GRE Sentence Equivalence Strategies – Don’t Get Distracted

In test-prep speak, wrong answers are known as distracters. In Sentence Equivalence questions and Text Completions, we want to be aware of a certain type of distracter. Often, one of the answer choices fits the overall context of the sentence. It does not, however, fit the blank. Other times, a distracter will actually modify a different noun, rather than the one the blank is modifying. To avoid being distracted by these distracters (that’s where they get there name), always remember to plug in your own word.

Let’s try the following Sentence Equivalence question. See if you can get the right answer, as well as identify the tempting distracters.

1. For years the satellite had sent back a steady stream of clear images of distant planets, until only recently, when such transmissions became far more __________.

(A) distant

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(B) sporadic

(C) intriguing

(D) granular

(E) inconsistent

(F) imperceptible


The Solution

Imperceptible is a very tempting answer. After all, the images were once clear, now they are not clear. But is that really what the sentence is asking for? Notice that the blank is modifying transmissions. The transmissions themselves did not become less clear—they became less frequent.

Therefore, we want a word that is in contrast to a steady stream of images. The transmissions are no longer steady, so they have become what? Well, an easy way to come up with the opposite is to add un-. Therefore, the transmissions have become unsteady. Not the most stylistically sound, so we could also just use not constant.

Now, we can easily match that up with (B) sporadic and (E) inconsistent. And just like that we have our two answer choices.

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10 Responses to GRE Sentence Equivalence Strategies – Don’t Get Distracted

  1. Jason Eune January 19, 2017 at 9:22 pm #

    Was this question made by Chris or GRE?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert January 20, 2017 at 11:02 am #

      Hi Jason,

      This question was written by Magoosh, not ETS 🙂

  2. Rasitha July 13, 2016 at 5:04 am #

    This was taken from Merriam Webster:

    Transmission: something (such as a message or broadcast) that is transmitted to a radio, television, etc.

    This implies that even the pictures received by a signal can be interpreted as its transmission.

    Therefore I feel, the question is not 100% accurate

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 13, 2016 at 11:48 am #

      As Chris mentions, “imperceptible” is tempting, because it can make you think of a picture that can’t be seen. But while this is a posisble answer, you want to choose the very best two answers, not just two answers that might work.

      One problem with selecting “imperceptible” is that– as Chris implies— the word “transmission” in this context does not necessarily suggest “image”. When the transmissions are first mentioned in the sentence, they are not described primarily as images, but are instead described as a “steady stream” of images. In this context, it makes it sound like the images are a result of the transmissions, but the transmissions themselves are not images. Instead, the transmissions are a steady stream of signals that allows people to see images.

      There is another problem with the word “imperceptible”— this word is too extreme. if something is “imperceptible,” it cannot be perceived at all. So it’s not possible for an image to become “more” imperceptible… or less imperceptible for that matter. Degree words really aren’t used to describe absolute terms.

    • karthik September 21, 2016 at 11:03 am #

      I guess one could argue that the message or the ‘data’ is the image, not the transmission.

  3. Dian December 1, 2014 at 7:33 pm #

    Also I forgot to say I am using the words on word dynamo and I love the games. Thanks for your recommendation. This is a great fun way to learn new vocab, and whenever you get an answer wrong it drives you crazy. 🙂

  4. Diksha June 6, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

    The problem that i face is that when I am trying to solve the question myself I think of it in a certain way and point out the possible answer choices accordingly. However, when I get it wrong and then read your explanation – I see the sentence come off as different and then the answers you pick make sense. How do i fix that?

    For this question – I selected blurry and granular. I thought we are talking about the images and when I read the explanation by you – I see what you mean that the sentence is talking about transmission and not images.

    Can you help me find a way to understand the question better – so I don’t get the statement wrong … that is the tricky part for me than picking up the word that goes in the blank.

    Thanks for your help.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 7, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

      Hi Diksha,

      I think the best way is to offer what may seem trite advice: read carefully. However, when we are taking the GRE, we are under a time crunch, and tend to read a little faster than naturally. I’d say slow down.

      More specifically: if you notice that a SE has two pairs of synonymous (here we have (B) and (E) as well), read extra carefully to make sure you can discount the other pairs of synonyms.

      Hope that helps!

  5. Austin Williams December 13, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    ‘ steady stream of clear images’ <<< Why wouldn't you look for the opposite of clear? Granular and inconsistent fit that bill perfectly.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris December 13, 2011 at 6:20 pm #


      You are describing the transmissions not the pictures themselves. The blank is the opposite of “steady stream of transmissions.”

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