GRE: Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence

Vocabulary-based questions on the GRE verbal reasoning section are of two kinds: text completion and sentence equivalence. Both types are about filling in blanks in sentences with the right words based on context, but the answer choice formats are different. In this article, we’ll observe the similarities and differences between the two types of vocabulary questions and provide you with guidelines for working out each type.

Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence: Similarities and Differences

GRE Text completion (TC)

Text completion (TC) questions can have one, two, or three blanks, with each blank being filled by one correct word. Single-blank TC questions have five words to choose from. Double-blank and triple-blank TC questions have three choices for each blank. Here are some examples, with correct answers to follow:

GRE Text Completion Problem

In the midst of so many evasive comments, this forthright statement, whatever its intrinsic merit, plainly stands out as                      .

(A)  paradigm

(B) a misnomer

(C) a profundity

(D) an inaccuracy

(E) an anomaly

The correct answer is E, an anomaly. The “forthright statement” is anomalous among “so many evasive comments.”

GRE Text Completion Problem

The activists’ energetic work in the service of both women’s suffrage and the temperance movement in the late nineteenth century (i)                    the assertion that the two movements were (ii)                     .

Blank (i)                                                    Blank (ii)

(A) undermines                                    (D) diffuse

(B) supports                                           (E) inimical

(C) underscores                                   (F) predominant

The correct answers are A, undermines, and E, inimical. Inimical is a less common word meaning “at odds” or “opposed.” It has the same root as the word “enemy.” Even if you don’t know this word, you must choose it because the other blank (ii) choices D, diffuse, and F, predominant, can’t work.

GRE Text Completion Problem

Wills argues that certain malarial parasites are especially (i)                        because they have more recently entered humans than other species and therefore have had (ii)                       time to evolve toward (iii)                       . Yet there is no reliable evidence that the most harmful Plasmodium species has been in humans for a shorter time than less harmful species.

Blank (i)                                                    Blank (ii)                                                    Blank (iii)

(A) populous                                          (D) ample                                                 (G) virulence

(B) malignant                                        (E) insufficient                                     (H) benignity

(C) threatened                                     (F) adequate                                           (I) variability

The correct answers are B, malignant, E, insufficient, and H, benignity. This question is all about the relationship between the passage of time and the harmfulness of the malarial parasites. The second sentence of the prompt makes it clear that Wills expects the most recently-entered parasites to be the most harmful and the least recently-entered parasites to be the least harmful.

To put it in terms of the answer choices, the parasites, according to Wills, become less malignant and more benign as time goes by. Therefore, since we are talking about the parasites that have “more recently entered humans,” they have had insufficient time to evolve from malignancy to benignity, and the answer combination of B, E, and H makes sense

GRE Sentence Equivalence

These questions have only one blank, but you must choose two words that would appropriately and similarly fill in the blank from among a group of six. You’re looking for the two words that, when substituted for the blank, produce sentences of similar meaning (hence the name “sentence equivalence”). There may be more than one potential synonym pair among the six answer choices, but only one synonym pair will work contextually.

Here’s an example:

GRE Sentence Equivalence Problem

A misconception held by novice writers is that sentence structure mirrors thought: the more convoluted the structure, the more                        the ideas.

(A) complicated

(B) engaged

(C) essential

(D) fanciful

(E) inconsequential

(F) involved

This question is fairly straightforward; we are trying to match the meaning of the keyword “convoluted” in the sentence. The correct answers are A, complicated, and F, involved.

Notice that this is a less common meaning for the word “involved.” If you ignore the context and just try to find a synonym pair, you might land on B, engaged, and F, involved. Normally these words would have similar meanings. But “involved” has another meaning that works for the blank in this sentence, while “engaged” does not.

GRE Sentence Equivalence Problem

Here’s one more sentence equivalence problem for practice:

Newspapers report that the former executive has been trying to keep a low profile since his                        exit from the company.

(A) celebrated

(B) mysterious

(C) long-awaited

(D) fortuitous

(E) indecorous

(F) unseemly

Why is this former executive trying to keep a low profile? A case could be made for any of the answer choices, but there is only one real synonym pair: indecorous and unseemly (E and F). Even if you don’t know these words, you can arrive at the correct answer by noting the lack of a proper synonym pair in any of the more common words functioning as answer choices A through D.

For sentence equivalence questions, you have to maintain a flexible approach. Some questions will rely more on context clues, and others will rely more on recognizing synonym pairs.

If words like indecorous and unseemly are tripping you up on vocabulary-based questions, come back for our next article on how to efficiently learn GRE vocabulary words.

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Contributor: Elijah Mize (Apex GRE Instructor)

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