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Experts' Topic of the Week, 5/29/17: No-BS Guide to GMAT Idioms

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Experts' Topic of the Week, 5/29/17: No-BS Guide to GMAT Idioms [#permalink]

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Experts’ Verbal Topic of the Week, May 29-June 2, 2017:


The No-BS Guide to GMAT Idioms



As far as I know, every available GMAT SC resource includes a huge pile of idioms. For example, MGMAT’s SC guide features more than 30 full pages of idioms, and Magoosh offers an entire 101-page(!) e-book on idioms alone. Both books are thoroughly well-researched and attempt to cover every idiom that has ever appeared in an official GMAT SC question.

The implicit message from the GMAT test-prep community: you should, apparently, memorize more idioms.

But I'm going to commit GMAT test-prep heresy this week: maybe you really don’t need to memorize every idiom you can find. And here’s why...


There are 25,000 idioms in English :shock:


Scholars disagree on the exact number of idioms in English, but I’ve seen estimates as high as 40,000. Wikipedia currently says that there are 25,000 idioms in English, so let’s go with that number. And in theory, all of those 25,000 idioms are fair game on the GMAT.

You could, of course, attempt to memorize all 25,000 of them. But you probably don’t want to do that, especially considering that sentence correction only accounts for around 1/3 of your verbal score -- and there are plenty of far more important SC topics to worry about.


But couldn’t I learn some idiom categories or rules?


Here’s the problem: an idiom is, by definition, an idiosyncratic expression that doesn’t strictly conform to any particular rules. Or here’s the official definition from the Oxford Dictionary: “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.”

So you can’t really memorize idiom rules, either. That’s the whole point: idioms don’t have rules. Sure, some idioms end up sounding similar to each other, but even that can be deceptive:

  • Mike is thought to be the greatest living GMAT tutor. → correct!
  • Mike is believed to be the greatest living GMAT tutor. → correct!
  • Mike is considered to be the greatest living GMAT tutor. → crap… NOT correct
  • Mike is considered the greatest living GMAT tutor. → correct :arh

Unfortunately, we can’t really do much to streamline the process of learning idioms. So what can you do about them?


Advice for everybody: avoid “uncertain” idioms whenever you can


You might already have noticed this in our recent Questions of the Day, but in plenty of SC questions, you can safely avoid the idioms entirely if you’re not sure about them. In Monday’s example, the difference between “targeted at”, “targeted to”, and “targeted toward” was irrelevant. In Wednesday’s QOTD, we had no reason to care about the difference between “preference for” or “preference of”, because four of the answer choices included crystal-clear parallelism and subject-verb errors.

These examples aren’t unusual at all: in many official GMAT SC questions, you’ll find other errors that allow you to “work around” the idioms.

As a general rule for SC, you’ll always want to start by eliminating everything that you’re CERTAIN is wrong first. So if you’re CERTAIN that the idiom in a particular answer choice is wrong, go ahead and cross it out. But if you’re not certain about the idiom, see if you can find something else to work with – either a clear, concrete grammar error, or a problem with the meaning or logic of the sentence.

I’ll be honest: avoiding the idiom only works most of the time – not all of the time. Yes, there are tons of official questions that allow you to safely ignore the idioms (some of our favorite examples can be found here, here, and here). But sometimes, you simply can’t avoid the idiom. Official examples are fairly rare, but two of them can be found here or here.


Advice for native speakers: don’t memorize


If you’re worried about that relatively small number of “unavoidable” idioms on GMAT SC questions, then you might wonder if memorizing idioms is worth your time. And if you’re a native English speaker, memorizing idioms probably won’t give you a great return on your investment.

Think of it this way: verbal is only half of your composite score, SC is only around 1/3 of your verbal score, and idioms are just a tiny piece of the battle on SC. Time spent learning idioms is time that you’re not spending on more important concepts, like parallelism or pronouns or modifiers or comparisons. Or CR or RC or math.

And there’s no guarantee that the idioms you study will be the same idioms that appear on the actual exam. Again, there are somewhere around 25,000 idioms in English, and any of them are fair game on the GMAT. It would be difficult to memorize more than about 1% of them.

And if you’re a native speaker, you definitely didn’t learn English by memorizing lists of words and expressions. It probably won’t be terribly effective to suddenly start doing so now, partly because memorizing idioms will feel like a deeply, deeply unnatural task.

To be fair, if you miss an idiom once on a practice question, go ahead and commit it to memory, just in case you see that very same idiom again on your actual exam. But other than that, you won’t get much bang for your buck by memorizing lengthy lists of idioms if English is already your mother tongue.


Advice for non-native speakers: memorize only if you have spare time


Most of our advice for native speakers applies to non-native speakers, too. Your GMAT study time is incredibly valuable, and the question of whether to memorize idioms is ultimately a question about return on investment. And for most non-native speakers, your time will be better spent on any number of other verbal-related tasks: understanding modifiers or comparisons or parallelism or pronouns, or practicing some good, hard CR questions, or just getting better at reading.

But if you actually enjoy memorizing lists of phrases – and if you’re madly devoted to doing EVERYTHING you possibly can to increase your verbal score (like this legendary guy who spent four years studying to get his 760) – then it might not hurt to memorize a few idioms.

In other words, if you’re committed to studying for hundreds or even thousands of hours, then maybe a few dozen hours of idiom memorization isn’t a big deal.

Just don't be too shocked if the 300 idioms you memorize don’t happen to appear in the 17 or so SC questions you see on your actual exam. And if you’re brand-new to SC – or if you don’t intend to spend THAT many hours studying for the GMAT verbal section – then your time will probably be better spent elsewhere.


In the long run: hope for non-native speakers


If you’re struggling in general with your fundamental reading skills, you might have already committed to a long-run strategy of doing a lot of good, hard reading in English. (Please see last week’s Ultimate Guide to RC for Beginners for more on this issue.) If that’s the case, then your grasp of English idioms will also improve as you get more exposure to the language – even if you never even touch a list of idioms. So don't lose hope!


GMAT Club resources


Even though I’m not a huge fan of memorizing idioms, GMAT Club – as always! – has your back if you want to give it a shot, or if you just want more general advice for GMAT sentence correction.


And as always, feel free to join us for our live Wednesday verbal chats if you have questions about idioms or any other GMAT verbal topic: https://gmatclub.com/forum/verbal-chat- ... 78-20.html. And live GMAT Club verbal YouTube chats are coming soon!
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Want expert SC and CR explanations? Check out our verbal Question of the Day! All of them are available here.

Need an expert reply? Hit the request verbal experts' reply button -- and then please be specific about your question for us. Feel free to tag @GMATNinja and @GMATNinjaTwo in your post.

Verbal Experts' Topics of the Week:
All Topics of the Week | Ultimate RC Guide for Beginners | Ultimate CR Guide for Beginners | Ultimate SC Guide for Beginners | 7 reasons why your actual GMAT scores don't match your practice test scores | How to get 4 additional "fake" GMAT Prep tests for $29.99... in any section order | How to go from great (760) to incredible (780) on GMAT SC | Using LSAT for GMAT CR & RC | That "-ing" Word Probably Isn't a Verb | That "-ed" Word Might Not Be a Verb, Either | No-BS Guide to GMAT Idioms | "Being" is not the enemy | WTF is "that" doing in my sentence?

YouTube verbal webinars: "Next-level" GMAT pronouns | Uses of "that" on the GMAT

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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 5/29/17: No-BS Guide to GMAT Idioms [#permalink]

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New post 10 Jun 2017, 09:28
Hi GMATNinja,
I have doubt regarding usage of as X.. as Y, so X .. as Y.
I used to consider all usage of so X .. as Y wrong. But now I have come to know that so much X .. as Y can be used in negative expression.
My question is whether the usage of so many X .. as Y is also correct in some particular instances.
I also want to clarify my understanding whether the phrases as many X .. as Y and as much X .. as Y have any other usages other than comparing the countable/uncountable entities.

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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 5/29/17: No-BS Guide to GMAT Idioms [#permalink]

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New post 15 Jun 2017, 12:51
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daschirodeep wrote:
Hi GMATNinja,
I have doubt regarding usage of as X.. as Y, so X .. as Y.
I used to consider all usage of so X .. as Y wrong. But now I have come to know that so much X .. as Y can be used in negative expression.
My question is whether the usage of so many X .. as Y is also correct in some particular instances.
I also want to clarify my understanding whether the phrases as many X .. as Y and as much X .. as Y have any other usages other than comparing the countable/uncountable entities.


I'm not sure if this is what you have in mind, but the following would all be perfectly fine:

  • Charles ate as many burritos as Mike's entire family this afternoon.
  • Charles ate as much oatmeal as Mike's entire family this afternoon.

I think this would be perfectly fine, too, but it's not quite what you're asking about:

  • Charles is so hungry that he could easily eat 10 pounds of sushi.

I'm not sure that I can come up with any correct examples with the "so... as" idioms, though. I think there was a really old GMATPrep question that had "so as to be" in a correct answer choice, but then there's another question from the OG (here) that calls "so... as to" an incorrect idiom in the official answer explanation. So there's no clear answer with that one.

Other than that? I can't come up with any cases in which "so... as" is correct. But maybe I'm just not being creative enough. :)

I hope this helps!
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www.gmatninja.com + GMAT blog + food blog + I'm really bad at PMs

Want expert SC and CR explanations? Check out our verbal Question of the Day! All of them are available here.

Need an expert reply? Hit the request verbal experts' reply button -- and then please be specific about your question for us. Feel free to tag @GMATNinja and @GMATNinjaTwo in your post.

Verbal Experts' Topics of the Week:
All Topics of the Week | Ultimate RC Guide for Beginners | Ultimate CR Guide for Beginners | Ultimate SC Guide for Beginners | 7 reasons why your actual GMAT scores don't match your practice test scores | How to get 4 additional "fake" GMAT Prep tests for $29.99... in any section order | How to go from great (760) to incredible (780) on GMAT SC | Using LSAT for GMAT CR & RC | That "-ing" Word Probably Isn't a Verb | That "-ed" Word Might Not Be a Verb, Either | No-BS Guide to GMAT Idioms | "Being" is not the enemy | WTF is "that" doing in my sentence?

YouTube verbal webinars: "Next-level" GMAT pronouns | Uses of "that" on the GMAT

Kudos [?]: 1332 [1], given: 363

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Experts' Topic of the Week, 5/29/17: No-BS Guide to GMAT Idioms [#permalink]

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New post 30 Aug 2017, 04:35
Hi GMATNinja

I have a general question about idioms: What's the point in learning tens or hundreds of idioms if there is a bunch of other - less familiar - idioms that it is impossible (almost :)) to learn? let's assume that i have learned all the correct idioms in some GMAT resources. I face a question that tests idioms (solely or together with some other issues) and identify one of the correct idiom-usage i have learned. How doe's it help me to eliminate choices that dose not include the idiom i have learned but different versions? How the idioms knowledge helps me to decide that the other usage are wrong. in other words, it seems that even if i'll learn a bunch of idioms it will not help me to eliminate choices on idioms grounds. So what the hack? What is the value in learning idioms if it dose not allow me to eliminate choices on idioms grounds? ? I want to learn the idioms if its worth something (even if not much) but i struggle to understand what its worth :)

Kudos [?]: 4 [0], given: 125

Experts' Topic of the Week, 5/29/17: No-BS Guide to GMAT Idioms   [#permalink] 30 Aug 2017, 04:35
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