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Is the Sentence Correction Portion of the GMAT Verbal Section Unfair to Non-Native Users of English?

Sentence correction

It would be ‘unfair’ to both the test and the test takers to answer this question conclusively and deem one the culprit and the other the victim. The reality is that as with anyone seeking to achieve proficiency in a language for the purpose of a formal exam there are many parameters that go into making the effort either fruitful or fruitless.

First, what has been the test takers prior exposure to the language? In this case English. Most non- native users of English have been exposed, for varying lengths of time, to English as a school curriculum subject and not thereafter. This exposure is more often than not very bookish and focuses more on completing a syllabus rather than on cultivating life-long skills with the language. Some hurried introduction to grammar, a cursory effort to make students do some writing and a clear negligence of the need to encourage an inclination for reading are what this exposure normally turns out to be. As a result when the user needs the language later for college level courses, for standardized tests such as the GMAT, or for his career, there is a clear deficiency and he has no choice but to get down to correcting it. This means a late interface with the language. Trying to learn correct grammar, to read and understand content, to grasp the nuances of English after one has neglected it for long, is not easy; the learner’s understanding of English has taken shape and it is difficult to expect him to receive more information readily and with advantage. So, before answering how unfair the GMAT is with non-native speakers of English, evaluate yourself and identify whether you have the ‘basic’ understanding of English, since that is a prerequisite for attempting the test. The GMAT is clearly testing math and verbal skills and just as there is a level of the Math, there is a level of the Verbal. Apprise yourself of this level and take on the challenge only after you are sure you are up to it or then give yourself sufficient time and the right training to come up to it. Most often, students fight the battle with the wrong weapons, or with no weapons, and that is their undoing.

Second, did the test taker make sufficient contact with the GMAT through practice? Test takers sadly are people in a hurry. Probably because individuals taking the GMAT are professionals, they are short on time and need to get over with the exercise as soon as possible. That is where their debacle with the test starts. The paucity of time forces them to rush through material, complete a training schedule at any institute training for the test and take an odd practice test before taking on the real GMAT. This kind of preparation is a sham in the name of preparation, especially for non- native users and can provide them with exposure to only the broad rules used on the test- parallelism, subject – verb agreement, modifiers, tenses. How does the test taker gain exposure to the finer nuances employed by the test? There are two such nuances that are particularly unsettling for non- native users- the sentences centered round an idiomatic structure and those that have practically no grammar error but are constructed to test the test takers understanding of the ‘sense’ conveyed. Debate has been rife since 2011 about GMAT doing away with idioms buy nothing like that has happened. How can an important tool of expression, the idiom, be done away with from a language? And how can one expect to learn a language without understanding how different constructions of the same content can convey different meanings? The GMAT is simply testing English ‘proficiency’ and anyone taking on the challenge must be ready to be tested in all the aspects of the language and not feel ‘victimized’ or disadvantaged.

The GMAT is doing what it is supposed to be doing – testing preparedness for business school programs by testing Math and English comfort levels; the test taker should be ready to do what he is supposed to be doing- proving this preparedness.

Important: A discussion of sentences testing ‘sense’ next week will throw more light on what the GMAT really expects of the test taker and illustrate how far one’s preparation for the GMAT needs to go.

GMAT preparation in Dubai is available at Option Training Institute in Knowledge Village. All the courses, group and one on one, have been designed to cater to the differing language levels of test takers. In fact, trainers at Option have conceived very unique ways to help students acquire a comfort level with the test. Detailed class discussions cover the common error types and also introduce concepts –idioms, redundancy, verbosity, active voice versus passive voice- that are very often over looked by students and trainers in the course of preparing for the test.