GRE Text Completions – It’s Not Always About the Vocab

When prepping for the GRE, it is easy to get carried away in learning big-sounding words, such as apotheosis and portentous, forgetting that success on Text Completions is dependent on your ability to understand the context of a sentence. Oftentimes, the answer-choices themselves are not these big—portentous—sounding words, but relatively straightforward words that, when you plug them into the sentence, seem to make sense.

Unless you are very careful and pay attention to the way a Text Completion is constructed, you will likely get a question wrong.

Below is a three-blank sentence that has a complex structure but only one bona fide vocabulary word in the answer choices—meaning a word your average person on the street has never heard—let alone used—before.


As spurious sightings of imaginary creatures that have captured the popular mind (i) ______________, however (ii) ________________ a story may be, once it has been circulated enough times it will gather a patina of (iii) ______________.

(A)  diminish

(B)  entail

(C)  suggest


(D) clever

(E)  apocryphal

(F)  captivating


(G)  neglect

(H) truth

(I)    deceit


#1 – Look for the big picture

There are two words in the sentence itself, but those are meant to trip you up more than anything, since you can still understand the sentence at a high-level without knowing exactly what these words mean. What we can farther is that people claim to see imaginary creatures. “Spurious” probably doesn’t mean actual, since people can’t actually see imaginary creatures. So what is happening with these sightings? You may be tempted to plug in the first answer choice, (A), because, hey, it’s the first answer choice. Before you do so, look at the rest of the sentence, starting with the word however. This use is not the traditional contrasting however; however here means to whatever extent/no matter how. Returning to the sentence, no matter how _______ a story is, if enough people hear it, the story becomes _________. Well, we are dealing with imaginary creatures and spurious, based on the context, probably means false, so a good word for the second blank is unbelievable and for the third blank true works well.


#2 – Deal with the easiest blank first

This reasoning leads us to (H) for the third blank. But what about the second blank? Would a word like interesting (clever and captivating are somewhat similar) work? Notice the “time shift” with the word “once.” Therefore, the two blanks have to be roughly opposite. It wouldn’t make sense to say that no matter how interesting a story is once a lot of people hear it that stories becomes true. But if we choose (E) apocryphal, the one tough word, which describes a story of doubtful authenticity. Even if you don’t know the definition of the word, you can still get the answer correct.

You’ll notice I skipped the first blank. Why? Because it was tougher than the second and third blank. A trap is choosing (A) and then either (D) or (F) for the second blank, and for the third blank (I). You make a sentence that sort of works, but not really. Essentially such a sentence would say that as sightings of imaginary creatures decrease, no matter how interesting a story is it becomes false if it spreads between many people.


#3 – Does the sentence with your answers plugged in make sense

Finally, once you’ve reasoned through the sentence, plug all the words in to see if a coherent statement is conveyed by the sentence:

As spurious sightings of imaginary creatures that have captured the popular mind suggest, however apocryphal a story may be, once it has been circulated enough times it will gather a patina of truth.


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  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!