So you’ve spent hours studying grammar, learning rules and memorizing idioms. You now know the difference between past progressive tense and past perfect tense. You can recite the SANAM pronouns by heart, and the parts of speech are second nature. Despite these efforts, however, GMAT sentence correction questions still give you a headache, and on every question, you kill precious time reading and re-reading answer choices, comparing each option to the original.
If this sounds familiar, your sentence correction practice is missing an approach – a systematic method to help you work through questionsaccurately and efficiently. As you may have realized, mastering sentence correction requires more than just knowing the rules of grammar: You must also learn how to spot the errors in questions, and the best way to do this is to recognize which grammar concepts are being tested in each question.
Recognizing the grammar concepts being tested in a question guides you to the correct answer. Instead of jumping back and forth between answer choices, recognizing the concepts helps you zero-in on errors, and it takes the guess work out of finding the correct answer. The following steps will show how to do this.
Rather than reading the passage and then all the answer choices, momentarily ignore the original passage and read through each answer choice. Quickly compare each answer choice, noticing the changes between each answer. What words or phrases change? What about verb tense, voice and mood? The differences among the answer choices are your first clues to what concepts or grammar rules the question is testing. Keep these in mind as you move to step two.
For some questions, the correct answer may appear to you just through noticing the differences among answer choices, but don’t select an answer without reading the original sentence first. Often the key to the question will be in the non-underlined part of the sentence – for example, a time indicator that signals the correct tense or an antecedent to a pronoun. The original sentence should also be read in order to understand its meaning. Remember, the correct answer must preserve the original meaning of the sentence.
With the differences you noticed among answer choices and any clues from the non-underlined part of the original sentence, you should now know or at least have a good idea of the grammar concept(s) being tested by the question. Now, it’s simply a matter of recalling the rules associated with this concept or concepts and eliminating answers that break these rules.
The advantage of this method is that with some practice, you’ll begin to notice patterns in questions. For each question that tests a specific concept, certain errors will repeat, and as you practice recognizing each concept as it appears in a question, your mind will be primed to spot the errors in the answer choices. Not surprisingly, your speed and accuracy will increase.
In the next post, we’ll demonstrate this method on a sample GMAT sentence correction question.