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How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC

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How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 13 Apr 2017, 17:45
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This (LONG!) post is in honor of a fine fellow named gmat2k17, who is the proud owner of a 760 -- but wants to improve by another 20 points. He asked the following question in the “Should I retake the GMAT” thread:

Quote:
Any advice you would like to enhance the SC skills. I am good in CR and RC but SC is pulling me down. I am thinking of re-taking the GMAT to improve my score by another 20 points and enhance my V41 to V46.

So basically: you’re asking for near-perfection here. I like that! Of course, there’s no magical formula or magical resource that will get you there – but hopefully a few changes to the way you focus on questions can help a little bit. And if they don't help you, hopefully they'll help somebody else! :-D

This is an oversimplification, but I like to think of SC errors as coming in three broad categories:

    1) Basic, straightforward grammar rules
    2) Advanced/nuanced grammar rules – or funny exceptions to the basic grammar rules
    3) Subtle, meaning-based stuff

And as you go down that list, you’re likely to encounter increasingly difficult issues that can separate great test-takers from truly elite ones.

Let’s take these one at a time:


1) Basic, straightforward grammar rules


As you all probably know, GMAT tests a handful of mechanical grammar rules in a relatively straightforward way. A small sampling:

    • pronoun agreement
    • modifier placement (especially “that,” “which,” and participles, among others)
    • parallelism
    • subject-verb agreement
    • verb tenses (past perfect tense usually causes the most confusion here)
    • placement of -ing and –ed modifiers
    • basic comparisons (especially using “like” and “unlike”)
    • countable vs. non-countable modifiers
    • semicolons

These sorts of things are pretty foundational (and my list isn’t meant to be exhaustive – there are obviously other grammar topics we could add here). If you make a mistake on basic, non-tricky applications of these fundamental rules, you’ll probably struggle to get an elite score.

So for a guy like gmat2k17 who has already scored a 41V, these are almost certainly a non-issue at this stage. Let’s move on…


2) Advanced/nuanced grammar rules – and funny exceptions to the “rules”



If you’re already scoring in the low 40s on verbal, this is the easiest place to look for more points on SC.

Many of the “foundational” grammar topics I listed above have some funky little exceptions and nuances. Take, for example, our old friend “which.” Here’s a straightforward, textbook example:

  • My favorite restaurant is in Brooklyn, which serves delicious Uzbek horse meat salad.

GMAT veterans have seen this sort of thing dozens of times: “which” seems to be modifying “Brooklyn”, and that doesn’t make sense. If Brooklyn served delicious Uzbek horse meat salad, I’d move there in a heartbeat. But for GMAT purposes, that’s illogical.

But then there’s this classic OG sentence:

Quote:
Emily Dickinson’s letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson, which were written over a period beginning a few years before Susan’s marriage to Emily’s brother and ending shortly before Emily’s death in 1886, outnumber her letters to anyone else.


If you’re applying the most basic form of the “which” rule, you’d conclude that “which” is trying to modify “Susan Huntington Dickinson”, right? And you’d say that this sentence is incorrect – but it turns out that it isn’t. Check out the full discussion here: https://gmatclub.com/forum/emily-dickin ... 10142.html

There are similarly tricky nuances and exceptions to other basic rules. A few examples:

  • Past perfect tense: often, we oversimplify and say that past perfect tense must be accompanied by another action in simple past tense. But there are exceptions, as discussed toward the end of this thread. An official example can also be found here: https://gmatclub.com/forum/less-than-35 ... 75119.html

  • Parallelism: I don’t think that there are many exceptions to the parallelism rules, exactly, but sometimes, the exact application of the rule can be incredibly tricky, especially when the parallel elements are separated by a ton of text. A couple of my favorite examples can be found here or here.

  • Pronouns: actually, there’s tons of nuance to understanding exactly when the GMAT considers “it” or “they” ambiguous. A discussion on this issue can be found here or there's an official GMAT example here.

We could go and on and with examples. Bottom line: to get a crazy-elite (46!) verbal score, you’ll need to know when the “basic grammar rules” of the GMAT start to break down. Mike (GMATNinjaTwo) and I are still constantly learning more about the GMAT’s funny nuances with some of this stuff – so there’s ALWAYS at least some room to continue improving in this area.


3) Subtle, meaning-based stuff



This is probably the biggest issue that separates good SC scores from AMAZING SC scores. And there’s no single formula or tip or trick or gimmick that I could ever offer that will magically make you great at deciphering the subtle little meaning differences between answer choices.

Rules aren’t helpful here: you just have to think deeply and precisely about how, exactly, a small tweak to the sentence will change the meaning of the sentence. And that’s really, really hard – which is why it tends to separate the low-40s verbal scores from the mid-to-high-40s scores.

So here’s what we always tell our students to do on SC, regardless of whether they're chasing a 46V or something more modest:

  • Step 1: cross out the answer choices with any concrete, definite, rule-based errors. (I’ll bet that most of you are already pretty darned good at this part – especially a guy like gmat2k17, with his 41V.)
  • Step 2: compare the remaining answer choices, and figure out EVERY difference between each pair of choices. Then, see if you can figure out how those tiny little differences might impact the meaning.

Almost without exception, there’s room to improve at step 2, partly because every hard GMAT SC question is just a little bit different from the next one. I have plenty of criticisms of the exam, but the test-writers are definitely creative and crafty, and they’ll keep you on your toes when it comes to the meaning of SC sentences.

Basically, your job is to become really precise at identifying those little differences. You’ll never see the same little difference twice – but eventually, you’ll start to “get inside the GMAT’s head” and develop a super-sharp instinct for these things.

Here are a few of my favorite official examples with some funky little meaning details embedded in them:


If any of you have favorite examples of really tough, meaning-based OFFICIAL SC questions, post ‘em below. Would love to hear which ones have helped you get inside the GMAT’s head. :-D

Go kick some butt, gmat2k17!
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SC articles & resources: How to go from great (760) to incredible (780) on GMAT SC | 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?

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Re: How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 14 Apr 2017, 16:29
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Thanks a lot GMATNinja.

Thanks for taking out time and writing this detailed post for me. I'm sure it will help others as well.
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How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 19 May 2017, 10:07
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wow... this is really helpful. Thanks!
I wish I could give 100 kudos :)
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Re: How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 19 May 2017, 15:07
Thank you, yashbabu! So glad to hear that it's helpful!
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Beginners' guides to GMAT verbal: RC | CR | SC

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SC articles & resources: How to go from great (760) to incredible (780) on GMAT SC | 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?

RC, CR, and other articles & resources: All GMAT Ninja articles on GMAT Club | Using LSAT for GMAT CR & RC |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 | Time management on verbal

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Re: How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 23 Jun 2017, 02:27
Great post (like always :)) GMAT Ninja.
Your posts always clear doubts.

I need your help though. I have been trying to get answers to some specific SC rules and searched various sites and videos on youtube but still I am confused and lack understanding on those rules.

Is it possible, if I pm you the doubts and you provide your understanding on them. Please let me know.

Thanks :)
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Re: How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 24 Jun 2017, 13:19
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Shiv2016 wrote:
Great post (like always ) GMAT Ninja.
Your posts always clear doubts.

I need your help though. I have been trying to get answers to some specific SC rules and searched various sites and videos on youtube but still I am confused and lack understanding on those rules.

Is it possible, if I pm you the doubts and you provide your understanding on them. Please let me know.

Thanks


Thank you for the kind words, Shiv2016! I'll be honest: I get absolutely buried in PMs and have zero hope of responding to all of them -- and in the spirit of the GMAT Club community, public discussions are always better. So could I trouble you to start a thread (or multiple threads) with your questions? And then tag me in it, and I'll do my best to respond there.

Thanks!
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SC articles & resources: How to go from great (760) to incredible (780) on GMAT SC | 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?

RC, CR, and other articles & resources: All GMAT Ninja articles on GMAT Club | Using LSAT for GMAT CR & RC |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 | Time management on verbal

SC & CR Questions of the Day (QOTDs), featuring expert explanations: All QOTDs | Subscribe via email | RSS

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Re: How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 31 Mar 2018, 08:10
Quote:
If you’re applying the most basic form of the “which” rule, you’d conclude that “which” is trying to modify “Susan Huntington Dickinson”, right? And you’d say that this sentence is incorrect – but it turns out that it isn’t. Check out the full discussion here: https://gmatclub.com/forum/emily-dickin ... 10142.html

The inmates of Arizona state prison who are selected by the state forest department to work as wilderness firefighters eat in the same cafeterias, sleep in the same campsites, and wear the same uniforms as their professional counterparts do, defying the rigid relationship barriers enforced inside prison walls.
GMATNinja
Do we need the pronoun "who" in the above sentence.
I believe that without the pronoun "who" the sentence "The inmates of Arizona state prison are selected by the state forest department" works fine, since "of Arizona state prison" is a prep. phrase.
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Re: How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 28 Apr 2018, 19:27
GMATNinja, the oversimplification of SC in three broad categories is incredible
+1 thanks
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Re: How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 13 Oct 2018, 02:56
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Thank you so much GMATNinja.

This post comes in very handy even for people who have already spent some time studying SC.

I think you are the Bunuel of the verbal section! :)
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Re: How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 13 Oct 2018, 19:00
Arro44 wrote:
I think you are the Bunuel of the verbal section! :)

I have a really, really long way to go! :)
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SC articles & resources: How to go from great (760) to incredible (780) on GMAT SC | 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?

RC, CR, and other articles & resources: All GMAT Ninja articles on GMAT Club | Using LSAT for GMAT CR & RC |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 | Time management on verbal

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Re: How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 25 Oct 2018, 09:04
Thank you! Found this very helpful, SC is my biggest area to improve :)
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Re: How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 03 Nov 2018, 13:38
This is really helpful. Although mine is not a 760 to 780 aspiration, it is about 700ish in mocks to 750ish on the GMAT. Such info shall really help. Thank you once more!
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Re: How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 29 Nov 2018, 10:41
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GMATNinja wrote:
If any of you have favorite examples of really tough, meaning-based OFFICIAL SC questions, post ‘em below. Would love to hear which ones have helped you get inside the GMAT’s head. :-D


I liked this question and your explanation as well. Thanks for all your efforts, means a lot :)

https://gmatclub.com/forum/heirloom-tom ... 75868.html
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How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 13 Dec 2018, 05:35
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GMATNinja GMATNinjaTwo, have you noticed the change in the SC questions, after the recent site upgrade, i feel i see the difficulty level of question has gone up drastically -- i started with V33 (i used to skip all RCs n get most of SC /CR correct) -- n now i dont understand what i see [panicking a l'll :cry: ]
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Re: How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 09 Jan 2019, 14:25
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gmatns2018 wrote:
GMATNinja GMATNinjaTwo, have you noticed the change in the SC questions, after the recent site upgrade, i feel i see the difficulty level of question has gone up drastically -- i started with V33 (i used to skip all RCs n get most of SC /CR correct) -- n now i dont understand what i see [panicking a l'll :cry: ]

Sorry, but the SC questions definitely haven’t undergone any major changes at all lately. I can criticize the GMAT in all sorts of ways, but it’s a very carefully standardized test, and scores from this month need to be directly comparable to scores from, say, four years ago. So the test’s creators definitely do NOT make major changes to the structure of SC questions – or any other type of question – without very clearly warning us first.

So if you’re saying that the actual GMAT exam is getting harder, I’m afraid that the perceived change has something to do with your own mindset (maybe some anxiety?), and not any changes to the exam itself. Sorry for the bad news!

And for whatever it’s worth, skipping all of the RCs does not sound like a good strategy at all, unless you’re going to be happy with something like a 30V. Inevitably, you’ll miss some very easy RC questions with that approach, and on an adaptive test, if you miss easy questions, you’ll have a hard time getting even a slightly above-average score. There’s no magic bullet for improving speed and accuracy on RC, but you might want to start with this article or maybe this video.

I hope this helps a bit!
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Beginners' guides to GMAT verbal: RC | CR | SC

YouTube LIVE verbal webinars: all videos by topic

SC articles & resources: How to go from great (760) to incredible (780) on GMAT SC | 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?

RC, CR, and other articles & resources: All GMAT Ninja articles on GMAT Club | Using LSAT for GMAT CR & RC |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 | Time management on verbal

SC & CR Questions of the Day (QOTDs), featuring expert explanations: All QOTDs | Subscribe via email | RSS

Need an expert reply? Hit the request verbal experts' reply button; be specific about your question, and tag @GMATNinja. Priority is always given to official GMAT questions.
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Re: How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 19 Jan 2019, 06:03
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I wrote this for somebody on our SC "ask me anything" thread, and thought that I should repost it here, in case it's of interest to anybody who passes through this thread:

almazovniko wrote:
Around 10% of the GMAT test takers score V40+ and about 1% score V45+. That could be a major boost for someone's total GMAT score. For Quant we can practice and practice until we eventually see so many problems that on the exam we immediately recognize what is being asked. The Verbal Reasoning is a different animal, with less practice questions available (Gmatninja recommends only OG questions). What are some key things that you notice candidates that score above V45 do? What are V40-42 candidates are not doing enough of?

Personally, I know that for SC I have been not reading for meaning enough. This is something that I have been working on.

Appreciate your insights.

Best,
Niko

Your question is a really good one, and also a really tricky one.

On one hand, there isn't necessarily a huge difference between a V42 and a V45 -- that's just a few questions, so there's some luck involved once you're already that high on the score scale. It's actually one of the things that drives me nuts about MBA admissions: the difference between a 42V and a 45V is very often the difference between rejection and admission to top MBA programs, but those three points don't mean much in terms of your actual skill. Somebody with 45V-level skills could score a 42V just because of bad luck, and somebody with 42V-level skills might score a 45V because of good luck. :idontknow:

So that's a long-winded way of saying that the GMAT arms race is out of control, and nobody should care AT ALL about the difference between a 40-42V and a 45V. But in reality... yeah, a lot of test-takers need a 45V to accomplish their MBA goals. It stinks, but that's the world we live in now.

Rant over. On to your question, finally!

I do think that 45V scorers are fundamentally different from 40-42V scorers in one key way: the high-scorers are generally more precise readers. That's not a sexy answer, but it's definitely the dominant factor.

When I use the term "precise reader", I mean the difference between getting the general meaning of a passage (or paragraph, or sentence, or phrase), and grasping the EXACT meaning. Somebody who is in the 40-42V range will pretty much always understand the essence of an RC/CR passage or an SC sentence, but they won't always pick up on EVERY little nuance of the passage or sentence.

For example, on a really hard SC question, the difference between the right and wrong answer is usually just some subtle distinction of meaning (more on that in this article and this video). The same is true on RC and CR: once you're above a 40V, you probably always understand the essence of the passage, but missing or misinterpreting a tiny tweak of language can cause you to miss a few of the tougher questions.

I know: that's not exciting. And there's no real formula for improvement from 40-42V to 45V, other than getting exposure to good, hard questions, and trying to focus more intensely on those differences in meaning. LSATs are a nice tool if you're trying to break through to a super-elite score, but they aren't magical, either.

I hope this helps a bit!
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Beginners' guides to GMAT verbal: RC | CR | SC

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SC articles & resources: How to go from great (760) to incredible (780) on GMAT SC | 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?

RC, CR, and other articles & resources: All GMAT Ninja articles on GMAT Club | Using LSAT for GMAT CR & RC |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 | Time management on verbal

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Re: How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 28 Sep 2019, 01:34
GMATNinja. CAn you also share similar strategies for CR?
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Re: How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC  [#permalink]

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New post 28 Sep 2019, 10:15
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ArtVandaley wrote:
GMATNinja. CAn you also share similar strategies for CR?

You're looking for strategies for going from "great" to "incredible" on CR? Unfortunately, there's no particular test-prep method that will increase your CR skills from, say, the 90th percentile to the 99th percentile.

That's exactly the point I was making in my most recent post: to make that type of leap on CR and RC, you basically need to learn to be incredibly precise in your reading, and that's not something that a test-prep instructor can really teach you to do. Sure, there are basic principles that always apply (these, for example), but if you're able to get your CR to the 90th percentile, you've probably mastered those basic principles, and you've probably mastered the fundamental logic of CR. Those last ~10 percentile points mostly just come from mind-blowingly precise reading skills, and there's no shortcut or gimmick that can help somebody develop those.

It's not sexy, but that's the reality for the vast majority of test-takers.

I hope this helps a bit!
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Beginners' guides to GMAT verbal: RC | CR | SC

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SC articles & resources: How to go from great (760) to incredible (780) on GMAT SC | 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?

RC, CR, and other articles & resources: All GMAT Ninja articles on GMAT Club | Using LSAT for GMAT CR & RC |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 | Time management on verbal

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Re: How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC   [#permalink] 28 Sep 2019, 10:15
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How to improve from great (760) to incredible (780!) on SC

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