GRE Prep: Hard-level Sentence Equivalence Questions (Part 1)

GRE Prep: Hard-level Sentence Equivalence Questions (Part 1)

Before we tackle some hard-level questions, let’s recap the three key strategies for sentence equivalence (SE) questions that we covered in the previous post.

First, understand the sentence structure by paying attention to conjunctions and keywords; these are very likely to steer the meaning of the missing word greatly. Second, know the definition criteria of the missing word rather than limit yourself to a specific meaning. Third, do not be tricked; learn to eliminate options strategically and spot the pairs. Remember: the most intuitive answer might not necessarily be correct. You must pick the best two options that produce sentences of similar overall meaning.

Let us now direct our attention to the hard-level sentence that concluded our previous post.

More than being critical, his unorthodox art was _________________ and engendered much controversy.

  1. iconoclastic
  2. polarizing
  3. subversive
  4. alienating
  5. experimental
  6. idiosyncratic

Given that the sentence structure is simple, the catch of the question must lie in finding the precise words that fit the definition criteria and produce similar sentences. The keywords unorthodox (contrary to what is accepted or traditional) and engendered much controversy (sparking much discussion or disagreement) give us our definition criteria. Now let’s look at the options given.

Since all the words can be associated with the two keywords to some extent, the strategy here is to find words that form the best sentence pairs. Begin by eliminating options that clearly do not have pairs: “alienating” (to cause feelings of hostility), “experimental” and “idiosyncratic” (peculiar or individual) have meanings distinct from the remaining options. Of the remaining three options, iconoclastic (criticizing or attacking established rules and beliefs) and subversive (seeking to undermine) produce sentences most alike in meaning; “polarizing” (dividing) works very well in the sentence but has no word pair.

The correct options are, therefore, A (iconoclastic) and C (subversive).

A second hard-level question:

Given that he has combined dance, music and sculpture into single installations, it hardly comes as a surprise that some have labelled him the most ___________ artist of the past decade.

  1. inimical
  2. voracious
  3. versatile
  4. vociferous
  5. outspoken
  6. protean

Do not be muddled by the slightly convoluted sentence structure. Condense it into simpler terms: Given that he has done X, it is not a surprise that he is labelled a Y artist. X forms the definition criteria for Y; the adjective that is needed in the blank must refer to the artist’s ability to “combine dance, music and sculpture into single installations”. In other words, it must refer to an ability to combine diverse art forms, or attributes associated to this adaptability.

This allows us to very quickly eliminate choices: “inimical” (hostile), “voracious” (to do something with great appetite), “vociferous” (with great energy and determination) and “outspoken” do not fit logically into the blank. The only two words that work are versatile and protean (describing an ability to continually change).

The correct options are, therefore, C (versatile) and F (protean).

And a last question for this post:

That the fraudster swindled life savings from the guileless is appalling, but that he especially targeted those who were terminally ill is _________________.

  1. derisory
  2. unconscionable
  3. unscrupulous
  4. insalubrious
  5. amoral
  6. maladroit

The sentence may seem complicated, but it really isn’t.  Rephrase the sentence simply and find a simple word for the blank: it is bad enough that the fraudster swindled life savings, less to say especially target the vulnerable; so, the word needed must be more severe than appalling, perhaps despicable.

This understanding allows us to rule out “derisory” (inadequate or expressing ridicule) [note that here the act is worthy of derision, but to be derisory is to express derision, quite the opposite], “insalubrious” (seedy, run-down) and “maladroit” (clumsy), which clearly do not fit the definition criteria. Be careful with “amoral”: to be immoral is not to have morals, but to be “amoral” is to be neither immoral nor amoral, which clearly contradicts the meaning needed, hence allowing us to strike it off too. This leaves us with the correct options unconscionable (not guided by what is right) and unscrupulous.

The correct options are B (unconscionable) and C (unscrupulous).

If you want to test yourself with more hard-level SE questions, click here.