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GMAT Tip: Put Sentence-Correction Questions on a Diet


GMAT Tip: Put Sentence-Correction Questions on a Diet

Photograph by Andrei Spirache/Getty Images

This tip on improving your SAT score was provided by Vivian Kerr at Veritas Prep.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7 percent) are considered obese. Sadly, this growing epidemic is evident on our beloved GMAT as well. Fat, bloated sentence-correction questions, some fully underlined, can overwhelm even the most seasoned test-taker. Remember, we always have the option to mentally “slim down” these fatties by removing the excess verbiage, modifiers, and phrases that muddle the true meaning of the sentence. Let’s practice cutting the fat to better see the clarity of the sentence with these easy tips.

Consider the following sentence correction question:

Like the traditional lutefisk and klippfisk that is prepared with dried cod steeped in lye as refrigeration was non-existent in early Norwegian homes, the bacalhau spoiling in early Portuguese dishes was prevented using drying and salting techniques to preserve nutrients and make the fish tastier.

Tip No. 1: Remove what’s unnecessary from the non-underlined portion.

Like the traditional lutefisk and klippfisk that is prepared with dried cod steeped in lye as refrigeration was non-existent in early Norwegian homes, the bacalhau spoiling in early Portuguese dishes was prevented using drying and salting techniques to preserve nutrients and make the fish tastier.

The word “that” starts a long relative clause that is non-essential here since we’re drawing a simple comparison. The phrase “in early Norwegian homes” is an example of an unnecessary prepositional phrase that can be omitted, and “the traditional” is a useless modifier in this context.

Tip No. 2: Remove prepositional phrases, modifying words and phrases, and other non-essentials from the underlined portion.

Like the traditional lutefisk and klippfisk that is prepared with dried cod steeped in lye as refrigeration was non existent in early Norwegian homes, the bacalhau spoiling in early Portuguese dishes was prevented using drying and salting techniques to preserve nutrients and make the fish tastier.

Keep the meaning and the flow of the sentence intact as best you can. The sentence should still make sense once you’ve removed the “fat” but it’s fine if you create a sentence fragment since we’re looking at understanding the basic meaning of the sentence. You can always put words back in to make sure the sentence expresses an independent thought—but our task at the moment is to streamline the sentence and check for specific grammatical errors.

Tip No. 3: Examine what’s left.

The best reason to put these sentence corrections on a diet is to see what’s left over once they’re trimmed down. Here, we can finally see all the pieces of the puzzle and check systematically for an error. The verb “was prevented” is correctly singular, while the verbs “to preserve” and “make” are nicely parallel. The error, if there is one, must be earlier in the underlined portion.

“Like” indicates a comparison between “lutefisk and klippfisk,” a compound noun, and “the bacalhau spoiling.” Can we compare two types of fish to “the spoiling”? Nope. The error has been spotted!

The correct choice will compare fish to fish, “lutefisk and klippfisk” to “bacalhau.” Let’s look at the answer choices:

(A)  the bacalhau spoiling in early Portuguese dishes was prevented using drying and salting techniques to preserve nutrients and make

(B) the bacalhau’s spoiling in early Portuguese dishes is prevented using drying and salting techniques to preserve nutrients, making

(C) that the bacalhau spoiled in early Portuguese dishes was prevented using drying and salting techniques to preserve nutrients, making

(D) early Portuguese dishes prevented bacalhau from spoiling using drying and salting techniques to preserve nutrients and make

(E) bacalhau itself was prevented from spoiling in early Portuguese dishes using drying and salting techniques to preserve nutrients, making

The correct answer is (E). Notice that the verbs “to preserve” and “making” are no longer parallel, but that can be overlooked since “making” is correctly used as a modifier in this revision. The most important thing is to fix the comparison (the original error) without introducing new errors.

Remember, it’s much easier to spot the error or get a sense of what the question is testing when you trim the fat. Focus on the non-underlined portion first, then the underlined portion, then take a step back and look at the meaning as a whole.

Vivian Kerr has been teaching and tutoring in the Los Angeles area since 2005. She graduated from the University of Southern California, studied abroad in London, and has worked for several test-prep giants tutoring, writing content, and blogging about all things SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT.

For more GMAT advice from Veritas Prep, watch “Spotting Pronoun Errors in GMAT Sentence Correction”


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