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Advanced Strategies for GRE Text Completions – Creating Complete Meaning

A difficult Text Completion can be difficult for a number of reasons: arcane vocabulary, twisted sentence structure, seemingly imperceptible nuances in answer choices. Indeed, some of the most difficult Text Completions are a diabolical blend of all three. Nevertheless, there is another type of Text Completions that in some ways may be even more difficult, and diabolical.

One of the objectives in successfully answering a Text Completion is to choose answer choices that create a complete, coherent meaning. That is if you choose a word that works for the first blank but no answer choice fits in the second blank, then the word you picked for the first blank is likely incorrect.

At this point, you may find yourself working backwards, plugging in answer choices to create a paragraph (or sentence) that has a coherent meaning. While plugging-in willy-nilly will get you nowhere, if, even after looking for keywords in the sentence, you find yourself unable to come up with an answer, then you must use a different strategy. So once you’ve thought a bit through the sentence, plug in the different answer choices to see if you can create a sentence that makes sense.

Below is a challenging Text Completion. See if you can come up with the correct answer.

James Maxwell once remarked that the best scientists are the (i) _______ ones; not hemmed in by the (ii) ______ of their respective fields, they are able to approach problems with a(n) (iii) _______ mind, so to speak.  



(A)  adaptable

(B)  revolutionary

(C)  ignorant



(D)  myopia

(E)  preconceptions

(F)   inertia



(G)  fertile

(H) rational

(I) empty



Here it may be tempting to read the sentence and plug in (A) or (B). Both answers make sense. In fact, you could construct a legitimate sentence using (A) and (D)/(E) or (B) and (D)/(E). However, how would you create a coherent sentence with the third blank?

Neither fertile nor rational are really backed up by clues in the passage. Not being limited by their field’s way of thinking doesn’t quite imply a fertile mind. More likely, having a mind that is not stuck in a certain way of thinking would be one that is empty. You may argue that empty mind is too negative, but notice the words ‘so to speak.’ This is a phrase that translates to “metaphorically.”

Completing the third blank with ‘empty’ allows us to work back through the first two blanks. We want scientists with an empty mind, thus (C) ignorant works best.

To be ignorant of what is going on in a specific field is not to be hemmed in by the preconceptions. Scientists are free to approach a problem on their own terms, learning as they go.



This is obviously a sophisticated thought being conveyed, and a tough question to boot. Remember, a question like this is only for the 160+ Verbal scorers. But if you hope to get all the Text Completions right, you will have to contend with questions just as diabolical as this one.


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36 Responses to Advanced Strategies for GRE Text Completions – Creating Complete Meaning

  1. Cris October 21, 2018 at 11:12 am #

    Hi Chris! Just bumped into this question. It was great challenge!. I got the last two right, but the first wrong. Sorry if I dive too deep on this issue, but I am aiming for a 160+ score 🙂

    As you recommended, I started with the last blank (“empty” mind) and worked my way backwards. So “preconceptions” seemed perfect.

    However, I chose “adaptable” for the first blank because “ignorant” carried a tone that seemed to “negative” to be associated with the “best” scientists.
    Adaptable could be backed up by clues in the passage because it relates to being able to change your mind. I understand that, in plainly literal terms,”ignorant” associates itself better with an “empty” mind free from “preconceptions”. But it just seems to negative of a word.

    Also, the potentially negative tone of “empty mind” was ‘eliminated’ by the ‘so to speak’ phrase, but “ignorant” doesn’t have a phrase like that to tell the reader that it’s a metaphorical description. If we are not speaking metaphorically, how can a scientist be ignorant?

    Sorry again for the long question!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 26, 2018 at 10:29 am #

      Hi Cris,

      This is definitely a tricky sentence! As you mentioned, the “so to speak” in the third blank implies that the word is not to be taken literally. Scientists literally do not have an empty mind, but figuratively their minds are empty because they lack any preconceived notions (“not hemmed in by the preconceptions…”). However, this ‘so to speak’ is not something that is only applied to the final blank; rather, we infer that the entire description of scientists is metaphorical. If we had a phrase like ‘so to speak’ associated with every blank, then the sentence would become cumbersome and repetitive.

      ‘Ignorant’ is a counterintuitive answer, and this sentence highlights the important of approaching these difficult TC questions with an “empty mind” of your own! If we look at those answer choices without any preconceived notions about what a scientist is, we see that the context clues (“empty mine,” “not hemmed in by preconceptions”) point most clearly to “ignorant.” There is no actual clue that points to “adaptable.” This sentence is not saying that the scientists are changing their mind a lot or adapting to different circumstances; rather, they have no ideas at all!

  2. jessi July 5, 2014 at 2:03 am #

    Hi Chris.
    for this question why ‘inveigling’ is wrong?

    ………………against Chin’s record on environmental protection has become a ubiquitous
    past time at energy summits.

    Inveigling, opining, needling, fulminating, lauding.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 9, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

      Hi Jessi,

      That’s a subtle one :). Inveigling is not the same as inveighing (which would work here). To inveigle means to get something through deceptive means, usu. flattery.

      Hope that helps!

  3. Shubham July 15, 2012 at 7:54 am #


    I have a doubt.

    We have become so democratic in our habits of thought that we are convinced that truth is (i)_______________ through a (ii) _______ of facts.

    a) assimilated
    b) determined
    c) exculpated

    d) hierarchy
    e) plebiscite
    f) transcendence

    Ans given is b and e. Source: Barrons

    I didn’t understand the logic. Could you please explain.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 17, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

      Hi Shubham,

      Good question 🙂

      (E) plebiscite refers to all citizens having a vote on an important issue. This matches up with ‘so democratic.’ (B) determined matches up nicely with this faith in democracy.

      • satish August 4, 2012 at 2:23 am #

        Hi Chris

        I was wondering about the choice (b). I believed assimilate would fit into the first blank well. “Assimilating a thought” I perceived would be better than “determining a thought”.Please explain why assimilation is ruled out.

        • Chris Lele
          Chris August 6, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

          ‘Assimilate’ means to come to resemble. The key to the sentence is that people trust democracy so much that they think truth is determined through democratic procedures, such as a plebiscite.

          ‘Assimilate truth’ would mean facts comes to resemble/absorb the truth. This doesn’t really make sense :). To say that truth is determined by facts is clearer.

          Hope that helps!

          • Aidan Douglas March 9, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

            ‘Assimilate’ can also mean to “take in (information, ideas, or culture) and understand fully,” which I think lends some credence to Satish’s assertion that it is a good pick for choice (b).

            • Chris Lele
              Chris Lele March 10, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

              Fair enough :). But let’s focus on the word “truth”, and how the correct answer must logically and stylistically modify this word.

              Compare the two sentences:

              We “determine” truth by accumulating facts.

              We take in truth by accumulating facts.

              “Take in” just sounds a bit off–and therefore is stylistically is suspect. By applying the definition of assimilation loosely to the sentence, there is some logical sense. But that is not enough to make it a better answer than determine, which both stylistically and logically.

              Hope that helps!

  4. luckneeded April 30, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

    Hey Chris!

    I got a question…. for a quick review before my GRE exam in 3 days
    Could you please explain the subtle differences in the word EFFICACIOUS and CAPABLE and COMPETENT

    I came across this question(from Kaplan online test 4 and found the explanation insufficient.

    For several decades, many engineers attempted to devlop a steam engine. Although this breakthrough in technology was pursued by a (1) ____ group of scientists, only one man, James Watt, successfully obtained a patent; in 1769, he (2) ___ invented a steam engine.



    answer: disparate; efficiaciously.


    For a long time I thought EFFICACIOUS meant capable of producing the desired results and is not used for human. Also why wouldn’t COMPETENTLY work instead?

    Please enlighten me 🙁
    Thank you so much in advance!!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris May 1, 2012 at 11:52 am #

      Hi Luckneeded :),

      Your question is a good one. Indeed, I was actually shocked the first time I went through the Kaplan’s SE and TC. They were so stylistically off, that I pictured a high-school student, getting paid minimum wage, feverishly flipping through a thesaurus to create the choices to questions.

      The truth is many who are studying for the GRE, and who do not have familiarity with vocab, will not know the difference. Which is sad, because after going through Kaplan’s products, students will have an erroneous sense of the way words are used in context (a must for success on the Revised GRE).

      So yes, efficaciously, is used incorrectly (it is meant to describe the inanimate – typically a process that creates the desired outcome). I imagine our hypothetical high school student plucking these sentences from some article and then replacing the words using a thesaurus.

      Bottom-line: steer clear of Kaplan.

  5. Aman April 29, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    Thank you for your help and wishes will soon share my experience with you .
    There are few more sentences which i was not sure as to a particular option was chosen.

    1) Hasidism is a __________ of orthodox judaism that __________ rabbis in untraditional ways as spiritual leaders and workers of miracles.



    Ans is Percept,exalts however i am not convinced ,i still think it should be belies as orthodox is opposite of untraditional .

    2)William Dean Howells’s favorable criticism of Leo Tolstoy may have helped to ______ the Russian writer’s _____ in the United states.



    Answer is Establish,Reputation
    Controvert could be a good option in this

    3)Can you explain the meaning and difference between, Idioms NEVERTHELESS & NONETHELESS

    Thanks ..!!!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 30, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

      1. This is a BAD question :(. What is the source? The GRE – let alone any decent publisher – would not include such a sentence. Too many people already know the answer to this (Hasidism is a branch of Judaism). Anyhow there are no contexts clues. The reason I am so adamant against using bad sources is they will only hurt your score.

      2. This question is far to easy to ever appear on the GRE. It would be a #1 question on the SAT. Again bad source. ‘Controvert’ means to deny the truth. We want a word that means ‘support.’ Like establish.

      3. The two words are the same.

      Hope that helps, and as much as possible, until your test, use trusted content :).

  6. Aman April 25, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    Thanks Chris, will surely follow this strategy as there is hardly any time left for my GRE
    The problem which i face is that while solving the question under exam conditions i tend to get confused between two options nearly close or in multiple blank questions many a times it happens that there is a confusion between two option for a particular blank rest all are correct and my prediction for that blank is often wrong…..

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 26, 2012 at 1:52 pm #


      As much as possible refer back to the sentence, looking for keywords. Remember the best answer is the one that can be effectively backed up information in the passage. Just because an answer choice ‘could work’, doesn’t mean it is the answer.

      Anyhow, good luck on the test and let us all know how things go :).

  7. Aman April 25, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    Yeah, your writing sadness was a bit paradoxical; now it’s clear ….
    BTW again the same old question of mine: how probable are these in GRE? As you asked the source..

    Though, after reading the Melvin post i can infer NOTHING is probable on GRE

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 25, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      Ha! You never know with the GRE :). I would say these questions aren’t too bad at all. Really any of these could be GRE questions. So keep using them, and let me know if you have any questions :).

  8. Aman April 25, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    For the #2 if they are expressing sadness over the falling flowers shouldn’t there be grief instead of rejoice
    The source is a local GRE prep centre

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 25, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

      But it’s a pleasant sorrow. The sentence is testing how well you grasp the paradox – fading leaves are a sign of happiness. I actually did not mean to write sadness. Hope that helps :).

  9. Aman April 25, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    Got the point for the Q1- 3rd blank did’nt noticed the not before been totally

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 25, 2012 at 11:45 am #

      No problem :).

    • Brailen June 8, 2012 at 1:15 am #

      How much fun it is to read about Sterling NY, the town I visited as a child with my faimly. My grandfather was Hugh B Dugan and my father was Hugh Carlyle Dugan and my brother is Sloane Dugan. So many faimly names! Such fun we had hopping in Grandpa Dugan’s old car where we could peek through the floor boards and see the ground on our way to to Uncle Allen and Aunt Francis’s farm. Good stuff for a little “city girl” living in Nutley NJ.Thanks for such fond memories,Susan Dugan Burgermaster

  10. Aman April 25, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    Hi Chris,
    While going though some of the sentence completion question some were very challenging as they had nuances that GRE take into consideration,however there were some about which i am still not convinced.I have noted them down ,if possible can you please explain them?

    Recently extracavated artifacts from Pakistan, have inspired a reevaluation of one of the great early urban-cultures- the (i)_______ Indus Valley civilization, one of the four great early old world state-cultures. Much less is known about the Indus Civilization than these other states because linguists have yet to (ii)_______ the Harappan script found on recovered objects. Attempting to understand these vanished people and their social stuctures, my colleagues and I have drawn clues from the miscellaneous objects we uncover and sites we excavate. In this efforts, the Harappan writings have not been totally (iii)_______; we have gleaned insights by examining the context of the writing’s use.
    [A] unequivocal
    [B] explicit
    [C] enigmatic

    [D] codify
    [E] decipher
    [F] scramble

    [G] useless
    [H] functional
    [I] efficacious

    Correct Answer : C, E, G

    The first two were easy to guess but i am not sure why G is an option .

    The cultivation of the emotion of natsukashii, interpretable as “pleasant sorrow”, brings Japanese to Kyoto in the spring, not to (i)_______ the cherry blossoms in full bloom but to (ii)_______ the fading, falling flowers.

    [A] mourn
    [B] honor
    [C] savor

    [D] grieve over
    [E] exclaim over
    [F] rejoice over

    Correct Answer : C, F

    This is a good one

    Despite the apparently bewildering complexity of this procedure, the underlying (i)_______ is quite (ii)_______.

    [A] simplicity
    [B] principle
    [C] theory

    [D] calculated
    [E] effective
    [F] elementary

    Correct Answer : B, F

    This one takes the difference between theory and principle into consideration

    Cezanne’s delicate watercolor sketches often served as ________ of a subject, a way of gathering fuller knowledge before the artist’s final engagement of the subject in an oil painting.

    [A] an abstraction
    [B] an enhancement
    [C] a synthesis
    [D] a reconnaissance
    [E] a transcription

    Correct Answer : D

    Not sure of this one ,as per my perception [c] could even work

    Even those who disagreed with Carmen’s views rarely faulted her for expressing them, for the positions she took were as ________ as they were controversial.

    [A] complicated
    [B] political
    [C] subjective
    [D] commonplace
    [E] thoughtful

    Correct Answer : E

    Same with this one


    Waiting for your reply

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 25, 2012 at 11:45 am #

      For #1 – (G) works because ‘not totally useless’ matches up with the clue “have gleaned insights.”

      For #2 – They are not only enjoying the full-bloom, but are expressing sadness over the falling flowers (the “pleasant sorrow”).

      For #3 – Yeah, not sure if they would test the difference between ‘theory’ and ‘principle’ like this. What’s the source?

      For #4 – “gathering fuller knowledge” the clue directly defines reconnaissance. ‘Synthesis’ does not mean gathering knowledge.

      For #5 – people rarely faulted her – even though those views were controversial they were (Positive word). Thoughtful works well.

      Again, what is the source of these questions?

      • A~ September 28, 2015 at 11:34 pm #

        Hey Chris!

        The answer to the second question should be- ‘savor & grieve over’ i guess?
        These questions are there in ETS Big Book.

  11. Shilpi April 22, 2012 at 1:50 am #


    My answer for the first blank was revolutionary, which is a positive word unlike ignorant.

    Wouldn’t someone who does not have preconceptions be more inclined towards revolution than ignorance?

    Please explain.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 23, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

      Hi Shilpi,

      In some of the more difficult text completions (like this one), an answer choice that is counterintuitive turns out to be the right one. To determine which is the better answer, ‘ignorance’ vs. ‘revolution’, always look for clues in the sentence.

      ‘Not having preconceptions’, ’empty mind’, and author’s figurative use of ’empty’ suggest lack of knowledge. A revolutionary scientist may very well not have preconceptions, or he/she may very well have preconceptions. There is nothing in the sentence otherwise that points to revolution.

      Hope that helps :).

  12. Jerry April 18, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    Why can’t it be “myopia”?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 18, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

      Hi Jerry,

      It’s a very nuanced distinction, the one between ‘myopia’ and ‘preconceptions.’ ‘Empty’, the answer to the third blank, is the opposite of the second blank. To be myopic or shortsighted isn’t the opposite of having a mind that is free of any assumptions. To have preconceptions, on the other hand, is the opposite of a mind free of assumptions.

      Hope that helps :).

  13. vaisnavi April 17, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

    ohhhh my first two options were right, but got confused with the third blank( didn’t looked the hemmed word properly) which is an important clue. Anyways thank u sir for your good explanation.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 18, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

      You are welcome! I hope the question was challenging :).

  14. vaisnavi April 17, 2012 at 8:00 am #

    I didn’t get your logic for the third blank. Would you mind please explaining it again?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 17, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

      Hi Vaisnavi,

      No problem :). This is a tricky sentence. The “so to speak” in the third blank implies that the word is not to be taken literally. Scientists literally do not have an empty mind, but figuratively their minds are empty because they lack any preconceived notions (“not hemmed in by the preconceptions…”).

      Hope that helps 🙂

  15. mapi April 17, 2012 at 5:18 am #

    For me as a non-native speaker, such questions are unanswerable, that’s really frustrating!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

      Don’t worry :).

      I went out of my way to make this very challenging. The majority of text completions are not this difficult! Indeed, you would only see on this challenging if you make it to the hard section. Even if you miss it, you could still score in the top 10%, a remarkable feat for a non-native speaker.

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