I have been struggling with SC since the last 2 months. I have done the Manhattan GMAT SC Guide, as well as, the Official guide multiple times. But my scores are just not going up. I seem to know all the rules like the back of my hand but when it comes to the actual test I seem to make mistakes in the most obvious of places. What is worse is that even after practising so hard I don’t seem to figure out where I am going wrong. Is there anything – just about anything – I can do to improve my accuracy in SC?”

I perhaps have this question multiple times over the forums, over personal messages, over emails, and even in person. It intrigues me since I think the basic problem is for all to see but somehow we tend to not know this.

Let me start with a simple question. How many formulae are there in maths? Say about 100 in each topic MAX. So that makes it about 300 put together in arithmetic, geometry and algebra. Now let us say that you were to mug up these formulae, how long would it take? 50 a day, so maybe 6 days? A week at the max? So would that mean that in about a week’s time you will get 51?

Somehow when people are confronted with this logic it seems apparent the answer is NO. So why would you think that studying the rules of grammar are going to help you in Sentence Correction.

Let me clarify – rules of grammar are definitely very, very important. Without knowing the rules, as Metallica would sing, nothing else matters! I would go so far as to say that you will never reach beyond a raw score of 20-25 based purely on your reliance on “sounds right”. However you will have to realize that Grammar rules are the basic stepping stone.
I call this the totem-pole of Sentence Correction.

There are essentially 3 levels at which you get questions:

So what is happening here is something very simple -  you are doing well on questions which are placing the noun away from the modifier and do not have the right antecedent to the pronoun. However what confuses you is when the sentence becomes a wee bit more convoluted at the 700-800 level. At this point the “toughness” is not based on just knowing the rules. Let us sample this question from GMATPrep software:

As the former chair of the planning board for 18 consecutive years and a board member
for 28 years, Joan Philkill attended more than 400 meetings and reviewed more than 700
applications.

A. As the former
B. The former
C. Former
D. She was
E. As the

There is very little of room you have to “play around” with grammar. To begin with you know that this is a modifier that modifies Joan Philkill. What else? These are questions that leave you stumped and on which, after about 90seconds of indecision, you go ahead and mark an answer choice since it “sounds “right.

Let us try to see what it “means”. It says 2 things – (a) that Joan attended meetings and reviewed applications, (b) that she did it WHILE she was the chair of the planning board. Now, what does the word “former” mean? It means WHILE she was the FORMER chair of planning board she attended these meetings and reviewed those applications! Ofcourse not!

She did it during her tenure as the chair of planning board and not after that. So all answer options with the word “Former” are ruled out. A, B, and C eliminated. Did you end up choosing any of these?

Leaves you with just D and E. D starts with “She was” – making it an independent clause with a subject. Perhaps from your knowledge of the rules of grammar you will remember that this is a run-on sentence and hence incorrect. Leaves you with E - the right answer.
Through this example (from GMATPrep) I hope you have understood that a 700+ question will always be more elegant than to just test you on the technicalities of grammar.

Arun Jagannathan is the founder of CrackVerbal and is an expert on topics related to the GMAT and MBA abroad. He is excited about exploring various ways in which the GMAT can be taught as well as helping people with their career related queries. Arun is considered by many as one of the finest GMAT trainers, and an excellent MBA coach.

CrackVerbal was founded in 2006 and since then has catered to hundreds of students aspiring for an MBA from top business schools around the world. We attract exceptional GMAT tutors including MBA graduates from top programs such as ISB, Oxford, and IIM-A PGPX. Our curriculum and teaching methodology are continuously revised, toeing the changing pattern of the actual GMAT test each year. We have a well defined student-centric support system which aims to make the CrackVerbal experience awesome!

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