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Techniques for GMAT Sentence Correction Practice

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It's easier to say how not to study GMAT Sentence Correction than the other way around. Too many resources focus on the nitty-gritty of grammar rules. Sure, grammar rules are helpful, and occasionally you might benefit from knowing just what a dangling participle is, but that's not what the GMAT is testing.

What the test is really doing is determining whether you can recognize correct English sentences. It's that simple. Focusing on grammatical details instead of practicing actual Sentence Correction questions is like studying GMAT math by doing multiplication problems like 1,156 times 792.

What To Practice

When choosing study materials, my recommendation is always the same: wring every bit of practice you can out of the Official Guide. (And the supplemental Official Guide for Verbal Review.) The Sentence Correction questions you'll find there are more realistic than those in any other materials, and that difference will play a big part in how successful you are on test day.

The math sections of the Official Guide are organized by difficulty (the easiest questions are at the beginning, the hardest at the end), and the verbal sections are as well. But don't let that dictate your studying. The difference between the simplest and most challenging SC questions is less than that in math. You're not saving time by skipping the first half of the section; you're cheating yourself of valuable practice material.

How To Practice

Everything I wrote in a previous article, How To Do Practice Problems, applies here. I can be more specific, however.

The key to learning GMAT Sentence Correction is pattern recognition. (That's what grammar is, really: there are certain sequences of word types that fit together, and others that do not.) You'll learn the most about SC patterns from the questions you get wrong.

When you get a question wrong, look at it as a learning opportunity. Carefully read the explanation, and go back over all of the answer choices to see what differentiates the correct choice from the incorrect ones. (Pay special attention, of course, to the wrong answer that you chose.) Figure out the difference between your choice and the correct one, and try to generalize some rule from it. You may not always be right, but simply thinking about, for instance, the use of the word "only" will make you a better test-taker.

Just as important, look for recurring issues. If you have problems with verb tenses, that may be an issue for which you would benefit from some technical grammar review. A good tutor can spare you a lot of time here by focusing on the few tidbits you need; that's much more efficient than slogging through grammar textbooks.

Idioms

Some students spent a lot of time memorizing idioms. Idioms are phrases that don't necessarily follow general grammatical rules, but are nonetheless correct. (Think "less" versus "fewer"--that sort of thing.) The GMAT tests idioms, and there are some that you'll come across multiple times in your preparation.

But, rather than finding lists and lists of idioms, making flashcards, and driving yourself batty trying to remember which verbs go with "to" and which go with "from," let your practice determine which idioms you need to learn. If you find that you miss a question because you don't understand the difference between "like" and "as," by all means study that idiom. Learn which one goes with which.

The danger is spending that much time on dozens, even hundreds, of idioms that will never come up on the test. Some of those you probably know already, but once you start studying them, you'll be less confident when you see them on test day.

Frequency

As with anything else you study, it's important not to take too long between review sessions. You may not need to do Sentence Correction every day (as I recommend that do with math), but the frequency should be no less than once per week, and preferably greater.

Applying the study techniques I've described relies on a gradual increase in abilities. The longer you go between study sessions, the harder it will be to build on previous improvements, and the more total time you'll have to spend before you reach your score goal.

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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