GMAT sentence correction questions are part of the verbal section of the GMAT. Anyone can dramatically improve their score by understanding what’s tested in the GMAT sentence correction section and practicing deliberately to understand why the correct answer is indeed correct and developing the ability to identify and avoid common pitfalls.
The verbal section has 36 questions and usually 12-14 of them are GMAT sentence correction questions. With these questions, you are presented with a sentence, part or all of which is underlined. There are five answer choice options, and each one is a different way to replace the underlined part. The first answer is always the same as the underlined portion, but next four are different, and your task is to choose the answer choice the reflects the best way to write the sentence.
What do GMAT sentence correction questions test?
These types of questions test your ability to use the English language accurately, effectively, and as concisely as possible. Regarding the grammar concepts, skills, and rules you need to master, the GMAT sentence correction section tests your understanding of eight main concepts:
Odd or inappropriate comparisons
When trying to make comparisons in English, without intending to, writers and speakers often end up comparing things that aren’t the same and can’t be compared. Some GMAT sentence corrections ask you to re-write sentences to correct for this. For example, consider “Frank loves running more than his wife.” This sentence literally means that Frank would potentially rather be married to the act of running than to his wife. One would need to write “Frank loves running more than his wife loves running.”
Many GMAT sentence correction comparison questions are much more complicated than this, but the basic idea is the same; you need to make sure the sentence is written such that the comparison that is intended to be made is the one actually being made with the words as written.
Agreement between subjects and verbs
Often GMAT sentence corrections simply ask you to make sure the subject of the sentence and its verb match. This means that if the subject is singular, its verb needs to be singular, and if the subject is plural, its verb needs to be plural. And usually, the sentence will be somewhat complex, with phrases in between the subject and the verb to throw you off. For example, the sentence “students, assuming weeks of studying, succeeds on exams” has a subject of students, which is plural, and a verb, succeeds, which is singular (i.e., “he succeeds” but “they succeed”). So “succeeds” should be “succeed.”
Idioms are simply about understanding common ways of saying things in English. These can be tricky and frustrating for non-native speakers but are generally easier for native English speakers to work through. Examples would be that you agree “to” something, but we agree “with” someone. Or, we distinguish A from B, but we distinguish between A and B.
Accuracy and consistency of verb tenses
This concept is about making sure that, in general, the verb tense remains the same throughout a sentence. To use an obvious example, one might say “we were running around the track when our coach unexpectedly appeared.” But, “we were running” is something happening in the past, and so it should be “unexpectedly appeared.”
To correctly answer GMAT sentence correction questions that involve pronoun usage, it’s helpful to know that pronouns stand in for nouns, and those nouns are called “antecedents.” So, in the sentence “Mark left his jacket at the restaurant” the antecedent noun is Mark and the pronoun is his. In GMAT sentence correction questions, the most common issue involves the antecedent being ambiguous or unclear. So, for example, if I write that “James and Frank rode his car from San Diego to Los Angeles” it’s unclear whose car was driven by San Diego to Los Angeles. Instead, I’d need to write something like “James and Frank rode Frank’s car…”
Parallelism is about making sure related parts of your sentence “match.” You can’t write that you really enjoy playing basketball, reading, and to cook. Instead, you enjoy playing basketball, reading, and cooking.
Usage of modifiers
If I were to write “A hardworking, intelligent, and honest man, the bank robber was no match for the town sheriff” you’d probably notice that something didn’t seem right. The hard working, intelligent, and honest man is the town sheriff, not the bank robber. You’d need to re-write the sentence to something like “The bank robber was no match for the town sheriff, a hardworking, intelligent, and honest man.” GMAT sentence correction questions are often more complicated and confusing than this, but that’s the idea.
In business, one generally wants to be as simple, clear, and concise as possible because this tends to reflect higher levels of efficiency and productivity in an organization. It makes some sense then that on the GMAT, the ability to recognize unambiguous, concise, clear language is tested in the sentence correction section. For example, one might write “At the end of the day, it was still possible to accomplish every single thing.” However, it would be more concise to write “Still, it was possible to accomplish everything.”
Almost all GMAT sentence correction questions end up falling into one of the above categories. While it can be helpful to study some grammar rules and understand and be able to define and identify nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, etc., it’s probably more important to simply understand how these eight concepts operate within the realm of the GMAT and do a lot of practice questions to build, test, and refine your understanding.