SC Step Method
7.1 SC X-Ray
 
7.2 SC Fundamentals
 
 
7.3 SC Step Method
 
7.4 Practice Problems
 
SC Step Method
Here’s a preview of our five-step method to help you find the answer choices that best fill in the blank(s).
Step 1: Find the Keywords.
Step 2: Look for Road Signs.
Step 3: Make a Prediction.
Step 4: Compare Your Answer(s) to the Answer Choices.
Step 5: Plug It In.
Now let’s go through the step method in slow motion to see what this all means.
Step 1: Find the Keywords. Quick, what’s the correct answer for the following SC?
Mrs. Patel was very ________.
(A) nice
(B) rich
(C) pretty
(D) smart
(E) curious
Unless you know something about Mrs. Patel that we don’t, any of the five answer choices (and, for that matter, just about any reasonable adjective) would work in this sentence. But since any answer could work, any answer could also not work.
This question would never appear on the GRE, because it’s missing keywords, or the information that lets you know how to fill in the blank. Keywords are essential to the meaning of the sentence, so every SC on the GRE will have them.
Here’s our example again, this time with keywords:
A two-time beauty pageant winner, Mrs. Patel was very ________.
(A) nice
(B) rich
(C) pretty
(D) smart
(E) curious
The keywords are beauty pageant winner, because these words tell us important information about Mrs. Patel, information that lets us correctly fill in the blank.
Of the five answer choices, pretty is the only one that fits with the context provided by the keywords. Smart, curious, rich, and nice might all work grammatically, but they don’t logically fit in with the rest of the sentence.
Let’s look at an example that more closely resembles the SCs you’ll find on the GRE. This time, we’ll try to identify the keywords.
As more Americans move up the economic ladder, one fixture of the upper-middle-class income bracket often ________ them; searching for a nanny can be an exasperating, humiliating experience.
(A) entertains
(B) excites
(C) eludes
(D) escapes
(E) disappoints
Although the blank is in the first clause, the first clause doesn’t tell us much about the missing words. So let’s take a look at the second clause: searching for a nanny can be an exasperating, humiliating experience. This clause explains the first clause by implying that a nanny is one fixture of the upper-middle-class income bracket. The second clause also makes it clear that finding a nanny isn’t much fun.
Now let’s take a look at the answers: Entertains and excites are out, since finding a nanny is exasperating and humiliating. Eludes and escapes seem like reasonable choices, but disappoints doesn’t work well grammatically: One fixture disappoints them is technically correct, but it sounds bad. SC sentences always flow smoothly when the correct words are inserted.
Escapes works in the sentence, but eludes works better, since this word indicates that finding a nanny is easier for some people than for others, as implied by the word can in the second clause.
Step 2: Look for Road Signs. Road signs are words that indicate whether a sentence has changed direction. They will also key you in to the sentence type, as we described above. Some sentences are straightforward, like our example with Mrs. Patel:

A two-time beauty pageant winner, Mrs. Patel was very ________.

This fits into the “definition” sentence type discussed in the previous section, since the word pretty essentially defines beauty pageant winner.
But as we saw in the “contrast” sentence type, some SCs will contain twists and turns; for example, they start positively but end negatively, start neutrally but end positively, and so on. Road signs let us know when an SC sentence will wind up in a place very different from where it started. Take a look at this example:
Scenes of extreme poverty stand in contrast here with the construction of ________ headquarters of corporations from North America. unprepossessing simpatico bankrupt opulent intemperate
This SC has switched directions. It starts with scenes of extreme poverty but winds up talking about corporate headquarters. These headquarters stand in contrast to the scenes of extreme poverty, so we can predict that the blank might be filled with a word that means the opposite of scenes of poverty, a word such as expensive. In contrast is our road sign, and the answer is D.
The bottom line is that you should always pay attention to the context given in an SC—and let the context, including its keywords and road signs, lead you to the correct answer.
Let’s take a look at another SC:
Far and above the typical rowdiness and harmless pranks of his fraternity brothers, Matthew’s behavior bordered on unadulterated ________.
(A) disorderliness
(B) etiquette
(C) debauchery
(D) morality
(E) cleverness
The phrase “Far and above” is a road sign that suggests that the missing word must be characterized by a more extreme form of “typical rowdiness” and “harmless pranks.” That means that we have an amplification sentence structure on our hands, and our job will be to bump up from typical and harmless behavior to something more intense. It helps to know that unadulterated means “utter,” “absolute,” or “complete,” but even if you didn’t know this, recognizing the amplification sentence structure can help you sniff out the right answer anyway. Etiquette and morality suggest good behavior, things we might be looking for if this were a contrast sentence. However, these words defy the logic here, so we can cut B and D from the get-go. Cleverness is out of place in a sentence concerning rowdy behavior, so we can eliminate E as well.
That leaves A and C as potential candidates, and it’s a close call between them since both disorderliness and debauchery indicate forms of negative behavior. However, only debauchery (“depravity,” “decadence,” “wickedness”) ups the ante by amplifying the behavior described in the beginning of the sentence, whereas disorderliness could theoretically have the same intensity as typical rowdiness and harmless pranks. C therefore best completes the sentence. Recognizing that the sentence calls for an amplification helps us to eliminate some choices right off the bat and then to choose successfully between the two closest candidates.
Step 3: Make a Prediction. Anticipating the correct answers before looking at the choices makes it much less likely that you’ll be tempted by traps and much more likely that you’ll choose the correct answer. In steps 1 and 2, you looked for keywords and road signs, both of which will lead you to accurately predict the answer or answers before you look at the actual choices.
Step 4: Compare Your Answer(s) to the Answer Choices. After you’ve made your prediction, take a look at the answer choices and match your prediction to the answers. Rarely will your predictions be a perfect fit with the answers. Don’t worry. Remember to choose the answers that are closest in meaning to your predictions.
Step 5: Plug It In. When you’ve got a new electrical device like a microwave or TV, there’s only one way to make sure it works: Plug it in! Same goes for testing out answer choices.
Now that you’ve seen all the steps, let’s give this method a whirl.
Guided Practice
Here’s a double-blank example similar to an SC you’ll see on test day. We haven’t included the answer choices in order to emphasize the importance of following Step 3 and coming up with your own answer first.

Despite its repeated claims of ________, the heavy metal group actually had an exceptionally ________ history.

Step 1: Find the Keywords. For keywords, we’ve got actually and exceptionally. We’ve also got heavy metal group, because that’s what the blanks and sentences are talking about.
Step 2: Look for Road Signs. For road signs, we’ve got the word despite. The despite here tips us off that the second blank should contrast with the first. This sentence is really saying something along the lines of despite saying one thing, the heavy metal group was really something else. So, the correct words for the two blanks should contrast with each other.
Step 3: Make a Prediction. The music group is claiming to be something it isn’t, and its present claims contrast with its history. Maybe the band is claiming it’s tough or has a lot of street cred. Being tough seems to go along with being in a heavy metal band.
The first blank contrasts with the second, so we need a prediction for the second blank along the lines of wimpy or harmless. Now that we’ve got a prediction, let’s go to Step 4.
Step 4: Compare Your Answer(s) to the Answer Choices. We predicted toughness or a lot of street cred for the first blank and wimpy or harmless for the second blank. Now we’ll compare our predictions with the answer choices:
(A) musical excellence . . notable
(B) having a traditional style . . felonious
(C) being made up of hardened criminals . . innocent
(D) aesthetic purity . . unrenowned
(E) fiscal propriety . . affluent
Being made up of hardened criminals definitely fits with our prediction of tough for the first blank, and innocent fits with our prediction of wimpy or harmless for the second. Don’t worry if your predictions don’t match the answers exactly; choose the closest approximation to your prediction, and move on to Step 5.
Step 5: Plug It In. It’s tempting to skip this step. Don’t. You must plug your answer choices back into the sentence to make sure they work.

Despite its repeated claims of being made up of hardened criminals, the heavy metal group actually had an exceptionally innocent history.

So C is correct. Remember: After you’ve made your predictions and checked out the choices, eliminate the answers that don’t match, and plug in the ones that do. You’re looking for the best, most logical answer for every blank.
Let’s do one more SC together. After that, you’ll be ready to try your hand at the practice problems at the end of this chapter.
Born ________, baby howler monkeys will explore every inch of their surroundings without any sense of fear, since they are not ________ of the possibility of danger at such a young age.
(A) inquisitive . . cognizant
(B) pugnacious . . impudent
(C) timorous . . apprehensive
(D) listless . . mindful
(E) questioning . . unwary
Step 1: Find the Keywords. Let’s find the keywords by looking at the sentence in parts. The first part describes how baby howler monkeys are when they are born: They will explore every inch of their surroundings without any sense of fear. There’s our first group of keywords. The first blank describes the monkeys at birth: They like to explore.
The second blank further describes the monkeys: They are without any sense of fear. But note the phrase that precedes this blank: They are not. So we’re looking for a word that contrasts with the phrase without any sense of fear. That makes this blank a little trickier.
Step 2: Look for Road Signs. This sentence has just one road sign: since. This road sign means “because,” and thus it clues us in to the relationship among the parts of the sentence: The second part of the sentence provides the reason for or explains something about the first part. Now we know that the two are related, and not in contrast to one another.
Step 3: Make a Prediction. Uncovering the keywords in Step 1 lets us know that the first blank describes how baby howler monkeys are at birth: They like to explore. A good word for the first blank, then, would be something like curious.
The second blank describes how the monkeys are in relation to danger. Since the baby howler monkeys are basically fearless, it makes sense that they either don’t care about the possibility of danger or they are unaware of the possibility of danger. But note that not before the second blank: We need to then look for a word that means either “care” or “aware.”
Step 4: Compare Your Answer(s) to the Answer Choices. To recap, we’re looking for the first blank to mean something like “curious” and the second blank to mean something like “care” or “aware.” Inquisitive and questioning are good matches for curious; pugnacious, which means “aggressive,” and timorous, which means “nervous,” are not. Listless, meaning “lacking energy,” also goes against the idea of enthusiastic, exploring monkeys, so we can chop B, C, and D after working with the easier of the two blanks.
For the second blank, choice A contains cognizant, which matches “aware.” Bingo! Let’s double-check remaining choice E just to make sure it’s not a better match: Unwary means “unsuspecting,” so to say that the monkeys are not unwary would mean that they are cautious and careful, which is close to the opposite of what the logic here requires.
Step 5: Plug It In. Before we can click the answer and move on, we need to double-check that the two words in A work in the sentence by plugging them in:

Born inquisitive, baby howler monkeys will explore every inch of their surroundings without any sense of fear, since they are not cognizant of the possibility of danger at such a young age.

Perfect. We’re done.
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