A set is a group of items. We know that
each set of Sentence Completions will be arranged in order of difficulty,
and that ordering should help you strategize.
How does ETS know how difficult its items are? ETS “norms”
its items by inserting potential items in experimental sections.
It notes how many test-takers got them right, how many got them
wrong, how many omitted them, and what all those test-takers’ scaled
scores were. It then constructs new sets from previously “normed”
items, always listing them from “easy” to “hard.” (There might be
some fluctuation—an easier item may come after one of mid-level
difficulty—but in general the trend is easiest to hardest.)
Knowing this fact can help you make judgment calls when
tackling items. If you think you’ve got a good answer for an early-set
item, most likely you’re right. Don’t waste time second-guessing
yourself. However, if you see a seductive choice in a late-set item,
think twice. These items tend to be nastier.
Don’t take the order of difficulty in a set too seriously.
An item’s “difficulty” is a statistical quality based on the test-takers
who encountered that item in an experimental section. It is not an
essential feature of that item. You’re an individual, and just because most test-takers
found an item easy (or hard) doesn’t mean that you will.
So, while order of difficulty can help, you should follow what we
call “Bombing Runs” in order to maximize your points in Sentence
Say your set has ten items. Begin by reading the first
stem. If it seems easy, complete that item and move on to the next
stem. If you encounter a challenging stem, skip that item. (Make
sure to circle the entire item in your test booklet if you skip
it. Also, enter answers in five-item blocks, omitting whichever
you’ve skipped. You don’t want to misgrid your answers.) After you’ve
handled all the items that are easy for you—which may not mean the
first half of the set, especially since you will have prepped for
the exam—return to those items that you feel you could figure out,
given a little more time. Make another Bombing Run, skipping all
of the really tough ones. Repeat your Bombing Runs until time runs
If you approach Sentence Completion sets this way, you
won’t find yourself worrying over item number 3—which should be
easy—for several minutes when you could have answered four other
items. That’s the principal error in standardized test-taking: wasting
time on items you have little chance of getting right. You need
to develop a fine-tuned sense of when to bail out on any given item.
In order to develop this sense, you need to practice. Through practice,
you’ll not only learn more about the test and become an expert at
applying the methods you’ve learned, but you’ll also learn more
about your own strengths and weaknesses. Are two-blank, logic-heavy
Sentence Completions toughest for you? Or is it the one-blank item
that relies heavily on difficult vocabulary? The more you practice,
the more you’ll learn…and the more you’ll know about the test and