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Backup Strategy for GRE Text Completions

The solution to many Text Completions lies in the following approach: identify the keywords, come up with your own word for the blank(s), and match with the answer choice. Yet this strategy won’t always be successful. Sometimes we need to work backwards from the answer choices to see if we can create a sentence with a coherent meaning.

Below is a sentence that you may very well be able to solve with the traditional method. Indeed, you should attack every Text Completion by first trying to come up with your own words. However, if you are stymied and are not able to come up with words—or are unsure that your words are even the correct ones—then plug in both answer choices and see if they create a sentence that makes sense.

Apply the Strategy

Were scientific advancement simply a question of the mere accumulation of facts then we have made (1) ______ progress over the last two centuries; however, it is not sheer data alone but rather a scientist’s ability to interpret this information that accounts for the (2) ______ breakthroughs of the last couple hundred years.

(1) (2)
A. inimitable D. diligent
B. scant E. momentous
C. evident F. limited



One way to make this Text Completion easier is by noting that the first blank is either little (as in little progress) or big (as in major progress). The second blank is the exact same. Breakthroughs can either be small or big.

Next, determine whether the blanks are the same (e.g., little…small) or opposite (e.g., major…small).

For the first blank, you probably know the definition to (B) scant and (C) evident. Do not be thrown off by (A) inimitable. For now discount it. Only if neither (B) nor (C) works should you return to (A).

Let’s assume that science has made scant progress (little progress). If that were the case, what word would fit in the second blank? You may be tempted to say ‘big’ because of the word ‘however,’ which reverses the direction of the sentence. However, the keywords, it is not sheer data alone, show that accumulated facts and scientist’s ability together create a certain type of breakthrough. Thus the two blanks are similar.

But does it make sense to assume that we have made little progress, and small breakthroughs? Notice keywords such as scientist’s ability to interpret. Clearly there is a positive connotation. That is scientists have helped science progress through their ability to interpret, not just to collect facts.

Plugging in (C) evident and (E) momentous we can see the sentence makes sense: if facts alone counted for progress then we have made obvious progress. However, momentous breakthroughs require not just facts but scientists’ ability to interpret information.

It is important to note that you should not automatically assume that the second blank is momentous. True, this is a reasonable assumption, as most would agree that science has come a long way since Darwin set sail on the Beagle. For the Text Completion, however, you must base your answer solely on the information in the Text Completion. Oftentimes, your “reasonable” assumption may backfire. That is there will be specific words in the sentence that go against your assumption. So remember—the answer to any blank will always be in the sentence.

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8 Responses to Backup Strategy for GRE Text Completions

  1. Uthara July 5, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I came up with scant and momentous at first, seeing your explanation I am a little confused.

    ” ‘however,’ which reverses the direction of the sentence. However, the keywords, it is not sheer data alone, show that accumulated facts and scientist’s ability together create a certain type of breakthrough”

    Are the blanks similar because,accumulated facts as well as scientists ability contribution
    leads to a big breakthrough?

    If the second sentence says..
    However, scientists ability to interpret this information accounts for a __ success.
    (Without the accumulated facts) Will that make the second blank opposite to the first one?

    Thanks for all the help 🙂

  2. shashank July 23, 2012 at 4:51 am #


    Very good explanation to a seemingly tough one!

    Though I was a little confused between “inimitable” and “evident” for the first blank.
    Is it because “inimitable” is strong word??

    Thanks in anticipation!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 25, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

      Hi Shashank,

      Inimitable – incapable of being intimidated – is a little strong for the context. Inimitable means cannot be surpassed; unique. There is no context clues that support that progress has been unsurpassable.

      Hope that helps!

  3. harsha March 28, 2012 at 11:25 pm #

    Hey Chris,
    I am new to both magoosh and gre..
    I was wondering if you could help me to sort out with study guides…I now have Manhattan set for GMAT(got for free from a senior) … Which books of that set would be of use to me ..
    Also Is quants same for both gmat and gre ?
    Thanks in advance ..

    • Margarette Jung
      Margarette March 29, 2012 at 10:57 am #

      Hi, Harsha

      Manhattan GMAT’s math books would be fine to use to study for the GRE, since they go over math concepts that are fairly similar to those on the GRE– the practice questions will be a bit tougher than what you’ll see on the GRE, but that certainly won’t hurt. If you use Magoosh GRE Math in conjunction with the Manhattan GMAT Math books, then you’ll have a very solid grasp on GRE math as well as a good way to practice at the actual GRE level, with question types that are unique to the GRE (Quantitative Comparison, Numeric Entry, Multiple Answer).

      Verbal is a bit trickier because between GMAT and GRE, it’s more about prepping for the specific question types than concepts, as it is for the Math. GMAT Verbal question types (Sentence Correction, Critical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension) are not an exact match to GRE Verbal question types (Text Completion, Sentence Equivalence, Reading Comprehension), and test pretty different skills/concepts (Grammar vs. Vocabulary, etc.), so they are not as interchangeable.

      Also, a benefit of buying even one Manhattan GRE book is that you’ll get access to their 6 online practice tests, so if you think those would be helpful for you, it would be worth getting one– probably Sentence Equivalence or Text Completion.

      I hope that helps! 🙂


      • harsha March 29, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

        Thank you for your speedy reply… Will definitely check out…:)

  4. Sunny Sun March 27, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

    Thanks Chris, that was a really helpful strategy! I am new to Magoosh and just started to prepare my gre, but I can’t help to say that I have become a big fan of Magoosh (lol) and have gotten a lot of useful tips and directions from you guys. Now gre seems not so intimidating to me, keep the good work 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 28, 2012 at 11:52 am #

      Great, thanks for the kudos Sunny :). And let me know if you have any questions during your GRE prep journey. I’d be happy to answer them :).

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