Help Me, GMAT Logic and Strategy

studyingAmong GMAT instructors and tutors, there’s a famous, official GMAT Sentence Correction problem that reads:

So dogged were Frances Perkins’ investigations of the garment industry, and her lobbying for wage and hour reform was persistent, Alfred E. Smith and Franklin D. Roosevelt recruited Perkins to work within the government, rather than as a social worker.

A. and her lobbying for wage and hour reform was persistent,
B. and lobbying for wage and hour reform was persistent, so that
C. her lobbying for wage and hour reform persistent, that
D. lobbying for wage and hour reform was so persistent,
E. so persistent her lobbying for wage and hour reform, that

The correct answer is E – more on that in a second – which creates a grammatical structure that most students despise:

So dogged were Frances Perkins’ investigations of the garment industry, so persistent her lobbying for wage and hour reform, that Alfred Smith and Franklin Roosevelt recruited Perkins to work within the government, rather than as a social worker.

That repetition “So dogged was X, so persistent Y…” is an uncommon structure to be certain, and so recently a curious Veritas Prep instructor solicited the help of a famed grammar author to provide as precise a grammatical description of this phrasing as possible. Here was the (much-appreciated) reply:

The repetition at the beginning of successive clauses or phrases is anaphora. As is often the case with anaphora, the two clauses are fairly parallel also.

Omitting the conjunction is asyndeton.

The use of an implied verb in the second clause is prozeugma, as is the implied infinitive at the end (“rather than [to work] as a social worker”). An interesting feature of this quotation is that the implied  verb in the first case is not “were,” as we would think, but “was.” Still, the meaning is clear because it’s just a to-be verb.

The reversal of “her investigations were so dogged” into “so dogged were” is hyperbaton.

So there you have it. The precise grammatical understanding of a challenge-level official GMAT sentence correction problem involves nothing more than your garden-variety anaphora, some basic asyndeton, a splash of prozeugma, and as a finishing touch a dab of hyperbaton. It’s so easy that Microsoft Office spellcheck recognizes 75% of those words!  We borrowed the title of this article from the famous Star Wars quote “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” Speaking honestly, could you rule out “Prozeugma” or “Asyndeton” as character or planet names from one of the Star Wars prequels in a game of “Star Wars reference or grammatical term?”

We offer that detailed description of the grammar behind this question not so that you’ll add those terms to your GMAT study flash cards (please don’t do it) but so that you’ll see the futile nature of trying to master all things grammar. But also recognize that pre-MBA human nature is predisposed to trying anyway. Some of the most average Sentence Correction test-takers in the world have extensive grammatical vocabularies, and those two facts aren’t in as much conflict as you might think. Many test-takers are no better than average at Sentence Correction precisely because they’ve made it a goal to become excellent at grammar.

Here’s why – this one question happens to include (note, we didn’t say “test”) prozeugma and anaphora. But very few other questions will. And look at the answer choices: none of them includes the word anaphora. You’re in no way being tested on whether you can define or recreate that grammatical device. You’re just being tested on process of elimination and finding the decision points that allow you to make that elimination decision. With this question, you should recognize that the initial structure:

So dogged were Perkins’ investigations…

Begs a “that” afterward – or at least some structure to link that to “Smith and Roosevelt recruited her”.  And since three answer choices include “that” and two don’t, you can look to determine whether “that” is necessary or not.  As it turns out, choices A and C don’t have a way to complete that initial structure as a cause/effect relationship (her dogged investigations encouraged Smith/Roosevelt to hire her), and so they can safely be eliminated.  Choice B has “that” but because it doesn’t stand alone – it has “so that’ and the initial structure already has a “so” – it’s also wrong. Which leads you to a decision between C and E. And there, you should see that while you may not think to write a sentence the way E does, it at least stands relatively parallel to the given portion (so dogged her investigations, so persistent her lobbying) while the phrasing in choice C doesn’t keep with the cause/effect setup (that her lobbying was also persistent enough to cause these gentlemen to want to hire her), so E is the only logical choice.

More universally, this question is employing a classic GMAT device of “hiding the right answer” behind a structure that you may just not have seen very much and that you probably don’t like. Your best strategy – and really, we’d argue, your only hope – in situations like this is to use a combination of logic and strategy.  Find a decision that you know you’re qualified to make and lean on that, then compare the remaining choices and again think logically and look for a familiar decision.