Sentence Correction Tip: Cut the Junk

Sentence corrections on the GMAT

Sentence corrections on the GMAT can be particularly tricky. There are so many rules and goals to keep in mind – not only does the correct selection have to be grammatically correct, but it needs to be concise and clear – at least, according to GMAC standards.

The biggest strategy that we find even the best GMAT test takers fail to consider is “cutting the junk” when approaching GMAT sentence correction questions.

It is easy for a GMAT test taker, particularly a native English speaker, to heavily rely on how a sentence correction questions sounds to make corrections, then jump to the answer choices to pick an answer that sounds like it will fit best.

But, the problem lies in what the GMAT considers to be the most correct answer. Returning to the idea that it should be a clear articulation of the sentence’s meaning, the correct answer in fact often sounds “awkward” or “unnecessary” to even test takers with undergraduate English degrees.

By cutting the junk when approaching sentence correction questions, a test taker is able to focus on the words that matter, looking at the core structure of the sentence, anticipating what types of correction should be made, then evaluating what answer choice most closely matches with that anticipation.

Let’s take a look at a question where this works well:

Steve Woodworth, the founder and chief executive of Pan-Asian Imports, a Hong Kong-based business that imports and exports computers, networking devices, and fiber optic switches, and will be leading the technology conference in San Francisco next week.

(A) switches, and will be leading

(B) switches, and he will be leading

(C) switches; he will be leading

(D) switches, will be leading

(E) switches, leading

When it comes to cutting the junk, we want to get rid of descriptive, modifying phrases that obscure the meaning of the sentence.

Start by asking yourself – is there a long phrase with lots of adjectives between two commas? If so, red flag, let’s get rid of that junk.

In this example, “the found and chief executive of Pan-Asian Imports” is the first unnecessary phrase we can eliminate. This is followed by “A Hong Kong-based business that imports and exports computers, networking devices, and fiber optic switches.”

Wait, is “switches” not important because it is underlined?

In this case, no. By cutting the junk, we should be able to quickly recognize that this question is testing subject / verb agreement. A smart test taker will be able to rewrite the sentence in their heads to read:

“Steve Woodworth and will be leading the technology conference in San Francisco next week.”

We should recognize that there is no other verb that corresponds with Steve aside from “will be leading” so the word “and” should be eliminated as unnecessary, confusing the meaning of the sentence. That leaves us with (D) and (E) as possible correct answer choices, as (A) and (B) include “and” and (C) includes a semicolon, which serves a very similar function.

Because the conference is being held in the future, as in next week, then the answer (D) is the correct choice.

This is an important example, because to most test takers and readers of this question, it will sound just fine constructed this way. Less skilled test takers will fixate on “next week,” or appropriate verb tense, as whether or not the sentence needs to be revised.

Adding in extra junk, those descriptive modifying phrases, is one of the biggest tricks in the GMAT magic hat. In return, test takers need to make sure sentence correction questions are always being evaluated unnecessary junk, never – ever – relying on the way a sentence “sounds” in making an answer choice selection.

Cutting junk can be an easy strategy to forget. Be smart – make it a primary, not a secondary, strategy.

The above GMAT Tip comes from Veritas Prep. Since its founding in 2002, Veritas Prep has helped more than 100,000 students prepare for the GMAT and offers the most highly rated GMAT Prep course in the industry.

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