Jen Rugani is one of Knewton’s top GMAT teachers.
Do you bite your nails? Chew on pencils? Forget to the check the subject and verb on sentence correction questions? All of these are bad habits, but only one will affect your GMAT score. Test-takers tend to make the same grammar mistakes over and over again; learn to recognize—and avoid—these common traps and pitfalls.
1) Ignoring the Subject and Verb
It’s one of the biggest, most basic rules of grammar: If it doesn’t have a main subject and main verb, it’s not a sentence. More importantly, the subject and verb are the potential home of numerous SC errors, including subject-verb agreement, sentence fragments, clause connection and more. Many test-takers head straight for more complicated issues and overlook an easy subject-verb mistake that can knock a few answer choices out of contention. In a gourmet meal, perfect side dishes don’t matter if the main course is burned. Think of the subject and verb as the meat (or vegan substitute) of a sentence, and check them first.
2) Overlooking Redundancy
The GMAT loves concision and clarity; it is a mistake to repeat yourself and say the same thing twice. Did you see the redundancy in the previous sentence? If so, you are ahead of the curve! The vast majority of test-takers miss simple redundancy errors, so be extra vigilant in watching out for them. Look for quantity words:
Redundant: The price dropped by a 30% decrease.
Awesomely concise: The price dropped by 30%.
Redundancy can also appear in cause and effect relationships:
Redundant: Because she is obsessed with Elvis, the result is that she eats only peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Awesomely concise: Because she is obsessed with Elvis, she eats only peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
The moral of the story: Saying it twice? Not so nice.
3) Trusting Your Ear Too Much (or Not Enough)
Listen up, native English speakers: Your natural ear for grammar can be a hugely valuable tool. Use it, and trust it to help you eliminate obviously awkward answer choices. Don’t waste time analyzing sentences that you instinctively know sound wrong. However, trusting your ear is not a substitute for understanding the rules of grammar. This is especially true for GMAT idioms. Take a look at this sentence:
As puppies gnaw on their favorite bones, so I gnaw on this ear of corn.
This sentence might sound totally fine — in fact, it’s likely that many native English speakers would say this in everyday speech, especially when enjoying a delicious corn-on-the-cob. Unfortunately, “as…so” is NOT a valid comparison idiom. The correct sentence is:
Just as puppies gnaw on their favorite bones, so I gnaw on this ear of corn.
The GMAT test-makers understand that a natural ear for English is an advantage, so they will purposefully include sentences that sound wrong, but are actually correct.
4) Playing the “What If” Game
The “what if” game is one of the most dangerous habits on the SC section. You read an answer choice and think, “I see an error here. This is wrong. But what if it had a plural verb (or a comma, or a pronoun, or some other grammatical element)? Then would it be correct?” Do not fall into this trap! It doesn’t matter whether the answer choice would be correct if written differently; it’s not, and that’s the whole point. Answer choices on the GMAT are constructed deliberately and precisely, so don’t waste time with “what ifs.” If you see an error, simply eliminate the choice and move on.
5) Forgetting the Logic of a Sentence
There are so many grammar rules to remember that test-takers often forget that sentences have to make sense, too. If you’re stuck on a question, take a step back and do a quick logic check: What information is this sentence trying to convey, and what is the clearest, most straightforward way in which to convey it? Logic checks are particularly useful for modifier and verb tense errors. For modifiers, ask yourself: What is this phrase describing, and does the structure of the sentence make that clear? For verb tense, ask: In what order did these events occur, and do the tenses correctly express that relationship? Thinking about the meaning of a sentence can help pull the underlying grammar issues into sharper focus.
Ditch these bad habits and say hello to a higher verbal score. As for biting your nails… you’re on your own.