A text completion is one of the new question types on the GRE. It is similar to a sentence completion, but has a few important differences. For one, there can be multiple sentences in a text completion. In fact, the text completion may sometimes run on for an entire paragraph. That’s because some text completions have as many as three blanks.
The other important difference is that each blank only has three possible answer choices, but you have to get all three correct in order to get the question correct (that amounts to a 1 in 27 chance in guessing).
Now that we know our enemy, below are five important strategies you should follow if you want to do well on text completions:
1. Don’t Dive In
Read the entire text completion first. The reason for this strategy is that the first blank is often ambiguous, unless you have read the entire paragraph.
2. Breaking Down the Text Completion
Text Completions are sometimes a paragraph long, so it is easy to get lost in them. A great strategy is trying to understand the big picture. Breaking down the paragraph in your own words (paraphrasing the paragraph) will help you get a grasp on what the text completion is talking about. Then you’re ready for step #3.
3. Use Your Own Words
Here, we’re on familiar footing. Much like the sentence completions and the sentence equivalence questions, we want to use the strategy of putting in our own word(s) in the blank or blanks. To do so, you must always justify your answers not just on the context, but some of the specific words or phrases in the sentence itself. I’ve commonly referred to these word(s) as the clue.
4. The Second (or Third) Blank First
Because the first blank is difficult to deal with, first try finding a word for the second or third blank. Then work your way backwards to the first blank. The caveat—this technique only applies if you can come up with a word for the second or third blank. If you can’t, then work with the first blank.
5. Use the Entire Text Completion as Context
When you’ve finally chosen your two/three answers, plug them back into the text completion. Does the completed text completion make sense with how you earlier paraphrased it?
Putting it Together
Let’s try an easy one first.
For centuries now, cancer has — scientists. Unlike most microbes, cancer can spread to the —- organism, making it very difficult for scientists to find a way to attack the cancer without —- any of the affected organs.
|(A) intrigued||(A) actual||(A) denigrating|
|(B) confounded||(B) systemic||(B) eradicating|
|(C) corrupted||(C) entire||(C) harming|
This is a straightforward text completion, as far as the actual sentences go. Still, break it up in your own words: scientists can’t seem to find a way to cure cancer so it has baffled, confused them. The problem is the cancer affects the whole body so if the scientists try to attack the cancer they may end up harming the body.
Like that, I’ve broken down the sentence and can now put my own words in for each blank:
|i. confused||ii. whole||iii. harming|
For the first blank (B) confounded means to be really confused.
For the second blank (C) entire is a synonym for whole.
In the last blank, (C) harming is the word I came up with.
Seems easy? Well, had you tried initially plugging the words into the sentence without breaking the sentence down in your own words, you may have been likely to choose (A) intrigued for the first blank and (B) eradicating for the third blank. In the case of eradicating, note that the scientists are trying to eradicate the cancer, not the organisms.
Okay, here’s a toughie. Remember, try as much as possible to follow the 5 essential strategies.
Giacomo’s concerti, much like the composer himself, were a —- affair. Fits of passion would, without warning, give way to sudden idylls, as though the composer had been trying to —- the very conflicts that had raged within his own being.
|(A) mercurial||(A) exorcise|
|(B) rambling||(B) mirror|
|(C) torrid||(C) foreshadow|
First off, avoid diving into the first blank of the text completion. After you’ve read the sentence you should put it into your own words… Giacomo and his concertos are similar. They both have sudden, major contrasts. Very passionate and then very calm.
Now that I’ve broken the sentence down, I must go back to the blanks and find my own words for the text completion. In this case, I find the first blank easier to deal with. I know the word has to be unpredictable and almost bi-polar.
I look at the answer choices and I see a very popular GRE vocabulary word, mercurial (if you don’t know this word already you should make it part of your active vocab). Mercurial means volatile, suddenly shifting from one emotion to the next. That works perfectly here. Answer (A) for the first blank.
For the first blank of the text completion, rambling does not work. It just shows that there is no particular direction to his emotions. The sentence, however, states that the mood of the concerti (and the composer) goes from passionate to calm, one moment to the next.
The second blank of text completion is perhaps more difficult, at least using my interpretation above. What exactly is Giacomo trying to do when he pens his works? He has these conflicts in him, so I’m thinking he could very well be trying to exorcise (get rid of) them. But can I use context to back that up? Well, there is nothing that suggests Giacomo is trying to get rid of these internal conflicts. Who knows, maybe that is what gives him the juice to compose. That is, these conflicts could be the lifeblood of his ability to compose.
That’s why I would really recommend returning to Text Completion guideline #3—Put in Your Own Word. Again, first put the sentence in your own words, then, if necessary, look for the clue. With this text completion, the composer’s inner states are like his outside states. They reflect one another. I’ve chosen reflect. I look down and there is mirror. The answer, (B).
If you are serious about taking the new GRE, and are worried that the text completions tend to be more holistic, tricky, or just downright devious than the current sentence completions, I would recommend buying the Revised GRE book and applying the guidelines above to the Text Completions in the book.
After all, the best way to improve is by applying what you’ve learned.