Sentence Completion Tips for GRE
Here we will highlight two sentence completion fundamentals that are integral to mastering Sentence Completions on the GRE:
- Sentence Types
- The Easier Blank
SC sentences follow predictable patterns, and if you recognize the type of sentence you’re up against, you’ll have an easier time with it. Here are three common sentence types that you’ll find on the GRE:
Consider the following sentence:
The drummer’s playing was so ________ that the other instruments couldn’t be heard above the din.
What kind of drum playing would cause other instruments not to be heard? It’s clear from the context of the sentence that the missing word or phrase must mean something along the lines of “loud.” This word defines that which drowns out other things. Some blanks will be filled by words that simply provide the appropriate definition for something defined in another part of the sentence.
But what if we changed the sentence to this?
Although the drummer played loudly, the other instruments were still clearly ________.
This sentence has a twist, as something exceptional is implied: The drummer plays loudly, but the other instruments were still clearly something. The word Although signals a contrast contained in the structure of the sentence. The drummer is loud, but we can still hear the other instruments. The GRE would most likely use a slightly more sophisticated word to fill in the blank, such as audible.
Common Contrast Words
Familiarize yourself with these contrast words.
|actually||all the same||although|
|anyway||at any rate||at length|
|in any case||in contrast||in reality|
|in spite of this||instead||nevertheless|
|on the contrary||on the other hand||otherwise|
Finally, those crafty test makers might concoct something of this form:
At first merely loud, the drummer’s playing ascended to ________ levels as the concert progressed, drowning out the other instruments.
In this case, one element of the sentence is intensified: Something that was merely loud has become even more so, so we’d expect a word like deafening to fit the bill. The sentence, as well as the drumming it describes, has been amplified.
Definition, contrast, and amplification represent three common SC sentence types, but there are others. The key is to recognize that the form of the sentence may tip you off as to the words that logically fill in the blanks.
The Easier Blank
In SCs with two blanks, start with whichever blank seems easier to you. Don’t start with the first blank simply because the test makers put that blank first. Instead, skim the sentence and predict the answer of the easier blank. Then narrow the choices down to the ones that work with that easier blank, and only engage the harder blank to help you pick the final winner. The advantage of this approach is that you can avoid testing all five choices on the tough part of the sentence, using the easier part to narrow the field. Let’s go through an example to show you how this works.
Siberian tigers are considered among the most ________ of animals; their striking coloration, powerful musculature, and regal bearing leave many people ________.
(A) obsequious . . defiant
(B) anomalous . . fearful
(C) desultory . . captivated
(D) splendid . . indifferent
(E) stately . . awestruck
The second blank is easier because there are clues that hint at its function in the sentence, whereas we aren’t given much to work with in the first blank. How would something striking, powerful, and regal most likely make people feel? Scanning the second word of each choice, captivated and awestruck jump out as possibilities. Fearful is a common trap, playing off a common perception of tigers instead of the positively tinged clues provided in the second part of the sentence. Indifferent seems to be the opposite of how one would feel toward something striking, powerful, and regal, and defiant doesn’t flow with the logic of the sentence either.
So we can quickly narrow the choices down to C and E, which means we don’t have to even bother with difficult words like obsequious and anomalous. Nor are we likely to be tempted by D, which contains a first word, splendid, which could theoretically work. Checking the first words of C and E, we find that E creates a logical and complete sentence (stately means “majestic” or “grand”) while C does not. Focusing on the easier blank first—in this case, the second, although sometimes it will be the first—will help you cut through complicated double-blank SCs.