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Text Completion on the GRE

Posted on March 24, 2014
Text Completion on the GRE


Text Completion questions in GRE are considered daunting for two reasons:

Killer Sentence Structures
Difficult Vocabulary
In this article we will discuss these challenges and learn effective ways to overcome them.

1. Killer Sentence Structures

The Text Completion questions can range from being one sentence long to several sentences long. In fact, the current observable trend in GRE questions suggests that ETS (the people who create the test) is starting to make its Text Completion questions more like the Short Reading Comprehension passages in both length and complexity.
Take a look at this body of text for instance –
Color blindness is usually classified as a mild disability, yet occasionally it can be considered ________: some evolutionary studies suggest that people with some types of color blindness  _________ colors that people with normal color vision find ___________ .

  1. a severe disability
  2. a gift
  3. advantageous
  4. can discern
  5. indistinguishable.

Sure, this isn’t the most complex sentence that you might see, neither is it the longest, but the text does provide you a sample of how a Text Completion question could convolute the intended message.
Let us explain: Although you might be predisposed to filling the first blanked portion with a word such as “a severe disability”, it is equally likely that the words “a gift” could fit the context as well! Remember that the keyword here is “mild disability” and the transition word is “yet”.
If you work with this knowledge, solving this question becomes easy. The only words that could fit the context are “advantageous”, “can discern” and “indistinguishable”.

How do you overcome complex sentence structures?

Pay heed to transition words.
In the question discussed ‘yet occasionally’ showed a contrast in the logical flow of the idea discussed.
Never approach TC by filling in the blank with what “sounds correct”.
Instead, pay heed to structural cues within the sentences that show the flow of direction: the keywords. ‘usually classified as a mild disability’ was the keyword in the question discussed previously.

2. Difficult Vocabulary

As mentioned in previous blogs, GRE tests contextual meaning. Failing to understand this results in problems: students end up having a very superficial understanding of the words and find themselves dumbfounded when they realize that they cannot relate to the words tested even though these words have already been “studied”.
One aspect that is challenging about text completion vocabulary is that nuances in meaning are tested. Another aspect that makes vocabulary in Text Completion challenging is that secondary meanings are tested.
For instance:
The Senator made a _________ endorsement of the new immigration policy, stating that while its scope was limited, it does amend some of the inconsistencies of the current immigration policies.

  1. unrestrained
  2. wholehearted
  3. reviled
  4. qualified
  5. protracted

The structure for this text was not that complex; the vocabulary for the most part was not challenging either. But we’re willing to bet a pretty penny that many of you may not have gotten to the correct response, or if you did – you got there with some difficulty. The answer to this question is “qualified”!
Why “qualified”?
We know that the senator’s endorsement wouldn’t have been a wholehearted one; it is restrained or limited because we know that he feels that the policy’s scope is limited. “Qualified”, apart from meaning ‘to have the required qualifications’, also means ‘limited’.

How do you work around  difficult vocabulary?

Use a wordlist that addresses secondary meanings that are tested on the GRE.
Understand that secondary definitions are sometimes tested on the GRE.
Look out for parts of speech among the answer choices. All options for a specific blank will always be of the same part of speech. If a familiar word is being used in a different part of speech, it is probable that a secondary meaning is tested.
For example:
The word wag as a Verb means to move rapidly, like the tail of a dog; but the word wag as a Noun means a witty and intelligent person!
Leave us your comments in the comments section below!

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