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Sentence Equivalence Strategies for Difficult Questions – Revised GRE

The Scattered Clue

In both Sentence Completions and Sentence Equivalence questions, a good strategy is looking for the clue—the part of the sentence that tells us what word goes in the blank. Sometimes, on Sentence Equivalence questions, clues tend to be scattered. That means you have to rely on several parts of the sentence to construct an overall meaning.

In the Sentence Equivalence challenge from yesterday, we encountered a scatter clue. Let’s have another look.

That the nightmarish depictions common to most 20th century dystopian novels are exaggerated should by no means diminish the — power of these works, for many of the visions they conjure up are reflected, albeit in less vivid form, in many totalitarian governments today.

[A] sustained

[B] relevant

[C] comprehensive

[D] political

[E] revelatory

[F] prophetic


Construct Meaning

A very useful strategy is to construct meaning from several parts of the sentence. Let’s look at this Sentence Equivalence question again, this time highlighting important parts.

That the nightmarish depictions common to most 20th century dystopian novels are exaggerated should by no means diminish the — power of these works, for many of the visions they conjure up are reflected, albeit in less vivid form, in many totalitarian governments today.

(A) sustained

(B) relevant

(C) comprehensive

(D) political

(E) revelatory

(F) prophetic

From these highlighted parts, I can construct meaning. First, I need to rephrase the sentence in my own words. In the past, I referred to this strategy as breaking down the sentence. What this means is you put the sentence in your own words. This is a vital strategy on which many students get stuck. Instead of trying to put the sentence in their own words, they continue looking down at the text of the Sentence Equivalence. When breaking down a Sentence Equivalence/Completion or even Reading Comprehension questions, it is imperative to look away from the sentence and actively construct meaning in your head (as a tutor, I often find myself having to cover up the question with my hand because students find it so difficult to look away).


Simplifying the Sentence Equivalence Question

With this Sentence Equivalence above, I could break it down as follows:

These books exaggerated the future will be but they are still — because some of those predictions are more or less true.

Notice I’m avoiding the jargon of the sentence, “nightmarish depictions”, “albeit in less vivid form”, etc. This is the very jargon that ensnares students, and so they are unable to look away from the text. Again, breaking down a sentence consists not just of looking away from the sentence once you’ve picked up on/translated the important parts (the scattered clue), but of simplifying the complex.

Of note: ETS has created Sentence Equivalence questions because they want to make sure students are able to pick up on the “big picture” when reading a sentence. Getting tripped up on the verbiage, however, makes seeing the big picture difficult.


Come Up with Own Word

Anyway, back to the dystopian novels. I’ve constructed my own simplified sentence and I’ve left room for a blank. Now it is time to put in my own word and match that word with the answer choices. Let’s take another look at my simplified sentence.

These books exaggerate the way the future will be, but they are still — because some of those predictions more or less came true.

Relevant and prophetic are two words that jump to mind. True, these are both answer choices and so I’m probably biased to them. Maybe you could have used pertinent or even a phrase, such as “accurate gauges of the future.”

Regardless, the meaning is the same, and you could very well be left with the answer choices (B) relevant  (F) prophetic. However, we are forgetting an important step.

It may be argued that relevant doesn’t work because stylistically it doesn’t connect with the word power. Phrased another way, what does it mean for something to have relevant power? Relevant works for the entire sentence, i.e. dystopian novels are still relevant today, but the word relevant doesn’t quite fit in the blank.


Synonymous Pair

The answer choices have to be similar. Does relevant mean the same thing as prophetic? Well, if I make a prediction and it turns out to be true then that prediction is prophetic. Would that prediction be relevant? Maybe, in fact, it very well could be relevant. But to say it is relevant does not mean that it is the same as prophetic.

Let’s say I predict it rains this Friday and, lo and behold, we have precipitation on Friday. My words will always be deemed prophetic. But will they be relevant? A year later, I wouldn’t say my prophetic words on the weather would be relevant. If I were making another prediction on the weather, however, then my prophetic words of a year earlier could be relevant again. Otherwise, my prophecy on last year’s weather is not relevant.

Or here is another—shall we say, more relevant—example. I make the prediction that the GRE will have Sentence Equivalence questions that are more difficult than those found in the ETS book. If I turn out to be right, then my words will be prophetic. However, if you take the Revised GRE and have moved on from GRE prepping (despite how much fun it can be), my prophecy will lose it relevancy.


Final Strategy

At this point, we must employ our last Sentence Equivalence strategy—find words that are similar in meaning and create synonymous sentences.

Let’s start with relevant. Are any of the other words synonyms for relevant? Sustained means constant, undiminished. This word is not a synonym for relevant. Is it a synonym for prophetic? Nope.

Now the next word (C) comprehensive, which means thorough. This word is not synonymous with either of our words. The next word, political (D), also fails the test.

Finally, there is revelatory. If something is revelatory, it reveals the future. This is clearly a synonym for prophetic, but not relevant. And here we have our other answer.

Therefore, the final answers are (E) revelatory and (F) prophetic.



This was a challenging question, one you would probably only see if you were getting to the more difficult verbal section on the Revised GRE.

Nonetheless, let’s review the necessary steps when breaking down a difficult Sentence Equivalence question.

1. Read and look for scattered clues
2. Use the clues to build own sentence
3. Look away from the sentence equivalence
4. Create simplified sentence (avoid using jargon from sentence)
5. Come up with own word
6. Match Word with Answers
7. Look for synonymous pairs of words

These strategies are sure to help soon-to-be test takers raise their scores when it comes to Sentence Equivalence.

By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

14 Responses to Sentence Equivalence Strategies for Difficult Questions – Revised GRE

  1. Samina August 21, 2016 at 8:25 am #

    I failed to understand the meaning of the following sentences. Can you please simplify and explain it?
    That such a….. of precedent would be countenanced was itself unprecedented in the court,a bastion of traditionalism

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 21, 2016 at 6:04 pm #

      I’ll be happy to simplify this for you. Based on the opening part of the sentence and the blank, the subject of the sentence is a thing related to legal precedent. In general, a “precedent” is an earlier event that influences or is similar to a later event. “Legal precedent” refers to any decision by a judge that influences the law or can be used to decide later court cases.

      Next, the sentence talks about the possibility of this legal precedent being “countenanced.” “Countenanced” means “accepted” or “considered as a possibility.” In order for a legal precedent to actually influence the law or be use din later court cases, the precedent has to be accepted as valid by a judge or a group of judges in a court.

      From there, the sentence is saying that this important court decision is “unprecedented.” If something is “unprecedented” in means there is no earlier event that is similar to it. So the countenancing– the acceptance— of a certain kind of legal precedent hasn’t happened before. If the legal precedent in this sentence is accepted, it will be the first time this kind of legal precedent has been accepted in this particular court, by these particular judges.

      Finally, the writer describes the court, so that the reader can understand why the court is unlikely to accept and create a new legal precedent. The court is a “bastion of traditionalism.” “Bastion” means a place where something is very important or is protected. Traditionalism means following the old ways and not wanting things to change. So the court is unwilling to accept a certain kind of legal precedent because the court is very traditional.

      This gives you a clue as to what word to put in the blank– it might be a word that indicates the legal precedent would somehow break the rules of tradition or introduce some very new ideas to the court system.

  2. Jaimie June 14, 2015 at 11:27 pm #

    I’m confused as to where in the sentence states the books are foretelling the future??

  3. sahul April 22, 2015 at 4:33 pm #

    Hi chris,

    In the question, isn’t the phrase “albeit in less vivid form” a shifter?? and the sentence before the comma(,) opposite of this phrase?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 26, 2015 at 7:10 pm #

      Hi Sahul,

      Good question!

      The contrast highlighted by the shifter you noted is between the novel’s depiction of dystopian societies and actual dystopian societies (the latter isn’t quite as vivid). That shifter doesn’t relate to the meaning of the sentence as a whole: dystopian novels are still prophetic of today’s societies; the worlds depicted in the novels happened to be more vivid.

      Hope that helps!

  4. Monica August 11, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    Thank you 🙂 I seem to always have issues with SE when going through practice questions. This was definitely helpful. All the blogs with strategies on how to go through certain questions are all helpful. Thanks again!

  5. Shashi June 2, 2012 at 7:20 am #

    if it would have been sentence completion then what would be more apposite?
    Prophetic or Revelatory
    I still think revelatory wont make a good sense in the sense, What you reveal is the current things unnoticed. a book which reveals the future in hindsight . does it make sense??

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 4, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

      Hi Shashi,

      Either would work for Sentence Completion. I agree that ‘prophetic’ is the better word.

      Hope that helps :).

  6. Jemimah July 16, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

    So, what are the best practice materials for these things? One that would hit the difficult questions?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 4, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

      Hi Jemimah,

      Not to toot the Magoosh horn, but I believe we offer the most difficult SE questions out there. And unlike Manhattan GRE books, which just use obscure words, our material reflects that found on the actual exam. Have a look around the blog and you can find many SE and TC questions written by yours truly :).

      You can check out our GRE product at

      Let me know if you have any other questions :).

      • abhay July 2, 2012 at 9:24 am #

        I have had the same observation. Manhattan GRE SE and TC questions are replete with obscure words. However if you see the questions in GRE OG, they have very few obscure words. Instead they focus on complicated sentence construction and very deceitful answer choices. Have been through Kaplan as well and that too is stylistically different.

        • Chris Lele
          Chris July 2, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

          Hi Abhay,

          Thanks for the confirmation :).

          MGRE just loads up the obscure words. The Revised GRE doesn’t really give a hoot about obscure words. Tangled sentence structure on the other hand is exactly what most students will have to contend with come grad school.

          As for Kaplan, “stylistically different” is, at least for me, a euphemism :).

  7. shivgan joshi July 2, 2011 at 1:02 am #

    Superb info, really a great work.
    Thank you for the efforts and guidance.


    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 5, 2011 at 10:28 am #

      Great! I’m happy you found the post helpful. Let me know if there is anything else regarding Sentence Equivalence questions that I can elaborate on.

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