Comparisons in GMATPrep Sentence Correction


I’ve got a fascinating (and infuriating!) GMATPrep problem for you today; this comes from the free problem set included in the new GMATPrep 2.0 version of the software. Try it out (1 minute 15 seconds) and then we’ll talk about it!

*  Unlike computer skills or other technical skills, there is a disinclination on the part of many people to recognize the degree to which their analytical skills are weak.


(A) Unlike computer skills or other technical skills, there is a disinclination on the part of many people to recognize the degree to which their analytical skills are weak.

(B) Unlike computer skills or other technical skills, which they admit they lack, many people are disinclined to recognize that their analytical skills are weak.

(C) Unlike computer skills or other technical skills, analytical skills bring out a disinclination in many people to recognize that they are weak to a degree.

(D) Many people, willing to admit that they lack computer skills or other technical skills, are disinclined to recognize that their analytical skills are weak.

(E) Many people have a disinclination to recognize the weakness of their analytical skills while willing to admit their lack of computer skills or other technical skills.


gmat skillsI chose this problem because I thought the official explanation fell short; specifically, there are multiple declarations that something is wordy or awkward. While I agree with those characterizations, they aren’t particularly useful as teaching tools “ how can we tell that something is wordy or awkward? There isn’t an absolute way to rule; it’s a judgment call.

Now, I can understand why whoever wrote this explanation struggled to do so; this is an extremely difficult problem to explain. And that’s exactly why I wanted to have a crack at it “ I like a challenge. : )

Okay, let’s talk about the problem. My first reaction to the original sentence was: nope, that’s definitely wrong. When you think that, your next thought should be, Why? Which part, specifically? This allows you to know that you have a valid reason for eliminating an answer and it also allows you to figure out what you should examine in other answers.

Before you read my next paragraph, answer that question for yourself. What, specifically, doesn’t sound good or doesn’t work in the original sentence?

For me, the language Unlike X or Y was a huge trigger. The word unlike is a comparison marker: it signals that a comparison is about to be made. When comparing, we have to make sure that we’re comparing apples to apples “ that is, similar things. In this sentence, the X portion is computer skills or other technical skills. After the comma, I’m expecting two things: some reference to another thing that is comparable to skills, and some message that tells me how these things are different. Unlike, these skills,

Is that what I’ve got after the comma in the original sentence? Nope. I have the clause There is a disinclination. The word there isn’t comparable to skills; nor is the word disinclination. This is a faulty set-up. Great! I can eliminate answer A.

Next, I scan the remaining answers to see whether I can eliminate any others for the same reason. Try it yourself before you keep reading.

Answers B and C begin with the same structure (Unlike computer skills or other technical skills). What do they put after the comma? Answer B has which they admit they lack. This is not the second half of an apples-to-apples comparison, but it is a modifier that’s referring to the technical skills so maybe it’s okay. What’s after that? Many people Nope. That’s not an appropriate comparison for skills, either, so B must be wrong.

Check out answer C. After the comma, we have analytical skills “ a perfect apples-to-apples comparison (one type of skill to another type of skill). On this point, C is okay; I’ll leave it in.

Answers D and E change up the structure of the sentence. In D, the computer and technical skills bit is now a modifier and there is no longer a strict comparison marker; the word unlike was removed. Answer E also removes the word unlike. Instead, it sticks the two halves of the sentence together using the word while.

Okay, I have a choice here. I can go back to C, which was structurally much closer to A and B, or I can dive into D and E to deconstruct their structure. Because I already read answer A completely and I’m familiar with that structure, I decided to tackle C next.

As we discussed earlier, the comparison portion in C is correct now. What about the rest of the sentence? The official explanation  says simply that the answer is wordy, awkward, and idiomatically incorrect. But why is it wordy and awkward?

Actually, I’d argue that there’s a meaning problem here. This sentence specifically says that the analytical skills themselves cause people to not want to admit that they’re weak analytically. Is that why people won’t admit this? That doesn’t even really make sense “ the fact that analytical skills exist in the first place doesn’t cause people to want to avoid admitting the weakness. So, yes, the sentence is awkward, but that’s specifically because the meaning is odd “ it doesn’t make sense. Also, what does they refer to? The people? The analytical skills? Both could be called weak “ the people are weak in analytical skills and the analytical skills of the people are weak. That also makes the sentence awkward. Okay, we have a couple of good reasons now to eliminate answer C.

Now, let’s compare D and E. Both start with the words many people but diverge from there. Let’s look at the core of each answer:

(D) Many people are disinclined to recognize that their analytical skills are weak.

(E) Many people have a disinclination to recognize the weakness of their analytical skills.

Both cores are correct. have a disinclination to is a little bit more clunky than are disinclined. (Spoiler alert! The official explanation says that have a distinction is wordy when explaining why E is wrong.) I agree that it’s clunky, but I wouldn’t want to rely 100% on that. That kind of explanation is too vague / open to opinion.

So how did I decide? Based on the other bit “ the modifier. In D, the modifier is separated out by commas and placed right after the subject. Who’s willing to admit blah blah blah? The people. These are the same people who later don’t want to recognize that their analytical skills are weak. This modifier is appropriately placed and constructed.

In E, the modifier is at the end and, interestingly, uses the word while to introduce the extra information. The word while can mean in the course of, at the same time as or even though. While (at the same time as, or in the course of) eating dinner, she nearly fell asleep in her soup. While (even though) she’s lactose intolerant, she eats ice cream all the time. In our sentence, the word while, means even though.

And here’s where the explanation gets extra tricky “ and annoying. The official explanation says that willing creates an incomplete construction. But how? And why? I can think of a correct sentence that appears to have the same construction, so why is answer E incomplete? Here’s a sentence that seems to have the same construction:

Many people have a disinclination to admit fault while recognizing that they can’t possibly be in the right all the time.

The “ing word there (recognizing) is just fine. So why can’t I do the same with willing?

Look at this:

Many people recognize that they can’t possibly be in the right all the time.

This is correct “ I just had to change the word recognizing to recognize, the appropriate verb form of the same word.

Now, do the same thing with answer E:

Many people will to admit? Many people willing to admit?

Er. I can’t do it! Not without introducing a different verb: Many people ARE willing to admit blah blah.

That’s because willing is not the standard present participle (-ing) form of some verb, the way recognizing is the participle of to recognize. If I want to use willing in this sentence, I have to say:

Many people have a disinclination to recognize (blah blah) while being willing to admit their lack of (blah blah).

That, of course, sounds terrible too, because the word being always sounds awkward when used in this way. It is correct, though, because now we do actually have a participle introducing that while portion of the sentence. The word willing looked like it should work, because it ended in “ing, but the resemblance is only superficial; it’s not the right kind of word. (It’s actually an adjective, in case you’re curious.) That’s why the explanation says that the sentence is incomplete “ because there’s no participle after while.

The correct answer is D.


Key Takeaways for Comparisons

(1) Comparisons have to compare apples to apples, or similar things. Even if you know logically what the sentence is trying to compare, make sure the structure really is apples to apples.

(2) If the original sentence tries to compare two things but fails to do so correctly, the correct answer might remove that formal comparison structure completely (as this problem did). The correct answer no longer has a comparison marker (unlike) and instead structures the sentence using modifiers.

(3) We always tell people not to rely strictly on their ears when doing SC, but sometimes you have to. Look how long it took me to explain exactly why E was wrong “ you’re almost certainly not going to articulate that to yourself during the test. (I certainly didn’t while doing this problem!) Sometimes, it’s enough to realize that, wait, we can’t write that sentence that way! We’d need to add XYZ (being in this case) or we’d need to cut out ABC or whatever it might be.

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

  1. rajeev April 22, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    I’m new to this blog. This is awesome stuff Stacey. I’m usually wrong on most of the verbal questions. But I’m happy that I got this one right. To answer this question it took me 2 mins. Keep up the good work. 😉

  2. April 21, 2013 at 6:19 am

    I hate to sound like a nitpick, but your grammar is justdeplorable.  I want to be interested in this, I really do.  But it seems you spent so much time on the design (which, I will say, is amazing) that you forgot that people actually have to read your blog.  Clean this upPLEASE.  It could be so much bigger if you just did some work.

  3. swarovski sale April 7, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    Hi Stacey,I had narrowed down to D and E, but chose E though I didnt find anything wrong with D

  4. shail March 30, 2013 at 2:51 am

    Hi Stacey,

    Please correct me if I am wrong on following reason to not choose E —

    The original sentence intends to say thing as a GENERAL TRUTH – so it must be a SIMPLE PRESENT TENSE.

    In E, PRESENT PERFECT TENSE is used (May people *have a disinclination*) — which is not an appropriate use for GENERAL TRUTH.

    Please help me evolve over above understanding.

    Regards !

  5. Karthik January 25, 2013 at 6:19 am

    Hi Stacey,

    I had narrowed down to D and E, but chose E though I didnt find anything wrong with D ! The explanation you have giving is very specific to the usage of the word “willing”, what if a different verb was used, say for e.g many people have ….while agreeing to admit their…… Would the sentence be correct then ?

    And what if it was “… while they are willing to admit their …..”.


  6. HIM BAHADUR KANDEL January 24, 2013 at 1:51 am

    I Like to say E.

  7. Stacey Koprince January 20, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    I’m going to respond to all three of your posts here.

    What you’ve typed has a different meaning / usage. This topic can be quite complex, and unfortunately sometimes there are totally different forms of a word that look just like other words.

    You can use “to will” as verb, yes – here’s an example.
    I willed him to accept my decision. (I pushed strongly for something / tried to accomplish something through the sheer force of my will.)

    But if you say:
    “I am willing to work hard” – that word “willing” there is an adjective. It describes me, a person / noun.

    To make things even more complicated, the word “will” is also used in future tense constructions: I will study tomorrow.

    There are definitely constructions in which “while willing” can be used correctly – it just wasn’t used correctly in the problem discussed in this article.

    This whole topic is complex enough that it would be better to continue discussing it on the forums. It sounds like you’ve already found at least one place where it is being discussed – please feel free to post questions and expand the discussion there!

  8. THANG January 11, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Ron said that if we want to use “while willing” we have to place it before the main verb.

    while willing to accept…, many people

    is correct

    you can find ron’ saying on the internet,

  9. THANG January 11, 2013 at 10:49 am

    though tired, I still learn gmat

    is correct????

    why we can not say

    while willing to learn gmat, we have no teacher.

    pls help

  10. THANG January 11, 2013 at 10:47 am

    I think there is “to will” , which means “to want” and which has “willing. I see it in the dictionary. why the article said that there is no such verb.

    pls, help. I am confused.

  11. brand December 23, 2012 at 1:47 am

    Whys at this time there a real very good write-up!

  12. brand December 23, 2012 at 1:46 am

    I would imagine that I may not be incoherent respecting that.

  13. amazon coupons December 19, 2012 at 11:07 am

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  14. Terrace December 11, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Hi, Stacey!
    Sorry to trouble you again! I have read the chapter you recommend in FoV, but I become even more confused. I think I need to make my questions more specific..

    #1. The two sentences below are both connected with subordinating conjunctions(while & if). But how could it be that (1) is wrong and (2) is right, while they both omit the [subject + verb] part of the dependent clause?
    (1). Many people have a disinclination to recognize the weakness of their analytical skills while [**many people are**] willing to admit their lack of computer skills or other technical skills.
    (2). If [**you are**] happy, then you can enjoy your life everywhere.

    #2. Same question as the first one. Sentence (3) is wrong, and (4) is right.
    (3). Although [**Earth’s crust is**] covering the entire planet, Earth’s crust is neither seamless nor stationary, but rather fragmented into mobile semirigid plates.
    (4). While [**he was**] having dinner with us, he was happy.

    #3. In your last reply, you said it’s fine to take out both the subject and verb and change a dependent clause into a noun modifier.
    I think the 4 sentence above are doing that thing. Am I right?

    Thank you very much!!

  15. Stacey Koprince December 10, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    No. “covering the entire planet” is what the explanation says is not okay with E. “covering” is a participle. Conjunctions (such as although) should be followed by a subject+verb (clause). There are tons of different conjunctions in the language. The most common include the FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) – these ones are used when the two parts to be joined are of “equal” importance. I went to the store and bought some milk. (went to the store) and (bought some milk) are of “equal” importance / significance in the sentence.

    There are also subordinate conjunctions:
    While I was in the store, I bought some milk.

    In this case, the first part is “subordinate” to the second. The core / main part is the fact that I bought some milk. By the way, I’m also telling you that I did this while I was in the store.

    If you want to learn more, I’d recommend reading all about conjunctions in our Foundations of Verbal book – I think conjunictions are in chapter 4. (Just look at the table of contents!)

  16. Stacey Koprince December 10, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    Ah, okay – I think I understand now. The issue is not so much that you have to repeat the words in this example – it’s that the full set of needed words to “repeat” the meaning isn’t there. You can’t say “many people willing” – willing by itself is not a verb. And you can’t say “many people have willing” – because that’s the wrong verb. It should be “many people are willing” – but “are” isn’t in the sentence; instead, we were given “many people have…”

    Now for your examples.

    #1 is fine because you omitted both the subject and the verb, turning the part before the comma into a noun modifier. The “if happy” does indeed modify the noun after the comma (“you”), so that’s okay.

    #2 is not okay because you left the subject in and only removed the verb – can’t do that. You could say “When at home, Amy usually watches TV.”

    #3 is like number one – you took out both the subj and verb, changing the part before the comma from a subordinating clause to a standard noun modifier. So that one is also fine.

    Finally, you’re trying to come up with a “rule” here but there isn’t one – not in the way that you’re thinking. You can have “subordinating clause, independent clause.” You can have “modifying phrase, independent clause.” (And other things, those aren’t the only two – just the two examples you gave here.)

    So I can’t really simplify this to a “do XYZ” rule here, unfortunately. This is complex sentence structure.

  17. Terrace December 9, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Hi, Stacey! I met an official question related to the point I’m asking in the problem above.
    So I post the connected part here..

    In OG13-SC74, as for choice E, the explanation about the use of ALTHOUGH is as follows:
    *ALTHOUGH is a conjunction and should be followed by a finite cause with a subject, not by a participle.*

    choice E: Although covering the entire planet, Earth has a crust that is not seamless or stationary, but fragmented into mobile semirigid plates.

    I understand that some other splits exist in that sentence, so if I correct those splits, can the sentence below be correct?

    *Although covering the entire planet, Earth’s crust is neither seamless nor stationary, but rather fragmented into mobile semirigid plates.*

    Many thanks!!

  18. Terrace December 6, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Oh, sorry Stacey…I just clicked the wrong button, and all my questions were suddenly gone but the comment above… Anyway, really thanks!!

    As you said in this article, the omission of “many people are” is improper in choice E.
    (Many people have a disinclination to recognize the weakness of their analytical skills while **many people are** willing to admit their lack of computer skills or other technical skills.)

    So I am wondering if the rule of the omission of “subject + be” can be used in a sentence with a conjunction only when the word right after the “subject + be” in the subordinate clause is a verb but not other kinds of words, such as an adjective or a prepositional phrase.

    Here are three examples for my question. Are all omitted sentences correct?

    e.g. 1
    [original] If you are happy, then you can enjoy your life everywhere.
    [omitted] If happy, then you can enjoy your life everywhere.

    e.g. 2
    [original] When Amy is at home, she usually watches TV.
    [omitted] When Amy at home, she usually watches TV.

    e.g. 3
    [original] While my father was having dinner with us, he was happy.
    [omitted] While having dinner with us, he was happy.

    Besides, what kinds of conjunctions can apply to this rule? I just know WHEN/IF/WHILE…

    I hope that my questions are clear to you this time><
    Thanks a lot!!

  19. Terrace December 6, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Hi, Stacey! I’m here…><
    Thank you very much:)!

  20. Stacey Koprince December 2, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Thanks, Domenico and Nidhi! 🙂

  21. Stacey Koprince December 2, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Pronouns can be tricky, which is why I often like to use other things when the pronoun issue is only “oh, it might refer to this or to that.”

    In this case, the reason I think it’s ambiguous is simply that either noun could fit in there perfectly. You could say that “people are weak (in this area) to a degree” or that “analytical skills (of the people) are weak to a degree” and both make perfect sense. So which is it?

  22. Stacey Koprince December 2, 2012 at 10:02 am

    In the moment, no, because you’re not really sure how to choose between D and E. When studying afterwards, though, take the time to figure out: why D is right and why E is wrong, AND why E might seem right and why D might seem wrong (that is, why people might make a mistake between the two). That will help you to know the next time you see something similar.

  23. Brand November 29, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Dear Stacey,

    In option C, how does pronoun “they” creates ambiguity when it is most close to “many people”?
    My question is: how to make sure that a pronoun (they, them, and it) is definitely referring to certain antecedent? Simply judge by whether the antecedent is singular or plural?

    Thanks a lot!

  24. Amar Roy November 25, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    I have started following your articles and I like them a lot!

    Fortunately I got this problem right. I could eliminate A,B,C and E. While I know exactly why I was eliminating A , B & C, I didn’t have any clue about E. But my gut feel said that E is definitly wrong.So I picked D. Do you thing I can do anything more in 1 min 15 sec?

  25. Nidhi November 22, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Nice explanation. Somehow I knew the correct answer now as I had already made a mistake of choosing “C”, but I wasn’t really convinced from the explanation given in the OG guide. Now I know the trick. Thanks. Stacey you rock! 🙂

  26. domenico November 22, 2012 at 5:43 am

    You are the “special one”.

    I’m learning a lot thanks to your articles. I’m a Koprince die hard fan….:)

    Your way of thinking is the right tool to crack this difficult test (aside to know grammar rules or that between 2 and 100 the only number that is at the same time square root and cube root is 64.)

    Thanks a lot