5 Essential Strategies When Dealing with a Text Completion on the New GRE

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.

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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.

i ii iii
(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.

i. ii.
(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.

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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!

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17 Responses to 5 Essential Strategies When Dealing with a Text Completion on the New GRE

  1. Harsh Patel February 24, 2016 at 3:22 am #

    Hello Chris ,
    I want to know that if I am applying these 5 step strategy which takes lots of time to resolve answer between correct and wrong (in my case) , how to make sure that in more complex 3 blank paragraphs it i more worth it ? like in your 3rd example i could’t find out that phrase “Reflect” and i should consider mirror as my answer ?
    So , how to handle complex para and other part ?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 15, 2016 at 1:44 pm #

      Hi Harsh 🙂

      Learning new strategies takes time and practice, so don’t get discouraged if your pace slows down a little as you begin to apply the strategies discussed in the post. Over time, you’ll find that you will be applying these ideas naturally and that your pace (as well as accuracy) on TC questions improves! With that being said, rephrasing the sentences and coming up with your own words are two very useful TC strategies. It’s definitely ok if you didn’t come up with the exact word “reflect” for the third example–the important part of this strategy is thinking of the idea that fits in the blank, usually in the form of a word or phrase. This really helps to avoid getting tripped up by the answer choices, since you’ll approach the answer choices in a more focused way, searching for a similar word/idea to the one you already have in mind.

      We discuss more strategies and practice problems in the Text Completion section of our blog. I recommend that you browse those articles to give you more practice and also more perspectives on how to approach these types of questions.

      With that in mind, three-blank text completions can be some of the most complicated ones you face on the exam. For more on how to approach these challenging questions, I suggest reading through the tips on this blog post.

      Again, practice is essential to become comfortable with the different strategies discussed. While you may take longer to answer these questions at first when applying the strategies, mastering these skills will help you become more efficient at text completions.

      I hope this helps! Happy studying! 😀

  2. Aminul October 2, 2015 at 10:56 pm #

    Hello Chris,

    This is very helpful for me specially the second one, and I also asked to you the same question which Connie raised to you. Thank you Chris.

  3. pranesh August 30, 2015 at 11:25 am #

    under time constraints it is very difficult to use strategy or any other techniques to solve the tc, it’s easy to teach but difficult to achieve.

  4. pranesh August 30, 2015 at 10:56 am #

    attention for Chris,

    the tc for the second blank of the first choice, i can’t find a way to put ‘harming’ instead of ‘eradicating’, how could you harm something which is already harmful! and spread spontaneously by own effort, as mentioned by the fact – without —- the affecting organisms

  5. Jana August 26, 2015 at 1:45 pm #

    Hi Chris! The second text completion has me stumped, (a little like Connie), when I filled in the blank – my words MATCHED the wrong answers. I choose tempestuous for the first fill in the blank and resolve/purge for the second – which led me to torrid and exorcise as answers. What do you do when your definitions lead to the wrong answer? (More practice?) This one left me stumped!

    After reading through the discussion, I better understand mirror.

    Did you make this question up? My understanding of mercurial is fickle and quick to change, unpredictable, or someone who is clever, lively, and quick. But I always thought of it as more indecisive and less volatile. (Although after looking it up on wordnik – that is one of the possible definitions.)

    Torrid however to me better fits someone who is volatile. Its emotionally charged, energetic, passionate which still fits for me.

    Maybe I’m over thinking this one! Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks!

  6. Aashima June 14, 2015 at 6:59 pm #

    Hi Chris!
    I’m a little confused as to why the answer is not intrigued but confounded?

    • Al August 18, 2015 at 8:06 pm #

      me too.
      it feels like scientists are confounded about how to attack cancer.
      but cancer itself is intriguing, as it raises their interest on finding an attack.

    • Kai October 11, 2016 at 3:30 am #

      Intrigued means “arouse the curosity of”…well they are not curious about the cancer but confounded because they dont know the solution of curing without damaging the organs .
      Intrigue comes in positive connotation like “he is intrigued by their new discoveries”

  7. sagar August 5, 2013 at 11:41 pm #

    For the first TC your own interpretation –

    ” 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. “, which is absolutely ok with me but notice your last phrase ” may end up harming the body”, here it is true from the overall judgement that there is no way to attack the cancer without harming the body.

    But in the actual sentence it is given “without —- any of the affected organs.” So here they are kind of specifying about the actual organ that has got affected by the cancer not the entire body, so if I say the doctor has no way to attack the cancer other than not harming the specific affected organ, but to ‘remove it’ (or close to this in the answer option is “eradicate” it) would I be wrong?

    In addition we know the doctors often remove the “affected organ” in general cases, which in a way is like you are harming the body, but my only quibble is the specification of the “affected organ” in the TC. So in order to save the patient the doctors are required to remove or cut the affected organ from the body and not harming the affected organ.

  8. Aquila April 13, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    Hi Chris!

    In the first text completion, second blank, why isn’t the answer “systemic”? That means the whole body, right? Also, “throughout the entire organism” didn’t sound right to me. “Throughout” and “entire” feel redundant 😛



    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 17, 2013 at 10:17 am #

      Hi Aquila,

      Good point! ‘Throughout…entire’ is a little redundant. I’ll make the changes to this question so that is no longer the case.

      As for ‘systemic’, the reason it doesn’t work is because the spread is systemic (throughout the organism) but the phrase ‘systemic organism’ does not make sense. In other words, systemic fits the general context of the sentence, but it is not the word that actually fits in the blank.

      Again, thanks for pointing out the redundancy :)!

  9. Chan April 7, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    To add to this discussion, I was first tempted to go with exorcise, but I started to think of the word–to remove something in order to have peace. I immediately felt that if fits of passion attacked an idyllic composition, exorcising isn’t going on. If the composition was opposite, with idyllic tones hitting the music, exorcising would make sense. Would this be an accurate assumption?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 17, 2013 at 10:20 am #

      Hi Chan,

      Yes, I think your interpretation is accurate :). There is nowhere in the sentences where it suggests the composer is trying to get rid of his demons. Since the music is a mix of the idyllic and the tumultuous, it mirrors the composers own moods.

      • shraddha August 13, 2013 at 12:37 pm #

        hi chris,
        i have trying to follow the 5 steps you always say to follow during text completion but during the review questions due to the time factor i am still unable to follow them. i either get them wrong or my pace is very slow .i understand all your videos but when it is time to test myself,i fail miserably .

  10. Connie May 8, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    I still do not understand why it would be mirror. Where in the passage did it indicate he wanted to reflect? When you make up your own words and they are no where near the words in the word bank, then what do you do? Or what if the word you made up is similar to a word in the word bank that happens to be the wrong answer? Thanks for your reply in advance!!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris May 9, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

      Hi Connie,

      This is a very difficult Text Completion. ‘Exorcise’ just sounds right – and it may even be the word that you come up with (though sometimes it’s easy to be influenced by the answer choices.

      SO, as for the clue…the sentence says, “much like the composer himself”. That is there is a parallel between the composer and his music: they are both mercurial. The best answer is ‘mirror’ to show this similarity. However, there is nothing in the sentence to show that he is trying to get rid of these conflicts. Sure, conceivably a composer–or any artist–could use their respective medium to try to get rid of their inner demons. But here there is no context.

      Hope that helps :).

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