Cracking the GRE with 4 Practice Tests, 2016 Edition

Part II. How to Crack the Verbal Section

Chapter 5. Sentence Equivalence

This chapter details a variation on the Text Completions you learned about in the prior chapter. Sentence Equivalence questions require you to find the best word to complete a sentence. For these questions, however, you’ll have to pick the two answers that best complete the sentence; this means the two correct answers will be synonyms. Because both words create sentences that are equivalent—both have the same meaning—we refer to these types of questions as Sentence Equivalence questions. This chapter shows you how to apply the strategies you learned last chapter and use Process of Elimination to answer these questions.


Remember in the last chapter when we alluded to the “other” type of Text Completion question? Well, now it’s time to look at these questions in a little more detail. These questions are somewhat similar to the one-blank Text Completion questions we worked on in Chapter 4. However, they are different in several major respects. First, these questions always have six answer choices, not five. Second, you need to pick the two answers that complete the meaning of the sentence in the same way. Generally this will mean synonyms, but they don’t need to be exact synonyms, as long as the meaning of the sentence stays the same.

You should expect to see about three to five Sentence Equivalence questions on each GRE Verbal section.

Here’s What the Directions Will Tell You to Do:

For the following questions, select the two answer choices that, when used to complete the sentence, fit the meaning of the sentence as a whole and produce completed sentences that are alike in meaning.

Now, here’s what a Sentence Equivalence question looks like:

Anthropologists contend that the ancient Mesopotamians switched from grain production to barley after excessive irrigation and salt accumulation made the soil ____________ grains.

   indifferent to

   inhospitable to

   unsuitable for

   acrimonious to

   benignant to

   inured to

How does this question
differ from the Text
Completion questions in
Chapter 4?

Our goal is to choose the TWO answers that produce sentences with similar meanings. In other words, you’ll be clicking on two answer choices instead of one.


Besides being similar in appearance, Sentence Equivalence questions are also very similar to Text Completions in their structure. Sentence Equivalence questions have clues and triggers, just like the sentences we looked at in Chapter 4.

However, Sentence Equivalence questions are even more vocabulary-driven, because they require you to find two answers that are synonymous.

Remember that the meaning of the sentence must stay the same. For that to occur, the meaning of the sentence must be clear to you. Just as with Text Completions, the place to invest your time is in the sentence.

You cannot go to the answer choices until you have a crystal clear understanding of the story being told by the sentence.

The good news is that you don’t have to do this all in one go. Some of the sentences are tough, and, of course, there is information missing. If the sentence does not come into focus after the first or second reading, walk away. Mark that sentence and go do some easier ones. Often you will find that, when you return to a sentence after having done a few others, the meaning suddenly becomes clear. Also, the time you would otherwise have spent staring at a difficult problem in frustration, you have now spent getting a few other questions correct. You should always be spending your time doing, not thinking.

Take a look at the grey box for the basic approach to Sentence Equivalence questions, which is identical to the method for Text Completions you already learned. Then try it out on the question we just saw:

Anthropologists contend that the ancient Mesopotamians switched from grain production to barley after excessive irrigation and salt accumulation made the soil ____________ grains.

   indifferent to

   inhospitable to

   unsuitable for

   acrimonious to

   benignant to

   inured to

Here’s How to Crack It

First, look for the clues and triggers in the sentence. In this sentence, the clue is that the Mesopotamians “switched from grain production to barley.” For this reason, the word in the blank has to mean something along the lines of unsuited for. Now it’s a matter of going to the answers and using POE.

Answer choice (A) doesn’t match the clue; eliminate it. Choices (B) and (C) are both pretty close to the word we came up with, so leave them. How about the remaining choices? Acrimonious to, in choice (D), means using sharp language, so that doesn’t make sense. Choice (E), benignant to, means kind or gracious, so you can eliminate that as well. And finally, inured to means to become accustomed to something bad. That doesn’t match our choices either, so eliminate it. The best answers are (B) and (C).

Keep in mind that even if you don’t know what acrimonious or inured means, you can probably still get the correct answer. How? By POE of course! All the guidelines we talked about for Text Completions still apply here. As we said in Chapter 4, you should always work with the words you do know and leave the unknowns alone. Your scratch paper can answer the question for you. If you have two words that work and two question marks, you’re done. Pick the ones that work.

Tackling Sentence Equivalence

The approach to Sentence Equivalence is almost exactly the same as Text Completions.

1.    Set Up Your Scratch Paper. You will see three to five Sentence Equivalence questions in a row. Each has six answer choices, so set up your scratch paper. If you don’t, you will try to answer the question in your head rather than on your scratch paper. Doing questions in your head leads to harder work, wasted time, and more errors.

2.    Find the Story. Whom or what is the sentence talking about, and what are you told about that person or thing? Pay close attention to triggers; they are always significant clues to the direction of the sentence.

3.    Speak for Yourself. Come up with your own word or phrase for the blank. It doesn’t have to be a big ETS word. Any word or words will do as long as you keep it literal and don’t add any concepts or ideas that aren’t already in the sentence. If you can recycle your clue, do so.

4.    Use Process of Elimination. Get your hand moving. Your pass through the answer choices should take 10 or 15 seconds only. Either you know a word and it works, you know a word and it doesn’t work, or you don’t know the word. If you’re not sure, don’t sit and think about it; give it the maybe and move on. You cannot eliminate a word if you don’t know what it means.

Sentence Equivalence Drill

Work the following questions, using the same approach you used for Text Completions. Check your answers in Part V when you’re done.

1 of 5

To any observer, ancient or ___________, the night sky appears as a hemisphere resting on the horizon.







2 of 5

Researchers interested in the nature versus nurture debate use identical twins who were separated at birth to explore which personality characteristics are ____________ and which arise through experience.







3 of 5

The eccentric Canadian Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, often used séances to contact his dead pet dog for advice; despite this ____________ behavior, the public had so much confidence in his ability as a leader that he was in power for 22 years.







4 of 5

The circulation of the blood makes human adaptability to the ____________ conditions of life, such as fluctuating atmospheric pressure, level of physical activity, and diet, possible.







5 of 5

Arriving in New Orleans days after Hurricane Zelda had passed and without an adequate number of vehicles of its own, the armed forces began to ____________ any working form of transportation they could find, including a bus that had been chartered at great expense by a group of tourists.








With six answer choices in front of you, there are many opportunities to make effective use of Process of Elimination. Here are a few things to look for.

Positive and Negative Words

One strategy that you can use to answer Sentence Equivalence questions is to separate the answer choices into positive ones and negative ones. Remember how we talked about positive and negative words in Chapter 4? You don’t need to know the dictionary definition of a word if you can somewhat confidently identify the word as being positive or negative. Here’s how you would use them on this type of question:

Despite the implications of their noble status, many aristocrats were virtually penniless and lived in a state of ____________.







Can you identify any
of the words as positive
or negative?

Here’s How to Crack It

The trigger in this sentence, despite, tells us that we need a word that has a meaning that’s opposite to noble status. Also, the clue states that the aristocrats were virtually penniless. Therefore, we only want to consider negative words.

Let’s look at the choices and see if we can figure out if they’re positive or negative. The third word is eminence. Can you figure out if this is a positive or negative word? You might have heard the word eminent before, as in an eminent doctor or an eminent scientist. This is a good word, so let’s eliminate (C). Choice (F) is complacency. Are there any other words you’ve seen that remind you of this word? You may have heard the word placate before. This word means to please someone. Or, how about the word placid? That describes someone who is calm and satisfied. Each of these words—complacent, placate, and placid—share the same root, plac-, which means to please. So it looks like we can eliminate choice (F).

We’ve eliminated two words, but we’ve still got some tough ones left. Don’t give up! Look at (E). Depravity is certainly a negative word, but does it match the clue? Would you describe a penniless person as depraved? Not likely, so we can eliminate (E) as well. That leaves only three choices. If you were to guess at this point, you’d have a one-in-three chance of guessing correctly. Of course, if you know the meaning of just one of the remaining three words, you’re in pretty good shape as well. For example, if you know that opulence is a positive word, then you’ve got the answer—it has to be (A) and (D), which both mean to be poor. If you know the meaning of either (A) or (D), then you have a fifty-fifty chance of guessing correctly, which is not too bad at all.

Word Roots

Learning word roots gives you the opportunity to get more bang for your vocabulary buck. You’ll probably never know all the words the GRE will throw at you, but by mastering some common roots, you might know just enough about a mystery word to determine whether you should keep it or get rid of it. Here are some common roots to get you started:

·        Ben or bene—good. Examples: benefitbenevolentbenefactor

·        Mal or male—bad. Examples: malignmalevolentmalediction

·        Animus—spirit, soul. Examples: animatemagnanimous

·        Cise or cide—cut. Examples: excisehomicidecircumcise

·        Gen or gene—type, kind. Examples: genesisgeneratehomogenous

·        Port—carry. Examples: exporttransportporter

·        Andro or anthro—man, person. Examples: anthropologyandroid

Obviously, this list barely scratches the surface of word roots but you get the idea. Look for roots in your Hit Parade words (in Chapter 8) and any other new words you learn.

Let’s move on to another strategy.

Synonym/No Synonym

If you’re pretty familiar with the words in the answer choices, you can use your vocabulary to eliminate certain answers and to lump certain other answers together. You do this by looking at the choices and first eliminating any answer choice that has no synonym among the remaining choices. You can also identify pairs of words as synonyms and lump them together.

Consider this example:

Because mercury has a variety of innocuous uses, including in thermometers and dental fillings, few people realize that it is one of the most ____________ substances on the planet.







Here’s How to Crack It

Work with the answer choices to see if you can lump them into synonym/no synonym groupings. First, eliminate choices that have no synonyms among the answer choices.

Start by eliminating (A). None of the other choices are similar in meaning to the word acidic, so (A) cannot be the correct answer. The same goes for (C). There is no other answer choice that’s similar in meaning to mundane, so eliminate it.

Next, group the remaining choices together. You might notice that (B) and (E) are synonyms for each other, which means if you select one of them, you’ll have to select the other. The same logic applies to (D) and (F). With four answer choices left, you now have a fifty-fifty chance of getting the question right: You know that the correct answer is either (B) and (E) or (D) and (F).

The clue in this sentence is innocuous uses and this sentence also contains a trigger—“few people realize.” We’re looking for a word that means the opposite of innocuous, which means harmless. Choices (D) and (F) are the best answers.


No matter how expansive your vocabulary is, at some point you’ll probably run across a word you’ve never seen before. Don’t panic! Just work with the words you do know and rely on your old friend POE. Take a look:

Despite their outward negativity, many a cynic harbors an inner faith in the _____________ of mankind.







There’s no substitute for a
strong vocabulary.

Here’s How to Crack It

First things first. The clue for this sentence is outward negativity, and we also have the trigger word despite. Thus, we need a word meaning the opposite of negativity. This question definitely calls for a positive word. That’s the easy part; now we have to deal with a number of difficult words in the answer choices. Do the best you can with the words you know and leave the words you don’t know alone. Choice (A) looks like a keeper. The prefix bene- is used in tons of positive words—benefit, benefactor, benign, beneficent. Choice (B) is a tough one, so let’s leave it for now. The same goes for choice (C). Choice (D) may not be so bad. It has the root word noble in it, which is certainly a good word, but we’ve added the prefix ig- to the word. That’s probably a bad thing. We should eliminate this choice. Similarly, choice (E) has the prefix anti-. That means against or opposite, which is also generally bad. So we should eliminate this choice as well.

So far, (A) is definitely in, while (D) and (E) are definitely out. Even without knowing either of the words in (B), (C), and (F), we would still have a one-in-three chance of guessing correctly—the answer is either (A) and (B), (A) and (C), or (A) and (F). Not too bad for knowing only four of the six words. If we want to take our POE a step further, we could probably even eliminate (B). The word has the prefix pre- in it, which means before. That doesn’t really have much to do with good or bad, so we could probably eliminate it. That gives us a fifty-fifty chance of guessing correctly. The actual answer is (A) and (F). Probity means good behavior, while parsimony means stinginess.

Sentence Equivalence Practice Set

Work the following questions, using all the techniques you’ve learned for Sentence Equivalence. Check your answers in Part V when you’re done.

1 of 5

Possessed of an insatiable sweet tooth, Jim enjoyed all kinds of candy, but he had a special ____________ for gumdrops, his absolute favorite.







2 of 5

Although the Wright brothers first attempted flight in 1901 was a ____________ and subsequent efforts similarly ended in failure, they persisted and ultimately made the first successful airplane flight in 1903.







3 of 5

The fuel efficiency of most vehicles traveling at speeds greater than 50 miles per hour ____________ as the vehicle’s speed increases, due to the increased aerodynamic drag placed on the vehicle.







4 of 5

Despite the vast amount of time Francis dedicated to learning six different languages, he was ____________ communicator; his mastery of vocabulary and grammar failed to redress his inability to construct cogent prose.

   a florid

   an inept

   a prolific

   an astute

   a morose

   a maladroit

5 of 5

The twins’ heredity and upbringing were identical in nearly every respect, yet one child remained unfailingly sanguine even in times of stress while her sister was prone to angry outbursts that indicated an exceptionally choleric ____________.








·        The approach for Sentence Equivalence questions is the same as it is for Text Completions. Ignore the answer choices, look for clues and triggers, and fill your own words in for the blanks.

·        Use positive and negative associations to eliminate answers.

·        Try to group answers choices with their synonyms. Eliminate any choices that don’t have a synonym.

·        Keep working on vocabulary every day!