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Don’t you hate it when you’re working a GMAT Sentence Correction problem, you eliminate a couple clearly wrong answers, and yet you just can’t seem to choose between the remaining answer choices? The longer you look at them, the more they seem to blur together, right? You start to convince yourself that one of the remaining choices could be correct, even though at first you were inclined to eliminate it. Eventually you make an educated guess…only to learn when you look at the correct answer that you got it wrong. You cancel your trip to Vegas, you mumble a curse under your breath, and you wonder how you’re ever going to get these right.

Fear not! This GMAT verbal trick will help you. Picture this: It’s Sunday morning, your dad has beaten you to the Sports Page, and so you gravitate to the Funny Page. Next to Garfield, in the puzzle section, there’s a game called “Spot the Differences” with two seemingly identical photos side-by-side. Your job was to find the subtle differences between the two photos. Remember that?

When you’re left with two or three “pretty good” possible answer choices on GMAT Sentence Corrections, a good starting point for choosing between them is to spot the differences! Once you zero in on the differences, then you can filter them through your memory bank of grammar rules and GMAT effectiveness rules (see video tutorial “Sentence Correction – Part 1“) and choose the best one. Let’s take a look at an example:

Plants are more efficient at acquiring carbon than are fungi, in the form of carbon dioxide, and converting it to energy-rich sugars.

(A) Plants are more efficient at acquiring carbon than are fungi,
(B) Plants are more efficient at acquiring carbon than fungi,
(C) Plants are more efficient than fungi at acquiring carbon,
(D) Plants, more efficient than fungi at acquiring carbon,
(E) Plants acquire carbon more efficiently than fungi,

After your initial read-through of the sentence, I’m going to assume that you noticed something to be wrong. You may not have known exactly what, but you could at least have eliminated answer choice A. For the sake of this example, I’m also going to assume that you immediately eliminated answer choice D, because it makes the new sentence bulky and confusing. That leaves you choosing between answer choices B, C, and E. (Again, you may have immediately known what was wrong, but stick with me here — this strategy will help you on harder questions as well).

Where would you start in choosing between those remaining answer choices? A couple of them “sound” pretty good if you just read the new sentence quickly. Your ear can betray you, however, so let’s “spot the differences” and go from there:

Plants are more efficient at acquiring carbon than are fungi, in the form of carbon dioxide, and converting it to energy-rich sugars.

(A) …
(B) Plants are more efficient at acquiring carbon than fungi,
(C) Plants are more efficient than fungi at acquiring carbon,
(D) …
(E) Plants acquire carbon more efficiently than fungi,

One place I notice a difference is in the word that comes immediately before the comma. Did you notice that, too? In two answers the word is fungi, in the other it’s carbon. Now, be careful! Sometimes I have students who think the best way to choose between them is to simply go with the more popular answer. If fungi is used twice and carbon only once, certainly the test-makers wouldn’t go with a minority answer, would they? Yes, they might! You want to use your brain rather than a strict voting system to choose, once you’ve zeroed in on the differences.

So…which word do you think should come before the comma? Well, the words after the comma should give us a clue. After all, “in the form of carbon dioxide” is a parenthetical phrase that modifies the word(s) coming right before the comma, right? So, what do you think is more likely to be “in the form of carbon dioxide,” carbon or fungi?

Carbon, certainly. So, we could eliminate answer choices B and E for that reason, leaving the correct answer choice of C. Great job if you got that!

Additional GMAT Sentence Correction Tip

One more thing to consider with GMAT Sentence Corrections: Don’t forget to use the bracketing technique! (click here for a free 7-minute video lesson on the “Bracketing Technique”). Let’s assume in the example above that you were drawn to answer choice E. If you bracket out the parenthetical thought, the new sentence would read:

Plants acquire carbon more efficiently than fungi and converting it to energy-rich sugars.”

That doesn’t make sense because the verb tenses aren’t in parallel. If you apply the bracketing technique to all of the other answer choices as well, it can be a useful strategy for eliminating clearly wrong answers and zeroing in on the correct answer.