GRE Prep: Hard-level Sentence Equivalence Questions (Part 2)

GRE Prep: Hard-level Sentence Equivalence Questions (Part 2)

Before we tackle more hard-level questions, make sure you’ve already gone through the three key strategies for sentence equivalence (SE) questions that we covered in an earlier post. (Also, if you have unknowingly stumbled upon this post independently, we advise backtracking and going through part 1 of this entire series on hard SE questions.)

In this post, we will tackle a challenging SE question that contains a difficult keyword in the sentence.

Aren’t these the most frustrating type of SE questions? You understand all the options but not the most important word in the sentence that would direct your choices! What do we do in such circumstances? Let’s take a look.


The leader’s speeches were ______________ as they fomented strong sentiments in the factious community.

A) circumvented

B) banned

C) dismissed

D) proscribed

E) censored

F) lauded

The sentence structure of this question is simple enough, and most of the options given are straightforward (except, perhaps proscribed). However, the sentence contains one challenging word, fomented, and one less familiar word, factious.

It is easy to work out what the definition criteria of the missing word is: if “fomented” is a positive word, then the word would also be positive, taking on the meanings of words such as “encouraged” or “supported”. If “fomented” is a negative word, then the missing word would likewise be negative, taking on the meanings of words such as “discouraged”, “criticized”, or “prohibited”.

In a situation such as this, it might be more beneficial to start by working backwards.

  1. Eliminate words that do not make sense in the sentence context. That speeches are circumvented (to find a way around something) hardly makes sense, so the word can be ruled out. In addition, if his speeches resulted in strong sentiments, it is unlikely that they were dismissed. (Remaining options: banned, proscribed, censored, lauded)
  2. If you are unfamiliar with proscribed, then guessing the meaning of fomented through hints given in the sentence would be your best bet. Given that the community is factious (you can possibly guess its meaning via “faction”; meaning inclined to dissension, given to factions), it is more likely that strong sentiments would have a negative rather than a positive impact.
  3. Now eliminate word choices that have a positive meaning: lauded (to praise highly) is quickly struck off. (Remaining options: banned, proscribed, censored)
  4. Given that both banned and censored have different meanings that could work in the sentence context, we now need to work out which of these could form a pair with proscribed. Try to guess the meaning of this word: “pro-” in words such as “promote” or “proceed”, meaning to go forward; “-scribe” in words such as “prescribe” or “inscribe”, with associations to writing. Hence proscribed could mean something to the effect of “to put forward in writing”.
  5. At this point, your guess is as intelligent as ours! The words banned and censored do not seem to have much to do with “to put forward in writing”, but censored is associated with deletion and concealment, whereas banned is associated with official rejection and prohibition. Given that our guess of proscribed has to do with a putting forward, which shares some resonances with the official proclamation (pro- again!) of banned, we shall eliminate censored. (Final guesses: banned and proscribed.)

Now that we have put in our best guesses, we can check the meanings of the difficult words: fomented means to instigate or incite strong feelings or reactions, while proscribed means to forbid (the historical sense of the word came from to outlaw or condemn in writing before the world, hence “pro-“ and”-scribe”).

Since fomented is associated with stirring up strong and usually undesirable feelings, the missing word should likewise have negative associations. This confirms that our guesses are the correct answers.

Correct answers: B (banned) and D (proscribed).

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