Crash Course for the New GRE, 4th Edition (2011)

Part II. Ten Steps to Scoring Higher on the GRE

Step 4. Fill in the Blanks on Text Completion

Text Completions occupy a middle ground between sentence equivalence and reading comprehension. You will be given a small passage—one to five sentences—with one, two, or three blanks. If the passage has one blank, you will have five answer choices. If it has two or three blanks, you will be given three answer choices per blank. You have to independently fill in each blank to get credit for the question.

The overall approach is the same. Ignore the answer choices. Find the story being told (there will always be a story), and come up with your own words for the blanks. Here’s what a three-blank text completion will look like:

Sample Question

Directions: For each blank, select one entry from the corresponding column of choices. Fill all blanks in the way that best completes the text.

Question 12 of 20

The image of the architect as the lonely artist drawing three dimensional forms is ____(i)____ the public’s understanding of the architect’s role. As a result, buildings are viewed as the singular creations of an artistic vision with the artist ____(ii)____ the architect. Certainly architects should take much of the credit for the form of a unique building, but the final product is hardly a ____ (iii)____. The architect relies heavily upon façade consultants, engineers, and skilled builders, while the form of the building may depend, in addition, upon zoning regulations, cost, and market demands.

Step 1—Find the story. In this case, the story is about the public perception of the role of the architect versus the actual role of the architect.

Step 2—Prep your scratch paper. As opposed to columns of A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s, E’s, and F’s, text completion scratch paper will look like this:

Step 3—Pick a blank. Some blanks will be easier to fill in than others. In general, blanks have two roles. They test either vocabulary or comprehension. A blank testing vocabulary may be easy to fill in with your own words, but then the answer choices may consist of difficult vocabulary words. A blank testing comprehension may depend upon what you put in another blank, or it may contain multiple words, including a few trigger words and prepositions. Start with whichever blank seems the easiest. In this case the last blank may be the easiest.

Step 4—Speak for yourself. The sentence contains the trigger word “but.” Trigger words are always significant. Sensitize yourself to trigger words. They always come into play. The passage says that the architect should get lots of credit for a building, BUT … it is clear that other people should get some credit too. Come up with your own words for the blanks. The final product is clearly not “the architects alone.”

Step 5—Use POE. There are three choices. “Virtuoso performance” sounds like “the architects alone.” Keep it in. “Collaborative effort” is the opposite of what we’re looking for. Get rid of it. “Physical triumph” introduces a new concept to the sentence. That automatically knocks it out. A correct answer choice will always be supported by proof in the passage. An answer choice that adds something new to the sentence (physicality, in this case) is automatically wrong. At this point, the story in the sentence is quite clear, and your scratch paper should look like this:

Step 6—Rinse and Repeat.

For the first blank, the way buildings are viewed should be similar to the way architects are viewed. Even if you can’t come up with a word for the first blank, you at least know that you need something that keeps the sentence going in the same direction. Of the three choices, “at odds with” clearly changes the direction, so get rid of it. “Irrelevant to” is neutral at best, so get rid of it. “Central to” is the only answer choice in the same direction. Give it a check.

For the second blank, thinking in terms of direction will work well again. In this story, what is the relationship between the “artist” and the “architect”? The two seem to serve the same function. We need an answer choice that indicates equivalence. “Justifiably embodied by” is the closest thing in the answer choices to an equal sign.

Here’s what your scratch paper should look like:

That may seem like a long process, but it’s really just a way of thinking. Find the story. Play close attention to trigger words. Come up with words for the blank or establish direction. Keep the hand moving and eliminate.

Let’s try one more.

Question 8 of 20

Despite hundreds of ____(i)____ attempts to produce a working light bulb, Edison eventually triumphed, his ____(ii)____ contributing to his ultimate success.

Who’s the main character and what’s the story being told? The sentence is about Edison and his attempts to make a working light bulb. There are two key words in this sentence, “despite” and “eventually.” “Despite” tells us that the sentence has to change direction and “eventually” tells us that it took a long time. The end of the sentence describes his “ultimate success,” so the beginning must contain some failure. Put “failed” in for the first blank and eliminate. Felicitous (think felicity) and auspicious are both positive words, so cross them off. Stymied stays in. We also know that the process took a long time, so Edison must have been the kind of guy that doesn’t give up. Let’s put “stick with it-ness” in for the second blank. You don’t have to put a perfect ETS word in the blank. Anything that captures the meaning or idea will do. Grandiloquence has to do with the way you talk, which is not what we’re looking for, so cross it off. Indifference does not mean stubbornness, so get rid of it. We’re down to one, so we’re done.

Here are a few key concepts to keep in mind:

1. Scratch Paper—Using scratch paper favors an efficient “maybe or gone,” two-pass approach through the answer choices. With text completion there are effectively 6-9 answer choices rather than 5. Scratch paper is crucial.

2. Clues—In a regular sent camp question, if the word in the blank is a noun, some other part of the sentence will describe the noun. If it is a verb, there will be some other part of the sentence describing the subject or object of that verb. If it is an adjective. there will invariably be some other part of the sentence describing the noun that the adjective is modifying. This is the essence of what makes a clue a clue. The same concept holds true here but on a slightly larger scale. Whatever information is missing in one sentence must be present in another one. It is the only way for there to be an identifiably correct answer. If the concept of the clue feels too abstract, think of it as the story being told. Every sentence will tell a story. Who is the main character, what is the main character doing and what are you told about the main character? If you don’t have the story firmly in focus, you’re in trouble. Just like text completion, the answer choices represent ETS’s suggestions for what to put in the blank. In fact. the answer choices have been painstakingly selected and tested with the sole purpose of messing with your head. Unless you can physically put your finger on a clue or key sentence. you are at the mercy of ETS and the answer choices.

3. Directional Versus Vocabulary—It is always preferable, or more exact, to come up with your own words for the blank. While sometimes necessary or even effective, simply deciding whether a blank calls for a good word or bad word can be a crutch for the lazy. With text completion, however, the answer choices may be all about whether the text will keep the sentence moving in the same direction or the opposite direction. In other words, it is often the trigger words or phrases that you are being asked to supply. With only three answer choices, simply identifying either the necessary direction or need for a positive or negative word may take care of all of the elimination you need to get it down to one answer choice.