anything yet. Also, open up a notebook or a file on your computer to take notes. (Note: I’m starting us on the first page of SC problems because I want to increase the chances that you’ve already done some of these problems in the past. It’s okay if you haven’t done them all yet. You can also switch to a different page if you want, but I’m going to discuss some of these problems below, FYI.)

Start with the first problem on the page. Give yourself a maximum of 5 seconds to glance at that problem. Note the length of the underline. Read the word right before the underline and the first word of the underline, but that’s it! Don’t read the rest of the sentence. Also go and look at the first word of each answer choice. As you do this, takes notes on what you see.

For the next step, you can take all the time you want (but still do not go back and read the full sentence / problem). Ask yourself whether any of that provides any clues. Continue Reading…

For the past six months, we’ve been developing a new process for Sentence Correction. Some beta students and classes have seen it, but this is the first time we’re debuting it publicly! Read on and let us know what you think. The final details aren’t set in stone yet, so your comments could actually affect the outcome!

## The 5 Steps for Sentence Correction

I’ll go into more detail on all of these below.

1. Take a First Glance

3. Find a Starting Point

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4

As with any process, there are times when you will decide to deviate for some good reason. For most questions, though, you’ll follow this same basic process.

## 1. First Glance

When a new problem of any type first pops up on the screen, what do you do? Of course, you need to read the problem—but that’s actually your second step, not your first!

First, take a “holistic” glance at the entire screen: let your eyes go slightly out of focus (don’t read!), look at about the middle of whatever text is on the screen, and take in 3 things:

- the problem type

Right now, you might be thinking: well of course, the first thing you would notice is the problem type. A colleague of mine recently put this to the test with a series of students. She put a quant problem in front of them and, after a few seconds, she suddenly covered it up. Then she asked “Was that DS or PS?”

Prepare to have your mind blown: most of the time, they didn’t know! DS and PS are immediately and obviously different if you’re looking for the clues at first glance. People are so stressed about starting to solve, though, that they myopically focus on the first word of the problem and are “blind” to the full picture right in front of them.

- the length of the whole sentence

- the length of the underline (or the length of the answers)

How does this help? If the answer choices are really short (around 5 words or fewer), then you might actually choose to read and compare them before you read the full sentence up above. If the underline / answers are very long, there’s a good chance the question will test Structure, Meaning, Modifiers, or Parallelism.

You won’t always spot a good clue during your First Glance, but most of the time you will—especially when you practice this skill! Continue Reading…

I’ve got a fascinating (and infuriating!) GMATPrep problem for you today; this comes from the free problem set included in the new GMATPrep 2.0 version of the software. Try it out (1 minute 15 seconds) and then we’ll talk about it!

*  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 to recognize the weakness of their analytical skills while willing to admit their lack of computer skills or other technical skills.

I chose this problem because I thought the official explanation fell short; specifically, there are multiple declarations that something is wordy or awkward. While I agree with those characterizations, they aren’t particularly useful as teaching tools “ how can we tell that something is wordy or awkward? There isn’t an absolute way to rule; it’s a judgment call.

Now, I can understand why whoever wrote this explanation struggled to do so; this is an extremely difficult problem to explain. And that’s exactly why I wanted to have a crack at it “ I like a challenge. : )

Okay, let’s talk about the problem. My first reaction to the original sentence was: nope, that’s definitely wrong. When you think that, your next thought should be, Why? Which part, specifically? This allows you to know that you have a valid reason for eliminating an answer and it also allows you to figure out what you should examine in other answers.

Before you read my next paragraph, answer that question for yourself. What, specifically, doesn’t sound good or doesn’t work in the original sentence?