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【GMAT Tip】What Makes Difficult Verbal, Well, Difficult?

【GMAT Tip】What Makes Difficult Verbal, Well, Difficult?

Sometimes we overhear students claiming that there is “no way” a Sentence Correction question would appear in 700-level difficult verbal questions. It is “just grammar” and difficult verbal questions could only be something like Critical Reasoning with really difficult logic you have to decipher, right?

Wrong. The GMAT has a wealth of 700-level questions and all questions are created and offered up equally, including sentence corrections. For this level of questions, the GMAT often likes to offer up a long sentence with a lot of comma and working components, making it different to figure uncover subjects, verbs, agreement, and parallelism…to start. A great example of one of these sentence types can be found below:

Beginning in 1963 with General Motors and lasting until the end of a second stint with General Motors, which he helped successfully guide out of bankruptcy in 2009, Bob Lutz saw his career as one of the automotive industry’s true visionaries span nearly fifty years, two continents, four separate automakers, and responsibility for countless industry innovations.

Let’s start by reading through the sentence, not considering the answer choices just yet. If we were to consider it “just grammar” then we’d really just read through the sentence first, correct it in our heads, and select an answer choice that matches up with our thinking.

Our first start to the sentence mentions “1963” which suggests that there may be an issue with tense later on down the line. The structure of the sentence implies there also may be a modifier error, as it is a descriptive phrase with a comma, followed by a long underlined portion. But, once we feel like we’ve gotten our bearings on the right decision points, 2009 appears, suggesting that it may be harder for us to figure out tense agreement than we first thought.

Moving on to the underlined portion… wow, there are a lot of commas! “Nearly fifty years, two continents, four separate automakers” – so is then there also a parallelism issue? Is the sentence constructed poorly? This must be a terribly written sentence. We’ll need an answer choice that completely rewrites the sentence, right?

With so many possibilities, it is clear that not only is this a difficult sentence correction question, but also that simply trying to “correct grammar” and not using an effective strategy will not lead you down the right path to a correct answer. You have to allow the GMAT to hint to you what you should focus on correcting or, rather, the decision points to a right answer. Assessing the answer choices is one big component of that strategy. If we look at our options with Bob Lutz:


  • Bob Lutz saw his career as one of the automotive industry’s true visionaries span nearly fifty years, two continents, four separate automakers, and responsibility for countless industry innovations
  • the career of Bob Lutz, one of the automotive industry’s true visionaries, has spanned nearly fifty years, two continents, four separate automakers, and countless industry innovations
  • Bob Lutz’s career as one of the automotive industry’s true visionaries has spanned four separate automakers, two continents, and responsibility for countless industry innovations over nearly fifty years
  • the career of Bob Lutz, one of the automotive industry’s true visionaries, spanned two continents over nearly fifty years, during which time Lutz was responsible for countless industry innovations at four separate automakers.
  • Bob Lutz has seen his career as one of the automotive industry’s true visionaries span nearly fifty years, two continents, four separate automakers, and countless industry innovations that he was responsible for

So, the first one is that it is either Bob Lutz or his career that needs to come after the comma. What began in 1963 but ended its second stint in 2009? Unless Bob Lutz has nine lives, it is most likely this career. Easily that helps us narrow the right answer down to 50/50 – B and D.

The next apparent decision point within the answer choices is “has spanned” versus “spanned.” But, if we keep the mindset of it is not “just grammar,” we will realize the sentence construction of answer choice D makes more sense, and does not just go down the path of a jumbled list of things.

The more you practice, the more you’ll start to uncover how much more important strategy and leveraging the information you are provided is essential to getting to the right answer – not just your knowledge of odd formulas, rules, and information.

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