GMAT Sentence Correction Idioms

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For many test-takers, one of the most challenging parts of GMAT preparation is mastering the idioms that might be tested on Sentence Correction questions. The number of English idioms is staggering, and if English isn't your first language, you almost certainly won't learn them all. (If English is your first language, you probably won't learn them all either, but you'll probably do a better job of guessing.)

In fact, it isn't in your best interest to spend that much time learning idioms. Some are more important than others. In the relevant chapter of my Total GMAT Verbal, I distilled the list down to a couple dozen of the most common Sentence Correction idioms, but I would imagine that some of you would be interested in a more thorough selection.

I recently came across this group of 48 idioms in flashcard format, freely available online. Of particular interest are the last half or so of the list, most of which focus on comparison words, such as "either...or" and "less/fewer."

Those comparisons appear quite a bit more on the test than any other idioms you'll encounter. In fact, the first half of that flashcard list is a good example of the sorts of things not to spend time on. Verb/preposition pairs (such as "worry...about") do occasionally make an appearance, but there are thousands of verbs in the English language, many of which have unique quirks. No single verb/preposition pair is much more likely than another to show up on the GMAT.

Prioritizing Idioms

As always, consider how to best spend your finite study time. Sentence Correction makes up a little more than one-third of the 41 GMAT Verbal questions. Many of those questions won't hinge on your knowledge of a specific idiom. Some items that do test an idiom also test something else, such as subject/verb agreement or parallelism.

Even if you do learn hundreds or thousands of obscure idioms, you won't learn them all. Focusing on the "long tail" of GMAT idioms is like extensively studying interest, solids, or absolute value for the Quantitative section. Those concepts will occasionally appear, but you're preparing for one question--at most!--among dozens. Better to master the foundational skills you need to correctly answer the more common problems.



About the author: Jeff Sackmann has written many GMAT preparation books, including the popular Total GMAT Math, Total GMAT Verbal, and GMAT 111. He has also created explanations for problems in The Official Guide, as well as 1,800 practice GMAT math questions.

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