Sample GMAT Sentence Correction Questions

We’ve already covered why studying with official practice questions is the best way to prepare for the GMAT. But even if you come up with the correct answer to an official problem, you still might not understand the underlying principles used to create that particular question, leaving yourself open to traps and pitfalls set by the test writers. In the explanations below, I will use some of the core tenets of the Menlo Coaching GMAT curriculum to breakdown two official GMAT sentence correction questions and provide important principles for correctly attacking this question type in the future. 

Along with data sufficiency, GMAT sentence correction is the most misunderstood question type. Sentence correction problems are expertly designed to assess good decision making—mainly your ability to leverage every little hint given in the answer choices before making your final decision. You absolutely need to have a certain level of grammar knowledge, but these questions do not test obscure grammar rules in a vacuum. Difficult and unusual constructions may be present, but you won’t need to really understand them to get the question correct if you are playing the game properly. 

When you are good at GMAT sentence correction, you use pure process-of-elimination and you leverage every clue in the differences between answers; when you are bad at sentence correction (most people initially) you look at each answer independently and pick the one you think “sounds” best. NOTE: most correct answers on hard questions sound weird and contain something you are not comfortable with, but the other four will be conclusively incorrect for concrete but well-hidden reasons. 

Given this fact, practicing with unofficial sentence correction problems is highly problematic, as these questions are not designed to reward the right strategies and are often marginally flawed. Consider this harder GMAT sentence correction problem from the free practice tests, which shows exactly how important it is to be highly analytical (leverage every clue) and focus on logical meaning in sentence correction:

Sentence Correction GMAT Sample Question #1

Unlike most severance packages, which require workers to stay until the last day scheduled to collect, workers at the automobile company are eligible for its severance package even if they find a new job before they are terminated.

  1. the last day scheduled to collect, workers at the automobile company are eligible for its severance package
  2. the last day they are scheduled to collect, workers are eligible for the automobile company’s severance package
  3. their last scheduled day to collect, the automobile company offers its severance package to workers
  4. their last scheduled day in order to collect, the automobile company’s severance package is available to workers
  5. the last day that they are scheduled to collect, the automobile company’s severance package is available to workers
Answer & Explanation
Correct answer is (D).

Answer choices (A), (B), and (C) contain an easy-to-spot comparison error that you should see quickly and confidently: “Unlike most severance packages, *** garbage modifier you should remove ***, workers/automobile company”. Since you cannot compare severance packages to either workers or an automobile company, these answers should be immediately eliminated. The question writers attempt to hide this comparison error by using a “which” clause between the two elements being compared, but that con is easily overcome by simply removing the modifying clause and checking the comparison without it.

The choice between (D) and (E) is hard—it is exactly the type subtle meaning issue that is used on most high-level GMAT sentence correction questions. People get pretty good at spotting concrete grammar errors (like the comparison error in (A), (B), and (C)), but they are not so good at spotting issues relating to illogical meaning. The only difference between (D) and (E) is this portion: 

– which requires workers to stay until (D) their last scheduled day in order to collect
– which requires workers to stay until (E) the last day that they are scheduled to collect

To get this correct, you must carefully analyze that change in wording and figure out what makes one logical and one illogical. In correct answer (D), the workers must stay until their last scheduled day (their last day of work) in order to collect the severance. Makes perfect sense and conveys the meaning properly and logically.

However, in (E), the workers have to stay until the last day that they are scheduled to collect. WAIT: this means that there are multiple days scheduled by the company for the workers to collect their severance, but they must stay until the last of those days to collect. That is completely illogical—why would there be multiple scheduled days for collecting severance if you only get it by waiting until the last day?!?! (E) subtly modifies the “last day” improperly: it is saying the last day in which they are scheduled to collect, when it is supposed to be their last “work” day. Only (D) does this properly. 

The ONLY way you will get this type of question correct is if you carefully analyze the changes between the two answers and figure out what makes one incorrect—either because of a grammar issue or because of an issue of illogical meaning. If you simply go back and forth between these two choices and pick the one you think sounds better, you would be better off flipping a coin! You can figure out why (E) is wrong, but only if you are highly analytical and learn how to spot well-hidden errors of illogical meaning. You will simply not find this type of hard, subtle meaning-error through unofficial GMAT sentence correction practice, and thus you will not be ready on test day unless you prepare with official questions.

Sentence Correction GMAT Sample Question #2

The growth of the railroads led to the abolition of local times, which was determined by when the sun reached the observer’s meridian and differing from city to city, and to the establishment of regional times.

  1. which was determined by when the sun reached the observer’s meridian and differing
  2. which was determined by when the sun reached the observer’s meridian and which differed
  3. which were determined by when the sun reached the observer’s meridian and differing
  4. determined by when the sun reached the observer’s meridian and differed
  5. determined by when the sun reached the observer’s meridian and differing
Answer & Explanation
Correct answer is (E). 

This commonly missed sentence correction problem has many great takeaways and highlights the importance of several key SC strategies. In your first analysis of this question, you should eliminate (A) and (C) for an easy-to-spot error of parallelism: you cannot mix and match a “which” relative clause with an “-ing” participial phrase to modify “local times.” “Which” and “differing” cannot go together: it must either be two relative clauses or two participial phrases. 
 
Answer choice (B) eliminates the error of parallelism in (A) and (C) but introduces a straightforward error of subject-verb agreement in the first relative clause. Since “local times” is a plural noun, the “which” clause modifying it must contain the plural verb “were determined,” not “was determined.” 
 
Most high-performing students are comfortable quickly eliminating (A), (B), and (C), but then struggle between (D) and (E), usually choosing incorrectly. As you can see with a quick analysis, the only difference between the two answer choices is “differed” vs. “differing” at the end of each. This is where a clever SC con comes into play: many people glance back at the first participial modifier “determined” and feel that only “differed” will make the sentence parallel, selecting incorrect answer (D). This inclination toward what I call “false parallelism” is a common attribute among test-takers, and the writers of official SC questions know this fact. 
 
While (D) might look more parallel than (E), it actually is not and creates a concrete error that you will only spot if you play the game the right way. For correct answer (E)—without getting too deep into the grammar weeds—both “determined” and “differing” are participial phrases that are used to properly modify “local times.” While they may look different (-ed vs. -ing), they are in the same form grammatically and each logically modifies “local times”. You would properly say “local times determined by when the sun reached the meridian” and “local times differing from city to city”. 

To realize that (D) is wrong, you need to remove the first part of the modifier—a strategy I call “getting rid of the garbage”—to see if “differed” really works. Would you ever write this sentence: “The growth of the railroads led to the abolition of local times, differed from city to city, and to the establishment of regional times.” No – but that is exactly what you have really chosen with (D)! You don’t notice the error unless you simplify the sentence because the first part of the duel participial phrases used before “differed” is correct. 
 
As you have seen with most of the official GMAT problems I have covered in these articles, you need to be highly analytical and critical to succeed on harder questions. Saying to yourself “I guess I’ll just pick the sentence that has two -ed forms together” ain’t going to cut it if you want a 700+!!!! For this example, you must carefully analyze which form is correct by removing the first part of the modifier and by understanding grammatically that (E) is actually parallel. Only then will you see that the participle “differing” is correct and the verb form “differed” is clearly incorrect. 
 
Most importantly, this problem teaches you a commonly used “con” in GMAT sentence correction questions: false parallelism. Just because one sentence may look or feel more parallel than another does not mean that is really the case! This example is particularly clever and hard because so many students think that an -ing participle is not parallel with an -ed participle, when in fact it is. When my students miss this question, I make sure they have gained two important takeaways: 1. Be ready for the “false parallelism” ploy and 2. Simplify sentences by getting rid of garbage to see if other components—a phrase, clause, verb, etc.—are really being used correctly.