Many students worry about the GRE verbal test section, especially once they find out four questions will be sentence equivalence.
I’ve had to take a number of standardized tests myself, and I’ve realized sentence equivalence doesn’t have to be so scary.
Today, I’m explaining everything about GRE sentence equivalence questions, as well as tips and tricks that helped me and thousands of other people as well.
What are Sentence Equivalence Questions?
At first glance, sentence equivalence questions look like the usual “fill in the blank” sentences.
But they’re not.
You’re given six options, and you have to fill in the blank with two correct answer choices.
When you use these two choices to fill in the blank, the sentence must have the same meaning.
This makes the two correct answers synonym pairs. Why is sentence equivalence structured like this?
Because sentence equivalence, similarly to text completion, tests your ability to determine how a single sentence should be completed based on partial information.
Your task is to find two similar words that mean the same thing when used to complete the sentence.
Note: Both of your two answer choices have to be correct. There are no points for getting only one correct answer.
Sentence Equivalence Structure
6 Tips on Choosing Correct Answer Choices on Sentence Equivalence
1. Use Context Clues
Think about how you would do a text completion sentence, and let the same idea guide you when choosing the correct answer choices.
Sentence equivalence questions will give you context clues. This is the key clue in the sentence, which helps you know what words to look for .
“Since this strategy is all about context, the main questions you should be asking yourself, as you’re reading sentences, is: Does this word of phrase provide context for the blank?”
- Brent Hanneson, GreenlightTestPrep
Let’s check a practice example.
I was anxious all week, waiting ______ for the job interview results.
- ) Nervously
- ) Keenly
- ) Excitedly
- ) Ostensibly
- ) Concernedly
- ) Allegedly
Don’t worry if you don’t know the definition for each of these. Instead, look for the key clue. This word can point you in the right direction for correct sentence completion.
The sentence above talks about how a person felt while waiting for the test results, so it's clear that our clue is the word anxious.
Your next step is finding the two words that mean the same thing. It’s clear straight away that keenly and excitedly aren’t the right choices because they don’t mean the same thing as being nervous.
As for the other answer choices, ostensibly and allegedly are also wrong answers because they don’t fit the sentence’s meaning.
So, you know the correct choices are nervously and concernedly because their definition is similar to the clue word and fits the sentence context the best.
Identifying the key clue can lead you to identify the correct words and rule out other words that are wrong for the sentence.
2. Eliminate Outlier Words
I’ve talked about how the two words you choose can be synonyms, which means they have a similar meaning.
This means you can eliminate straight away all the words that don’t have any matches — the outlier words.
Let’s check an example:
It was concluded at Tuesday's meeting that we should employ fewer people who tend to act _________ and illogically in crisis situations.
- ) Confusedly
- ) Prodigally
- ) Zealously
- ) Laudably
- ) Irrationally
- ) Pragmatically
Once you read the sentence and go through the examples, it’s clear straight away that prodigally, zealously, laudably, and pragmatically aren’t synonyms.
This leaves confusedly and irrationally, which are the correct answer choices.
3. Avoid the Synonym Trap
While it’s important to identify synonyms, you should also be familiar with synonym traps.
Students often start by looking for synonyms. Once a synonym is found, students think they’ve got the right answer and don’t pay enough attention to other words.
The trick is that if you identify the synonyms doesn’t mean you’ve got the right answer.
Here’s what to keep in mind to do GRE sentence equivalence questions correctly:
- ) Well-mannered
- ) Enigmatic
- ) Respectful
- ) Audacious
- ) Fervid
- ) Bewildering
Here we have two pairs of synonyms: well-mannered and respectful and enigmatic and bewildering.
So, how to choose the correct one? By checking the sentence's meaning and finding the keyword or a phrase. Here it's an obedient child.
Based on this, you can conclude what’s the correct synonym pair — well-mannered and respectful.
A good way to get a handle on this is to do GRE sentence equivalence practice. The more GRE prep you do, the more vocabulary traps you’ll know to watch out for, and the more knowledge you’ll have.
You’ll also have a blank on the causation part, for which you have to choose two words.
How do you know it’s causation?
Because the blank will have a cause/effect relationship to the remainder of the sentence.
Moreover, some words indicate this is a causation question, such as:
- Owing to
- So as to
- Due to
- Resulting in
- In view of
- The reason for
Let’s check an example:
Whole families were forced to move since their homes were __________ by a deadly tornado.
- ) Vacillated
- ) Bolstered
- ) Demolished
- ) Confounded
- ) Dismantled
- ) Harangued
We know this is causation because it contains the word since. The cause is that the tornado destroyed people’s homes and the effect that people had to move.
So, you can conclude that the correct answer choices are demolished and dismantled.
5. Insert Your Own Word
When you’re reading the sentence for the first time, stop for a moment and think about which word you would put in the blank space to complete it. Of course, make sure the words you come up with make sense.
Then look at the vocabulary choices offered on the GRE test, and see if you can find words with a similar meaning among the choices offered.
When retelling stories from their personal lives, many people will try to retell them in a positive light; indeed, people are ____________ to do so.
- ) Capricious
- ) Ingenuous
- ) Apt
- ) Loquacious
- ) Inconstant
- ) Inclined
The first word that comes to mind when reading the passage is prone. Once you check the vocabulary words offered, it’s easy to choose apt and inclined as the ones that make the most sense.
6. Rewrite the Sentence
My final tip for GRE test sentence equivalence is to rewrite the sentence in your own words.
GRE test sentences are often very dense and difficult to understand, so simplifying it can help you get the right answer.
Although the amount of students enrolling in technical courses has risen in recent months, graduation rates have ____________ drastically.
- ) Desiccated
- ) Decreased
- ) Venerated
- ) Vacillated
- ) Engendered
- ) Diminished
If you get stuck on the test, to get ideas and avoid incorrect phrases, you can rewrite this: Although more students are enrolling, fewer students are graduating.
Then it’s easy to find which vocabulary means respected: decreased and diminished.
What are Your Tips for Studying for GRE Sentence Equivalence?
I’ve covered all the tips and tricks my students have found useful when dealing with text completion problems.
To choose the right answers work on your ability to identify them, and always look for explanations of unfamiliar words. You should also try to expand your vocabulary skills and knowledge, and practice whenever you can.
As long as you stick to these solutions, you’re guaranteed to ace your GRE verbal score.