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Tips for Answering GRE Sentence Equivalence Questions

Following is a list of tips for handling the GRE Sentence Equivalence format — one of three basic question formats you'll encounter during each of the exam's Verbal Reasoning sections.

  1. First fill in the blank with your own word. As you read the sentence the first time, think of your own word to fill in the blank. Do this before scanning the answer choices. This technique can help you eliminate wrong answer choices and home-in on the correct ones.

  2. Pay close attention to signal words. Look for words in the sentence that help you determine its intended meaning as a whole and to fill in the blank appropriately. For example, words such as and, since and thus signal a logical continuity of ideas, while words such as but, yet and although signal contrasting ideas. (Notice the use of the word while in the previous sentence to signal contrast.)

  3. Don't insist that the correct word pair be perfect synonyms. The two correct choices will provide words that are similar in meaning but not necessarily synonymous. Conversely, two answer choices that provide perfect synonyms may both be incorrect because neither fits the sentence's context.

  4. Take reasoned guesses at the meaning of unfamiliar words. Some answer choices may provide words that are unfamiliar to you. A word's root or prefix often provides a clue as to its meaning. In any event, never presume that an answer choice is correct merely because it provides an obscure word. Fill in the blank based on what you know rather than what you don't know.

  5. A word that fits the sentence is not necessarily a correct choice. Never hasten to select an answer choice merely because it provides a word that fits the sentence. To be correct, it must be paired with another one that provides a good fit and gives the sentence a similar meaning.

  6. Check for word-usage and idiom problems. You can confidently eliminate any choice that results in a confusing, awkward or idiomatically improper phrase or sentence.

  7. Consider all the answer choices. Don't confirm your response until you've considered each and every choice. The qualitative difference among choices can be subtle, especially if you've moved up to a challenging level.