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4 Challenging Comparison Questions on the GMAT

First of all, here are four challenging SC questions involving comparisons.  What could be better than SC questions about comparisons? (I couldn’t resist starting off a blog about comparisons with a comparison!)

 

1) For parts of his life, Burroughs, a writer in self-imposed exile, and in a similar way, Joyce lived a generation earlier, leaving Ireland and choosing to write about his homeland from a distance.

(A) Burroughs, a writer in self-imposed exile, and in a similar way, Joyce lived a generation earlier, leaving Ireland and choosing

(B) Burroughs was a writer in self-imposed exile, close to the way that Joyce lived a generation earlier, leaving Ireland and choosing

(C) Burroughs was a writer in self-imposed exile, somewhat as Joyce, who lived a generation earlier, left Ireland and chose

(D) Burroughs was a writer in self-imposed exile; a generation earlier, Joyce was a similar writer in self-imposed exile, leaving Ireland to choose

(E) a writer in self-imposed exile, Burroughs was similar to Joyce a generation earlier, leaving Ireland and choosing

 

2) Many acids corrode many metals, such as iron and copper, and oxygen does the same thing to them.

(A) Many acids corrode many metals, such as iron and copper, and oxygen itself does the same thing to them.

(B) Like many acids, oxygen itself has a corrosive effect on many metals, such as iron and copper

(C) Oxygen is like many acids in its ability to generate corrosive effect on many metals, such as and copper.

(D) Many metals, such as iron and copper, are corroded by oxygen itself; similarly, they are corroded by many acids.

(E) Corroding many metals, such as iron and copper, is a property of many acids, and, like these acids, of oxygen itself.

 

3) Zhuangzi had an interpretation of Daoism that was highly imaginative, but in terms of a lasting impact on the course of Chinese civilization this was not as influential as the interpretation of Confucianism of Mengzi, who was his contemporary.

(A) Zhuangzi had an interpretation of Daoism that was highly imaginative, but in terms of a lasting impact on the course of Chinese civilization this was not as influential as the interpretation of Confucianism of Mengzi, who was his contemporary

(B) Mengzi’s interpretation of Confucianism had a lasting impact on the course of Chinese civilization, whereas his contemporary Zhuangzi’s interpretation of Daoism, though highly imaginative, did not do this

(C) Zhuangzi had a highly imaginative interpretation of Daoism, but this interpretation had less of an impact on the course of Chinese civilization than his contemporary Mengzi, whose interpretation of Confucianism was more influential

(D) Zhuangzi’s interpretation of Daoism, though highly imaginative, did not have as lasting an impact on the course of Chinese civilization as had his contemporary Mengzi’s interpretation of Confucianism

(E) In terms of lasting impact, Mengzi’s interpretation of Confucianism influenced Chinese civilization more than the highly imaginative interpretation of Daoism by Mengzi’s contemporary Zhuangzi

 

4) A work with merits, The History of the United States (1801-1817), which Henry Adams thought was his masterpiece, has been neglected, and therefore, ironically, it is not as popular as his memoirs, The Education of Henry Adams, which he intended as a small publication for friends and which, after his death, went on to win numerous accolades, such as the Pulitzer Prize.

(A) A work with merits, The History of the United States (1801-1817), which Henry Adams thought was his masterpiece, has been neglected, and therefore, ironically, it is not as popular as his memoirs, The Education of Henry Adams, which he merely intended as a private publication for friends and which, after his death, went on to win numerous accolades, such as the Pulitzer Prize

(B) Henry Adams intended that his memoirs, The Education of Henry Adams, would be merely a private publication for friends, but it became a classic after his death, winning numerous accolades including a Pulitzer Prize; however, his ironic masterpiece, The History of the United States (1801-1817), was neglected

(C) Ultimately much more popular, winning numerous accolades including a Pulitzer Prize, the classic The Education of Henry Adams, the memoir published by Henry Adams and intended merely as a private publication for friends, as ironically compared to his neglected masterpiece, The History of the United States (1801-1817)

(D) Winning numerous accolades including a Pulitzer Prize, the classic The Education of Henry Adams, which he intended as a mere private publication for friends, was much more popular after his death then his masterpiece The History of the United States (1801-1817), which despite its merits was neglected with irony

(E) Henry Adams thought that his The History of the United States (1801-1817) was his masterpiece, but despite its many merits, this work has been neglected; ironically, his memoirs, The Education of Henry Adams, intended merely as a private publication for friends, became a classic after his death, winning numerous accolades including a Pulitzer Prize

 

Explanations for these problems will come at the end of this article.

 

Comparisons on the GMAT

Here is a list of other blog articles that discuss issues relevant to comparisons on the GMAT Sentence Correction.  I include in this list articles about parallelism, because comparisons are a special case of parallelism, and everything that is true about parallelism applies to comparison as well.  (Notice the complex comparison in the previous sentence!)

a) GMAT Sentence Correction: Comparisons

b) GMAT Sentence Correction: Parallelism

c) Parallelism on the GMAT Sentence Correction

d) GMAT Parallelism: Once Outside or Twice Inside

e) Dropping Common Words in Parallel on the GMAT

f) GMAT Sentence Correction: like vs. as

g) GMAT Comparisons: More vs. Greater and Less vs. Fewer

h) GMAT Idioms of Comparisons

i) GMAT Tuesdays with Kevin: Sentence Correction—Spotting Parallelism

j) GMAT Tuesdays with Kevin: Sentence Correction—Comparisons and Ellipses

Those articles cover many of the basic rules.  One way to practice is to look at all the comparisons all around us.  What comparisons are typical of advertisements?  What comparisons are typical of PR folks speaking for corporations?  What comparisons are typically for politicians to make?  Get curious about the which kinds of comparisons are more typical in which niches in the real world.  (Notice that the last sentence involved a comparison with relative clauses.)

 

One typical logical problem in comparisons

One of the GMAT’s favorite mistakes in comparison questions involves the confusion between subjective comparisons and objective comparisons.  If the main verb is intransitive, that is, a verb that does not take a direct object, then this ambiguity does not arise.

5) Chris runs faster than Mike, but Mike walks as fast as Chris.

In either half of that sentence, there is no ambiguity.  Clearly, in both cases, we are comparing Mike and Chris.

When the main verb is transitive, that is, one that takes a direct object, and the comparative term follows the [subject][verb][object] structure, then it can be unclear whether the intended comparison is with the subject or with the object, i.e. a subjective comparison vs. an objective comparison.  Consider this faulty sentence.

6a) Mike likes opera more than Chris.

That is a logically flawed sentenced, because it is open to two different readings:

6b) (the subjective comparison) Mike likes opera more than Chris does.

6c) (the objective comparison) Mike likes opera more than he likes Chris.

Version (6a) is logically flawed, because it does not allow us to distinguish between these two readings, the subjective comparison vs. the objective comparison.  Obviously, this is a very simply example sentence.  Do you spot the answer choices in the practice questions above in which this mistake is repeated?

FWIW, while I tremendously enjoy many operas, including Don Giovanni, Carmen, and Tristan und Isolde, I have considerably greater affection and esteem for my brilliant friend Chris, who, as it happens, is not nearly as fond of opera as I am. (That’s a very sophisticated comparison!)  De gustibus non est disputandum.

 

More sophisticated comparisons

For many of the more sophisticated SC questions involving comparisons, learning the rules of comparisons is not enough.  Beyond good grammar, a sophisticated sentence also employs superb logic and rhetoric.  Logical predication requires that comparisons compare like to like, and every comparison is completely clear and unambiguous.  Among other things, it involves not ambiguity between subjective comparisons and objective comparison: such ambiguity is a typical GMAT SC comparison mistake pattern.

Rhetorical construction is, in some ways, the most challenging aspect of GMAT Sentence Correction, because is the least rule-based and the most dependent on an “ear” for the language.   Non-native speakers find it particularly challenging for this reason.   Certainly part of rhetoric is concision, and part is avoiding redundancy.   Most of it, though, concerns the holistic structure of a sentence: is the sentence organized in a way that is powerfully cogent and meaningful?  In the answer choices of the four sentences above, the grammar rules of comparisons are obeyed in most of them, but there are a smattering of logic problems, and different answer choices are more or less successful rhetorically.

How does one learn what “rhetorically successful” means, especially if one is a non-native speaker?  This answer is simple to say: develop a habit of reading.   Someone aspiring to GMAT Sentence Correction mastery has to force herself to push through the most challenging and sophisticated reading possible on a daily basis.  It only through practice and repeated exposure that the brain can pick up the subtle patterns, and such acquisition leads to mastery.  I would also strongly urge you to read exceedingly carefully all the official explanations of rhetorically challenging Sentence Correction questions, such as those here; remember, you are looking, not so much for rules as for patterns.  Rhetoric is more about patterns than about rules.  (Both of those last sentences had wonderful comparisons!)

 

Summary

If the foregoing discussion gave you some insights, you may give the questions above another look.  If the four practice questions here still puzzle you, then read the official solutions below very carefully.  Continue to pay attention to comparisons in the real world.  Continue to push yourself through sophisticated reading.  To get a score higher than most people’s scores, you have to put in a more greater than effort than most people do.  (With that final comparison, we will conclude!)

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Practice problem explanations

1) (A) This is a sloppy illogical comparison.  It sounds as if Joyce, in living a generation earlier, was thereby similar to Burroughs.  The fact that Joyce was an expat writer seems incidental and unrelated to the comparison.  We gather that we are trying to compare two expat writers, and this version does not do this successfully.  Choice (A) is incorrect.

(B) This comparison is also illogical.  Burroughs was a writer the way that Joyce lived a generation earlier: one man’s writing is like the other man’s living.  This is illogical.  Choice (B) is incorrect.

(C) This is logically and grammatically correct.  It compares Burroughs as an expat writer to Joyce as an expat writer.  This is clear, direct, and strong.  This choice is promising.

(D) This changes the meaning.  What is similar about the two men is that they were both expat writers; the original does not imply that they had similar writing styles, but this is precisely what (D) suggests, calling Joyce a “similar writer.”  Joyce did a similar thing, but he didn’t write in a similar way.  Choice (D) is incorrect.

(E) This version makes it sound as if Burroughs, like Joyce, left Ireland.  That is not part of the meaning of the original sentence.

The only possible answer is (C).

 

2) (A) the prompt is somewhat unclear in meaning, and “does the same thing to them” is a very colloquial construction that would not be considered acceptable on the GMAT.  Choice (A) is incorrect.

(B) Here, the comparison is very clear.  This is grammatical correct and logically sound, a promising choice.

(C) The phrase “in its ability to generate corrosive effects” seems to be in a contest for longest and most awkward wording.  This is a ridiculously long way to say “can corrode.”  Choice (C) is incorrect.

(D) The passive structure is less than desirable.  Also, there’s a subtle rhetorical problem here.  The prompt and other choices suggest that it is expected that acids corrode metals, but it is a surprising departure from the norm that oxygen does as well.  Rhetorically, it is unusual to lead with the exception and then, as an afterthought, add the rule.  Choice (D) is incorrect.

(E) This is a very awkward indirect way of conveying the information.  The main action is congealed into a gerund and made the subject of the sentence, which has the effect of making the entire sentence less active and forceful.  Choice (E) is incorrect.

The only possible answer is (B).

 

3) A question about the great Daoist thinker Zhuangzi and the great Confucian thinker Mengzi, known in the West as “Mencius.”

(A) This option is grammatically correct, but it is indirect and wordy: the phrase “in terms of a lasting impact on the course of Chinese civilization this was not as influential as” is a bloated disaster.  Also, the double “of” prepositional phrases are awkward and ambiguous: “the interpretation of Confucianism of Mengzi.” This option is not correct.

(B) This option looks promising right up to the final word.  The pronoun “this” has as its antecedent an action, and a pronoun can’t represent an action.  The proper way to refer to a previously stated predicate is “to do so.”  If this option had ended with “did not do so,” then this would have been a compelling choice for the answer.  As it stands, this is incorrect.

(C) This has a few problems.  First of all, the repetition of the long word “interpretation” is a little clumsy.  More importantly, this commits the logical mistake discussed above.  Let

Z = Zhuangzi’s imaginative interpretation

CC = course of Chinese civilization

M = Mengzi

This sentence states

“Z had less impact on CC than M”

Is this a subjective or objective comparison??

subjective: “Z had less impact on CC than did M”

objective: “Z had less impact on CC than it had on M”

We get logically that the subjective comparison is the intended one, but the grammar does not make that clear: the wording as it stands is ambiguity, so this cannot possible be a correct answer choice.

(D) This one is grammatically correct, logically clear, and rhetorically sound.  This is a promising choice.

(E) Same logic mistake.  Let

M = Mengzi’s interpretation of Confucianism

CC = Chinese civilization

Z = the highly imaginative interpretation of Daoism by Mengzi’s contemporary Zhuangzi

This sentence states:

“M influenced CC more than Z”

Is this a subjective or objective comparison??

subjective: “M influenced CC more than Z did”

objective: “M influenced CC more than it influenced Z”

Again, we get logically that the subjective comparison is the intended one, but the grammar does not make that clear: the wording as it stands is ambiguity, so this cannot possible be a correct answer choice.

The only possible answer is (D).

 

4) A sentence about the great scholar Henry Adams (1838 – 1918)

Choice (A) is grammatically correct but clunky.  Notice that a lot of this sentence is passive: the books are the subjects, receiving the action of Henry Adams.  This makes a long sentence even wordier.  Rhetorically, this is a very poor choice.  Choice (A) is not out-and-out incorrect, but we dearly hope that we can find something better!

In Choice (B), the “irony” lies in the relative reception of the two books, despite Adam’s intentions.  It is incorrect to say that the masterpiece itself was “ironic.”  Also, notice there’s a subtle shift in meaning from saying that Adams “thought” that the History book was a masterpiece to simply calling it a masterpiece.   Choice (B) is incorrect.

In Choice (C), the phrase “as ironically compared” is very awkward.  The comparing itself is not necessarily done ironically.   The phrase after this is compressed, and doesn’t convey the entire ironic relationship of the two books.  Choice (C) is incorrect.

In Choice (D), the phrase “neglected with irony” suggests that the act of neglecting itself was done with irony.  That meaning differs from the prompt.  Also, it’s a little odd that the man’s name, Henry Adams, is introduced only via the title of his memoirs, and this mention in the title serves as the antecedent of a pronoun.  Choice (D) is incorrect.

Choice (E) has two active independent clauses, one on each side of the semicolon.  The semicolon allows us to “take a breath”: the pause helps to organize the information in a logical way.  The appearance of the word “ironically” immediately after the semicolon correctly situates the irony in the relationship of the two books and their relative receptions.  This is a considerably better answer than (A), and it is the best answer here.

Answer = (E)

 

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2 Responses to 4 Challenging Comparison Questions on the GMAT

  1. Matthew April 3, 2016 at 11:35 am #

    My question is about problem 3, option d. Shouldn’t it just be “Zhuangzi’s interpretation of Daoism, though highly imaginative, did not have as lasting an impact on the course of Chinese civilization as (‘had’ removed) his contemporary Mengzi’s interpretation of Confucianism”

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 5, 2016 at 10:02 am #

      Hi Matthew,

      If we remove the “had,” we are comparing how lasting an impact of Zhuangzi’s interpretation had directly to Mengzi’s interpretation. But we don’t want to compare it directly to Mengzi’s interpretation; we want to compare it to how lasting an impact Mengzi’s interpretation HAD.


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