GMAT Sentence Correction for Native English Speakers (Part 1)

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If you’re a non-native English speaker who wants to excel on GMAT Sentence Correction, there are a lot of resources out there for you. (I’d recommend starting with the excellent Foundations of Verbal.) But what if you are a native English speaker? This article is especially for you. By leveraging the skills you already have, you can take your GMAT Sentence Correction performance to the next level and improve your overall score.

Let’s check out a couple of sentences. These sentences have the same logic error:

  1. The pinnacle of the biologists’ achievements came when they used a previously-untested humane-capture technology to successfully net a giant Pacific octopus, rising close to the surface of the south Pacific in a rarely-observed display of mating behavior.
  2. Chelsey walked the dog, wearing a collar.

If your ear is anything like mine, the second sentence will make you laugh. It sounds like I, not my dog, was wearing the collar. The interesting thing, though, is that the first sentence is wrong for exactly the same reason. Technically, in the first sentence, it was the biologists (“they”) that were displaying mating behavior! However, it doesn’t sound nearly as ridiculous as the second one. Why? Let’s dive in.

Native English speakers don’t actually make that many grammar mistakes. You wouldn’t say, or write, a sentence like #2. You wouldn’t write any of these sentences, either:

  1. The babysitter are looking after our kids.
  2. I like to eat kale and for broccoli.
  3. Unlike bananas, fruit salad contains apples.

Nonetheless, you might make all of these mistakes, and more, when you take the GMAT. That’s because GMAT Sentence Correction problems are designed to make things difficult for your ear. They often contain simple errors that you already know are wrong; the difficulty comes from how the test writers hide those errors from you.

Consider that first sentence again. It’s tough for your ear for two reasons. First, it’s long. Your ear has a very limited attention span. Second, it’s boring. What does previously-untested humane-capture technology look like? Who knows!

Here’s the first tool to add to your toolkit: the micro-sentence. You’re going to use your ear, but not in the typical way. Instead, you’re going to pull one issue out of the sentence and make it simpler. Here’s how it looks.

The pinnacle of the biologists’ achievements came when they used a previously-untested humane-capture technology to successfully net a giant Pacific octopus, rising close to the surface of the south Pacific in a rarely-observed display of mating behavior.

(A) to successfully net a giant Pacific octopus, rising close to the surface of the south Pacific in a rarely-observed display of mating behavior.
(B) to successfully net a giant Pacific octopus that rose close to the surface of the south Pacific in a rarely-observed display of mating behavior.

Let’s ignore the entire first section of the sentence (“The pinnacle…came when”). Let’s also change some of the words to simpler ones. Keep as much of the grammar intact as you can, but get rid of the jargon.

Biologists caught an octopus, rising close to the surface.

Biologists caught an octopus that rose close to the surface.

At this point, your ear may be telling you that the second option is correct. If they still both sound okay, and if you have time, try changing the content to something more exciting, too.

Biologists caught an octopus, turning purple.

Biologists caught an octopus that turned purple.

The first one sounds as if the biologists were turning purple! (B) was the right answer. My ear already knew that—I just had to give it a chance. Let’s try it again.

Although it is conventionally referred to as a nut, and it takes its place in culinary traditions alongside nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and cashews, one of the most widely-grown legumes is in fact the peanut, which originated in South America and has been cultivated by humans for at least three thousand years.

(A) Although it is conventionally referred to as a nut, and it takes its place in culinary traditions alongside nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and cashews, one of the most widely-grown legumes is in fact the peanut, which originated in South America and has been cultivated by humans for at least three thousand years.
(B) Despite being conventionally referred to as a nut, and taking its place in culinary traditions alongside nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and cashews, the peanut, which originated in South America and has been cultivated by humans for at least three thousand years, is in fact one of the most widely-grown legumes.

Let’s replace the clunky phrasing at the beginning of the sentence:

(A) Although we call it a nut, and it tastes like a nut, one of the most widely-grown legumes is in fact the peanut, which originated in South America and has been cultivated by humans for at least three thousand years.

Let’s also ignore the modifier at the end of the sentence. It’s placed correctly—the word which is close to the noun peanut—but it’s making things harder.

(A) Although we call it a nut, and it tastes like a nut, one of the most widely-grown legumes is in fact the peanut.

Finally, let’s replace the ear-boggling phrase one of the most widely-grown legumes.

(A) Although we call it a nut, and it tastes like a nut, a popular legume is in fact the peanut.

This is starting to sound a little bit strange, right? Let’s apply the same steps to answer choice (B).

(B) Despite being called a nut, and tasting like a nut, the peanut is in fact a popular legume.

Your ear might be telling you that (B) is correct. If it isn’t, take one last step: think of a sentence with more interesting content, but the same grammar.

(A) Although we call him a genius, a fool is in fact the man.
(B) Despite being called a genius, the man is in fact a fool.

The second sentence is correct, and answer choice (B) was correct all along.

As you practice GMAT Sentence Correction, remember that as a native English speaker, you already know most of the grammar rules. Most grammar mistakes on the GMAT actually aren’t the same ones that you’d make in real life. Instead, they’re simple errors that you would normally spot right away, but they’re dressed up in a way that makes them hard for your ear to notice. So, try simplifying sentences to make things easier on your ear. This has the double benefit of making you better at understanding sentence structure! And of course, look out for situations where your ear makes the wrong choice—we’ll talk more about those in the next article.


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Chelsey CooleyChelsey Cooley Manhattan Prep GRE Instructor is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Seattle, Washington. Chelsey always followed her heart when it came to her education. Luckily, her heart led her straight to the perfect background for GMAT and GRE teaching: she has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and history, a master’s degree in linguistics, a 790 on the GMAT, and a perfect 170/170 on the GRE. Check out Chelsey’s upcoming GRE prep offerings here.

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