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GMAT Tip: Intended Meaning


One of the more popular methods for eliminating answer choices in GMAT sentence correction problems is to catch any answer choice that appears to distort the intended meaning of the original passage

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One of the more popular methods for eliminating answer choices in GMAT sentence correction problems is to catch any answer choice that appears to distort the intended meaning of the original passage

The GMAT Tip of the Week is a weekly column that includes advice on taking the Graduate Management Admission Test, which is required for admission to most business schools. Every week an instructor from a top test-prep company will share suggestions for improving your GMAT score. This week’s tip comes from Brian Galvin, director of academic programs at Veritas Prep.

One of the more popular methods for eliminating answer choices in GMAT sentence correction problems is to catch any answer choice that appears to distort the intended meaning of the original passage. Be aware, however, that using this yardstick alone can quickly lead you down the wrong path.

Consider these two answer choices to the following sentence correction problem:

Using modern radar devices, oil spills from ocean drilling platforms can be detected within minutes of their occurrence.

(A) Using modern radar devices, oil spills from ocean drilling platforms can be detected within minutes of their occurrence.

(E) Using modern radar devices, a safety technician can detect oil spills from ocean drilling platforms within minutes of their occurrence. (CORRECT)

If you focus on “intended meaning” here, you might be tempted to eliminate choice E since it seems to distort the original passage’s meaning with the inclusion of “a safety technician” in the sentence. But that misses the point of this exercise; choice A is incorrect because the modifier “Using modern radar devices” needs to describe an actor who can use such a device. As choice A is written, it does not provide such an actor, while E does. An oil spill can’t use a modern radar device, but a safety technician can.

The challenge with the “intended meaning” approach to sentence correction is that it suggests that a sentence can mean something other than what it explicitly says. In other words, it gives a little too much credit to answer choice A. You might read answer choice A and know what the author probably meant, but you need to be less forgiving on the GMAT. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong, even if it’s the original statement.

Your sentence correction strategy is to recognize that each sentence means exactly what it says, so if that meaning is illogical, the sentence must be changed. You need to hunt down and eliminate illogical meanings, even when they appear in answer choice A.

Brian Galvin has been with Veritas Prep since 2006 and has devoted himself to developing new and better ways to help students master the GMAT. He earned a 99th percentile score on the GMAT and has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in education from the University of Michigan. He has taught high school history in Detroit, worked in sales and marketing for the Detroit Pistons NBA franchise, and has completed an Ironman race.

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