Top 10 Tips for GMAT Sentence Correction


Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - Top 10 Tips for GMAT Sentence Correction by Chelsey Cooley

GMAT Sentence Correction is all about grammar, but not every grammar rule is equally important. With these Sentence Correction tips, we’ll look at some of the most important—and most often overlooked—Sentence Correction techniques.

10. Worry about the small stuff.

Sometimes, the most important words in a GMAT Sentence Correction problem are the smallest ones:

  • Pronouns (it, its, they, them, their)
  • Prepositions (in, for, with, after)
  • Conjunctions (and, or)
  • Helping verbs (have, had, are, is, will be)

A tough Sentence Correction problem might test a couple of complex grammar issues—such as modifiers and parallelism—in complicated ways. That same sentence might also test a small, simple issue, like using the correct pronoun or conjunction. If you focus on the tough issues, you could spend two minutes choosing the right answer. But if you spot the critical difference in a single, tiny word, you could sail through the problem in under a minute.

9. Parallelism: work from the end to the beginning.

The term “parallelism” refers to GMAT Sentence Correction rules that deal with lists. For instance, this sentence is parallel:

I’m going to eat kale, drink a smoothie, and take my vitamins.

The best trick for parallelism is to start at the end of the list, not the beginning. Find the parallel marker—the word that tells you there’s a list in the sentence, such as “and” or “or.” In this sentence, it’s the word “and.”

Once you find the parallel marker, look immediately to the right of it. That’s where you’ll find the last thing on the list! In this case, it’s “take my vitamins.”

For a sentence to have good parallelism, everything on the list needs to look alike, grammatically speaking. Since we already know that “take my vitamins” is one of the things on the list, we just need to make sure that everything else on the list looks similar to it.  

  • eat kale
  • drink a smoothie
  • take my vitamins

All of those are phrases about VERBing a NOUN, so they all look alike. That’s a good list! Here’s a sentence with a not-so-good list:

I’m going to eat kale, chickpeas, broccoli, and drink apple juice.  

Using the rule we learned earlier, the last thing on the list is “drink apple juice.” Everything else on the list has to have that same verb-noun structure. But in this sentence, that’s not the case. Only “eat kale” matches, while “broccoli” and “chickpeas” are lonely nouns, stuck all by themselves.  

8. Stop searching for the perfect sentence.

The right answer to a GMAT Sentence Correction problem will often “sound wrong.” When you get right down to it, a lot of sentences on the GMAT are just plain weird. We’re seeing these sentences totally out of context, and they deal with topics that we probably know nothing about. Plus, they’re designed to be long, complicated, and not incredibly good at getting the point across.

If you go into a Sentence Correction problem looking for the perfect sentence, you’ll be disappointed. It’s always better to eliminate wrong answers than to search for the right answer. After all, to prove that an answer is wrong, you only need to find one thing wrong with it. To prove that an answer is right, the whole thing has to be correct, all the way through. Plus, for every grammar error, there are a dozen different ways that it could be fixed. If there’s an error in one sentence, you don’t necessarily know what the “right” version will look like! The right answer can sometimes surprise you. 

7. Stuck between two answer choices? Focus on the differences.

This is a common issue on Verbal problems, and we’ve written about it before! If you’re stuck between two Sentence Correction answer choices, zero in on the differences between them, instead of just reading them one at a time. One of those two answer choices has to be wrong, so at least one of the differences must tell you something helpful. Pick the difference you’re most confident about, and go for it.

6. Still stuck? You might be missing a meaning issue.

When you focus on the differences between two answer choices, you could see a grammar error that you didn’t notice before. If you don’t see a grammar error, it’s also possible that the two answer choices have different meanings. Sentence Correction doesn’t just test grammar rules—it tests your knowledge of the way that grammar determines a sentence’s meaning.  

If one of the answer choices has a meaning that doesn’t make logical sense, or if it seems like it could mean two different things, eliminate it. But what if both meanings seem reasonable? You’ll rarely get to this point, but if you do, go with the meaning that’s closer to the original sentence.

5. Don’t forget the rest of the sentence.

Don’t focus too much on just the underlined section. If you do that, you’ll miss all kinds of interesting grammar rules. Here are two answer choices from an imaginary Sentence Correction problem:

(A) and to prepare a memorandum describing the charitable activities undertaken by the company.
(B) and that a memorandum describing the company’s charitable activities be prepared.

Without looking at the whole sentence, neither one of these looks wrong, although there are a couple of differences. You might eliminate (B) because it uses the passive voice, or you could eliminate (A) because it uses the wordy phrase “undertaken by the company.” In both cases, you’d be missing something crucial. Here are those answer choices in context:

The CEO requested that managers become more cognizant of the relationship between the company and the surrounding community, and to prepare a memorandum describing the charitable activities undertaken by the company.

(A) and to prepare a memorandum describing the charitable activities undertaken by the company.
(B) and that a memorandum describing the company’s charitable activities be prepared.

In context, only (B) can be correct! It gives you something that’s parallel to the first half of the sentence, while (A) is mismatched. If you eliminated it just because it used the passive voice—without checking the rest of the sentence—you would have missed that.

4. Think, but don’t overthink.

If you read a tough sentence in a book or a news article, you probably don’t even notice anything out of the ordinary, unless it’s really complicated. But when you see that same sentence in a GMAT Sentence Correction problem, when the clock is ticking and you’re under pressure to choose the right answer, it suddenly seems incomprehensible.

To keep this from ruining your Sentence Correction flow, follow these steps:

  • Glance at the answer choices before you read the original sentence. You’re not doing a full analysis—you just want to avoid missing any really obvious hints in the answers.
  • Take a breath. Your brain needs oxygen, and you need a second to center yourself.
  • Read the entire sentence, beginning to end, exactly how you’d read it if you saw it in a magazine article. All you’re trying to do is “get” what it’s saying—not correct its grammar or identify its clauses. Just read, in a calm, relaxed manner.

Don’t try to do too much at once! If you try to figure out every detail of the grammar of a sentence while also reading it for the first time, you’ll overwhelm and confuse yourself. It’s fine to read the sentence once just to get your head around it, then worry about the grammar afterwards. For more on the Sentence Correction process, check out our Sentence Correction Strategy Guide.

3. Use the best split, not the first split.

GMAT instructor Ryan Jacobs already summed this one up! In a Sentence Correction problem, the answer choices will usually be different from each other in multiple ways. Some of those ways will be important, and others won’t. Some will be obvious, and others will be subtle.

Don’t get hung up on the very first difference you see. If you don’t know the rule now, you’re not going to remember it within the next 80 seconds (that’s how long you have to do an average Sentence Correction problem). Instead, go searching for another rule that you do know.

2. Know what to ignore on GMAT Sentence Correction.

The key to solving a Sentence Correction problem can be anywhere in the sentence. However, there are times when you should ignore part of the sentence.

  • If you’re having trouble figuring out what the sentence is saying, try ignoring the modifiers and finding just the main subject(s) and verb(s). Then, mentally add the modifiers back in, one at a time.
  • If a verb changes between singular and plural across the different answer choices, start by finding the subject that goes with that verb. The subject is the only thing that determines whether a verb should be singular or plural.  
  • Ignoring adjectives and adverbs is often safe and can make a long, wordy sentence easier.
  • Try summarizing jargon-y parts of the sentence in your own words or simplifying names and titles. Instead of “employees of a Fortune 500 corporation,” think “workers.” Instead of “the most valuable approach to solving any problem,” think “the best approach.”

1. Don’t use a new rule when an old rule will do.

The number-one mistake that students make while studying for GMAT Sentence Correction is being overly specific. For an example, let’s return to that problem from tip number 5:

The CEO requested that managers become more cognizant of the relationship between the company and the surrounding community, and to prepare a memorandum describing the charitable activities undertaken by the company.

(A) and to prepare a memorandum describing the charitable activities undertaken by the company.
(B) and that a memorandum describing the company’s charitable activities be prepared.

Suppose that you just got this problem wrong and you wanted to review. The wrong thing to write in your problem log would be this:

“that a memorandum… be prepared” is right; “to prepare a memorandum” is wrong.

Here’s a slightly better takeaway, but this one still isn’t perfect:

“that managers become more cognizant” is parallel to “that a memorandum be prepared.”  

Those takeaways aren’t memorable, and they won’t help you on other problems—unless you just so happen to see a problem about memos and managers on test day. Instead of these takeaways, think of a takeaway that will make you more likely to do the right thing on test day:

“and” plus verbs in different forms (“to prepare”, “that… be prepared”) tells you to look for parallelism with the first half of the sentence!

The key to improving your Sentence Correction game is taking what you learn from one sentence and applying it to other ones. It takes some time, but when you review, you should try boiling down every issue in a problem into a simple, general rule. Every sentence you see on test day will be brand-new—but the rules will be exactly the same as the ones you’ve studied. Learn to focus on those rules, and you’ll set yourself up to succeed. 📝

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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 GMAT prep offerings here.

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