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2-11-ScienceWe’re going to kill two birds with one stone in this week’s article.

Inference questions pop up on both Critical Reasoning (CR) and Reading Comprehension (RC), so you definitely want to master these. Good news: the kind of thinking the test-writers want is the same for both question types. Learn how to do Inference questions on one type and you’ll know what you need to do for the other!

That’s actually only one bird. Here’s the second: both CR and RC can give you science-based text, and that science-y text can get pretty confusing. How can you avoid getting sucked into the technical detail, yet still be able to answer the question asked? Read on.

Try this GMATPrep® CR problem out (it’s from the free practice tests) and then we’ll talk about it. Give yourself about 2 minutes (though it’s okay to stretch to 2.5 minutes on a CR as long as you are making progress.)

“Increases in the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in the human bloodstream lower bloodstream cholesterol levels by increasing the body’s capacity to rid itself of excess cholesterol. Levels of HDL in the bloodstream of some individuals are significantly increased by a program of regular exercise and weight reduction.

“Which of the following can be correctly inferred from the statements above?

“(A) Individuals who are underweight do not run any risk of developing high levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream.

“(B) Individuals who do not exercise regularly have a high risk of developing high levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream late in life.

“(C) Exercise and weight reduction are the most effective methods of lowering bloodstream cholesterol levels in humans.

“(D) A program of regular exercise and weight reduction lowers cholesterol levels in the bloodstream of some individuals.

“(E) Only regular exercise is necessary to decrease cholesterol levels in the bloodstream of individuals of average weight.”

Got an answer? (If not, pick one anyway. Pretend it’s the real test and just make a guess.) Before we dive into the solution, let’s talk a little bit about what Inference questions are asking us to do.

Inference questions are sometimes also called Draw a Conclusion questions. I don’t like that title, though, because it can be misleading. Think about a typical CR argument: they usually include a conclusion that is…well…not a solid conclusion. There are holes in the argument, and then they ask you to Strengthen it or Weaken it or something like that.
(more…)

1-9-SC-PIIIWelcome to the third installment of our Core Sentence series. In part 1, we began learning how to strip an SC sentence (or any sentence!) down to the core sentence structure. In part 2, we took a look at a compound sentence structure.

Today, we’re going to look at yet another interesting sentence structure that is commonly used on the GMAT.

Try out this GMATPrep® problem from the free exams. (Note: as in the previous installments, I’m going to discuss aspects of our SC Process; if you haven’t learned it already, read about it before doing this problem.)

* “Many financial experts believe that policy makers at the Federal Reserve, now viewing the economy as balanced between moderate growth and low inflation, are almost certain to leave interest rates unchanged for the foreseeable future.

“(A) Reserve, now viewing the economy as balanced between moderate growth and low inflation, are

“(B) Reserve, now viewing the economy to be balanced between that of moderate growth and low inflation and are

“(C) Reserve who, now viewing the economy as balanced between moderate growth and low inflation, are

“(D) Reserve, who now view the economy to be balanced between that of moderate growth and low inflation, will be

“(E) Reserve, which now views the economy to be balanced between moderate growth and low inflation, is”

The First Glance didn’t tell me a lot on this one. In each case, there appears to be some kind of modifier going on, signaled either by the who / which language or by the comma, but I don’t have a good idea of what’s being tested. Time to read the sentence.

I don’t know about you, but the original sentence really doesn’t sound good to me. The difficulty, though, is that I don’t know exactly why. I just find myself thinking, “Ugh, I wouldn’t say it that way.”

Specifically, I don’t like the “now viewing” after the comma…but when I examined it a second time, I couldn’t find an actual error. That’s a good clue to me that I need to leave the answer in; they’re just trying to fool my ear (and almost succeeding!).

Because I’m not certain what to examine and because I know that there may be something going on with modifiers, I’m going to strip the original sentence down to the core:

gmat

Here’s the core:

Many experts believe that policy makers are almost certain to leave interest rates unchanged.

This sentence uses what we call a “Subject-Verb-THAT” structure. When you see the word that immediately after a verb, expect another subject and verb (and possibly object) to come after. The full core will be Subject-Verb-THAT-Subject-Verb(-Object).

gmat

Back to the problem: notice where the underline falls. The Subject-Verb-THAT-Subject part is not underlined, but the second verb is, and it’s the last underlined word. Check the core sentence with the different options in the answers:

Many experts believe that policy makers __________ almost certain to leave rates unchanged.

(A) Many experts believe that policy makers are almost certain to leave rates unchanged.

(B) Many experts believe that policy makers and are almost certain to leave rates unchanged.

(C) Many experts believe that policy makers.

(D) Many experts believe that policy makers will be almost certain to leave rates unchanged.

(E) Many experts believe that policy makers is almost certain to leave rates unchanged.

Excellent! First, answer (E) is wrong because it uses a singular verb to match with the plural policy makers.

Next, notice that answer (B) tosses the conjunction and into the mix. A sentence can have two verbs, in which case you could connect them with an and, but this answer just tosses in a random and between the subject and the verb. Answer (B) is also incorrect.

Answer (C) is tricky! At first, it might look like the core is the same as answer (A)’s core. It’s not. Notice the lack of a comma before the word who. Take a look at this example:

The cat thought that the dog who lived next door was really annoying.

What’s the core sentence here? This still has a subject-verb-THAT-subject-verb(-object) set-up. It also has a modifier that contains its own verb—but this verb is not part of the core sentence:

The cat thought that the dog [who lived next door] was really annoying.

Answer (C) has this same structure:

Many experts believe that policy makers [who are almost certain to leave rates unchanged]…

Where’s the main verb that goes with policy makers? It isn’t there at all. Answer (C) is a sentence fragment.

We’re down to answers (A) and (D). Both cores are solid, so we’ll have to dig a little deeper. So far, we’ve been ignoring the modifier in the middle of the sentence. Let’s take a look; compare the two answers directly:

“(A) Reserve, now viewing the economy as balanced between moderate growth and low inflation, are

“(D) Reserve, who now view the economy to be balanced between that of moderate growth and low inflation, will be”

Probably the most obvious difference is are vs. will be. I don’t like this one though because I think either tense can logically finish the sentence. I’m going to look for something else.

There are two other big differences. First, there’s an idiom. Is it view as or view to be? If you’re not sure, there’s also a comparison issue. Is the economy balanced between growth and inflation? Or between that of growth and inflation?

The that of structure should be referring to another noun somewhere else: She likes her brother’s house more than she likes that of her sister. In this case, that of refers to house.

What does that of refer to in answer (D)?

I’m not really sure. The economy? The Federal Reserve? These don’t make sense. The two things that are balanced are, in fact, the growth and the inflation; that of is unnecessary. Answer (D) is incorrect.

The correct answer is (A).

The correct idiom is view as, so answers (B), (D), and (E) are all incorrect based on the idiom.

Key Takeaways: Strip the sentence to the Core

(1) When you see the word that immediately following a verb, then you have a Subject-Verb-THAT-Subject-Verb(-Object) structure. Check the core sentence to make sure that all of the necessary pieces are present. Also make sure, as always, that the subjects and verbs match.

(2) If you still have two or more answers left after dealing with the core sentence, then check any modifiers. The two main modifier issues are bad placement (which makes them seem to be pointing to the wrong thing) or meaning issues. In this case, the modifier tossed in a couple of extraneous words that messed up the meaning of the between X and Y idiom.

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

modifierWelcome to the second installment of our Core Sentence series; if you haven’t yet read Part 1, do so now before continuing with this segment. How has your practice been going? It’s hard to develop the ability to “grey out” parts of the sentence in your mind. Did you find that you were able to do so without writing anything down? Or did you find that the technique solidified better when you did write out the core sentence?

Most people do have to start, in practice, by writing out the core. The goal is to be able to do everything (or almost everything) in your head by the time the real test rolls around.

Try out this GMATPrep® problem from the free exams; give yourself about 1 minute 20 seconds. (You can always choose to spend a little longer, since that time is an average, not a limit; more than about 20-30 seconds longer, though, typically just indicates that you’ve gotten stuck. At that point, guess from among the remaining answers and move on.)

* “Galileo did not invent the telescope, but on hearing, in 1609, that such an optical instrument had been made, he quickly built his own device from an organ pipe and spectacle lenses.

               “(A) Galileo did not invent the telescope, but on hearing, in 1609, that such an optical instrument had been made, he

               “(B) Galileo had not invented the telescope, but when he heard, in 1609, of such an optical instrument having been made,

               “(C) Galileo, even though he had not invented the telescope, on hearing, in 1609, that such an optical instrument had been made, he

               “(D) Even though Galileo did not invent the telescope, on hearing, in 1609, that such an optical instrument had been made,

               “(E) Even though Galileo did not invent the telescope, but when he heard, in 1609, of such an optical instrument being made, he”

The First Glance shows a possible sentence structure issue: The first two start with a noun and verb, while the third tosses in a comma after that subject. I’m definitely going to need to check for that verb later!

The final two start with even though, which signals a clause, but a dependent one. That means I’ll have to make sure there’s an independent clause (complete sentence) somewhere later on.

Time to read the original sentence. It’s decently complex. What’s the core sentence?

gal

Here’s the core:

 Galileo did not invent the telescope, but he built his own device.

This actually consists of two complete sentences connected by a “comma and” conjunction. There’s nothing wrong with the core on this one. Now, you have a choice. You can check the modifiers in the original sentence (and, indeed, if you did spot any problems, you’d want to go deal with those right away). If not, though, then start with those potential structure issues spotted during the first glance.

Strip out the core for the other four answers:

          “(B) Galileo had not invented the telescope, but quickly built his own device.

          “(C) Galileo he quickly built his own device.

          “(D) Even though Galileo did not invent the telescope, quickly built his own device.

          “(E) Even though Galileo did not invent the telescope, but he quickly built his own device.”

Excellent! Now we have something to work with! Answer (C) doubles the subject; we don’t need to say both Galileo and he.

Answers (D) and (E) both start with even though, creating a dependent clause. Answer (D) doesn’t have an independent clause later because the part after the comma is missing the subject he.

Note: answer (B) might appear to have the same problem as (D), but the structures are not the same. Answer (B) begins with an independent clause. In this case, it’s okay to say the subject only once at the beginning and then attach two different verbs (had not invented and built) to that subject. (You may still think this one sounds funny. More on this below.)

Answer (E) does have an independent clause later, but there’s a meaning problem. The word but already indicates a contrast. Using both even though and but to connect the two parts of the sentence is redundant.

Okay, (C), (D) and (E) have all been eliminated. Now, compare (A) and (B) directly.

          “(A) Galileo did not invent the telescope, but on hearing, in 1609, that such an optical instrument had been made, he

          “(B) Galileo had not invented the telescope, but when he heard, in 1609, of such an optical instrument having been made,”

There are a couple of different ways to tackle this, but I’m going to stick to the sentence structure route, since that’s our theme today. Answer (B) does have one more clause in it, though it’s a dependent clause:

          “Galileo had not invented the telescope, but when he heard of such an optical instrument having been made, quickly built his own device.”

Now, we do have a problem with the structure! If that intervening dependent clause weren’t there at all, then the core could have been okay: Subject verb, but verb. Technically, you wouldn’t want a comma there, but that’s really the only small issue.

When, however, you introduce a dependent clause in the middle, you can’t carry that original subject, Galileo, all the way over to the second verb at the end. Instead, as with answer (D), you need a complete sentence after the dependent clause, something like:

          Galileo did not invent the telescope, but when he heard that one had been made, HE quickly built his own device.

Answer (B) is also incorrect.

The correct answer is (A).

You’re halfway through! Join me next time, when we’ll take a look at another type of complex sentence structure used commonly on the GMAT.

Key Takeaways: Strip the sentence to the Core, part 2

(1) In the Galileo problem, only the correct answer contains a “legal” core sentence. Though there are other ways to eliminate answers on this problem, you still need to learn how to deal with structure. GMAC (the organization that makes the GMAT) has said for several years now that they are including more SC problems in which you really do have to understand the underlying meaning or sentence structure in order to get yourself all the way down to the right answer.

(2) Complex sentence structures can come in many flavors. One of the most common is the compound sentence, which consists of at least two complete sentences connected by a “comma + conjunction” or a semi-colon. The comma conjunction” structure will use the FANBOYS (For And Nor But Or Yes So). You can learn more about the FANBOYS in chapter 3 (Sentence Structure) of our 6th edition Sentence Correction Strategy Guide.

(3) A sentence can also contain dependent clauses (and the complicated sentences we see on the GMAT often do). Common words that signal a dependent clause include although, if, since, that, unless, when, and while. You can learn more about these in chapter 4 (Modifiers) of our 6ED SC guide.

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

modifierRecently, I was discussing sentence structure with one of my classes and we practiced a crucial but difficult GMAT skill: how to strip an SC sentence to its core components. Multiple OG problems can be solved just by eliminating faulty sentence cores—and the real GMAT is testing this skill today more than we see in the published materials.

So I’m going to write a series of articles on just this topic; welcome to part 1 (and props to my Wednesday evening GMAT Fall AA class for inspiring this series!).

Try out this GMATPrep® problem from the free exams. (Note: in the solution, I’m going to discuss aspects of our SC Process; if you haven’t learned it already, go read about it right now, then come back and try this problem.)

* “With surface temperatures estimated at minus 230 degrees Fahrenheit, Jupiter’s moon Europa has long been considered far too cold to support life, and with 60 square miles of water thought to be frozen from top to bottom.

“(A) Europa has long been considered far too cold to support life, and with

“(B) Europa has long been considered far too cold to support life, its

“(C) Europa has long been considered as far too cold to support life and has

“(D) Europa, long considered as far too cold to support life, and its

“(E) Europa, long considered to be far too cold to support life, and to have”

The First Glance does help on this one, but only if you have studied sentence structure explicitly. Before I did so, I used to think: “Oh, they started with Europa because they added a comma in some answers, but that doesn’t really tell me anything.”

But I’ve learned better! What is that comma replacing? Check it out: the first three answers all have a verb following Europa. The final two don’t; that is, the verb disappears. That immediately makes me suspect sentence structure, because a sentence does have to have a verb. If you remove the main verb from one location, you have to put one in someplace else. I’ll be watching out for that when I read the sentence.

And now it’s time to do just that. As I read the sentence, I strip it down to what we call the “sentence core” in my mind. It took me a long time to develop this skill. I’ll show you the result, first, and then I’ll tell you how I learned to do it.

The “sentence core” refers to the stuff that has to be there in order to have a complete sentence. Everything else is “extra”: it may be important later, but right now, I’m ignoring it.

modifier

I greyed out the portions that are not part of the core. How does the sentence look to you?

Notice something weird: I didn’t just strip it down to a completely correct sentence. There’s something wrong with the core. In other words, the goal is not to create a correct sentence; rather, you’re using certain rules to strip to the core even when that core is incorrect.

Using this skill requires you to develop two abilities: the ability to tell what is core vs. extra and the ability to keep things that are wrong, despite the fact that they’ll make your core sound funny. The core of the sentence above is:

Europa has long been considered too cold to support life, and.

Clearly, that’s not a good sentence! So why did I strip out what I stripped out, and yet leave that “comma and” in there? Here was my thought process:

Text of sentence My thoughts:
“With…” Preposition. Introduces a modifier. Can’t be the core.
With surface temperatures estimated at minus 230 degrees Fahrenheit,” Each word I’ve italicized introduces a new noun modifier. Nothing here is a subject or main verb. *
“Jupiter’s moon Europa” The main noun is Europa; ignore the earlier words.
“Europa has long been considered far too cold to support life,” That’s a complete sentence. Yay.
“, and” A complete sentence followed by “comma and”? I’m expecting another complete sentence to follow. **
with 60 square miles of water thought to be frozen from top to bottom.” Same deal as the beginning of the sentence! Each word I’ve italicized introduces a new modifier. Nothing here that can function as a subject or main verb.

 

* Why isn’t estimated a verb?

Estimated is a past participle and can be part of a verb form, but you can’t say “Temperatures estimated at minus 230 degrees Fahrenheit.” You’d have to say “Temperatures are estimated at…” (Note: you could say “She estimated her commute to be 45 minutes from door to door.” In other words, estimated by itself can be the main verb of a sentence. In my example, though, the subject is actually doing the estimating. In the GMATPrep problem above, the temperatures can’t estimate anything!)

** Why is it that I expected another complete sentence to follow the “comma and”?

The word and is a parallelism marker; it signals that two parts of the sentence need to be made parallel. When you have one complete sentence, and you follow that with “comma and,” you need to set up another complete sentence to be parallel to that first complete sentence.

For example:

She studied all day, and she went to dinner with friends that night.

The portion before the and is a complete sentence, as is the portion after the and.

(Note: the word and can connect other things besides two complete sentences. It can connect other segments of a sentence as well, such as: She likes to eat pizza, pasta, and steak. In this case, although there is a “comma and” in the sentence, the part before the comma is not a complete sentence by itself. Rather, it is the start of a list.)

Okay, so my core is:

Europa has long been considered too cold to support life, and.

And that’s incorrect. Eliminate answer (A). Either that and needs to go away or, if it stays, I need to have a second complete sentence. Since you know the sentence core is at issue here, check the cores using the other answer choices:

modifier

Here are the cores written out:

“(B) Europa has long been considered too cold to support life.

“(C) Europa has long been considered as too cold to support life and has 60 square miles of water.

“(D) Europa and its 60 square miles of water.

“(E) Europa.”

(On the real test, you wouldn’t have time to write that out, but you may want to in practice in order to build expertise with this technique.)

Answers (D) and (E) don’t even have main verbs! Eliminate both. Answers (B) and (C) both contain complete sentences, but there’s something else wrong with one of them. Did you spot it?

The correct idiom is consider X Y: I consider her intelligent. There are some rare circumstances in which you can use consider as, but on the GMAT, go with consider X Y. Answers (C), (D), and (E) all use incorrect forms of the idiom.

Answer (C) also loses some meaning. The second piece of information, about the water, is meant to emphasize the fact that the moon is very cold. When you separate the two pieces of information with an and, however, they appear to be unrelated (except that they’re both facts about Europa): the moon is too cold to support life and, by the way, it also has a lot of frozen water. Still, that’s something of a judgment call; the idiom is definitive.

The correct answer is (B).

Go get some practice with this and join me next time, when we’ll try another GMATPrep problem and talk about some additional aspects of this technique.

Key Takeaways: Strip the sentence to the Core

(1) Generally, this is a process of elimination: you’re removing the things that cannot be part of the core sentence. With rare exceptions, prepositional phrases typically aren’t part of the core. I left the prepositional phrase of water in answers (C) and (D) because 60 square miles by itself doesn’t make any sense. In any case, prepositional phrases never contain the subject of the sentence.

(2) Other non-core-sentence clues: phrases or clauses set off by two commas, relative pronouns such as which and who, comma + -ed or comma + ing modifiers, -ed or –ing words that cannot function as the main verb (try them in a simple sentence with the same subject from the SC problem, as I did with temperatures estimated…)

(3) A complete sentence on the GMAT must have a subject and a working verb, at a minimum. You may have multiple subjects or working verbs. You could also have two complete sentences connected by a comma and conjunction (such as comma and) or a semi-colon. We’ll talk about some additional complete sentence structures next time.

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

GMAT_ChartThe newest GMAT Strategy Guides have hit the shelves! We’re really excited about these new books, the perfect stocking stuffers to make all of your dreams come true. (Well…your GMAT-related dreams, anyway.)

Yesterday, we talked about the Quant Guides and today I’ve got the Verbal scoop for you. Let’s start with Sentence Correction.

The SC Guide begins with a new strategy chapter that discusses our 4-Step SC Process and lays out drills that you can do to get better at such skills as the First Glance and Finding a Starting Point. We’ve also significantly expanded the Subject-Verb Agreement chapter to include a full treatment of Sentence Structure, an area that has been becoming much more commonly tested on the GMAT.

We’ve added important segments to Modifiers, Parallelism, and Verbs and we’ve woven relevant Meaning topics into every chapter in the book.

Finally, we’ve streamlined the Idioms material. The main chapter contains a strategy for tackling idioms as well as the most commonly tested idioms found on the GMAT. A separate appendix contains the less-commonly-tested idioms. We recommend taking the time to memorize the ones listed in the main chapter, but to use the appendix more as a resource to look up the correct idiom when you struggle with a particular problem. (It’s impossible to memorize every idiom in a language; there are thousands, if not tens of thousands!)

What about RC and CR?

Glad you asked! Our Reading Comprehension Guide was re-written from scratch. We’ve streamlined the process for reading passages and added lessons designed to help you wade through these dense passages and extract the kernels you need to answer questions. We’ve also expanded our lessons for each question type and provided you with end-of-chapter cheat sheets that summarize what to do for each question type and what common traps to avoid. (I’m most excited about this book; students often complain that RC is hard to study, and I’m hoping that this book will change your minds!)

Of all of the books, Critical Reasoning has changed the least, although we did add more information about Fill-In-The-Blank question types. This Guide also provides you with end-of-chapter cheat sheets that summarize how to recognize each type of question, what to look for in the argument, what kind of characteristics the right answer needs to possess, and how to spot the most common trap answers.

What is the best way to use the books?

Here’s how we typically study each topic in class:

Sentence Correction

First, we learn how to use the SC Process and we discuss the main topics being tested (grammar and meaning); these correspond to chapters 1 and 2 of the book. Then, we work through one new chapter a week, starting with Chapter 3 (Sentence Structure). The order of chapters in the book is the same order we use in class.

You can use the same approach mentioned for quant (in the first half of this article): do some end-of-chapter problems first to see what your skills are. If you know that you don’t really know this material, then you can also skip this step. After you’ve finished a chapter, try some of those end-of-chapter problems to ensure that you did actually internalize the concepts that you just learned. Then, if you have the OG books, follow up with some questions from the OG Problem Sets, located in your Manhattan Prep Student Center.

Reading Comprehension

The class contains three RC lessons. First, we learn how to read. Bet you thought you already knew how, didn’t you?

Of course you do know how to read, but the way you read in the real world may not work very well on the GMAT. You’ll learn a new way to deal with the short timeframe we’re given on the test. After that, you’ll learn how to handle General questions, the ones for which you need to wrap your brain around the main ideas of the passage.

Then, you’ll move on to Specific Questions, including Detail, Inference, and Purpose questions. The test writers are asking us to do something a bit different for each one, so you’ll need to learn how to recognize each type in the first place and then how to handle it.

In class, we finish off with a Challenging RC lesson. You can create something similar for yourself by tackling harder and harder OG passages.

Critical Reasoning

Critical Reasoning begins with a thorough treatment of argument building blocks and the 4-Step CR Process. After that, you’ll learn about each question type (do actually use the order presented in the book). Pay attention to what the book says about frequency of each type; some types are much more common than others (and those types should obviously get more of your attention).

For both CR and RC, tear out or photo-copy the cheat sheets and use them to quiz yourself. Alternatively, put the material onto flash cards yourself (the act of rewriting the material will help you to remember it better!) and drill while you’re sitting on the subway or waiting for that meeting to start.

Is that all I need to do?

That will certainly keep you busy for a while. As you get further into your studies, note that you also need to lift yourself to the 2nd Level of GMAT Study. Yes, of course, there are lots of facts, formulas, and rules to memorize, and your brain will be focused on those areas at first. It’s crucial, however, for you to learn the various strategies presented in our Guides, as well as your own decision-making strategies based on your own strengths and weaknesses, and timing strategies.

In short, get ready to make a commitment. Think of studying for the GMAT as a university-level course: you’re going to spend hours every week for about 3 to 4 months to get ready for this test. With a solid plan, you’ll achieve your goals.

Visit our store and be the first to own the full set of our brand new Strategy Guides. Happy studying!

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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!

GMAT-sentence-correctionLast 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:

(more…)

gmat-quant-strategyAs dedicated readers of this blog may have guessed, this is a follow up to my earlier post When is it Time to Guess on Quant? Timing troubles are not, however, exclusive to the Quant section, so in this piece I’ll talk about some common scenarios that bedevil students on the Verbal section.

As with Quant, not all guesses are created equal. The earlier you decide to guess, the more likely that you will make a random guess. If, on the other hand, you’re far enough into the question that you’ve eliminated 2-3 answer choices, then you’ll be making an educated guess.

One immediate difference between guessing on Quant and Verbal is that guessing strategy is essentially identical for both Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency questions. Each of the Verbal question types, on the other hand, has less in common. That being said, there are a lot of parallels in guessing strategy among the three types.

No matter the question, there are really three distinct stages at which it becomes a better idea to guess than to keep going. I’ll briefly describe each stage, then show how it connects to each of the Verbal question types.

Stage 1: No Clear Starting Point

As a general rule, if you haven’t really made progress on a question after 30 seconds or so, it’s usually a good idea to just make a random guess and save your energy for a question you’re more comfortable with.

Reading Comprehension Stage 1: I don’t know where in the passage to look.

The great thing about Reading Comprehension (or at least its saving grace) is that the correct answer has to have support in the passage. With the vast majority of RC questions, as long as you can find and reread the relevant portion of the passage, you can find an answer choice that will match what you read. In fact, you should be able to answer to come up with your own answer to most RC questions before you even look at the answer choices.

Many questions provide good clues as to where in the passage to look for the answer (seriously – a surprising amount of questions are very helpful in that regard). Things get much tougher when they don’t. So here’s your first big clue that it may be time to guess. If you’ve read the question, and you’ve skimmed through the passage looking for an answer, and you still don’t feel like you found what the question was asking about, it’s time to guess.

At this point, you could guess randomly, but I would recommend taking one quick pass through the answer choices. If any choice contradicts your understanding of the passage, eliminate it. After you’ve each answer once, pick from the remaining.

Sentence Correction Stage 1: I don’t understand the sentence and the underline is long.

On the Verbal section, you have to answer 41 questions in 75 minutes, which is less than 2 minutes per question. Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension are naturally time-consuming, so that time is going to have be saved largely on Sentence Correction. Remember that you only have an average of 1 minute and 20 seconds to answer these things.

If you’re struggling to even understand what the sentence is saying, then it will almost certainly take too long to properly analyze the answer choices, especially if the underline is long. No need to fight through the pain. Just take a quick scan through the answer choices and pick one that doesn’t sound immediately wrong.

Critical Reasoning Stage 1: I don’t understand what the argument is saying.

To my mind, good process on Critical Reasoning questions means being in control the whole way through the process. The worst situation to be in is one in which you’re hoping that the answer choices will help you make sense of the argument. Four out of the five answer choices are actively trying to trick you, and the GMAT has gotten pretty good at tricking people over the years. By the time you get to the answer choices, you need to understand the argument well enough to effectively evaluate each choice.

Consequently, if you’ve read the argument two or three times, and still can’t articulate to yourself the link between the premises and the conclusion, you shouldn’t waste time with the answer choices.

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critical-reasoningWe’ve been on a CR kick lately! In the first two parts of this series, we talked about how to tackle Fill in the Blank and Complete the Passage questions. This time, I’ve got something different for you: a question that looks very familiar at first glance but turns a bit… well, weird.

Let’s try it before I say anything more. This GMATPrep© problem is from the two free exams that come with the GMATPrep software. Give yourself about 2 minutes (though it’s okay to stretch to 2.5 minutes on a CR as long as you are making progress.)

“On of the limiting factors in human physical performance is the amount of oxygen that is absorbed by muscles from the bloodstream. Accordingly, entrepreneurs have begun selling at gymnasiums and health clubs bottles of drinking water, labeled “SuperOXY,” that has extra oxygen dissolved in the water. Such water would be useless in improving physical performance, however, since the amount of oxygen in the blood of someone who is exercising is already more than the muscle cells can absorb.

Which of the following, if true, would serve the same function in the argument as the statement in boldface?

“(A) world-class athletes turn in record performances without such water
“(B) frequent physical exercise increases the body’s ability to take in and use oxygen
“(C) the only way to get oxygen into the bloodstream so that it can be absorbed by the muscles is through the lungs
“(D) lack of oxygen is not the only factor limiting human physical performance
“(E) the water lost in exercising can be replaced with ordinary tap water”

Step 1: Identify the Question

The boldface font is immediately obvious, of course. Boldface denotes a Describe the Role question.

The question stem does have one little idiosyncrasy, though: it asks what answer would serve the same function. Normally, Role questions ask what function the boldface statement plays in the argument. The question stem also contains “if true” wording, which we normally see on Strengthen, Weaken, or Discrepancy (paradox) questions.

Glance at the answers. Notice anything? This is not what Role answers typically look like! Usually they say something such as “The statement provides evidence supporting the author’s claim” or similar.

What’s going on here? Read the argument.

Step 2: Deconstruct the Argument

Here’s what I thought and wrote while I did the problem. Your own thought process won’t be exactly the same as mine and, of course, your notes will probably look quite different, since we all have our own ways of abbreviating things. (Note: R = role; note that I put a question mark next to it because I wasn’t 100% sure what was actually going on).

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 5.03.55 PM

So back to that weird question stem. If this were just a straight Role question, then what would the answer be? The boldface statement is support for the conclusion; it’s a premise.

But what’s the goal for this question?

Step 3: State the Goal

The answers don’t describe the existing boldface statement. Rather, they contain new facts that we’re supposed to accept as true. Further, the question asked us to find an answer that “would serve the same function” as the original statement.

What function did the original statement serve? Aha! The original statement served as a premise to support the conclusion. So we need to find another statement that serves that same purpose.

Will it support the conclusion in exactly the same way? I’m really not sure. (Seriously! When I first saw this question, I didn’t know!) So I’m going to keep an open mind and look for anything that could support the conclusion in general.

Work from Wrong to Right

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 5.10.38 PM

The correct answer is (C).

Interesting. We just learned something new. Most Describe the Role (or Boldface) questions ask us to describe the role of the given statement. We might be asked, though, to demonstrate our knowledge of the role by finding a different, completely new statement that serves the same role as the original statement in the argument.

What do we have to do? We have to “decode” the original statement (in the above case, we had a premise supporting the conclusion) and then we have to find another statement that could also serve as a premise.

That new premise might be really different from the original premise. In this problem, the original premise focused on the oxygen already in our blood. The new premise, answer (C), provided a different piece of the puzzle: we have to take oxygen in through our lungs in order to get that oxygen into the bloodstream. Either piece of information serves to support the idea that OXY is useless, but each does so in different ways.

Take-aways for “Same Function As” Role Questions:

(1) The standard task on role questions is to describe the role of the statement given in the argument.

(2) You might see a variation on this standard task: you may be asked to find a new statement that plays the same role as the original.

(3) This new statement may discuss a different aspect of the argument. That’s perfectly all right as long as the statement overall plays the same role as the original boldface statement.

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

Most students who struggle with Reading Comprehension share a common issue: they focus equally on all words in the passage. Some words, however, are not as important as others, and in order to improve our comprehension we must first learn to identify which words we should focus our energy on. You may have noticed that the title of this blog post is difficult to follow; words such as unlike and not are important structural words, since they describe a 180 degree change in meaning. If we speed through the title we are likely to miss something important, and our comprehension level will drop! Instead, let’s come to a complete stop and hold off on the rest of the post until we have milked those structural words for all they’re worth.

GMAT wordsThe title first makes a comparison (actually an anti-comparison) between words and people, and then separately says that words are not all born equal (for a moment we can ignore the modifier trapped between the commas).

If words are not all born equal, and words are unlike people, one could infer that all people are born equal. Did you get that from the title when you first read it? If you didn’t, you read it too quickly

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As a GMAT instructor, I’m always in the right frame of mind to notice grammatical errors in the world around us.

(One might also say that, as a GMAT instructor, I’m also the sort of nerd who takes iPhone pictures of these grammatical errors.)

gmat grammarWhat’s wrong with this sign?

If you don’t see the problem, take a step back and imagine that you are a Martian with little knowledge of human culture. Might you misunderstand this sign?

The problem is related to the modifier “that endangers workers.” (We cover Modifiers extensively in session 6 of our nine-week course.)

What noun is “that endangers workers” supposed to be modifying? Unsafe conditions. What noun is it actually modifying? Work site.

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