Brian Galvin is the Director of Academic Programs at Veritas Prep, where he oversees all of the company’s GMAT prep courses.
If you’ve written an essay or letter on your computer in the past few years, you’ve undoubtedly encountered that green underline somewhere in your composition that indicates that you’ve made a grammatical mistake. (Editor’s note: I guarantee that that will happen during the writing of this post.) Perhaps your subject didn’t match your verb, or your modifier was misplaced; whatever the situation, as soon as you put a period on that sentence, your computer recognized the error and not only alerted you to it, but also offered its suggestion for a correction. What a world we live in!
So why, in said world, would business schools test you on Sentence Correction as a primary means of determining your fitness for upper-level management?
Proper grammar is important for its own sake — effective communication is certainly a key element of a successful management team — but the strategic portion of these questions may well be more important to schools. In your corporate strategy classes, you’ll study the idea of “core competencies,” the smaller-scope things that a business does well, and items from which businesses should try not to stray. The ideology is that quality and efficiency are achieved through specialization, and that those who try to generalize, instead, won’t be able to compete.
Bringing that back to Sentence Correction, the writers of these questions will often try to bait you toward generalization, tempting you to discern the difference between methods of phrasing an obscure idiom or asking you to read a multi-clause, 45-word sentence five different times to see what “sounds right.” You’re applying to business school, however, not to the editorial desk of the New York Times; your “core competencies,” as they pertain to grammar, are likely somewhat limited. Accordingly, your goal should be to seek out the errors that you know how to correct, and only worry about others when absolutely necessary (which shouldn’t be often, if at all).
Consider the question:
Unlike water, which is complimentary, all passengers will need to pay cash for beverages during the transoceanic flight.
(A) Unlike water, which is complimentary
(B) Besides water, which is offered free of charge
(C) Unless the drink is water, which is complimentary
(D) Not like water, which is offered free of charge
(E) With water being the only exception
The GMAT doesn’t explicitly test the preferential difference between “complimentary” and “free of charge,” nor does it explicitly test “unlike” vs. “besides.” It does, however, test the agreement of modifiers like “unlike water,” which cannot possibly describe “all passengers.” In fact, answer choices A,B, D, and E all make the same mistake — they attempt to modify “passengers” with “water,” which is an illogical comparison. In contrast, answer choice C changes that game, using “Unless the drink is water” as an independent clause and not a modifier. By doing so, it corrects the modifier error that the others commit, and is the correct answer.
Modifiers are one of your core competencies — you should attack those whenever and wherever you see them. Seek out these items that fall within your power, and you’ll efficiently and correctly conquer these sentence correction problems.
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