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English is not my native language. I came to the US at age 10 without knowing how to speak a single word of English so if you are an international applicant who is struggling with the verbal section I can certainly relate to your frustration. But do not despair! There is hope, and I believe that the GMAT's sentence correction section is the easiest to improve on. My verbal score improved from 35V (35th percentile) to 43V (96th percentile) on my last official exam. The main reason that I earned a 700 is because of my strong performance on the verbal section. Below I will try to give specific advice regarding 5 common distractors. There are only about 20 or so but I only have time to explain 5 right now. I hope that you find them useful.
Let me give you a quick background as to how I came with this approach. I teach fourth grade bilingual students at a Title I school (extreme low socioeconomic students). At the end of the year the students have to take a Writing standardized test, which incidentally is also produced by Pearson. The test is made up of multiple choice items where the students have to do complete similar items to sentence correction questions. As I studied the released items that Pearson released for the test, I noticed that they all contained very similar distractors. A distractor is a wrong answer choice. What I'm going to share below are 5 common distractors that Pearson utilizes on the GMAT. Rather than explain them using English teacher jargon, I will try to explain them in common terms. They are easy to identify and will help you eliminate 1 or 2 answer choices in about 5 seconds.
The 5 sentences below are all incorrect responses from GMATPrep questions. Each one contains a different distractor. All questions are 700-level questions! Note that there is more than one reason for why the distractor is wrong. The distractors below are easy to identify.
Distractor 1 (double subject)
A simple sentence only needs to state the subject one time. Here is an answer choice that has a double subject.
In order to conserve the energy and heat they need to spend the entire winter sitting motionless over incubating eggs, male penguins huddle over the nests in groups, and they thereby reduce by 25 percent the rate they burn energy, as compared to what it would be with isolated birds.
Notice that the underlined section uses the word they. The word they is the double subject. They is referring to the penguins, but we already know that so its usage is redundant. In our Spanish language, it is perfectly fine to use the double subject so at first this is a little counter-intuitive but if you practice it becomes something very easy to apply.
Distractor 2 (-ing ending)
Be very wary of answer choices that add an -ing verb (or ing- anything). 9 times out of 10 the answer choice can be eliminated. Here is an example.
Narwhals can be called whales of the ice: in icy channels, ponds, and ice-shielded bays, they seek sanctuary from killer whales, their chief predator, and whose annual migrations following the seasonal rhythm of advancing and retreating ice.
In the original stem, the word follow does not have an ing ending. There are various reasons for why adding an -ing ending is incorrect but I will not overwhelm you with those. Remember, if you see an -ing answer choice, think eliminate! Read it to yourself aloud and ask does this sound right? 9 times out of 10 it will not!
Distractor 3 (missing verb)
This is an error that my fourth grade students often commit. They write long sentences without a single verb. Here is a GMAT example of an answer choice without a verb.
A recording system that was so secretly installed and operated in the Kennedy Oval office even Theodore C. Stevensen, the White House counsel, did not know it existed.
Can you find the verb? There is not one. What did the recording system that was so secretly installled and operated in the Kennedy Oval office do? This error is common among 700 level questions so make sure to keep an eye on it.
Distractor 4 (ambiguity)
Good writing should never be ambiguous. Here is an example of a GMAT answer choice with ambiguity.
Naked mole rats form colonies of approximately twenty animals, each of which consists of a single reproductive female and workers that defend her.
What does the word 'each' refer to? Is it referring to the animals or to the colonies? The central focus of the sentence is on the colonies so simply using the word each is not sufficient. Adding the word 'colony' after each would eliminate the ambiguity.
Distractor 5 (referents)
This is the most common distractor in 700 level questions. Let me give you an easy example to illustrate. Take a look at this example: After working diligently on the GMAT for three months, Jose's score improved by 190 points. At first sight this may look like a correct sentence, but take a closer look. Who worked diligently for three months? Jose's score or Jose? Jose's score did not work diligently. That is nonsensical. That is why this is wrong. Now take a look at this GMAT distractor.
Without the adequate amount of sleep they need, people's newly acquired skills and even new factual information may not get properly coded into their memory circuits.
Who needs the adequate amount of sleep? People's newly acquired skills or people? People of course. Anytime you see a phrase that is referring to something (particularly to something that has an apostrophe which indicates possession), read it carefully and determine whether it is referring to the correct thing.
Using the strategies above has been a key reason for why my students' performance has been the best in the entire school district where I work (over 30 elementary campuses and thousands of students). They also helped me improve my score. There are only about 20 possible distractors. Once you know all of them, you can answer 100% of the sentence correction questions.
I hope you found these tips helpful. Best of luck and gig'em!
If you liked, give kudos!
Last edited by josemnz83 on 19 Aug 2013, 18:24, edited 3 times in total.
Re: Jose's 5 tricks for Sentence Correction questions [#permalink]
19 Aug 2013, 18:22
This post received KUDOS
First of all, I’m happy that you guys have found my tips to be helpful. I apologize for not having written before but I have been busy working on application process. I’m also back at work which means that I do not have as much time to check out the forum. Today I checked my inbox and found many private messages asking me to please post more of my tips. I have included an additional five tips. I hope that you find them helpful. Remember that there are many reasons for why an answer choice is wrong in SC; however, the distractors that I post are easy to identify. You do not get bonus points for identifying difficult distractors. The correct answer choice will NOT have any of these mistakes so if you can identify the mistake, quickly eliminate the answer choice and move on!
Distractor 1 (repetition-using two words that mean the same thing)
Good writing should be succinct. Here is a problem that uses two words that mean the same thing.
Many scientists now agree that man-made pollution is the main cause for the rise and increase of global warming.
Notice that the word rise means the same thing as the word increase. You do not need to say both of them.
Distractor 2 (subject-verb agreement)
This is a basic concept that gets tested but that many testers still get wrong. The subject and verb must agree. Here is a simple example. Many students in my fourth grade class enjoys playing soccer during recess. The subject (students) is plural—ends in s. The verb should be enjoy—take away the s. Now let’s look at a GMAT distractor.
Efforts to equalize the funds available to school districts, a major goal of education reformers and many states in the 1970s, has not significantly reduced the gaps existing between the richest and poorest districts.
Here the subject is efforts (plural) so the helping verb should match. We do not use “has” for plural subjects; instead, we use “have.” Has should be changed to have.
Distractor 3 (parallelism-compare similar things)
Only things that are similar can be compared. Let’s look at an example. Unlike math, which shares a universal language across cultures, poets are confined by the language of their home country. Here math is being compared to poets, but this is not correct. Math is a subject whereas poets are people. This would be correct if we were comparing math to poetry. Let’s look at a GMAT example.
Unlike a typical automobile loan, which requires a fifteen-to-twenty-percent down payment, the lease-loan buyer is not required to make an initial deposit on the new vehicle.
Notice that the loan is being compared to the lease-loan buyer. This is not parallel. A loan and a buyer (human) are not similar.
Distractor 4 (two things completed in the past)
Many times the GMAT will make reference to TWO things that happened in the past and then use a verb to suggest that one of those things is still happening. If both of those things happened in the past, then do NOT use a helping verb that indicates present tense.
Though the artifacts of pre-Colombian civilization created a stir from the very first European contacts with the new world in the sixteenth century, until the latter half of the nineteenth century Western designers, artists, and crafters have not been inspired to imitate.
Are we in the latter half of the nineteenth century now? Of course not! The sentence’s use of the words “have not been” makes it seem that we are still in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Distractor 5 (pronoun “it” refers to ONE THING)
The pronoun “it” refers to one thing. It can be a house, a car, a book, a group, etc. But “it” refers to a singular noun. This comes up frequently throughout the GMAT and can also aid you in understanding reading comprehension passages. Many times you can find what the “it” is referring to in a passage to figure out the answer. Here is a GMAT example.
The golden crab of the Gulf of Mexico has not been fished commercially in great numbers, primarily because they live at great depths—2,500 to 3,000 feet down.
What is they referring to? They is referring to the golden crab, but the golden crab is singular so we cannot use the pronoun “they.” Instead, we should use the pronoun “it.” It refers to a single noun (golden crab). If the sentence was talking about “crabs” then we could use the pronoun “they.”
I hope you guys find these tips helpful. Remember that you can conquer this beast. Keep studying hard!