The Economist

Don’t let reality get in the way of your GMAT, part 1: sentence correction

  A few months ago, one of my favorite former GMAT students in Germany read an article about the United States presidential election in The Economist. She found the article alarming, and sent it over to me. I won't comment on the content here, since I try to keep my little GMAT blog purely apolitical. But for whatever it’s worth, I thought that the article was wonderfully well-written – as is usually the case in The Economist, which is one of my favorite magazines.

And then I started thinking: you know, this article contains a bunch of phrases that would count as “errors” on GMAT sentence correction questions. A few examples:

Economist GMAT SC error #1

This was a transformative moment in the history of one of the world’s great political parties, but it hardly seemed so to those enjoying Cleveland’s evening sunshine while the roll call of state delegates concluded inside.

The pronoun “it” should always catch your eye on the GMAT, but I think it’s OK from a GMAT sentence correction perspective in this particular sentence – “it” seems to refer to “moment”. However, the word “this” is more clearly problematic – it’s used as a pronoun here. On GMAT SC questions, “this” can generally be used only as an article – see the GMAT Official Guide 2017 edition #760 for an example, though there are obviously more important errors in the question.

Economist GMAT SC error #2

Violent crime has fallen by more than half over the past 20 years, the economy is growing at a steady, unspectacular rate, illegal border crossings are at a low level, there are signs of racial progress for those who want to see them.

Technically, this is a comma splice: there are four independent clauses in the sentence, separated only by commas. From a GMAT perspective, the sentence would be much better if the commas were replaced with semicolons, at the very least. A similar comma splice error can be found in GMAT Verbal Guide 2017 edition, SC question #204 -- though again, the question contains plenty of other errors.

Economist GMAT SC error #3

Mr Wilson says that the clashes between Trump supporters and protesters in Chicago in March—when Mr Trump announced and then cancelled a rally in a heavily African-American neighbourhood—moved the Cruz campaign polls away from their candidate towards Mr Trump by ten points almost overnight.

This is a good case of a subtle GMAT SC pronoun error. Check out the phrase “moved the Cruz campaign polls away from their candidate.” “Their” always refers to a plural noun on the GMAT, and the only plural noun nearby is “polls.” So if we read the sentence strictly and literally, it’s saying “…the clashes… moved the Cruz campaign polls away from the polls’ candidate towards Mr. Trump…” And that doesn’t make sense. On the GMAT sentence correction section, this is clearly an error – even though we easily understand the author’s point in real life.

Economist GMAT SC error #4

As voters get even more fed up with this election they may decide that both candidates are as bad as each other, or merely decide to roll the dice out of boredom. If that happens, it would be the most absent-minded political revolution in American history.

In the last sentence, both “that” and “it” are, in theory, being used as singular pronouns. Trouble is, neither has a clear referent in the previous sentence – in some sense, the author is using “that” and “it” to refer to general ideas expressed earlier in the article. That definitely wouldn’t fly on GMAT SC. (And yes, I just made exactly the same "error" in the previous sentence.)

Bonus Economist GMAT SC error #5

And here’s a bonus from another Economist article:

First, she [Patricia May] intends to include a Great Repeal Act in next year’s Queen’s Speech. This will revoke the 1972 European Communities Act (ECA), the legislation that took Britain into the club and which channels European laws onto British statute books, from the point of Brexit.

The GMAT would likely argue that there are two more errors in the second sentence. “This” is used as a pronoun, and that’s a no-no on GMAT SC, as discussed above.

The second error is a little bit more subtle: “which” can only be used as a non-essential modifier, so it doesn’t really work to say “the legislation that took Britain… and which channels…” Don’t lose sleep over that one – sure, “which” is frequently tested on GMAT SC, but not generally in this format.

Anyway, here’s my point: don’t let reality get in the way of your GMAT – not even on sentence correction. I love The Economist, and I think that the writers of both articles are obviously talented. But according to GMAT rules, the writers would presumably perform somewhat poorly on GMAT sentence correction questions.

So who do you think is correct: The Economist magazine, or the GMAT? I would argue that language is a vibrant, living creature, and a major international news magazine with millions of readers probably has a pretty darned good idea of what “correct” modern English is. The GMAT is arguably stuck in its ways, and the exam is still testing some of the same, arcane rules – often in a very narrow way – that it tested when GMAT sentence correction was first invented a few decades ago.

So the bad news is that the GMAT SC features (arguably) obsolete rules, often tested in a way that doesn’t reflect the realities of modern English. But the GMAT’s rigidity can be a good thing for test-takers: if you learn the GMAT’s most frequently tested rules on sentence correction, you’ll be on your way to a solid GMAT verbal score. I’d argue that sentence correction might be the most “beatable” or “learnable” part of the GMAT exam, as long as you’re willing to put in the time and work.

Just make sure that you stick with the GMAT’s narrow way of thinking about SC language – and don’t let reality or the excellent writers at The Economist throw you off track.

 

 

What the eff does “top 10 MBA” mean, anyway?

Here’s a painfully rigid phrase that I hear far too often:  “I’m only interested in an MBA if I can go to a top 10 program.”  But what the eff does the term “top 10 MBA program” mean, anyway? For most of you, a certain set of schools immediately leaps to mind whenever you hear the words “top 10 MBA program.”  You’re all thinking of Wharton and Harvard and Stanford, right?  But if I asked each of you to write down the names of the other seven schools on your “top 10” MBA list, you’d all write slightly different lists.  And some of you would be very rigid in your refusal to apply to MBA programs outside of the “top 10,” despite the fact that there’s no real consensus on what the term “top 10” means.

Sometimes we forget that the MBA ranking systems are all somewhat arbitrary, and they inevitably come to different conclusions about MBA programs.  You might notice that Kellogg is ranked #4 according to US News and World Report, but #13 in The Economist.  Yale ranges from #10 in US News and World Report to #21 in Businessweek.  And Darden is #3 according to The Economist, but only #17 on the Financial Times list.

So, yeah:  what, exactly, do you mean when you say that you only want to go to a “top 10” MBA program?  Kellogg doesn’t count if you look at The Economist, but Darden does.  Columbia isn’t in the top 10 according to Businessweek, but Michigan, Cornell, and Duke are.  Was that what you meant when you started thinking about “top 10” schools?

I’ve often argued that MBA rankings need to be taken with a grain of salt, but if you insist on basing your MBA application decisions on rankings, please take a look at the 2012 composite MBA rankings compiled by the always-amazing John Byrne at Poets and Quants.  These rankings accumulate data from all five major rankings systems (Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes, Businessweek, and US News and World Report), and the results offer some interesting food for thought.

Unsurprisingly, 15 different MBA programs appear in the top 10 of at least one ranking system; only five schools appear in the top 10 of every ranking system.  In other words, there are only five MBA programs that are “consensus” top 10 schools: Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, and Booth.  But we can argue about 10 other MBA programs, each of which appears in the top 10 of at least one major MBA ranking:  Columbia, Stern, Yale, Kellogg, Cornell, Duke, Haas, Darden, Ross, and Tuck.

Here’s my point:  sometimes, MBA applicants take the rankings way too seriously, even though the rankings are incredibly inconsistent.  If five respected rankings systems come up with substantially different results, then why would it make sense for you be rigid with your definitions of “top” schools?

If you’re really serious about maximizing your career prospects, I would encourage you to discard your obsession with the rankings, and take a good, hard look at a variety of MBA programs.  (Interestingly, the official GMAT blog has been nagging readers to do the same thing for the past few years; click here or here or here or here for examples.)  Be open-minded as you do your research, and try not to base your decisions on rumors of “prestige.”

Visit as many campuses as you possibly can.  Talk to strangers who have the job you want post-MBA, and ask them if there’s really that much of a disadvantage if you attend the “15th-ranked” MBA program… whatever that means.  You might be surprised by their answers.