GMAT Sentence Correction and the Search for Easy Decisions

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Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - GMAT Sentence Correction and the Search for Easy Decisions by Ryan Jacobs

Consider the following two sentences, adapted from a GMAT Sentence Correction example I use in my classes:

(A)  Marissa would like to visit France, climb the Eiffel tower, and eat snails, but she may have to wait for some time, being short on funds at the moment.
(B)  Marissa would like to visit France, to climb the Eiffel tower, and to eat snails, but she may have to wait until the future, because she is short on momentary funds.

Which version is preferable?

Unless you are new to the test, you probably recognize this as a typical example of the kind of decision required of you by the GMAT Sentence Correction questions on the test. You may even know by name some of the issues being tested: parallelism, modifiers, and meaning. Whether you’re new to the GMAT or not, I’d also wager a guess that you ended up selecting the right choice. What I really want to do is show you one simple idea that will help you make that correct choice more quickly.

First, here are four differences I notice between the two choices:

(1)   “to” precedes the list in (A), but is part of each list item in (B)
(2)   (A) says “for some time,” while (B) says “until the future”
(3)   (A) says “being short on,” while (B) says “because she is short on”
(4)   (A) says “funds at the moment,” while (B) says “momentary funds”

Of those four differences, the one with which I am 100% confident in my preference is number 4. I know for a fact that the phrase “short on momentary funds” implies the funds themselves are somehow momentary—that doesn’t make any sense. I also know that the phrase “short on funds at the moment” means that right now, Marissa is short on funds. This is what I’m sure the author of the sentence means. If these are the only two possible answer choices, I now know (A) must be correct.

Now get up out of your chair and do your victory shuffle!

My question for you is, how much time did you spend trying to decide whether “to” should appear once or three times? If your answer is anything longer than about 3 seconds, this suggestion is for you: before you think too much about the first difference you see among the answers, make sure you’ve spotted as many differences as you can. In other words, the easiest decision may not be the first decision.

That idea, by the way, is part of why it’s a good idea to always take a “first glance” at any GMAT Sentence Correction problem before you really dig in; you’ll see that very sound advice repeated throughout the Manhattan Prep Sentence Correction Strategy Guide. I think of that skill as being similar to the skill required for those puzzle books that show you two pictures on facing pages, and the pictures are almost the same save for nine differences that you’re supposed to find.

Interestingly, one of the things I’ve noticed about the GMAT is that in harder Sentence Correction questions, the easiest issues to resolve often come closer to the end. To make things worse, not every difference even matters—remember the list in the example above? It doesn’t matter whether there’s one “to” or three. Both variations of that list are correct. Also, “being short on” and “because she is short on” are so close in meaning that I have to admit I’d have trouble deciding between those two options in a vacuum. That all may sound dire, but I actually think it’s great news for you, because it means that one of the ways you can improve your GMAT Sentence Correction performance doesn’t involve learning any grammar; you just need to practice spotting all of the differences you can before you commit to thinking deeply about any one.

One final caveat: when you’re studying, you still need to review all of the differences between the answer choices, even the difficult ones, so that you learn to spot nuances; that review process may come in handy when you see future problems with answer choices that lack any obvious problems. But while you’re actually taking the test, you don’t need to be an expert. You just need to be right. So remember, on GMAT Sentence Correction questions, look for the easiest decision; it may not be the first! 📝


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ryan-jacobsRyan Jacobs is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in San Francisco, California. He has an MBA from UC San Diego, a 780 on the GMAT, and years of GMAT teaching experience. His other interests include music, photography, and hockey. Check out Ryan’s upcoming GMAT prep offerings here.

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