Fraud or Phenom In Sentence Correction

Our world is unforgiving of frauds these days – whether it’s fake internet girlfriends or fraudulently-obtained athletic greatness, fraud is a one-way ticket to front-page real estate and website page views. So with that in mind, like Lance and Manti before me, I have a confession to make:

I am a Sentence Correction fraud. 

Now, as I write this under the banner of a GMAT preparation company and as a supposed GMAT “expert,” I should probably expand on and clarify that, so here’s the whole story:

I am a Sentence Correction fraud, and that’s what’s made me great at Sentence Correction.

Becoming a Fraud

Now, as our world-famous frauds of recent news cycles can attest, these things go in phases. When I started teaching Sentence Correction back in 2003, I felt like I was pretty good at it. Yeah, I secretly hoped that no one asked me whether a certain word was a gerund or whether (or maybe it’s “if”?) you could use a participle in that situation, but a student in my first-ever class scored 770 and got in to Harvard and a friend of mine went from taking 3-4 confused minutes per question to lights-out in under a minute as I tutored him over the phone, so like Lance and Manti I went with it.  Yeah I have a few skeletons in my grammatical closet but you can’t doubt success, right?

That ignorance-of-fraud phase lasted a couple years, but then I moved deeper into the GMAT world, taking on my current role as the curriculum and instruction director at Veritas Prep.  Surely that person needs to be a grammar expert, right?  Instructors would email me with questions on grammatical subtleties, so I kept in its own browser so it was always handy, and I picked up a little more of the lingo.  But it wasn’t until a tutoring session with a student named Will that I truly felt exposed as a fraud. Will had studied Sentence Correction intensively, taking a different company’s grammar-intensive course before requesting me as a one-on-one tutor specifically to work on Sentence Correction. Not wanting to spend my Saturday mornings talking solely about grammar (and not wanting to be “outed” as a fraud) I tried to deflect it, but he was persistent and seemed like a good guy and an eager student so I met up with him for one of about six meetings. Within minutes it was clear – I was a fraud.

Discussing some of his questions from the Official Guide, we spoke in different languages – his of compound predicates and appositives and past-progressive tenses and mine of “why are we even discussing this part of the sentence when you should have already eliminated it based on the pronoun?”  I’ll admit – as I struggled to keep up with his grammatical terminology and he seemed genuinely surprised that he could talk grammatical circles around the tutor he was paying handsomely, I felt guilty and phony. Maybe I had just been faking it all these years and it was all catching up with me. Maybe I’d have to have that talk with Oprah or Katie Couric to admit that I wasn’t the Sentence Correction expert I’d claimed to be. But then, Will and I converged around the same idea:

I was doing well at Sentence Correction because of – not in spite of – my lack of detailed grammar knowledge.

The more I pushed back – somewhat defensively – against these obscure grammatical discussions, the more I described my own thought process. Will was debating grammar nuance and I was already done (and correct) because I noticed the bigger-picture GMAT items – the primary decision points involved in each question and the logical underpinnings of why those were the important decisions to be made. I keyed in on pronouns and verbs, because their rules were pretty binary (singular goes with singular, plural with plural); I focused on modifiers because they were easy to spot (description and a comma) and logical to test (does the description logically match what it’s describing?). And, on just about every question my low-hanging “this guy’s a grammar fraud” fruit led me to the right answer (thankfully) before we ever had to get into the grammatical minutiae that I was desperate to avoid.

What’s more, as I took more time to ensure that my way of thinking wasn’t a fluke, I started to see and appreciate Sentence Correction as a part of the GMAT. Grammar is a pretty arbitrary thing to test heavily on a business school entrance exam, don’t you think?  Most would agree – including many of the folks I’ve talked to at GMAC. Sentence Correction isn’t just “grammar”, but rather more of a problem solving and reasoning exercise than most realize.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.