Crash Course for the New GRE, 4th Edition (2011)
Part II. Ten Steps to Scoring Higher on the GRE
Step 3. Cover Up the Answers for Sentence Equivalence
Here are the directions for sentence equivalence: 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.
In other words, figure out the story being told and pick the two words in the answer choices that complete the story in the same way. These are, in effect, sentence-completion questions, but you are picking two words rather than one for the same blank.
The other part of sentence equivalence is the answer choices. They will always fit grammatically into the sentence and quite a few of them will make a degree of sense. They represent ETS’s suggestions for what to put in the blank. We don’t like their suggestions, we don’t trust their suggestions, and we don’t want their suggestions. The answer choices have been carefully selected and then tested on thousands of students for the sole purpose of messing with your head. The first step on sentence equivalence is always to cover up the answer choices. Literally. Put your hand on the screen and don’t let them in.
Back to the sentence; think of this as a mini reading comprehension passage. Before you do anything, find the main idea. Who is the passage talking about? What are we told about this person or thing? Once you have the story firmly in mind, come up with your own word for the blank, and eliminate the answer choices that don’t match.
Let’s try one:
Wilson worked ______ on his first novel, cloistering himself in his study for days on end without food or sleep.
Step 1—Cover the answer choices.
Step 2—Find the story. Who is our main character? Wilson. What are we told about Wilson? He’s working on his first novel and has locked himself in his study for a long time without food or sleep. The dude is working hard. The blank, in fact, describes how Wilson is working.
Step 3—Come up with your own word for the blank. Hard? Dedicated? Unceasing?
Step 4—Use Process Of Elimination (POE). Use your word to eliminate answer choices. Of each answer choice, ask yourself, “Does this word mean the same thing as or similar to______________ (my word)?” If the answer is no, get rid of it. If the answer is “I’m not sure,” give it the maybe and move on. If the answer is yes, give it the check. All of this work takes place on your scratch paper.
(A) Does carelessly mean the same thing as or similar to hard, dedicated, or unceasing? No. Cross off choice (A).
(B) Does assiduously mean the same thing as or similar to hard, dedicated, or unceasing? Not sure? Give it the question mark and leave it in.
(C) Does creatively mean the same thing as or similar to hard, dedicated, or unceasing? No. Could Wilson, the first-time novelist, be working creatively? Sure, but it’s not what we’re looking for. Cross off choice (C).
(D) Does tirelessly mean the same thing as or similar to hard, dedicated, or unceasing? Sure does. Give it a check.
(E) Does intermittently mean the same thing as or similar to hard, dedicated, or unceasing? Nope. Cross off choice (E).
(F) Does voluntarily mean the same thing as or similar to hard, dedicated, or unceasing? Nope. Cross off choice (F).
Now look at your scratch paper. You have four that are no, a yes, and a question mark. You’re done. Whatever assiduously means, it must be similar to hard, dedicated, or unceasing. The correct answers are tirelessly and assiduously.
Finding the Clue
How did you know to put hard, dedicated, or unceasing in the blank? The sentence says, “cloistering himself in his study for days on end without food or sleep.” What else could it be? That part of the sentence is what we call a clue. Every sentence will have one. Every sentence must have one because it’s the part of the sentence that makes one answer right and another one wrong. The clue is like an arrow that points only to right answers. Finding the clue will help to come up with your own word for the blank and will help to eliminate wrong answers. You try:
In each of the following sentences, find the clue and underline it. Then, write down your own word for the blank. It doesn’t matter if your guesses are awkward or wordy. All you need to do is express the right idea.
1. Despite the apparent _________ of the demands, the negotiations dragged on for over a year.
2. Most students found Dr. Schwartz’s lecture on art excessively detailed and academic; some thought his display of _______ exasperating.
Now look at the same questions again, this time with the answer choices provided. Use your words above to eliminate answer choices (answers can be found at the end of the chapter):
1. Despite the apparent______ of the demands, the negotiations dragged on for over a year.
2. Most students found Dr. Schwartz’s lecture on art excessively detailed and academic; some thought his display of ______ exasperating.
Imagine a conversation that begins, “That’s Frank. He won the lottery and now________.” Something good is going to go into that blank. Frank could be a millionaire, could be living on his own island, or could be a great collector of rare jeweled belt buckles. Whatever it is, this story is going to end happily.
Now consider this story: “That’s Frank. He won the lottery but now _______.” This story is going to end badly. Frank could be tied up in court for tax evasion, could be pan handling on the corner, or could be in a mental institution.
The only difference between these two stories is the words but and and. These are trigger words.
They provide important structural indicators of the meaning of the sentence, and are often the key to figuring out what words have to mean to fill in the blanks in a sentence completion. Here are some of the most important sentence completion trigger words and punctuation:
although (though, even though)
; or :
Paying attention to trigger words is crucial to understanding the meaning of the sentence, thereby helping you to speak for yourself. The words from but to heretofore are “change direction” trigger words, indicating that the two parts of the sentence diverge in meaning. The above words, from thus to the colon (:) and semi-colon (;), are “some direction” triggers, indicating that the two parts of the above sentence agree. For example, if your sentence said “Judy was a fair and ________ judge,” the placement of the “and” would tell you that the word in the blank would have to be similar to “fair.” You could even use the word “fair” as your fill-in-the-blank word.
What if your sentence said, “Judy was a fair but________ judge”? The placement of the “but” would tell you that the word in the blank would have to be somewhat opposite of “fair,” something like “tough.”
Let’s try this one (we’re taking the answer choices away again, for now):
Although originally created for_______ use, the colorful, stamped tin kitchen boxes of the early twentieth century are now prized primarily for their ornamental qualities.
What’s the clue in the sentence that tells us why the boxes were originally created? Well, we know that they “are now prized primarily for their ornamental qualities.” Does this mean that they were originally created for “ornamental” use? No. The trigger word “although” indicates that the word for the blank will mean the opposite of “ornamental.” How about “useful”? It may sound strange to say “useful use,” but don’t worry about how your words sound—it’s what they mean that’s important.
Now, here are the answer choices:
(A) Does “utilitarian” mean useful? Yes, give it a check on your scratch paper.
(B) Does “traditional” mean useful? No. Cross it off on your scratch paper.
(C) Does “practical” mean useful? Yes, give it a check mark.
(D) Does “occasional” mean useful? Nope. Get rid of it.
(E) Does “annual” mean useful? Nope, cross it off.
(F) Does “commercial” mean useful? No. Cross it off.
The answers are (A) and (C)]
In some cases, you may think of several words that could go in the blanks. Or, you might not be able to think of any. Rather than spend a lot of time trying to find the “perfect” word, just ask yourself whether the missing word will be a positive word or a negative word. Then, write a + or a − symbol on your scratch paper and take it from there. Here’s an example (again, without answer choices, for now):
Trembling with anger, the belligerent colonel ordered his men to ____________ the civilians.
Use those clues. We know the colonel is “trembling with anger,” and that he’s “belligerent” (which means war-like). Is the missing word a “good” word or a “bad” word? It’s a “bad” word. The colonel is clearly going to do something nasty to the civilians. Now we can go to the answer choices and eliminate any choices that are positive and therefore couldn’t be correct:
Choices A, B, C, and E are all positive words; therefore, they can all be eliminated. The only negative words among the choices are (D and (F), the best answers. Positive/negative won’t work for every question, but sometimes it can get you out of a jam.
When it comes to Text Completions, remember these three things:
1. Invest your time in the sentence. Stick with the sentence until you find the story. You cannot go to the answer choices until that story is crystal clear.
2. Use your word as your filter. Come up with your own word for the blank and use it to eliminate answer choices. You should be actively identifying and eliminating wrong answers. Keep your hand moving on your scratch paper. Processing the answer choices should take no more than 20 seconds. Note: If an answer choice has no synonym among the other answer choices, it’s unlikely to be correct.
3. Mark and come back. If a sentence isn’t making sense, or none of the answer choices look right, walk away. Don’t keep forcing the sentence. You may have read something wrong. Go do a few other questions to distract your brain and then take a second look at it.