Below is a Text Completion from the latest online GRE test. That’s right: the following question is an actual GRE question, which many a poor soul had to suffer through at some point in the last year. I’ve chosen a relatively difficult question, not so much as to intimidate as to illustrate the depth and complexity of the material you are likely to encounter test day.
Historical research makes two somewhat antithetical truths that sounded (i) ______ come to seem profound: knowledge of the past comes entirely from written documents, giving written words great (ii) ______, and the more material you uncover, the more (iii) ______ your subject becomes.
First we want to note the word ‘antithetical’, which means opposite. Thus we have to anticipate that two parts of this Text Completion are going to be in opposition. This opposition doesn’t necessarily refer to the first blank. ‘…come to seem profound’ are the keywords that refer to the first blank. The words ‘come to’ signal a shift, indicating that the first blank is a word that contrasts with profound. (C) banal, which means commonplace and trite, fits the bill nicely. (B) portentous refers to a solemn tone. (A) deep is the same as profound.
For the second blank, we need a word that encompasses the following idea: only written words can capture the post. Thus written words are of great (D) consequence. Watch out for (E) antiquity, which plays on this idea of the past. We wouldn’t say that because only words are capable of capturing the past that words are therefore very old and antique.
Finally, for the third blank, we are looking for an idea that is opposite (don’t forget ‘antithetical’) to the idea that words are of great consequence. If words are so powerful then they should be able to bring a historical figure to life. Yet the opposition between the two ideas is that words fail to capture the essence of the historical figure, who becomes (G) elusive, or hard to pin down.
To solve this question, I had to rely on a combination of keywords (‘antithetical’, ‘profound’) and a sense of the overall idea the sentence was trying to impart. In the end, this big picture interpretation is just important as spotting the key words and knowing the vocabulary.
Very soon I will be releasing videos for every question (including this one) covered on the ETS’s new online GRE test. Stay tuned!