The Sentence Correction section of the GMAT can be intimidating, especially for test-takers who grew up speaking a language other than English. Luckily for all you Quant whizzes, Sentence Correction portion is actually quite math-like. There are specific words and phrases that you can use to eliminate options, and you can learn how different constructions must fit together in order to form a “correct” sentence.
To ace the SC section, start by learning to identify the most commonly tested errors on the GMAT. Here are 10 concrete tips to get you on track:
1. Watch the prepositions.
Do answer choices use different prepositions? If so, check for idiomatic errors. Sometimes the difference between a correct idiom and an incorrect one comes down to which preposition is used (i.e., a consequence of vs. a consequence from).
2. Check for parallelism.
The word “and” should send you looking for parallelism errors. If the word “and” connects items on a list, the items connected must be parallel. If you see a comma plus “and” (or another conjunction like for, and, nor, but, or, etc.) connecting two clauses, make sure that each of the clauses is independent; if not, you’ve found a sentence structure error.
3. Know the time.
Use time cues (ex. before, during, as, in 1960…) to eliminate options that contain verb tense errors. Remember, events that occur during the same time period must be in the same tense!
4. Look for agreement.
See a collective noun, like committee, company or team? Check for subject-verband pronoun-antecedent agreement. Even better, check to see that EVERY underlined pronoun agrees with its antecedent (the word to which the pronoun is referring).
5. Skip the filler.
When sentences are injected with modifiers, like prepositional phrases, ignore the filler words between the subject and the verb to make sure that you have subject-verb agreement. If you have a hard time spotting the subject-verb pair amidst all the clutter in the sentence, find the verb and think, “What subject logically corresponds to this action?” Remember: The subject of a sentence will never be inside of a prepositional phrase.
6. Know which noun goes with which.
See the word which in an answer choice? When which introduces a clause (called anadjective clause), make sure that the clause introduced IMMEDIATELY follows the noun or idea it modifies. Just as an adjective must describe a noun, so an adjective clause must describe a noun. If the clause introduced by “which” describes an abstract idea and not a specific noun, you’ve found a modifier error.
7. Run the numbers.
If a sentence is about some sort of numerical quantity (ex. the percentage of homeowners in Minneapolis or the number of women studying French) check for idiomatic errors. Remember: “fewer” describes a countable quantity, like people; “less” describes an uncountable quantity, like sugar. Also check for redundancy (ex. “went up by a 20% increase”).
8. Comparison shop.
The words “as,” “than,” and “like” should send you looking for comparison errors. Make sure that the items compared make sense; if a sentence says more X than Y, X and Y have to be items of the same type.
9. Well, this is awkward.
If an option is wordy or awkward, do not immediately eliminate it unless you find a concrete error. Hold on to the choice unless you find another choice that also contains no errors. Compare the two constructions, and if you still cannot find an error in either construction, choose the less wordy, less awkward, and/or more active construction.
10. Keep things logical.
Don’t forget about the logic of the sentence. When down to those last two options, plug each one back into the sentence and see which one makes more sense intuitively. You can always use your ear to check for clear and logical modification.
Joanna Bersin works for Knewton where she has designed hundreds of GMAT questions. She graduated from Duke with a degree in neuroscience.