Idioms, Sentence Correction, and the GMAT Exam

Sep 29, 2011
Tags: GMAT Prep, Official GMAT, Prepare for the GMAT, Study Tips for the GMAT, Verbal

Recently there has been some discussion and questioning about the role and place of idioms and sentence correction as they apply to the skills tested in the GMAT exam.  Much of what has been written has been well reasoned but some of what has been written is only partially accurate or reflects some misconceptions. With this posting I hope to put these two important pieces of the GMAT exam in their proper place within the context of what the exam measures and how.

Idioms:

The general categories of language-use skill tested in GMAT Sentence Correction items haven’t changed, and test takers do not need to do anything different to prepare for the Verbal section of the GMAT.

For years, GMAC has paid close attention to the growing international make up of GMAT test takers and has worked to assure that the exam is not viewed as – nor is it actually --an American test. As the GMAT exam has expanded globally and been taken by more students from around the world, GMAC has continually made extra efforts to ensure that newly introduced GMAT items do not depend on familiarity with distinctively American expressions and usages.  We have taken steps all along the way to ensure global fairness and appropriateness.

Still, every language everywhere in the world consists of idioms, or standard constructions that are not literally derived from the most basic rules of grammar and vocabulary. Some Sentence Correction items continue to pose reasoning tasks that incorporate English language, NOT American, idioms.  These are not intended to test specialized knowledge of colloquialisms and regionalisms.

Grammar in Sentence Correction:

In recent years, GMAT item writers have been concentrating on the reasoning aspects rather than the purely grammatical aspects of Sentence Correction skills. As always, test takers need to carefully read the prompt in order to choose the answer that produces the most effective sentence.  This means that while two sentences may both be grammatically appropriate, the correct answer is the sentence that is most “effective,” the sentence that better expresses the idea.

The end result is a GMAT exam that doesn’t test simply a person’s ability to memorize grammatical rules or recognize idioms for their colloquial meanings but a test that rewards reasoning regardless of the test takers background.

The recent back and forth around whether idioms are in or out or how sentence correction works, ignores the fact that the core purpose of the exam hasn’t ever changed, even as the way we treat certain categories of questions in order to meet the needs of our ever expanding marketplace may have.  The GMAT exam tests higher order reasoning and preparing for the exam remains an exercise in developing and exercising those skills.

 


-Lawrence M. Rudner, GMAC vice president of research and development and chief psychometrician

 

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