Like so many potentially frustrating questions on the GMAT, sentence correction questions can best be approached methodically and patiently. Armored with a bit of knowledge and training, any GMAT test taker will find it possible to move through these questions with efficiency and ease. Indeed, with the right preparation, your performance on sentence corrections might boost your overall score!
The reason for this is simple: since there are only a few variations to be mastered in these questions, this makes it a cinch to anticipate these variations and prepare accordingly. Begin by being informed about what kinds of sentence correction questions are repeated with the greatest frequency. The most prevalent topics tested in sentence correction questions are Subject/Verb Agreement, Pronouns, Modification, and Parallel Structure. Let’s look at parallel structure questions. While these questions can involve “parallel structures” of a few different kinds, they require very little nuts-and-bolts knowledge of grammar.
With a bit of practice, identifying questions concerning parallel structure is simple enough. We mentioned that these questions are of a few different kinds, but let’s begin with general truths about parallel structure. First, parallel structure is less about grammar and more about style. This means that test-takers have a relatively easy time identifying parallel structure issues once they know what to look for, and that these issues are not hard to pinpoint and correct. Originating with classic rhetoric, parallel structure is a device used to keep consistent different parts of a sentence so as to minimize any friction or aspersion that might distract from the cogency of the sentence. Simply put, a sentence that uses parallel structure will allow for the best logical communication of an idea because it has “matching parts.”
The most straightforward example is one you see quite often in advertising or entertainment: a list of adjectives used to describe something – let’s say a new show on television. If the list reads, “Wild! Scandalous! Drama! Exciting!” it’s obvious that there is a discrepancy between the descriptive terms, namely that one of the terms, “drama,” is not an adjective at all, but rather a substantive or noun, and thus fails to accord with the other terms.
Parallel structure on the GMAT often comes in the form of a list of verbs prefaced by prepositions, as in the following example: “The cadet intended to register for classes, pass a physical fitness exam, and to ready himself for the coming year within the next month.” This sentence cannot be considered to be in parallel form because the preposition “to” is used indiscriminately throughout. In correct form, the sentence might read, “The cadet intended to register for classes, pass a physical fitness exam, and ready himself for the coming year…” It is equally correct, though less commonplace, to write, “The cadet intended to register for classes, to pass a physical fitness exam, and to ready himself for the coming year….” Keep an eye out for either possibility on the GMAT.
Another way parallel structure questions often appear is in comparing one quantity or quality to another. Think of these instances of parallel form as verbal proportions: the same way it is essential in the quantitative section to correctly match one part of a ratio with another part in a distinct way determined by the logic of the scenario, so, too, parallel structure questions require that you match part to part, whole to whole, and so on. To be more concrete, consider the following sentence: “When one compares the short stories of Kafka to Dickens, it’s easy to see which are more verbose.” This sentence fails to pass muster because it incorrectly compares the short stories of Kafka to Dickens, the man and author. Despite the use of “which,” the sentence thus leaves ambiguity as to whether it is Kafka’s short stories which are more verbose, Dickens himself, or Dickens’ short stories. Correctly stated, this sentence would read, “When one compares the short stories of Kafka to those of Dickens, it’s easy to determine which are more verbose.”
These are a few of the ways in which parallel structure questions may present themselves in the verbal section of the GMAT. Keep an eye out for disruptions in logic and your ear trained for ambiguity and asymmetry, and these questions are an easy way to amass points!