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Sentence Completions: Introduction, Part 1

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Hello, everybody! In this lesson, we will learn to understand sentence completions. These are the second most coachable questions on the verbal section of the GRE.

When are sentence completions easy? When the vocab is really easy and when the sentence structures are not very complex.

How does GRE makes sentence completions hard? By using difficult vocab, complex sentence structures, and difficult ideas.


What is a sentence completion?


Here's an example:

We decided to cancel the picnic since the weather was ------.

Difficult one, huh? Can you figure out which word would best fit in the blank? If you are like most people, you would say something like bad or some other word with a negative meaning since we are canceling a picnic because of some type of weather. Of course, you will probably never see such an easy question on the GRE, but the idea is the same.

Let's look at some answer choices you might have for the example that we saw above:

(A) funny
(B) late
(C) bad
(D) good
(E) hot

Again, if you are like 99 44/100% of all the other people doing this exercise, you would choose bad since we already figured out that bad weather would be a good reason to cancel a picnic.

Don't look at the answer choices!

It is good practice not to look at the answer choices when you are doing sentence corrections. It is very easy to be tricked by the answer choices when you are doing the sentence completions and GRE professionals can anticipate the answer choices before they even look at the answer choices.

It is kind of hard to come up with an example that will prove to you that it is important not to look at the answer choices, but I have tried. So, please understand that I am trying to teach you something and try to bear with me if you think this example is too easy.

First, look at these answer choices:

(A) dangerous
(B) vicious
(C) edible
(D) strong
(E) docile

My point here is that you now have some sort of idea of what the following sentence might mean. Now, before you read the question stem, I want you to try to notice how your preconceptions of the answer choices interfere with your ability to understand the sentence. On final point, please keep in mind that I have used very simple language so that we can focus on the structure of the questions, not on the vocab.

Now, read the sentence:

The ferocious tiger that we encountered while we were lost in the jungle was surprisingly ------ .

Did you feel that you already had the idea that the ferocious tiger would be dangerous or vicious? If you can imagine this question with harder vocabulary and more complex sentence structure, then you might be able to understand how you might be easily tricked if the sentence is hard to understand. Anyway, the best answer here is docile, which means easily controlled, because the word surprisingly tells us that the adjective to describe the tiger is unexpected. In this case, it would be a surprise to find out that the tiger was docile.

Let's do some practice.



Learn by doing

The first thing that we will do is learn how to anticipate answers. As usual, the questions will become harder as we go on.

If you cannot think of an answer, please try to say something that shows me that you at least have an idea of what the sentence means. For example, if you are not sure about the best word to use, you could describe the word. Or, you could simply say it's a negative or positive word.

Note: There are many possible answer choices; I have listed only a few.





People all over the world are worried about the possible ------ effects of global warming.

Anticipated Answer(s):

negative, bad, detrimental, polluting, etc.



Many people find it difficult to give up their beliefs--even when they are presented with strong evidence, they still ------ their old beliefs.

Anticipated Answer(s):

keep, maintain, hold on to, etc.



Because it is ------ to use any sort of measurement for pain, many doctors simply ask their patients to rate their pain on a scale of one to ten.

Anticipated Answer(s):

difficult, hard, etc.



If we observe nature with the emotions of a human, we might think that the natural functions of the predator (the "hunter") and its prey (the "victim") seem ------ .

Anticipated Answer(s):

barbaric, cruel, mean, heartless, merciless, etc.



In comparison with the previous generations of people who tended to live, work, and die in one city, modern people seem positively ------ .

Anticipated Answer(s):

"traveling," nomadic, peripatetic



People who need to save lots of money for something should ------ such activities as eating in expensive restaurants and seeing first-run movies at cinemas.

Anticipated Answer(s):

avoid, not do, stay away from, etc.



People who ------ movies tend to go to movies ------ often than most people do.

Anticipated Answer(s):

This one can go at least two ways, but we just have to make sure that our sentence makes sense.

love/more, like/more, enjoy/more

hate/less, dislike/not as



Before Copernicus's idea of a heliocentric solar system was accepted, the idea that the Earth was not the center of the universe was quite ------, and many astronomers who believed that the Sun was the center of the solar system were ------.

Anticipated Answer(s):

"crazy"/disliked, revolutionary/persecuted, unaccepted/rejected



Because not much light could reach the ------ of the building, the rooms seemed much ------ than they actually were.

Anticipated Answer(s):

interior/smaller, rear/less comfortable



Advances in science have led to ------ in disease and ------ in vaccines and antibiotics.

Anticipated Answer(s):

decreases/increases, reduction/ improvements, increased knowledge of disease/increased knowledge of vaccines
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