GMAT SC: Wordy vs. Concise?

Concision is a good thing on GMAT SC, but can you have too much of this good thing?

As a general rule on GMAT Sentence Correction (and in life!), wordy is bad.  For example:

1) Buck Mulligan, who was a somewhat chubby person but who bore his weight with a kind of dignity, came from the head of the staircase, and he was carrying a bowl full of soapy lather, and on the top the bowl was a mirror and also a razor, and the mirror and razor were crossed on the top of the bowl. 

Yuck!  Now, compare this:

1) Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

There are good reasons why James Joyce chose the latter, not the former, for the first sentence of his masterpiece Ulysses.  If the former had been the first sentence, few people would have wrestled with the rest of that notoriously difficult tome.

Similarly, folks will lose focus reading your business memos and reports if they are needlessly wordy.  Business schools know this, which is why they value the Sentence Correction section of the GMAT.


Too Short: Words Crammed Together

Shorter is often better, but it’s possible to get too short.  One type of “too short” consists of words crammed together.  For example:

2) The Chicago plumber was visiting Tallahassee. 

3) Frank parks his firewood hauling truck behind the fence. 

For example, in the first one: what exactly is a “Chicago plumber”?  It implies that the entire city is some vast system of gaskets, and this guy specializes in keeping those municipal gaskets in shipshape.  Of course, that’s not what is meant. What is meant is: the plumber is from Chicago.  Similarly, there are special kinds of trucks (e.g. fire truck, dump truck, etc.), but a “firewood hauling truck” is not one.  Here are corrections to those sentences:

2) The plumber from Chicago was visiting Tallahassee. 

3) Frank parks his truck, in which he hauls firewood, behind the fence. 


Too Short: Illogical Equivalents

Another variety of “too short” consists of implying that two things are the same when in fact they are not.  For example:

4) The time I love most is eating ice cream. 

5) The voice that scares me most is my father angry. 

Admittedly, in colloquial speech, people talk this way.  On the GMAT, though, these are unacceptable.  The first illogically implies that “eating ice cream” is a specific “time,” in the same way that 2 pm is a specific time.  The second illogically equates a person,  the speaker’s father, with a “voice.”  The correct versions of these are a little longer:

4) The time I love most is when I eat ice cream.    

(or, what contains essentially the same information . . . )

4a) I immensely enjoy eating ice cream. 

5) The voice that scares me most is that of my father when he is angry. 


Pay attention to the ways in which these kinds of “too short” constructions show up in everyday speech.  When you hear one, write it down, and then try to revise it to GMAT Sentence Correction standards.  With practice, you will master the skill of making sentences short but not too short—a skill that will serve you well on the real GMAT.

Here’s a practice GMAT Sentence Correction:


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