GRE Sentence Equivalence Word Cloud

How to Boost Your GRE Sentence Equivalence Score

Last updated on March 7th, 2019

Reading Time: 10minutes

For many non-native English speakers, preparing for the GRE means going hard on developing stronger GRE vocabulary. If you’re reading this article about GRE sentence equivalence, you are probably beginning to understand that there’s more to GRE prep than just learning a bunch of words.

The GRE is about understanding words so you can use them correctly.

Questions on the GRE don’t need you to know the definitions of difficult words you’ve never heard of before. Most of the time, they want you to pick the right word or words to fill in a blank and complete a sentence. But when it comes to Sentence Equivalence, things get a bit more complicated than sentence completion in GRE.

The most commonly asked questions include:

In order to crack GRE Sentence Equivalence questions, you have to pick two right answers instead of one.

This can be a daunting and supremely confusing task, even for the best of us.

In this article, we will attempt to answer the above questions in detail.

 

Sentence Equivalence vs. Sentence Completion in GRE

To start off – there is no such thing as sentence completion in GRE. The GRE Verbal syllabus is split into the following parts:

  • Sentence Equivalence
  • Text Completion
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Critical Reasoning

So, sentence completion in GRE, as a concept, is either a carry-over from GMAT sentence correction or confusion between GRE Text Completion and GRE Sentence Equivalence.

Conceptually, we tend to look at any fill-in-the-blanks kind of a question as a ‘sentence completion’ question. So, Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence in GRE, both tend to be called ‘sentence completion’ questions more often than not – even though there is no such thing as sentence completion in the GRE.

In any case, when you see one sentence with one blank and six options to pick an answer from, your intuition will be to look for one option that completes the sentence. However, that is only a part of what’s required in the GRE Sentence Equivalence.

A typical Sentence Equivalence question will consist of one sentence with one blank. It will offer six answer options, and your objective is to choose two options, both of which should give the sentence similar meanings. Things begin to get complicated when more than two options look like they may be viable answers – which is exactly what happens most times.

It is in these situations that you need to employ smart tactics and find your answers quickly.

 

Tactics to Improve Your GRE Verbal Score

As mentioned, you can expect more than two of the available answer options to sound appropriate, which could lead you to believe they must be the right answers. However, you’d be quite wrong to go with answers that merely complete the sentence meaningfully.

The objective in Sentence Equivalence questions is to pick two words that create synonymous sentences.

Pay close attention:

The objective is not to pick synonymous words from the given options, it is to pick words that create two synonymous sentences.

Now, you must be wondering, “What is the difference between synonyms and synonymous sentences?”

Here’s the answer.

Synonyms are two or more words that have the same or similar meanings. These words may carry different connotations but they will still be considered synonyms if they can be interpreted to mean the same thing.

Synonymous sentences, on the other hand, are two complete sentences (not just words) that convey similar meanings, irrespective of how they are worded.

The GRE Sentence Equivalence questions will consist of one sentence each, with one of the keywords removed. You will be expected to complete the sentence in two ways – by using two words, one at a time – so that the two sentences thus created are synonymous.

There are five winning tactics you can employ to maximize your chances of getting Sentence Equivalence answers right.

  1. Original Answer Creation
  2. Sentence Simplification
  3. Option Elimination
  4. Synonymity Check
  5. RISE

Let’s take a look!

1. Original Answer Creation

You may be tempted to skip this step because it seems unnecessary.

That’s a trap! 

The first step is a bit unconventional but it is extremely important. It will help you figure out whether you have actually understood the question well or not. 

What you should do at this stage is, read the question carefully and try to come up with an original answer for it. It gets tough to put the answer options out of your mind, so we recommend literally covering the answers with your hand while you attempt to do this. 

If you can come up with your own answer – a word that gives complete meaning to the sentence – it means you have understood exactly what needs to go into that blank. It helps you gain a sneak-peek into the completed picture so that you know the full meaning of what is being said.

Once you know the bigger picture, it becomes easier for you to reverse-engineer the answers. Let’s look at the same example and try this out:

“The German painter is sublime, profound, and authoritative in a way that invites high-flown comparisons and invocations of art history, yet his own utterances on art would suggest he finds such ____ repulsive, and is suspicious of anything that romanticizes the creative act.” 

We think the word ‘pretentiousness’ fits well in this context. It aptly indicates the disdain that the artist feels for such superlative praise, and it is a noun. 

Besides, this is not one of the answer options provided. So, we know now that we have understood the question properly. 

Let’s get on to breaking the question down now.

2. Sentence Simplification

Sentence equivalence questions can be of varying difficulty levels. The tougher the question is meant to be, the more complex the sentence structure will be. Often, this confuses people. For example, consider this question:

“The German painter is sublime, profound, and authoritative in a way that invites high-flown comparisons and invocations of art history, yet his own utterances on art would suggest he finds such ____ repulsive, and is suspicious of anything that romanticizes the creative act.”

There is so much being said in this sentence that it takes us a moment to wrap our heads around it. When you’re taking the GRE, you won’t have the luxury of taking your time to answer each question; you’ll need to be as quick as possible.

So, cut out the unnecessary information from the sentence.

Get rid of flamboyant but unnecessary descriptions first, followed by excess adjectives:

“The German painter is so authoritative that it invites superlative comparisons, yet his own utterances on art would suggest he finds such ____ repulsive, and is suspicious of anything that romanticizes the creative act.”

Then, consider what value the presented facts add to the given sentence. Remove anything that adds inconsequential information:

“The German painter is authoritative in a way that invites superlative comparisons, yet his own utterances on art would suggest he finds such ____ repulsive.”

By now, the sentence structure is simple enough for you to start considering the answer options without any confusion. But even so, if big and unusual words intimidate you, feel free to replace them with simpler synonyms and change the structure of the sentence a little. You’ll be okay as long as you maintain the meaning:

“The German painter is such a great artist that it invites superlative comparisons, yet his own comments on art suggest that he finds such ____ repulsive.”

Once you have broken the sentence down into simpler words and a palatable structure, it becomes significantly easier to consider the answer options.

This brings us to the next step.

3. Option Elimination

So, now that you have a clear sentence that is easy to understand, read it and compare it to the original question just to make sure you haven’t lost out on anything important.

Once you’re certain there is no loss of important information between the original question and the edited version, you can begin considering the answer options.

Although this step is called option elimination, we suggest you start off by mentally inserting each answer option, one by one, to see which ones fit the bill. There will be options that don’t really make sense – those are the ones you should eliminate.

Let’s continue with the same example from the previous step.

“The German painter is sublime, profound, and authoritative in a way that invites high-flown comparisons and invocations of art history, yet his own utterances on art would suggest he finds such ____ repulsive, and is suspicious of anything that romanticizes the creative act.”

Here are the given answer options:

  1. Cynicism
  2. Exaggeration
  3. Skepticism
  4. Antipathy
  5. Zealotry
  6. Hyperbole

Let’s go to one option at a time.

The word ‘such’ in the question refers to the act of making ‘high-flowing comparisons and invocations of art history’. The word that follows should be a noun that a person would use to refer to this act if they think it is repulsive.

Now, the word ‘cynicism’ means an inclination to believe that people only do things for selfish reasons, or to disbelieve the face-value of what is being said. Since the word is supposed to apply to the act of giving high praise, ‘cynicism’ does not fit in the context. Option ‘c.’, ‘skepticism’ has a similar meaning and it is equally unfit to be the answer.

On the other hand, ‘exaggeration’ means presenting something as much better or much worse than it really is. The given sentence mentions high-flowing comparisons and references to art history, and the artist may think that such things are overstated, or ‘exaggerated’. That makes this word a good fit. Answer option ‘f.’, ‘hyperbole’ also means overstating and exaggerating, which makes this a good fit, too.

That leaves us with two possible options, ‘antipathy’ and ‘zealotry’. The former means a lack of feeling, while the latter means fanaticism or extremism. Nothing in the given statement refers to a lack of feeling or even implies it in any manner. It doesn’t make sense that the artist would think of overstated praise for his work as lacking in sentiment, so ‘antipathy’ is ruled out.

He may consider overemphasized praise to be overzealous and fanatic, in a way, so ‘zealotry’ is a possible answer. The word also carries a negative connotation, and it makes sense that the artist would, therefore, find it repulsive.

So, we have eliminated three possible answers and are now left with three.

Do you think you have the answer already?

Well, good – but don’t jump to any conclusions yet, there is one more step to ensure you’re not wrong.

4. Synonymity Check

The final ‘nail in the coffin’, so to speak, is to check the answer options to see if they create synonymous sentences.

Remember that it is not necessary for answer options to be synonymous for them to create synonymous sentences. The only thing you need to be sure of is whether they convey similar meanings within the given context.

Let’s review the remaining options we have:

Exaggeration
Zealotry
Hyperbole

One thing that jumps out at us is the obvious synonymity between ‘exaggeration’ and ‘hyperbole’, but let’s still follow due course just to be on the safe side. The thing is, it may seem obvious but it may still turn out to be wrong. Besides, it may not always be obvious in other cases.

So, here are the three possible answers:

“The German painter is sublime, profound, and authoritative in a way that invites high-flown comparisons and invocations of art history, yet his own utterances on art would suggest he finds such exaggeration repulsive, and is suspicious of anything that romanticizes the creative act.”

“The German painter is sublime, profound, and authoritative in a way that invites high-flown comparisons and invocations of art history, yet his own utterances on art would suggest he finds such zealotry repulsive, and is suspicious of anything that romanticizes the creative act.”

“The German painter is sublime, profound, and authoritative in a way that invites high-flown comparisons and invocations of art history, yet his own utterances on art would suggest he finds such hyperbole repulsive, and is suspicious of anything that romanticizes the creative act.”

In this case, we notice that inserting ‘zealotry’ into the blank conveys a stronger sense of dislike and hints at possible hostility on the part of the artist towards the act of giving superlative praise.

However, ‘exaggeration’ and ‘hyperbole’ both convey a general dislike and disapproval on the part of the artist towards the same act.

Clearly, the answer is option ‘b. Exaggeration’ and ‘f. Hyperbole’.

5. RISE

At CrackVerbal, we advise our students to use a single mnemonic to remember all these steps.

RISE stands for ‘Read, Identify, Synthesize and Eliminate’.

Let’s examine these one at a time.

Read: Before you do anything else, you have to ensure you understand what the given sentence says before you get to work on it. This is the first and most critical step in the entire process. If you misunderstand or skip even a single word, the entire process will be derailed. Your answer could be completely wrong if you don’t read and understand the sentence thoroughly.

Identify Keywords: Whether the question is simple or complex, it is bound to have some specific words that define the entire meaning of the sentence. These are the keywords. They make up the skeleton of the sentence and if a single one of those words is out of place, it could change the meaning of the sentence itself. Identifying these keywords is critical to understanding the simplified meaning of the given sentence.

Synthesize Original Answers: As you know, every sentence comes with its own answer options. You may be tempted to start looking for the answers among those right away, but it’s a better idea to cover the answer options and come up with your own answer first. You don’t have to come up with two words, just one is enough. The idea is to check if you have adequately understood what needs to go in the blank.

Eliminate: Finally, armed with a clear understanding of the given sentence, it’s keywords, and your own answer to complete the sentence, you can begin considering the answer options one by one. Discard those which don’t make sense, then find two which create synonymous sentences.

Once you know these strategies, it is important to practice with real GRE questions. You can easily read and feel like you’ve understood these kinds of GRE tips and tricks but when you’re faced with an actual question, you could still end up feeling utterly stumped.

Moreover, if you haven’t practiced, you won’t be prepared for the common pitfalls of such methods.

 

Pitfalls to Avoid While Handling GRE Sentence Equivalence

Consider this:

The intended meaning of any given word is only brought out by the context in which it is used, outside of which, the word may mean something entirely different. For example:

Gillian is a woman of fine taste.

The management thought it would be fine to keep the matter quiet.

The group is expected to pay a fine for the transgression.

The meaning of the word ‘fine’ changes observably across the three sentences. Synonyms for ‘fine’ in the first sentence would include, ‘exceptional’, ‘outstanding’, ‘distinguished’; in the second sentence they would be along the lines of, ‘acceptable’, ‘okay’, ‘alright’; and in the third sentence, the synonyms would be, ‘penalty’, ‘fee’, ‘charge’.

Out of context, the word ‘fine’ can mean all of these words!

The idea is that synonyms of a word change according to the context it is placed in. So, it’s not enough to simply pick out a pair of synonyms from the six available options, because the context may fit one word but not the other.

If you use word lists to learn GRE words, this is going to be a particularly difficult section for you to get through. You see, word lists don’t prepare you to handle context, so even if you know the meaning of a word, you won’t know it’s nuanced, contextual uses, making it nearly impossible for you to get this section right.

The best strategy to avoid pitfalls of Sentence Equivalence questions is to ensure that you learn GRE words with context.

In conclusion, if you have made it to the end of this article and are now reading this – congratulations! You know everything you need to know about GRE Sentence Equivalence. All you need to do now is practice, practice and practice some more!