Before we introduce our SC Step Method, we want to highlight two SC
fundamentals that are integral to mastering Sentence Completions on the GRE:
- Sentence Types
- The Easier Blank
SC sentences follow predictable patterns, and if you recognize the
type of sentence you’re up against, you’ll have an easier time with it. Here
are three common sentence types that you’ll find on the GRE:
Later, in our step method discussion, you’ll learn about “road signs”
that will help you to identify these types of sentences. For now, let’s take
a look at the specifics of each.
Consider the following sentence:
The drummer’s playing was so ________ that the
other instruments couldn’t be heard above the din.
What kind of drum playing would cause other instruments not to be
heard? It’s clear from the context of the sentence that the missing word
or phrase must mean something along the lines of “loud.” This word
defines that which drowns out other things. Some blanks will be filled
by words that simply provide the appropriate definition for something
defined in another part of the sentence.
But what if we changed the sentence to this?
Although the drummer played loudly, the other
instruments were still clearly ________.
This sentence has a twist, as something exceptional is implied:
The drummer plays loudly, but the other instruments were still clearly
something. The word Although
signals a contrast contained in the structure of the sentence. The
drummer is loud, but we can still hear the other
instruments. The GRE would most likely use a slightly more sophisticated
word to fill in the blank, such as audible.
Common Contrast Words
Familiarize yourself with these contrast words.
all the same
at any rate
in any case
in spite of this
on the contrary
on the other hand
Finally, those crafty test makers might concoct something of this
At first merely loud, the drummer’s playing
ascended to ________ levels as the concert progressed, drowning out
the other instruments.
In this case, one element of the sentence is intensified:
Something that was merely loud has become even more so,
so we’d expect a word like deafening to fit the bill.
The sentence, as well as the drumming it describes, has been amplified.
Definition, contrast, and amplification represent three common SC
sentence types, but there are others. The key is to recognize that the
form of the sentence may tip you off as to the
words that logically fill in the blanks.
The Easier Blank
In SCs with two blanks, start with whichever blank seems easier to
you. Don’t start with the first blank simply because the test makers put
that blank first. Instead, skim the sentence and predict the answer of the
easier blank. Then narrow the choices down to the ones that work with that
easier blank, and only engage the harder blank to help you pick the final
winner. The advantage of this approach is that you can avoid testing all
five choices on the tough part of the sentence, using the easier part to
narrow the field. Let’s go through an example to show you how this works.
||Siberian tigers are considered among
the most ________ of animals; their striking coloration,
powerful musculature, and regal bearing leave many
||obsequious . . defiant
||anomalous . . fearful
||desultory . . captivated
||splendid . . indifferent
||stately . . awestruck
The second blank is easier because there are clues that hint at its
function in the sentence, whereas we aren’t given much to work with in the
first blank. How would something striking, powerful, and
regal most likely make people feel? Scanning the second
word of each choice, captivated and
awestruck jump out as possibilities.
Fearful is a common trap, playing off a common perception
of tigers instead of the positively tinged clues provided in the second part
of the sentence. Indifferent seems to be the opposite of
how one would feel toward something striking,
powerful, and regal, and
defiant doesn’t flow with the logic of the sentence
So we can quickly narrow the choices down to C and
E, which means we don’t have to even bother with difficult words
like obsequious and anomalous. Nor are we
likely to be tempted by D, which contains a first word,
splendid, which could theoretically work. Checking the
first words of C and E, we find that
E creates a logical and complete sentence
(stately means “majestic” or “grand”) while C
does not. Focusing on the easier blank first—in this case, the
second, although sometimes it will be the first—will help you cut through
complicated double-blank SCs.