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Strategies for One Blank Text Completions

They may only have one blank, but that does not mean text completions of this kind are easy. On the contrary, one-blank text completions can sometimes be more difficult than their two-blank, and even three-blank, counterparts. So, unless you want to be lulled into complacency, follow the strategies below.

Look for Clues

Your enemy on text-completions, regardless of the number of blanks, is the answer choice. Sure, I know, they are tempting. All you have to do is plug them into the blank, and see how they sound. Falling into this trap, however, can lead you to miss a question you could answer correctly, if you had just plugged in your own word.

Instead, you should always look for the clue, which is a word or phrase that tells you what the blank is about. If there were no such words, then the blank could be about anything. Indeed, you would be playing a game called Mad-libs, in which any word can fit in the blank. With the new GRE, however, there will always be one and only one answer. To find out what that is, you must look for the clue.

Come up with Own Word

Your own word doesn’t have to be an eloquent one, or even a GRE word, for that matter. In fact, sometimes a simple word is your best option. As long as your word matches up with the clue, then you are halfway there.

Match Words with Clues

The final step is to just find your word with the clue. Sometimes, you may be left with more than one answer choice. Other times, you have eliminated both answers. In either case, go back and make sure your word matches with the answer.

Practice Problem

With characteristic _____, H.L. Mencken skewered the sacred cows of his time, criticizing social trends and government institutions with equal asperity.

(A)  hauteur

(B) playfulness

(C)  vitriol

(D) civility

(E)  dash


The clue here is criticizing. Sure, it helps to know what sacred cows (they are cherished beliefs) and asperity (bitterness) are, but you should still be able to come up with your own word based on criticizing. My word is criticizing-ness. I know – it is not an actual word. But, that’s the whole point – you only have to get the meaning of the blank – and the meaning of criticizing-ness is clear.

Now, let’s go through the answer choices. Hauteur may be unfamiliar to you, but you should notice it comes from the word “haughty”, which means arrogant (this is a very common GRE word, and is, in fact, used to define more difficult GRE words, such as supercilious). Arrogance isn’t quite criticizing-ness.

Next we have (B), but playfulness clearly doesn’t work. Then, we have (C) vitriol, the most difficult word of the bunch, and the GRE knows this. In fact, they are offering answer choices that kind of fit the clue, like hauteur, but not really. (D) civility is not one of these words, but (E) dash is. If you do something with dash, you do it with flair. Couldn’t you criticize something with flair? Sure. The only problem is, there is no clue – that is word or phrase – that supports dash.

Of course, knowing asperity helps. Asperity, meaning bitterness, matches up perfectly with vitriol, which means bitter criticism.

Even had you not known this, successfully eliminating three of the five answers gives you a 50-50 chance of guessing correctly. Plugging in the answer choices into the blanks, on the other hand, does not increase your odds.


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4 Responses to Strategies for One Blank Text Completions

  1. Nachiappan December 30, 2013 at 8:01 am #

    Hi chris,

    I am thinking why (A) is not the correct answer since Mencken’s character may be a kind of arrogant always about his deeds (skewering the sacred cows )…

    am i going out of proportion here.. 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele January 3, 2014 at 10:22 am #

      Hi Nachiappan,

      Yeah, (A) is tricky. It “kind of” words, because, as you noted, if someone is skewering the sacred cows they “could be” arrogant. However, these questions have clues that you have to match literally–or word for word–with the answer. The keyword here is “asperity”, which is a synonym for vitriol. The “skewering the sacred cows” clue also fits a little better with vitriol, which means harsh criticism.

      Hope that helps!

  2. satish August 4, 2012 at 8:56 am #


    I had a doubt. If vitriol means a bitter criticism then why is it not the answer?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris August 6, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

      Hi Satish,

      (C) vitriol is the answer. Sorry if that wasn’t clear :).

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