Breaking the Rules of GMAT Grammar

I've been teaching the GMAT exam for too long.

I know that because not a day goes by that I don't spot GMAT grammar errors in the media. I’ve internalized every mistake and every technique employed on the sentence correction section and they now jump off the page at me, even when I'm not trying to identify them.

So you can imagine my surprise today when I read an old article penned by Lawrence M. Rudner, vice president of research and development and chief psychometrican at GMAC, and spotted a grammatical error in the very first sentence.

And it wasn't just any grammatical error; it was an error that has long been tested on the very exam that Larry writes and for which he is apparently responsible. In fact, it’s one of the easiest GMAT sentence correction errors to teach because it’s a one-trick pony, an error that gets fixed the same way every time.

25 Errors

Let me back up. There are about 25 core grammatical errors tested in the sentence correction section of the GMAT, each complicated by variations on its basic theme. These errors appear over and over on the test, and for those of us who long ago memorized the curriculum, they're extremely easy to identify and fix.

Larry managed to commit one of these errors in his very first sentence, where he writes:

“About 18 percent of all GMAT® test takers sit for the exam more than once, which creates the admissions challenge of deciding how and if to use multiple sets of scores. Should you consider only the most current scores?”

Those of you who have studied the exam with me probably spotted the error right away (because I emphasize this one in class).

It’s the word “if.” Larry should have said “whether.” He tests this ‘if vs. whether’ idiom all the time on the GMAT and yet he got it wrong in his own article. That encouraged me to read on, and to my surprise I found 16 more grammatical errors that are specifically tested on the GMAT exam!

Most of them fall into the broad category of pronoun errors. In fact, of the 17 GMAT-tested errors that appear in Larry’s article, 16 are pronoun errors. (Just for reference, there are eight different pronoun error types that appear on the exam.)

Larry displays a surprisingly consistent pattern: six times he refers to people using the pronoun “that” (it should be “who”), and 10 times he uses a pronoun that disagrees in number with the noun it refers to. (This "disagreement in number mistake" is the most commonly tested pronoun error on the exam.)

With a performance like that, Larry isn’t going to Wharton anytime soon.

Be Hardcore

I’ll admit that I’m a little obsessive about the GMAT. (Frankly, if I score a 790 I'm pissed.) But I would think that the guy who writes the exam would be as hardcore as the guy who teaches it. Apparently, that's not the case.

The Original Article

I’ll link you to the original article at the link below, and when I get time I'll highlight the GMAT errors for you.