Setence Completion Introduction
The Sentence Completion question format has been a staple on the GRE for several years. It represents one of the four question-types on the verbal section of the current GRE. It’s a unique testing tool, appearing on only one other standardized exam—the SAT.
Recently, however, ETS has begun to tweak the sentence completion structure and the result is a more difficult version. While the original formats remain for the bulk of the questions, the newer edition is more difficult and more time consuming.
This page contains sample questions of with answers and complete explanations. Each of the samples in this set is designed to provide a useful review experience by including extensive learning elements that surround and support each sample question. Exposure to these samples should prove helpful for future questions.
Don’t concern yourself with pacing in working through the orientation. It represents a learning experience not a testing instrument. Timing is not important; just make sure you complete the entire set.
There are two (and possibly four) formats for Sentence Completion questions. These generally appear in every Verbal Reasoning section.
- one-blank, five-response sentences (a staple since October 2000)
- two-blank, five-response sentences (a staple since October 2000)
- two-blank, three-response sentences (a possibility as of November 2007)
- three-blank, three-response sentences (a possibility as of November 2007)
Regardless of format, your task in a Sentence Completion question is to fill in the blank, or blanks, with a word or words that match the content, syntax, and tone of the rest of the sentence.
Visit www.gre.org to ascertain current ETS policy on these question-formats.
Break Down of Sentence Completion Question
Here are the directions you’ll find on the exam:
Directions: Each sentence that follows has one or two blanks, each blank indicating that something has been omitted. Beneath the sentence are five lettered words or sets of words. Choose the word or set of words for each blank that best fits the meaning of the sentence as a whole.
Directions attend each question on the screen. Don’t waste time reading these. They won’t change for your exam.
In this sentence, the speaker is not soliciting ideas from others; rather, the speaker lectured (no interaction with the audience). Look for a choice that describes someone who does not encourage open dialogue but instead lectures (gives a formal, non-interactive talk on a specific subject).
Note that lectured often has negative connotations—we don’t usually like to be lectured about something.
On the exam they’ll not describe the question for you. For example they won’t provide this heading: One-Blank, Five-Response Question Format. You’ll have to figure it out for yourself by noting the features on the sentence (one or more blanks) and characteristics of the answer choices.
Instead of ovals we use letters to the left of each answer choice in our materials. In this way it is easier to identify, compare, and discuss the answer choices.
Both the sentences and the answer choices become an integral part of your analysis. You need to spend time on both.
Always read the sentence(s) closely, twice if necessary, to understand how the phrasing supports, modifies, and impacts the blank(s). There are always key words and phrases, helpful clues, which direct you to the credited response.
Start your evaluations at the first answer choice, in this case (A) and proceed down through (E), not bypassing any choice.
This consistency prevents confusion and is usually rewarded.
You have to decide whether to remember to return to (A) notion or use your scratch paper (white board) for note taking. But, decide during the review—will you remember or will you use your scratch paper— not at the test center.
Take Aways: (for future questions)
- These questions require that you follow the logic of the sentence.
- Often, getting the question right relies on knowing the words and their meanings. We’ll discuss the importance of building your vocabulary as we move along.
[This question is less difficult.]
Subtle shadings in word meanings (detection versus discovery) provide the reason for eliminating answer choice (D) detection.
Look for the way the words differ. Columbus made a discovery. Sherlock Holmes was a detective.
Stay focused and logical in your analysis. Don’t resort to outside information like the Michael Moore reference.
Respect the test-maker but understand the many ploys they use to direct you to the Good Wrong Answer. Don’t get emotionally involved with any question.
Note the chronological shift in this sentence—two scientists from different eras; their work being compared. This is a good insight to begin with.
This, one-blank sentence completion is a typical question format that will be among the 14 sentence completions you will see on the exam.
As we move along you’ll notice the wide variety of the subject matter for the sentence completion questions. This sentence is about ideas or theses comparing two scientists of different eras.
Remain focused and impartial as you analyze each question.
Learn to spend no more than 60 seconds, on average, on these one-blanks questions. Adopt a methodology. Be consistent in your approach.
Other sentence completion question-types will be more complex and demand additional analysis and hence more time.
Words and Phrases
Make sure you understand the meaning of a given answer choice. A word can have more than one meaning. And there may be additional associations implied by a word in besides its literal meaning.
Note the phrase bear out in the sentence, which in this context means to prove. This phrase is often used in the past tense:
The findings have been borne out.
And the phrase apparently has more to do with proving theories than rules or guides.
The answer choice word must be viewed in the context of the sentence to ascertain the meaning intended.
Prescription has, at least, three meanings:
- An instruction written by a medical practitioner
- A recommendation that is authoritatively put forward
- In law, the establishment of a claim founded on the basis of a long or indefinite period of uninterrupted use or of long-standing custom.
Meaning number two (above) is the appropriate definition in the context of this sentence.
Distractors are exactly what the word suggests—they are potential answer choices that distract you from the credited response.
By using the process of elimination these distractors can be discard one in turn, leaving you with the credited response.
Use this technique methodically on every sentence completion question. It will force you to examine each choice and find a reason to dismiss a potential answer.
This process should enhance your chances of choosing the right one.
The word that (Africa) is a clue, signifying the end of the sentence connects to the blank. Here, Dart’s discovery confirms something that Darwin found out about primate evolution.
This helps to understand that Darwin must have had an idea or a theory before the discovery was made. Look for a like-meaning word among the responses.
Seeing the word in a sentence helps to remember its meaning.
]The prescience of her weekend weather reports was astounding.
Remember the approach to these questions:
- Be methodical and analytical.
- Look for key words and phrases.
- Study the logical construct of the sentence.
- Sometimes it is help to return to the sentence while analyzing answer choices.
[This question of of medium difficulty.]
Be aware of prefixes (see pre-science) and suffixes because they can help you figure out the meaning of the words in the sentence and the answer choices.
Don’t choose an answer without examining and comparing the other options. Here notion could be a fit, but you always are looking for the most apt (qualified, likely, suited) word or phrase. Had we stuck with notion without testing prescience, we would have gotten this question wrong. They’re called distractors because they look good enough to distract you into picking them.
Engage in a comparative analysis for every Sentence Completion question.
The subject matter for sentence completions can vary from history to humanities; from chemistry to chamomile; or from baseball to Bulgaria.
You won’t be at a disadvantage if you’re unfamiliar with the topic. The process is the same.
The methodology we encourage is useful, simplistic, and doesn’t vary. Read the sentence twice looking for significant terms that affect the blank(s).
Peruse the answer choices, one-in-turn articulating reasons to discard. Make an educated selection and move on.
This process (hopefully) leaves you with a final two choices. Compare closely and make an intelligent, educated decision.
As you read the sentence, note the shift in thought created by the signpost—yet. The subject matter of the sentence and the way in which it’s presented calls for a more dramatic adjective than (A) secondary. Ultimate can also mean final or last. The chronology of the sentence, “. . . earned him . . .” followed by“. . . was always the power . . .” suggests a series of events over time. This is another clue that points to ultimate as the credited response.
Some signposts set up contrasts between words, ideas, or other elements in the sentence. Here is a list of contrast words that includes yet.
- not likely
- on the other hand
The tone of the sentence suggests power and strength that (C) elusive doesn’t match.
The language that precedes the blank (conquered, soldiery) doesn’t suggest the word (D) unworthy.
Every answer choice has a chance until you place it in the sentence and articulate a reason to reject it.
Use the process of elimination on every question. There are few automatic answer-choice throw aways. This process of elimination method will help you to maximize your efforts on this section.
[This question is less difficult.]
(E) Idiosyncratic is the good wrong answer. The word involves a personality trait. And, given the brief resume, Caesar does seem distinctive and unique. But the sentence doesn’t focus on Caesar’s reputation or personality but rather on his goals.
This sentence has phrases as answer choices but this doesn’t alter your analysis.
All five choices are in the proper grammatical form and all are possible choices.
The prefix of amorphous is a, which means without, lack of. In this context, amorphous means absence of shape.
Consider these words with the same prefix: amnesia (loss of memory) and amoral (lacking moral principles).
The first two clauses are very descriptive, leading to the blank. Don’t get caught up in the verbosity. Escarpment refers to a lengthy, steep slope, especially an incline at the edge of a plateau Wraith means ghost, spirit, or phantom.
The key is matching formless wraith with a synonym. Knowing the definition of amorphous (indeterminate, vague, nebulous) is very helpful here.
Some signposts hold elements of a sentence in apposition (agreement). Like is such a word, suggesting a description or comparison to follow.
Other such words, including like, are listed below.
If you are confident in your choice of (A), consider skipping the other answer choices to save time.
(C) insidious means stealthy, subtle, surreptitious, cunning, shifty, underhanded, indirect, and sneaky.
The investigative reporter spoke of the insidious bond between big money and political decisions.
Negative words like (C) and (E) would not be appropriate modifiers for a shape.
(D) amalgamate is a good wrong answer. It’s an appropriate descriptor for a rock formation and seems to meet all the geological requirements. So, for a moment, it looks like a decent choice. But, not compared to (A).
(E) nefarious (comes from “nefas,” a crime or transgression) is a fairly easy throw away.
[This question is less difficult.]
The last clause in the sentence impacts the blank the most. The signpost, like, plays an important role in shaping this question.
Short sentences are not necessarily easier to analyze. Fewer words mean fewer clues.
The signpost is however, sandwiched between the words critics and found. Critic (evaluator, analyst, judge) is a key word I like to work with because it carries such strong implications.
The critics swarmed into the mall to air their complaints.
This sentence is a study of opposites (or purported opposites). The role of the signpost however is paramount. The shift in the sentence this word provides helps to guide your analysis.
So, we are contrasting different elements (here opinions) in the sentence: most critics (compared) with the reviewer from the Post.
[This question is less difficult.]
Some two-blank sentences prompt you as to a relationship between the paired words in each answer choice.
Here, suggested by the word however, the paired words are opposites. Neither (A) nor (B) meet this criteria. Look at the pair of words for answer choices (D) and (E). These are easy to discard.
Helpful Hints: Plug in the first word for each choice and eliminate those that don’t pass muster.
The two-blank question format sometimes consists of a longer sentence (or two).
Although these questions may seem more difficult, the good news is that they generally include more key words and clues to provide a clearer insight into the overall direction and meaning of the sentence.
I actually prefer the two-blank sentences. They may require more time but usually there is so much more evidence to sift through. As we saw with the last question, isolating and examining the pairs can be an advantage.
Two-blank questions are more sophisticated, hence more difficult to write but they are tightly organized with little fluff and generally more challenging.
On the exam there will be a mix of one- and two-blank questions. Typically, of the 14 sentence completion questions, 6-9 will be of the two-blank variety.
Engendered means cause, give rise to, bring about, result in, create, generate, arouse, rouse, inspire, provoke, provoke.
Her documentaries engendered spiteful controversy.
Some signposts set up contrast between words or ideas within the sentence. A list of contrast words, including instead of is provided below.
Sometimes you can adopt the strategy of analyzing just the first word in the tandem.
If the first word doesn’t fit, discard the answer choice.
This strategy works best when faced with a sophisticated, more complicated sentence and some serious time constraints. Mollify means placate, pacify, soothe, calm down. Mollify is not such a good fit and it’s not nearly as good a fit as vacillate.
Here encouraged—the second word in the (B) answer choice—is a very attractive option.
A common ploy used by test writers is to present one, of the two-word tandem, as acceptable. This ploy forces you to extend your thought process. In these cases you have to make sure that both words fit.
While vacillated can refer to a person, undulated (usually) refers to the physical world:
We saw the undulating waves.
We walked the undulating hills.
But you could say:
Her body undulated to the rhythm of the music.
Note the similarity in meaning between vacillated (waver, be indecisive, be ambivalent, hesitate, keep changing one’s mind) and undulate (rise and fall, surge, swell, heave).
In college I vacillated between a teaching and journalism degree.
Along with the other surfers, he watched the waves undulating from the beachhead.
Deflected works with “. . . officials in Mexico have often deflected instead of offering decisive responses.”
Say the phrase to yourself. It sounds okay. And if you are only analyzing the first of the two-word tandem, you might have chosen (D).
But try mitigated in context “ . . . which has mitigated critics’ charges that the government is unwilling to reform.”
It sounds awkward. Mitigate works best with (monetary) losses or (property) damage. It’s not a good fit.
Often times, your ear is your best body part for these questions.
Answer choice (E) is probably an easy throw away. Neither word seems to work.
More typically, the test writers will provide words with similar meanings, with one of the words being a close or maybe even an acceptable option.
[This question is of average difficult.]
Hopefully, it will come down to choosing between two answers. This works to your advantage because 50% of the time you’ll be correct.
Helpful Hint: Focus on descriptive phrasing that encircles a blank to improve your chances of finding the right word(s).
Generally is a signpost that means “the same as.” Here it links investigative reporting to repeaters not creators—a non-flattering comparison.
This link sets the tone for the sentence and helps to distinguish the answer choices.
Here are additional signposts, including generally, that may help guide you.
|after (sequential)||until (time conditional)|
|then (sequential)||unless (negative conditional)|
|until (sequential)||merely (limit)|
|if (conditional)||only (limit)|
|even if (conditional, contrary to)||generally (the same as)|
|whenever (conditional)||every (inclusive)|
Officials simply disclose facts. That’s the nature of an official but “generally” refers to an opinion that probably did not come from an official.
An official probably wouldn’t reference (sometimes used as a verb to provide a citation from an article or book) investigative reporting. They may comment on or deride, but to reference is awkward for an official; someone charged to deliver factual information.
And they’re probably not going to disclose opinion as appears here. Their role is to bring evidence to bear on certain activities to the proper authorities (prosecutors, for example.)
Signposts may reflect a cause and effect (causal) relationship:
|as a result||so|
Investigators (like inspectors) usually don’t demonstrate.
Sometimes you can simply compare the two words in the tandem to see if they even fit together logically—this pair does not.
Signposts that help illustrate or explain elements of the sentence are provided below.
|for instance||that, that is|
|in other words||to bear out|
Note the sarcasm generated by comparing investigative reporting and the press as repeaters not creators. This is some real doubt and pessimism for which cynics (complainers) are known.
I like cynics and bemoan.
Even punctuation may serve as a signpost or clue!
: (whatever follows a colon explains or elaborates on what precedes it)
A critic would admonish, scold, or even castigate. But for the partner word, conclude, (E) would be a good distractor.
[This question is more difficult.]
Some signposts hold elements of a sentence in apposition (agreement):
|at the same time||and|
|besides||as well (as)|
- Read the entire sentence or sentences through first.
- Identify key words and signposts in the sentence.
- Abbreviate the sentence to its most basic elements when you can.
- Plug choices into the sentence to see if they make sense.
- Begin with the first answer choice and work through the last choice every time.