GRE Prep: Hard-level Sentence Equivalence Questions (Part 3)

GRE Prep: Hard-level Sentence Equivalence Questions (Part 3)

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 and part 2 of this entire series on hard SE questions.)

In this post, we will tackle a past ETS GRE question that contains multiple negatives and challenge you with something similar that we’ve concocted.

Such sentences can be challenging because they require you to very carefully sieve out the definition criteria of the word, sometimes by inverting a phrase containing a negative into its positive: eg. not rotten = fresh or not an inhibition to a lack of transparency = allows opaqueness (i.e. hidden agendas).

Let’s take a ETS GRE practice question (2017) as an example:


The spy’s repeated bungling was, above all else, ________________those who wished to thwart her efforts since it was so unpredictable as to obscure any pattern that might otherwise lead to her capture.

A) an obstacle to

B) a signal to

C) a hindrance to

D) an indication for

E) a snare for

F) a boon to

Perhaps your immediate response is: What is this convoluted sentence talking about?

Besides being long, this sentence is slightly confusing because it contains a couple of negatives. Only one is clearly a negative—unpredictable—but others such as thwart, obscure and otherwise are quasi negatives that express something on the contrary (thwart means to prevent someone from achieving something, obscure means to hide something, and otherwise expresses a turn of meaning akin to “if not for this, then…”).

The easiest way to go about solving these questions is to first break down the sentence into smaller chunks of meaning. Identify the main crux of the sentence:


The spy’s repeated bungling was, above all else, ________________those who wished to thwart her efforts since it was so unpredictable as to obscure any pattern that might otherwise lead to her capture.

So,

  1. The spy’s repeated bungling was so unpredictable.
  2. This unpredictability hides any pattern that might have led to her capture.
  3. Hence the bungling has a certain effect on those who wish to make her efforts fail.
  4. Therefore, the bungling must have made things harder for the people who are against her.
  5. The missing word must be a negative word similar to problem or nuisance.

Let’s take a look at our options:

A) an obstacle to (clearly a negative word)

B) a signal to (not a negative word—eliminate)

C) a hindrance to (clearly a negative word)

D) an indication for (not a negative word—eliminate)

E) a snare for (clearly a negative word)

F) a boon to (not a negative word—eliminate)

This means we just need to choose the best pair from obstacle, hindrance and snare. Here the choice is easy: snare, which means trap, clearly differs from the other two, which have similar meanings, so the correct answers are A (an obstacle to) and C (a hindrance to).

Why not try solving the following question by using the same simple steps above?


Given that the director’s usual attitude towards such matters cannot be characterized as ____________________, this measure of disapprobation was, to say the least, hardly expected.

A) complaisant

B) tendentious

C) critical

D) yielding

E) censorious

F) fickle

To check the solution to the above question and challenge yourself with more difficult SE questions, read on to part 4 of this series!