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GRE Sentence Equivalence — The Perfect Word Trap

Now that we have a subset of questions known as Sentence Equivalence, in which we have two possible answers, we must be careful when picking the word that works best for a blank. The rule with Sentence Equivalence is that the two answers must be synonyms, i.e. very similar words.

With this in mind try the question below.

As we age, our political leanings tend to become less ________; the once dyed-in-wool conservative can betray liberal leanings, and the staunch progressive may suddenly embrace conservative policies.

(A) demanding

(B) extreme

(C) pronounced

(D) biased

(E) conspicuous

(F)  obtuse

How to Crack It!

So the perfect word in this case is extreme. It even goes together with the word political. But does that mean extreme is one of the answers? Only if there is another word that is a synonym with extreme. Alas, there is none.

Or maybe you thought that biased was an even better answer. Again, the word seems to fit the political context. But are biased and extreme synonyms? They are not. Does biased have a synonym amongst the remaining answer choices? Again, no.

So, even though extreme and biased both worked independently neither of them is the answer (and now you see why many are afraid to take the new GRE).

One option, then, is to basically ignore the sentence and find a pair of synonyms. This method was one I espoused earlier, with one condition: that you have a strong vocabulary. So let’s say you do. In this sentence there is only one pair of synonyms: conspicuous and pronounced. Both are synonyms for marked/obvious. When you plug that back into the sentence, it makes sense–as we age our political tendencies become less obvious.

Notice, too, how the sentence talks about how as people age their political leanings take on aspects of the opposing sides. If you pick up on this, you can also arrive at the answer, without necessarily having a strong vocabulary.


All in all, this was a toughie. But remember, tread lightly on Sentence Equivalence. Don’t just dive into the answer choices and grab onto the word that sounds the best. Sometimes, what appears perfect can be a trap.

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16 Responses to GRE Sentence Equivalence — The Perfect Word Trap

  1. Barun Mazumdar August 28, 2015 at 1:29 am #

    Shouldn’t be “Extreme” and “Pronounced” ? As our adherence to particular political thoughts become less extreme(of great severity) and pronounced(strongly marked)?

  2. Zeba October 16, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    Hey Chris!

    Whats the answer to this one ? I am stumped !! And couldnt be sure of the answer after your explanations.
    Looks like C and E to me though!

    Also, I would like to utilise this platform to thank you for the wonderful video explanations ,Vocab Wednesdays and Blog Posts making the tough Verbal Section seem easy 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 17, 2013 at 11:56 am #

      Hi Zeba,

      Yes! (C) and (E) are the answers. Both words mean “obvious, noticeable”.

      Hope that helps!

  3. Amitl August 27, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    Hi Chris, Is it always necessary that the two words have to be synonyms? I read in other books like PR that its not necessary as long as the two words perfectly complete the sentence.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele August 28, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

      That is an interesting question! It’s actually pretty complicated, and I think a lot of publishers out there get it wrong.

      While the GRE says that the sentences simply have to be “synonymous” (whatever that means), at the end of the day almost all of the sentence equivalence questions ETS has released feature answers that are very close synonyms. There is maybe one case where the answers are “pretty close” synonyms but not exact ones (even the question of what constitutes a synonym is not clear cut).

      But if you only rely on the idea of synonymous sentences, you can get words that are very unrelated to each other still be the answers–something ETS would never do.

      For instance, look at the following sentences:

      1) The Batman trilogy was a box office juggernaut, grossing well over a billion dollars.

      2) The Batman trilogy was a box office darling, grossing well over a billion dollars.

      Both of those sentences are the exact same, i.e. batman did really well at the box office.

      Of course, “darling” and “juggernaut” are very different words (I don’t imagine one’s spouse taking to fondly to being called a juggernaut :)).

      So the takeaway from all this, is the words have to be very similar, and also create synonymous sentences.

      Hope that helps!

      • Karan August 13, 2014 at 8:57 am #

        That explanation was great Chris! Thanks a bunch! 🙂

        This helps a lot in judging if a SE question we encounter in the wild is correct or not!

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele August 13, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

          You are welcome 🙂

  4. Siddharth June 11, 2013 at 4:12 am #

    nice one chris!!!!! Thanks

  5. Diksha June 6, 2013 at 10:38 pm #

    This was helpful. I picked up “extreme” and “pronounced” and did not really know the meaning of conspicuous. I guess I am a bit reluctant to use the words I don’t know. But this example helped.

    I particularly liked the feature that the relevant posts are added as links to lessons so reading the posts is not an overwhelming job – I can read it along with the lesson.


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 7, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

      Hi Diksha,

      Thanks for the feedback! I’m glad the lesson link feature is working and you found this blog post instructive. The perfect word trap is definitely one that can make a relatively straightforward SE, much more difficult.

  6. tareq bag March 27, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

    staggeringly helpful. thanks a lot.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 28, 2012 at 11:55 am #

      Great, I love the phrasing in your kudos :).

      • Subhadeep April 30, 2012 at 7:14 am #

        awesome job man 🙂

        • Chris Lele
          Chris April 30, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

          Thanks for your kudos :).

  7. shabnam February 27, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    very good post thank you

    • Chris Lele
      Chris February 27, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

      Great! I’m happy it was helpful 🙂

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