GMAT sentence correction is about rules, the bookish grammar rules that teachers and students overlooked back at school but that have come back to haunt the test taker. And the sad part is that different people have different assessments of these rules. The less cynical and the more optimistic trainers and students of the GMAT say they are just five sets of rules – parallelism, subject- verb agreement, modifiers, tense and idiomatic structures. That makes it sound easy to negotiate. But the truth is that this count is misleading; each ‘set’ of rules is an intricate web of types and when the sentence on the test combines rules and uses the most complicated types of each rule, the test taker is zapped! The sentence correction platter of the GMAT offers from a variety of rules, some very neat and crisp, others that defy a rule and yet are not considered a violation of standard grammar.
Let’s take a look at one of the most discussed of such “exceptions.”
Scientists have recently discovered what could be the largest and oldest living organism on Earth, a giant fungus that is an interwoven filigree of mushrooms and rootlike tentacles spawned by a single fertilized spore some 10,300 years ago and extending for more than 33 acres in the soil of a Michigan forest.
(D) it extended
(E) is extending
The GMAT Official guide 12th Edition featured this example but the 13th edition didn’t. Does that mean the test no longer features this? NO! On the contrary, this example must be included in the preparation modules since for most test takers parallelism is an easy concept to grasp and yet when it comes to a sentence such as this one, the test taker might not really understand why one can use ‘extending’ when it is not connecting as a parallel to anything preceding it.
Take a look at this student-friendly explanation for what went on here:
“Scientists have recently discovered what could be the largest and oldest living organism on Earth, a giant fungus that is an interwoven filigree of mushrooms and rootlike tentacles.” Grammatically speaking, this part of the sentence forms a complete expression and can well be concluded at this point by a full stop. However, the speaker selects to ‘modify’ the “giant fungus that is an interwoven filigree of mushrooms and rootlike tentacles” and uses ‘spawned’ much like an adjective to describe it. So ‘spawned’ is a past participle (verb used as an adjective) and provides information which is related to the past about the fungus. Now the speaker wants to provide information about the fungus that is relevant in the present; so although he uses ánd’ to join these two details he is free to put a verb in -ing form for the present detail and form a modifier clause (“spawned by a single fertilized spore some 10,300 years ago and extending for more than 33 acres in the soil of a Michigan forest.”) that combines past participle with present participle.
So parallelism is not only about what ‘looks’ parallel! It is also about what ‘performs’ a parallel function. The past participle and the present participle joined by ánd’ do create a disturbing sight especially when all along the has been insisting on ánd’ following parallelism! In this case the two forms of the verb look unlike but are actually alike by virtue of being participles!!!
At Option we allow inquiry to stretch beyond the obvious and encourage students to deconstruct the GMAT questions so that they master techniques that allow them to handle even the most difficult level of test question. Our trainers do not confine themselves to slides and prepared materials; they allow the students to determine the tempo and temperament of the class. So each group has its own study style and level and contributes to the buildup of skills relevant to individuals.