Friday, August 28, 2015 at 6am

GMAT Verbal Analysis

GMAT sentence correction

Whether it’s because it’s the last section on the GMAT or because English isn’t your first language, GMAT verbal gives many test takers nightmares. Those two hurdles aside, verbal is also difficult because individuals try to study for it the same as they do quant: memorize concepts and practice problems. Verbal is much more strategy-based, however, and so below is an analysis of each question type and their most common question subtypes.

Sentence correction (SC)

The key to GMAT sentence correction is eliminating what you know isn’t correct, not identifying which sentence is correct. Since every sentence in sentence correction won’t be grammatically perfect, it’s a fool's errand to approach this question type any other way. Therefore, your first step on a sentence correction problem is to look for what Veritas Prep calls ‘decision points’. The following are the most commonly found sentence correction DPs.

P - Pronouns

Pronouns must be correct in both number and in what they’re referring to. If a pronoun is singular it must be referring to a singular subject and vice versa. Pronouns must also be presented so that they refer logically to their subject.

Another, albeit rare, error within the ‘pronouns’ category is the topic of ‘who’ vs. ‘whom’. To refresh, ‘who’ should be used when followed by a verb and ‘whom’ should be used when followed by a noun/phrase.

A - Agreement

Verbs in a sentence must agree in number, reference, and tense. If a verb is singular it must be referring to a singular subject and vice versa. Verbs must also be presented so that they refer logically to their subject.

Another common error deals with verb tense, especially the ‘past perfect’ and the ‘past perfect continuous’ tenses. To refresh, the ‘past perfect’ tense is used to describe a completed action that happened before something in the past. The ‘past perfect continuous’ tense is used to describe an action that was happening in the past and stopped when something occurred.

  • Past perfect: Ron discovered that Harry had lied to him.
  • Past perfect continuous: Hermione had been studying for two hours when they arrived.

L - Logical Meaning

Perhaps the most important and most vague error is that of logical meaning. Specifically, does the timeline of the sentence make logical sense, are the items being compared comparable, and is the sentence parallel? Once you eliminate the more obvious errors of pronouns and tenses, take a step back and analyze the sentence as a whole.

A logical meaning comparison error occurs when the sentence compares non-comparable items – think apples to oranges – or compares items in a non-parallel way. Parallelism is easy to spot because a correct sentence will use the complete form of one of the following common phrases:

  • Either … or …
  • Not only … but also …
  • Just as … so …
  • As many as …  
  • More than …

M - Modifiers

Feeding off the ‘logical meaning’ error, check to see if the modifiers are modifying what they’re supposed to in the sentence. The easiest way to do so is to find the modifiers and then find what it should be modifying. While there are exceptions, in general, noun modifiers must be directly next to the noun, but verb modifiers don’t have to be directly next to the verb.

Critical Reasoning (CR)

S - Strengthen

The correct answer choice will add new information to help strengthen the conclusion. To identify it in each of the below question subtypes, first look to the prompt for logical gaps in the argument. If the prompt argues that because A = B then A = C, a logical gap appears in that the argument must also explain that B = C. Find the gap and you’ll find the correct answer.

  • Strengthen

○     Example: Which of the following, if true, most strengthens the conservationist’s argument?”

○     Approach: Find the gap and you’ll find the correct answer.

  • Assumption

○     Example: The conclusion above is based on which of the following assumptions?

○     Approach: The correct answer choice will be the assumption that without it, the conclusion will fail. To find such an assumption, negate each answer choice – the one that voids the conclusion will be correct. For example, if smoking marijuana is illegal in Texas, it’s likely that your business plan for a marijuana dispensary in Austin will fail. Select the corresponding answer choice.

  • Resolve the paradox

○     Example: Crops need water to grow. While California is in the middle of a historic drought, crops are still being harvested. Explain the paradox.

○     Approach: Find the logical gap. In this example, there must be a force outside of the prompt that making the crops grow: man-made irrigation.

W - Weaken

The correct answer choice will add new information that will weaken the conclusion. To identify it in each of the below question subtypes, first look to the prompt for logical gaps in the argument. If the prompt argues that because A = B then A = C, a logical gap appears in that the argument must also explain that B = C. Find the gap and you’ll find the correct answer.

  • Weaken

○     Example: Which of the following, if true, would most undermine Sarah’s argument?

○     Approach: Find the gap and you’ll find the correct answer.

  • Plan

○     Example: Which of the following, if true, would increase the likelihood that the president’s plan will fail?

○     Approach: The key to the ‘plan’ question subtype is that selecting a new plan won’t weaken an existing plan. Instead, you need to identify what at the heart of the plan is flawed. For example, the president’s plan on pollution may be a good one or a bad one, but if China refuses to accept it, pollution will undoubtedly continue to increase.

  • Useful to evaluate

○     Example: Which of the following would be most useful to evaluate when deciding whether to defund the department?

○     Approach: Ask yourself, without this information - represented as an answer choice - will the argument fail? In other words, find the logical gap. In this example, perhaps the low ridership this year is related to a new private sector public transportation system opening and therefore, this result will likely continue.

I - Inference

The correct answer choice ‘must be true’ based on the conclusion outlined in the prompt. Analyze each answer choice with only that in mind - common errors result from basing the answer choice’s validity on assumptions or on information outside the scope of the prompt.

M - Method of Reasoning

This question type asks you to take a step back from the conclusion and analyze the argument as a whole. You’ll need to focus less on where the premises and conclusion are and more on why they’re included in the argument at all. Two subtypes within ‘method of Reasoning’ are:

  • Boldface

○     Example: In the argument above, the two sections in boldface play which of the following roles?

○     Approach: Read both bolded sections to determine their place in the argument’s structure. Choose the section that’s most obvious first and then use process of elimination to reduce your options for the section that’s more difficult for you. The answer choices will usually include a mention of the conclusion, so if you’re stuck, try to identify if either of the bolded sections are the argument’s conclusion - this will help eliminate some of the other answer choices.

  • Mimic the Reasoning

○     Example: Which one of the following illustrates a principle most similar to that illustrated by the passage?

○     Approach: On this subtype, focus more on the structure than the subject matter. The correct answer choice will use a similar style of reasoning as the prompt. However, while the two arguments must be logically linked in style, the order in which the premises and conclusions are presented in the answer choices don’t have to match that of the prompt’s conclusion.

Reading comprehension (RC)

Notes

Not exactly a GMAT question type, but on reading comprehension, your notes are the ‘straw that stirs the drink’. In order to answer the two question types correctly, taking quality notes is essential. These will include a summary of each paragraph’s main point and an explanation of the passage’s tone and purpose.

Overall

Use your notes to answer questions about the purpose of the reading comprehension passage, the author’s tone, and its main points. As the name indicates, this reading comprehension question type is all about your overall understanding of the passage.

Detail

Use your notes to reference where in the passage you should look to find the answer to one of these three main subtypes of ‘detail’ questions:

  • Specific

○     Example: All of the following symptoms of a heart attack were listed in the passage EXCEPT...

○     Approach: By definition, the correct answer will be found in the reading comprehension passage. Therefore, don’t select one unless you can prove that it’s listed in the passage. A simple subtype because all you have to do is regurgitate a few details.

  • Inference

○     Example: It can be inferred from the passage that Dr Jacoby...

○     Approach: The correct answer ‘must be true’, like CR, so you must prove that the passage would support the claim listed in the answer choices. Similar to the ‘specific’ subtype, but more reasoning than regurgitation is required.

  • Function

○     Example: The author mentions the International Space Station in the third paragraph to…

○     Approach: A blend of the ‘overall’ and ‘detail’ question types, this subtype asks about a specific detail, but in the context of the entire passage. Similar to ‘method of reasoning’ in CR, the correct answer choice will explain why the author included this detail in the passage. 

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Jon Taves is a CPA from Minneapolis, MN. He writes weekly about business-related topics, including his MBA journey, at EFEssays.com

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