GMAT Impact: Meaning in Sentence Correction

When it comes to the GMAT, raw intellectual horsepower helps, but it is not everything. In this weekly blog series, Manhattan GMAT’s Stacey Koprince teaches you how to perform at your best on test day by using some common sense.

Over the past year or so, the official GMAT has been placing more emphasis on meaning in Sentence Correction (SC). A higher proportion of questions require us to decipher the meaning of ambiguous or illogical sentences rather than just analyzing the sentences’ grammar.

I am writing about this today for two reasons. First, a lot of students haven’t realized that this is happening and so haven’t been paying much attention to meaning in their studies. If this might apply to you, start investigating how meaning plays into sentence correction (there are many more posts on the Manhattan GMAT blog in addition to that one).

I am also writing about this now because there is a fundamental difference in the way “meaning” sentences tend to be constructed that goes beyond the general idea that the sentence tests meaning. Many “pure grammar” SC questions have easy-to-identify “splits,” or differences in the answer choices. For example, answers A and B might use the word “have,” while C, D and E use the word “has,” indicating a relatively easy-to-spot singular versus plural issue.

In questions that are more focused on meaning, however, we tend to see more “global” differences: large chunks of the sentence moving around, changes in the fundamental sentence structure and so on. In one GMATPrep problem, for example, answer A includes the text “the brain growing in mice when placed” while B says “mice whose brains grow when they are placed.” This isn’t just a simple switch of a single word—something more complicated is happening. Take a look at this article for the full example.

If you are used to looking only for “simple splits,” then you are going to find these more complicated changes much harder to handle. Expect to see a higher proportion of these “complicated changes” sentences when you take the real test (compared to the proportion that you currently see in the GMAT Official Guide or in GMATPrep) and be prepared to handle them (here’s another example). Although the proportions may be lower in your study materials, plenty of examples of convoluted sentences and meaning issues exist. Seek out the tougher examples from official sources as much as you can!

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