Cracking SE section in GRE

Alongside, we discuss the strategies needed to ace these questions as well as the pitfalls to avoid.

Last couple of weeks, we peeked in to the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning Sections on GRE. Starting this week, I shall take you through a few common question types that you see on the GRE Test. Alongside, we discuss the strategies needed to ace these questions as well as the pitfalls to avoid. By the end of this series, I hope you will be sufficiently informed about GRE to score well and be in contention for pursuing your dream course at some of the top universities of the world. Let us start by looking in to Sentence Equivalence from Verbal Reasoning.

Sentence Equivalence (SE) questions – a close cousin of the one-blank Text Completion (TC) Questions – form a major chunk of the Verbal Reasoning (VR) Section in GRE. You would find at least 4 SE questions in a typical VR Section of 20 Questions. Combined with one-blank TC questions – these form almost 30 to 40% of the Verbal Reasoning section. No wonder, a good performance, 80% or more accuracy, in SE is the secret to improve your chances of cracking 320+ – a benchmark for a good performance in GRE. SE questions are often easy pickings if you, the test-taker, have spent some time and effort towards understanding the strategies to crack these.

In a one-blank TC question, the objective is to identify one option from among five option that best fills the sentence. Your objective is to ensure that the chosen option ensures that the sentence/paragraph is logically, grammatically and stylistically coherent. SE Questions, on the other hand, comprise one single sentence with one blank (so far, no way different from one-blank TC) but require you to choose two options from among six options. Buy why two options? Let us look at the instruction to understand this better –

Select the two answer choices that, when used to complete the sentence, fit the meaning of the sentence as a whole and produce completed sentences that are alike in meaning.

The two options that you choose should not just complete the sentence logically but also produce sentences that mean the same thing. Test-takers often interpret this challenge as identifying two synonyms from the six options – after all, if the two choices are synonymous, they are bound to produce sentences which mean the same thing. However, this does not work in all the cases – and GRE is a cunning exam – set up to trap the student in to the likeliest of mistakes.

At Conduira, we love grouping things and providing a structure. Our belief has been that anything that can be structured can be understood better and thereby be conquered! SE questions could also be categorised in to two varieties based on the kind of options that are provided –

One pair of synonymous option choices while the rest of the options are not related

This case is the easiest. It comes down to identifying the two synonyms from the options. This is like a direct test of your vocabulary. As a result, you might not see this variety too often in the test.

Two pairs of synonymous but contradicting option choices while the other options are not related

One level of difficulty higher than the previous variety. Challenge is now no longer confined to knowledge of vocabulary alone – even after identifying synonymous words, you need to figure out which pair of synonyms give a logical coherence to the sentence. A more common variety of question

Type that you can expect to see in the exam – this type evaluates you on your logical and reasoning skills too!

In both above cases, the level of difficulty can be taken up a notch if a couple of option choices don’t look seemingly synonymous but provide similar meaning to the sentence because of the context they are used in.

Another way to dial up the difficulty quotient is to include option choices which fit in well in to the sentence to provide coherent whole but there isn’t one more option choice that provides a similar meaning to the sentence.

Now that we have understood what is needed to be done for a SE question, let us look at a strategy on how to do this.

Step 1 – Break the sentence into smaller parts using logical connectors, prepositions and punctuation.

Identify the logical flow of the sentence and how the tone changes from one part to another.

Step 2 – Identify the key-words in each of the different parts of the sentence – the words that provide the tone and meaning to the sentence.

Step 3 – Identify the relationship between the blank and the key-words by paying due respect to any negations, double negations or false negations. Use sentence structures wherever relevant to understand the relationship. Basis this understanding, guess the word that could come in the blank.

At this stage, for a one-blank TC – you would have eliminated option choices that do not match the word that you have guessed in Step 3. However, for SE questions – while eliminating options that don’t match with your guessed word, you would also look for two options that would fit in to the blank. Remember that in some cases these two option choices could by directly synonymous while in some cases, they could be distant synonyms.

By now you might have realised that SE questions, while being tricky, can definitely be solved quickly and accurately in the exam. As I wrap up, I shall reiterate that a path to achieve 320+ in GRE goes through a high accuracy performance in SE questions. All it requires is a clear understanding of what is needed to be done and a bit of practice. You now have the former; it is time you get started with the latter – PRACTICE!