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Using Splits on Sentence Correction

As I explained in an earlier post, the best strategy for GMAT Sentence Correction is most certainly NOT to read all five answer choices thoroughly.  That’s a strategy for disaster!  The most efficient way to tackle GMAT SC is to eliminate answer choices in batches using splits.   The most common splits are 3-2 splits, although others appear (4-1, 2-2-1, etc.)  How does one use splits to simplify GMAT SC?


An example problem

In order to demonstrate the strategy, I will show it employed on a question somewhat easier than any real GMAT SC question.

1) Herbert, not as his many friends, do not enjoy watching football.

A. not as his many friends, do not

B. not as his many friends, does not

C. unlike his many friends, do not

D. unlike his many friends, does not

E. unlike his many friends, nor does he

It’s true that valid splits don’t always appear at the beginning, but that’s always the first place to look.  Here, we are given a choice of two different openings for the underlined section: “not as his many friends” vs. “unlike his many friends.”  In order for a difference to constitute a true split, one option must be grammatically correct and the other, incorrect.   Recall the “like” vs. “as” distinction.  Here we are comparing nouns to nouns: we need “like“, not “as“.  The phrasing “not as” is incorrect here, and the phrasing “unlike” is correct.  On the basis of this 3-2 split, we can eliminate choices (A) & (B).

Another 3-2 split has to do with subject-verb agreement.  The subject is “Herbert“, a singular noun, so this demands the singular verb.  The singular “does” is correct, and the plural “do” is incorrect.  On the basis of this split, we can eliminate choices (A) & (C).

The first four choices have “do not“/”does not“, but choice (E) has a completely different structure.  Choice (E) has one verb, “does … enjoy“, and two candidate for the subject, “Herbert” & “he“.  This is the double-subject mistake.  Therefore, we can reject (E) as well.

On the basis of all these splits, we can eliminate four answer choices, and we are left with the OA of (D).


Using splits in practice

That sentence was too easy,” you may say. “How do I employ splits in harder SC questions?”  Well, here’s the catch.  Understanding the idea of splits, in principle, is not hard at all.  What’s hard is understanding GMAT grammar.   You have to have a sharp understanding of all the grammatical, logical, and rhetorical distinctions in order to recognize splits.  Everything is very easy when, as in the sentence above, all five answer choices follow the same pattern, and obvious individual pieces are just swapped in and out.  More complicated GMAT SC questions will change the order radically from one answer choice to the next, and everything about splits gets harder.  Keep in mind, though: what’s really hard is not the idea of splits itself.  You don’t need to understand splits in the abstract any better.  Instead, you need to understand the content of GMAT Sentence Correction better.


False Splits

I will reiterate something I mentioned above.  A true split implies a true grammatical difference, a right way vs. a wrong way to say something.  The GMAT loves to create answer choices that have some kind of cosmetic difference —- two different ways of saying the same thing that are both correct.  That constitutes a false splitNot every difference is a split!  Sometimes, there simply are two different yet grammatically correct ways to say the same thing.  Here are a few examples of potential false splits:

False Split #1

P, an example of Q, .”

Q, exemplified by P, …”

False Split #2

P resulted in Q …”

P caused Q .”

False Split #3

P preceded Q …”

Q followed P …”

False Split #4

The difference between P and Q …”

The distinction of P from Q …”

Each one of the above structures is grammatically and idiomatically correct in and of itself.  Different ones may be correct or incorrect depending on what follows in the rest of the sentence.  The point is: just because two grammatical structures look different or use different words doesn’t automatically mean that the difference constitutes a valid split.  The GMAT loves to catch gullible test takers in false splits.  In particular, the GMAT loves beginning the answer choices with a false split, because the beginning is always the first place folks check for splits.



Using splits is a useful strategy, very simple in the abstract, but using it effectively means mastering all the content of GMAT Sentence Correction.   Here’s a further practice sentence, considerably more GMAT-like than the above sentence.


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