Click the links immediately below to view the other strategy sections.
FORMAT OF THE VERBAL SECTION
FORMAT OF EACH SECTION
The verbal section of the former GRE test has been all but over-hauled, with changes in length, structure, content, and even question types.
The verbal section now consists of three types of questions--Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence--and three types of answer structures--Single-answer multiple-choice questions, Multiple-answer multiple-choice questions, and Select-in passages.
The verbal reasoning portion is now divided into two, thirty-minute sections, with approximately 20 questions in each.
About 10 Reading Comprehension
About 4 Sentence Equivalence
About 6 Text Completions
The verbal section of the GRE now contains ten passages (as opposed to the three or four on previous tests), with anywhere from one to six questions per passage. The increased number of passages is all part of ETS's strategy to put greater emphasis on reading comprehension and higher-level thinking. In fact, passage-based questions comprise approximately half of the total questions in the new verbal section.
The majority of passages will be one to two paragraphs in length, with only a couple that are several paragraphs long. As the shorter passages tend to be easier and have fewer questions on them, we will focus most of our exercises on the more intimidating, lengthier passages, which tend to have more corresponding questions. The subject matter of a passage can be almost anything, but the most common themes are physical and biological science, politics, history, culture, and science.
Most people find the passages difficult because the subject matter is dry and unfamiliar. Obscure subject matter is chosen so that your reading comprehension will be tested, not your knowledge of a particular subject. Also the more esoteric the subject, the more likely everyone taking the test will be on an even playing field. However, because the material must still be accessible to laymen, you won't find any tracts on subtle issues of philosophy or abstract mathematics. In fact, if you read books on current affairs and the Op/Ed page of the newspaper, then the style of writing used in the GRE passages will be familiar and you probably won't find the reading comprehension particularly difficult.
The passages use a formal, compact style. They are typically taken from articles in academic journals, but they are rarely reprinted verbatim. Usually the chosen article is heavily edited until it is honed down to about 80 to 400 words. The formal style of the piece is retained, but much of the "fluff" is removed. The editing process condenses the article to less than one-third its original length. Thus, a GRE passage contains more than three times as much information for its length as does the original article. This is why the passages are similar to the writing on the Op/Ed page of a newspaper. After all, a person writing a piece for the Op/Ed page must express all his ideas in about 500 words, and he must use a formal (grammatical) style to convince people that he is well educated.
In addition to being dry and unfamiliar, GRE passages often start in the middle of an explanation, so there is no point of reference. Furthermore, the passages are untitled, so you have to hit the ground running.
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Some books recommend speed-reading the passages. This is a mistake.
Speed reading is designed for ordinary, nontechnical material. Because
this material is filled with "fluff," you can skim over the nonessential
parts and still get the gist--and often more--of the passage. However,
GRE passages are dense. Some are actual quoted articles. Most often, however,
they are based on articles that have been condensed to about one-third
their original length. During this process no essential information is
lost, just the "fluff" is cut. This is why speed reading will not work
here--the passages contain too much information. You should, however, read
somewhat faster than you normally do, but not to the point that your comprehension
suffers. You will have to experiment to find your optimum pace.
However, one technique that you may find helpful is to preview the passage
by reading the first sentence of each paragraph. Generally, the topic of
a paragraph is contained in the first sentence. Reading the first sentence
of each paragraph will give an overview of the passage. The topic sentences
act in essence as a summary of the passage. Furthermore, since each passage
is only three or four paragraphs long, previewing the topic sentences will
not use up an inordinate amount of time.
THE SIX QUESTIONS
The key to performing well on the passages is not the particular reading
technique you use (so long as it's neither speed reading nor pre-reading
the questions). Rather the key is to become completely familiar with the
question types--there are only six--so that you can anticipate the questions
that might be asked as you read the passage and answer those that are asked
more quickly and efficiently. As you become familiar with the six question
types, you will gain an intuitive sense for the places from which questions
are likely to be drawn. This will give you the same advantage as that claimed
by the "pre-reading-the-questions" technique, without the confusion and
waste of time. Note, the order in which the questions are asked roughly
corresponds to the order in which the main issues are presented in the
passage. Early questions should correspond to information given early in
the passage, and so on.
The following passage and accompanying questions illustrate the six
There are two major systems of criminal procedure in the modern world--the
adversarial and the inquisitorial. The former is associated with common
law tradition and the latter with civil law tradition. Both systems were
historically preceded by the system of private vengeance in which the victim
of a crime fashioned his own remedy and administered it privately, either
personally or through an agent. The vengeance system was a system of self-help,
the essence of which was captured in the slogan "an eye for an eye, a tooth
for a tooth." The modern adversarial system is only one historical step
removed from the private vengeance system and still retains some of its
characteristic features. Thus, for example, even though the right to institute
criminal action has now been extended to all members of society and even
though the police department has taken over the pretrial investigative
functions on behalf of the prosecution, the adversarial system still leaves
the defendant to conduct his own pretrial investigation. The trial is still
viewed as a duel between two adversaries, refereed by a judge who, at the
beginning of the trial has no knowledge of the investigative background
of the case. In the final analysis the adversarial system of criminal procedure
symbolizes and regularizes the punitive combat.
By contrast, the inquisitorial system begins historically where the
adversarial system stopped its development. It is two historical steps
removed from the system of private vengeance. Therefore, from the standpoint
of legal anthropology, it is historically superior to the adversarial system.
Under the inquisitorial system the public investigator has the duty to
investigate not just on behalf of the prosecutor but also on behalf of
the defendant. Additionally, the public prosecutor has the duty to present
to the court not only evidence that may lead to the conviction of the defendant
but also evidence that may lead to his exoneration. This system mandates
that both parties permit full pretrial discovery of the evidence in their
possession. Finally, in an effort to make the trial less like a duel between
two adversaries, the inquisitorial system mandates that the judge take
an active part in the conduct of the trial, with a role that is both directive
Fact-finding is at the heart of the inquisitorial system. This system
operates on the philosophical premise that in a criminal case the crucial
factor is not the legal rule but the facts of the case and that the goal
of the entire procedure is to experimentally recreate for the court the
commission of the alleged crime.
MAIN IDEA QUESTIONS
The main idea is usually stated in the last--occasionally the first--sentence
of the first paragraph. If it's not there, it will probably be the last
sentence of the entire passage.
Because main idea questions are relatively easy, the GRE writers try
to obscure the correct answer by surrounding it with close answer-choices
("detractors") that either overstate or understate the author's main point.
Answer-choices that stress specifics tend to understate the main idea;
choices that go beyond the scope of the passage tend to overstate the main
The answer to a main idea question will summarize the author's argument,
yet be neither too specific nor too broad.
Example: (Refer to the first passage.)
The primary purpose of the passage is to
(A) explain why the inquisitorial system is the best system of criminal
(B) explain how the adversarial and the inquisitorial systems of criminal
justice both evolved from the system of private vengeance
(C) show how the adversarial and inquisitorial systems of criminal justice
can both complement and hinder each other's development
(D) show how the adversarial and inquisitorial systems of criminal justice
are being combined into a new and better system
(E) analyze two systems of criminal justice and deduce which one is
The answer to a main idea question will summarize the passage without
going beyond it. (A) violates these criteria by overstating the scope of
the passage. The comparison in the passage is between two specific systems,
not between all systems. (A) would be a good answer if "best" were replaced
with "better." Beware of extreme words. (B) violates the criteria
by understating the scope of the passage. Although the evolution of both
the adversarial and the inquisitorial systems is discussed in the passage,
it is done to show why one is superior to the other. As to (C) and (D),
both can be quickly dismissed since neither is mentioned in the passage.
Finally, the passage does two things: it presents two systems of criminal
justice and shows why one is better than the other. (E) aptly summarizes
this, so it is the best answer.
Description questions, as with main idea questions, refer to a point
made by the author. However, description questions refer to a minor point
or to incidental information, not to the author's main point.
The answer to a description question must refer directly to a statement
in the passage, not to something implied by it. However, the correct answer
will paraphrase a statement in the passage, not give an exact quote. In
fact, exact quotes ("Same language" traps) are often used to bait wrong
Caution: When answering a description question, you must find the point
in the passage from which the question is drawn. Don't rely on memory--too
many obfuscating tactics are used with these questions.
Not only must the correct answer refer directly to a statement in the
passage, it must refer to the relevant statement. The correct answer will
be surrounded by wrong choices which refer directly to the passage but
don't address the question. These choices can be tempting because they
tend to be quite close to the actual answer.
Once you spot the sentence to which the question refers, you still must
read a few sentences before and after it, to put the question in context.
If a question refers to line 20, the information needed to answer it can
occur anywhere from line 15 to 25. Even if you have spotted the answer
in line 20, you should still read a couple more lines to make certain you
have the proper perspective.
Example: (Refer to the first passage.)
According to the passage, the inquisitorial system differs from the
adversarial system in that
(A) it does not make the defendant solely responsible for gathering
evidence for his case
(B) it does not require the police department to work on behalf of the
(C) it does not allow the victim the satisfaction of private vengeance
(D) it requires the prosecution to drop a weak case
(E) a defendant who is innocent would prefer to be tried under the inquisitorial
This is a description question, so the information needed to answer
it must be stated in the passage--though not in the same language as in
the answer. The needed information is contained in the fourth sentence
of Paragraph 3, which states that the public prosecutor has to investigate
on behalf of both society and the defendant. Thus, the defendant is not
solely responsible for investigating his case. Furthermore, the paragraph's
opening implies that this feature is not found in the adversarial system.
This illustrates why you must determine the context of the situation before
you can safely answer the question. The answer is (A).
Writing Technique Questions
All coherent writing has a superstructure or blueprint. When writing,
we don't just randomly jot down our thoughts; we organize our ideas and
present them in a logical manner. For instance, we may present evidence
that builds up to a conclusion but intentionally leave the conclusion unstated,
or we may present a position and then contrast it with an opposing position,
or we may draw an extended analogy.
There is an endless number of writing techniques that authors use to
present their ideas, so we cannot classify every method. However, some
techniques are very common to the type of explanatory or opinionated writing
found in GRE passages.
A. Compare and contrast two positions.
This technique has a number of variations, but the most common and direct
is to develop two ideas or systems (comparing) and then point out why one
is better than the other (contrasting).
Writing-technique questions are similar to main idea questions; except
that they ask about how the author presents his ideas, not about the ideas
themselves. Generally, you will be given only two writing methods to choose
from, but each method will have two or more variations.
Example: (Refer to the first passage.)
Which one of the following best describes the organization of the passage?
(A) Two systems of criminal justice are compared and contrasted, and
one is deemed to be better than the other.
(B) One system of criminal justice is presented as better than another.
Then evidence is offered to support that claim.
(C) Two systems of criminal justice are analyzed, and one specific example
is examined in detail.
(D) A set of examples is furnished. Then a conclusion is drawn from
(E) The inner workings of the criminal justice system are illustrated
by using two systems.
Clearly the author is comparing and contrasting two criminal justice
systems. Indeed, the opening to paragraph two makes this explicit. The
author uses a mixed form of comparison and contrast. He opens the passage
by developing (comparing) both systems and then shifts to developing just
the adversarial system. He opens the second paragraph by contrasting the
two criminal justice systems and then further develops just the inquisitorial
system. Finally, he closes by again contrasting the two systems and implying
that the inquisitorial system is superior.
Only two answer-choices, (A) and (B), have any real merit. They say
essentially the same thing--though in different order. Notice in the passage
that the author does not indicate which system is better until the end
of paragraph one, and he does not make that certain until paragraph two.
This contradicts the order given by (B). Hence the answer is (A). (Note:
In (A) the order is not specified and therefore is harder to attack, whereas
in (B) the order is definite and therefore is easier to attack. Remember
that a measured response is harder to attack and therefore is more likely
to be the answer.)
B. Show cause and effect.
In this technique, the author typically shows how a particular cause
leads to a certain result or set of results. It is not uncommon for this
method to introduce a sequence of causes and effects. A causes B, which
causes C, which causes D, and so on. Hence B is both the effect of A and
the cause of C.
Thirdly, I worry about the private automobile. It is a dirty, noisy,
wasteful, and lonely means of travel. It pollutes the air, ruins the safety
and sociability of the street, and exercises upon the individual a discipline
which takes away far more freedom than it gives him. It causes an enormous
amount of land to be unnecessarily abstracted from nature and from plant
life and to become devoid of any natural function. It explodes cities,
grievously impairs the whole institution of neighborliness, fragmentizes
and destroys communities. It has already spelled the end of our cities
as real cultural and social communities, and has made impossible the construction
of any others in their place. Together with the airplane, it has crowded
out other, more civilized and more convenient means of transport, leaving
older people, infirm people, poor people and children in a worse situation
than they were a hundred years ago. It continues to lend a terrible element
of fragility to our civilization, placing us in a situation where our life
would break down completely if anything ever interfered with the oil supply.
George F. Kennan
Which of the following best describes the organization of the passage?
(A) A problem is presented and then a possible solution is discussed.
(B) The benefits and demerits of the automobile are compared and contrasted.
(C) A topic is presented and a number of its effects are discussed.
(D) A set of examples is furnished to support a conclusion.
This passage is laden with effects. Kennan introduces the cause, the
automobile, in the opening sentence and from there on presents a series
of effects--the automobile pollutes, enslaves, and so on. Hence the answer
is (C). Note: (D) is the second-best choice; it is disqualified by two
flaws. First, in this context, "examples" is not as precise as "effects."
Second, the order is wrong: the conclusion, "I worry about the private
automobile" is presented first and then the examples: it pollutes, it enslaves,
C. State a position and then give supporting evidence.
This technique is common with opinionated passages. Equally common is
the reverse order. That is, the supporting evidence is presented and then
the position or conclusion is stated. And sometimes the evidence will be
structured to build up to a conclusion which is then left unstated. If
this is done skillfully the reader will be more likely to arrive at the
same conclusion as the author.
Extension questions are the most common. They require you to go beyond
what is stated in the passage, asking you to draw an inference from the
passage, to make a conclusion based on the passage, or to identify one
of the author's tacit assumptions.
Since extension questions require you to go beyond the passage, the
correct answer must say more than what is said in the passage. Beware of
same language traps with these questions: the correct answer will often
both paraphrase and extend a statement in the passage, but it will not
directly quote it.
"Same Language" traps: For extension questions, any answer-choice
that explicitly refers to or repeats a statement in the passage will probably
The correct answer to an extension question will not require a quantum
leap in thought, but it will add significantly to the ideas presented in
Example: (Refer to the first passage.)
The author views the prosecution's role in the inquisitorial system
(A) an advocate for both society and the defendant
(B) solely responsible for starting a trial
(C) a protector of the legal rule
(D) an investigator only
(E) an aggressive but fair investigator
This is an extension question. So the answer will not be explicitly
stated in the passage, but it will be strongly supported by it.
The author states that the prosecutor is duty bound to present any evidence
that may prove the defendant innocent and that he must disclose all pretrial
evidence (i.e., have no tricks up his sleeve). This is the essence of fair
play. The answer is (E).
Application questions differ from extension questions only in degree.
Extension questions ask you to apply what you have learned from the passage
to derive new information about the same subject, whereas application questions
go one step further, asking you to apply what you have learned from the
passage to a different or hypothetical situation.
To answer an application question, take the author's perspective. Ask
yourself: what am I arguing for? what might make my argument stronger?
what might make it weaker?
Example: (Refer to the first passage.)
Based on the information in the passage, it can be inferred that which
one of the following would most logically begin a paragraph immediately
following the passage?
(A) Because of the inquisitorial system's thoroughness in conducting
its pretrial investigation, it can be concluded that a defendant who is
innocent would prefer to be tried under the inquisitorial system, whereas
a defendant who is guilty would prefer to be tried under the adversarial
(B) As the preceding analysis shows, the legal system is in a constant
state of flux. For now the inquisitorial system is ascendant, but it will
probably be soon replaced by another system.
(C) The accusatorial system begins where the inquisitorial system ends.
So it is three steps removed from the system of private vengeance, and
therefore historically superior to it.
(D) Because in the inquisitorial system the judge must take an active
role in the conduct of the trial, his competency and expertise have become
(E) The criminal justice system has evolved to the point that it no
longer seems to be derivative of the system of private vengeance. Modern
systems of criminal justice empower all of society with the right to instigate
a legal action, and the need for vengeance is satisfied through a surrogate--the
The author has rather thoroughly presented his position, so the next
paragraph would be a natural place for him to summarize it. The passage
compares and contrasts two systems of criminal justice, implying that the
inquisitorial system is superior. We expect the concluding paragraph to
sum up this position. Now all legal theory aside, the system of justice
under which an innocent person would choose to be judged would, as a practical
matter, pretty much sum up the situation. Hence the answer is (A).
Tone questions ask you to identify the writer's attitude or perspective.
Is the writer's feeling toward the subject positive, negative, or neutral?
Does the writer give his own opinion, or does he objectively present the
opinions of others?
Before you read the answer-choices, decide whether the writer's tone
is positive, negative, or neutral. It is best to do this without referring
to the passage.
However, if you did not get a feel for the writer's attitude on the
first reading, check the adjectives that he chooses. Adjectives and, to
a lesser extent, adverbs express our feelings toward subjects. For instance,
if we agree with a person who holds strong feelings about a subject, we
may describe his opinions as impassioned. On the other hand, if we disagree
with him, we may describe his opinions as excitable, which has the same
meaning as "impassioned" but carries a negative connotation.
Example: (Refer to the first passage.)
The author's attitude toward the adversarial system can best be described
(A) encouraged that it is far removed from the system of private vengeance
(B) concerned that it does not allow all members of society to instigate
(C) pleased that it does not require the defendant to conduct his own
(D) hopeful that it will be replaced by the inquisitorial system
(E) doubtful that it is the best vehicle for justice
The author does not reveal his feelings toward the adversarial system
until the end of paragraph one. Clearly the clause "the adversarial system
of criminal procedure symbolizes and regularizes the punitive combat" indicates
that he has a negative attitude toward the system. This is confirmed in
the second paragraph when he states that the inquisitorial system is historically
superior to the adversarial system. So he feels that the adversarial system
The "two-out-of-five" rule is at work here: only choices (D) and (E)
have any real merit. Both are good answers. But which one is better? Intuitively,
choice (E) is more likely to be the answer because it is more measured.
To decide between two choices attack each: the one that survives is the
answer. Now a tone question should be answered from what is directly stated
in the passage--not from what it implies. Although the author has reservations
toward the adversarial system, at no point does he say that he hopes the
inquisitorial system will replace it, he may prefer a third system over
both. This eliminates (D); the answer therefore is (E).
As mentioned before, each passage contains 200 to 600 words and only
four to seven questions, so you will not be tested on most of the material
in the passage. Your best reading strategy, therefore, is to identify the
places from which questions will most likely be drawn and concentrate your
Pivotal words can help in this regard. Following are the most common
As you may have noticed, these words indicate contrast. Pivotal words
warn that the author is about to either make a U-turn or introduce a counter-premise
(concession to a minor point that weakens the argument).
I submit that the strikers should accept the management's offer. Admittedly,
it is less than what was demanded. But it does resolve the main grievance--inadequate
health care. Furthermore, an independent study shows that a wage increase
greater than 5% would leave the company unable to compete against Japan
and Germany, forcing it into bankruptcy.
The conclusion, "the strikers should accept the management's offer,"
is stated in the first sentence. Then "Admittedly" introduces a concession
(counter-premise); namely, that the offer was less than what was demanded.
This weakens the speaker's case, but it addresses a potential criticism
of his position before it can be made. The last two sentences of the argument
present more compelling reasons to accept the offer and form the gist of
Pivotal words mark natural places for questions to be drawn. At a pivotal
word, the author changes direction. The GRE writers form questions at these
junctures to test whether you turned with the author or you continued to
go straight. Rarely do the GRE writers let a pivotal word pass without
drawing a question from its sentence.
There are about 9 antonyms on verbal section of the GRE. The questions are mixed in with the analogies, sentence completions, and reading comprehension.
Put The Word In Context.
In our daily speech, we combine words into phrases and sentences; rarely
do we use a word by itself. This can cause words that we have little trouble
understanding in sentences to suddenly appear unfamiliar when we view them
in isolation. For example, take the word "whet." Most people don't recognize
it in isolation. Yet most people understand it in the following phrase:
To whet your appetite
"Whet" means to stimulate.
If you don't recognize the meaning of a word, think of a phrase in which
you have heard it used.
Change The Word Into A More Common Form.
Most words are built from other words. Although you may not know a given
word, you may spot the root word from which it is derived and thereby deduce
the meaning of the original word.
Example: PERTURBATION: (A) impotence (B) obstruction (C) prediction
(D) equanimity (E) chivalry
You may not know how to pronounce PERTURBATION let alone know what it
means. However, changing its ending yields the more common form of the
word "perturbed," which means "upset, agitated." The opposite of upset
is calm, which is exactly what EQUANIMITY means. The answer is (D).
Test Words For Positive And Negative Connotations.
Testing words for positive and negative connotations is probably the
most effective technique for antonyms. Surprisingly, you can often solve
an antonym problem knowing only that the word has a negative connotation.
Example: REPUDIATE: (A) denounce (B) deceive (C) embrace (D)
fib (E) generalize
You may not know what REPUDIATE means, but you probably sense that it
has a negative connotation. Since we are looking for a word whose meaning
is opposite of REPUDIATE, we eliminate any answer-choices that are also
negative. Now, "denounce," "deceive," and "fib" are all, to varying degrees,
negative. So eliminate them. "Generalize" has a neutral connotation: it
can be positive, negative, or neither. So eliminate it as well. Hence,
by process of elimination, the answer is (C), EMBRACE.
Any GRE Word That Starts With "De," "Dis," or "Anti" Will Almost
Certainly Be Negative.
Examples: Degradation, Discrepancy, Discriminating, Debase, Antipathy
Any GRE Word That Includes The Notion of Going up Will Almost Certainly
Be Positive, and any GRE Word That Includes The Notion of Going Down Will
Almost Certainly Be Negative.
Examples (positive): Elevate, Ascendancy, Lofty
Examples (negative): Decline, Subjugate, Suborn (to encourage false
Watch Out For Eye-Catchers.
On medium and hard problems some answer-choices will catch your eye
by reminding you of some part of the original word or some common meaning
of the word. Be wary of these choices--they are eye-catchers.
Example: SUFFRAGE: (A) absence of charity (B) absence of franchise
(C) absence of pain (D) absence of success (E) absence of malice
SUFFRAGE is a hard word. It appears to come from the word "suffer."
The opposite of suffering would be an absence of pain. However, that connection
would be too easy, too obvious for this hard problem. "Absence of pain"
is a trap. In fact, SUFFRAGE means "the right to vote." And FRANCHISE is
a synonym for "vote." Hence, the answer is (B), ABSENCE OF FRANCHISE.
Be Alert To Secondary (Often Rare) Meanings Of Words.
On problems of average difficulty (the middle third), the GRE writers
often use common words but with their uncommon meanings. An example will
Example: CHAMPION: (A) relinquish (B) contest (C) oppress (D)
modify (E) withhold
The common meaning of CHAMPION is "winner." It's opposite would be "loser."
But no answer-choice given above is synonymous with "loser." CHAMPION also
means to support or fight for someone else. (Think of the phrase "to champion
a cause.") Hence, the answer is (C), OPPRESS.
The parts of speech in an antonym problem are consistent throughout
the problem. Hence, if the given word is a verb, then every answer-choice
will be a verb as well. This fact often helps you determine whether a word
is being used in a secondary sense because words often have different meanings
depending on their use as nouns, verbs, or adjectives.
Example: AIR: (A) release (B) differ (C) expose (D) betray (E)
AIR is commonly used as a noun--indicating that which we breathe. But
every answer-choice is a verb. Hence, AIR in this case must also be a verb.
A secondary meaning for AIR is to discuss publicly. The opposite is to
ENSHROUD, to hide, to conceal. Hence, the answer is (E).
Note: Hard problems (the last third) have hard answers. Hence be wary
of common words on hard problems. But don't eliminate them for that reason
alone: they may still be the answer. So if the given word is totally unfamiliar
and none of the previous techniques have helped, then choose the hardest
or most unusual word.
Never spend more than 30 seconds on an antonym problem! If you don't
know the given word, use the above techniques to eliminate as many answer-choices
as possible; guess from the remaining ones; then move on.
ANTONYMS II (WORD ANALYSIS)
Word analysis (etymology) is the process of separating a word into its
parts and then using the meanings of those parts to deduce the meaning
of the original word. Take, for example, the word INTERMINABLE. It is made
up of three parts: a prefix IN (not), a root TERMIN (stop), and a suffix
ABLE (can do). Therefore, by word analysis, INTERMINABLE means "not able
to stop." This is not the literal meaning of INTERMINABLE (endless), but
it is close enough to find an antonym. For another example, consider the
word RETROSPECT. It is made up of the prefix RETRO (back) and the root
SPECT (to look). Hence, RETROSPECT means "to look back (in time), to contemplate."
Word analysis is very effective in decoding the meaning of words. However,
you must be careful in its application since words do not always have the
same meaning as the sum of the meanings of their parts. In fact, on occasion
words can have the opposite meaning of their parts. For example, by word
analysis the word AWFUL should mean "full of awe," or awe-inspiring. But
over the years it has come to mean just the opposite--terrible. In spite
of the shortcomings, word analysis gives the correct meaning of a word
(or at least a hint of it) far more often than not and therefore is a useful
Analysis: IN (not); DE (thoroughly); FATIG (fatigue); ABLE (can do)
Meaning: cannot be fatigued, tireless
Analysis: CIRCUM (around); SPECT (to look)
Meaning: to look around, that is, to be cautious
Analysis: ANTI (against); PATH (to feel); Y (noun suffix)
Meaning: to feel strongly against something, to hate
In analogy questions, the relationship between the words is more important
than the meanings of the words themselves. The analogy section of the GRE
is one of the easiest parts of the test to improve on.
Before You Look at The Answer-Choices, Think of a Short Sentence
That Expresses The Relationship Between The Two Words.
Example: FISH : SCHOOL ::
How are FISH and SCHOOL related? Well, a group of fish is called a school.
Example: JOURNALIST : TYPEWRITER ::
Paraphrase: A journalist uses a typewriter as a tool of his trade.
Example: ORCHESTRA : MUSICIAN ::
(A) story : comedian
(B) band : singer
(C) garden : leaf
(D) troupe : actor
(E) government : lawyer
Paraphrase: "An ORCHESTRA is comprised of MUSICIANS." Now, a
STORY is not comprised of COMEDIANS. Eliminate (A). A BAND may have a SINGER,
but a BAND is not comprised of SINGERS: there may be a drummer, guitarist,
etc. Eliminate (B). Similarly, a GARDEN is comprised of more than just
LEAVES. Eliminate (C). But a TROUPE is comprised of ACTORS. The answer,
therefore, is (D).
If More Than One Answer-Choice Fits Your Paraphrase, Make Your Paraphrase
Example: CLUB : GOLF ::
(A) type : book
(B) ball : soccer
(C) glove : baseball
(D) racket : tennis
(E) board : chess
Paraphrase: "A CLUB is used to play GOLF." However, this paraphrase
eliminates only answer-choice (A). A more specific paraphrase is: A CLUB
is used to strike a ball in the game of GOLF. Similarly, a RACKET is used
to strike a ball in the game of TENNIS. The answer is (D).
Note: The parts of speech are consistent throughout an analogy
problem. Hence, if the given pair is an adjective and a noun, then each
answer-pair will be an adjective and a noun, in that order. This helps
you determine the intended meaning when one (or both) of the given words
has more than one part of speech.
Eliminate Answer-Choices That Do Not Have A Clear And Reasonably
Educated guessing is a very useful technique on the GRE. If you can
eliminate one or more answer-choices, you will probably increase your score
Example: CORROSION : IRON ::
(A) sloth : energy
(B) disease : vision
(C) atrophy : muscle
In choices (A) and (C) there are clear and reasonably necessary relationships
between the words of each pair: a SLOTHFUL person lacks ENERGY, and ATROPHY
means "the wasting away of MUSCLE." But in choice (B) there is no necessary
relationship between the words: most DISEASES have no effect on VISION.
Hence, eliminate choice (B). The correct answer is (C) since CORROSION
is the wasting away of IRON, just as ATROPHY is the wasting away of MUSCLE.
Note: Be careful when eliminating answer-choices to hard analogy
problems because the relationship may not be strong, or it may actually
be between esoteric (rare) meanings of the words. This is often what makes
a hard analogy problem hard.
Watch Out For Eye-Catchers
Unfortunately, the writers of the GRE often set traps by offering an
answer-pair that reminds you of the original pair but has a different relationship.
The correct answer-pair, of course, will have the same relationship as
the original pair, but the words in the answer will typically be in an
entirely different category. The following diagram indicates how the relationship
functions between the original pair and the correct answer, and how the
relationship functions between the original pair and the eye-catcher.
MONARCHY is an eye-catcher since it reminds one of GOVERNMENT--it's
a type of government. Now, a paraphrase for ANARCHY : GOVERNMENT is ANARCHY
is the absence of GOVERNMENT. Similarly, FREETHINKING is the absence of
DOGMATIC thought. Notice that GOVERNMENT and DOGMATIST are in different
categories: a DOGMATIST is not a GOVERNMENT.
Example: EXCERPT : NOVEL ::
(A) critique : play
(B) review : manuscript
(C) swatch : cloth
(D) foreword : preface
(E) recital : performance
Notice how in answer-choice (B) MANUSCRIPT reminds you of NOVEL: a manuscript
could be an unpublished novel. However, a REVIEW is not part of a manuscript.
Whereas, an EXCERPT is part of a NOVEL. (What is the other eye-catcher
in this problem?) The answer is (C).
In Hard Problems, Eliminate Any Answer-Choice That Reminds You (However
Vaguely) Of The Original Pair.
Eye-catchers are sometimes the answer to easy problems; rarely are they
the answer to medium problems; and virtually never are they the answer
to hard problems. When an average student guesses on a hard problem he
chooses an answer that reminds him of the original pair. But if the eye-catcher
were the answer, then the average student would get the problem correct
and therefore it would not be a hard problem.
Example: EXORCISM : DEMON ::
(A) matriculation : induction
(B) banishment : member
(C) qualm : angel
(D) heuristic : method
(E) manifesto : spirit
This is a hard problem. Hence, eliminate any answer-choice that reminds
you (however vaguely) of DEMON. A DEMON is a SPIRIT. So eliminate choice
(E). Next, choice (C) is not strictly speaking an eye-catcher. But an ANGEL
does remind one of a DEMON, and this is a hard problem. So eliminate choice
(C). Now, to EXORCISE a DEMON means to drive it away. Similarly, to a BANISH
a MEMBER of a group means to drive him or her away. The answer is (B).
ANALOGIES II (CLASSIFICATION)
In the last section, we analyzed the structure of an analogy problem;
in this section, we will analyze the various types of analogies.
Synonyms are words that have similar meanings. True synonyms are from
the same part of speech. However, we will also classify as synonyms words
which have similar meaning but come from different parts of speech, for
example: UNRULY (adjective) : LAWLESSNESS (noun).
Example: PERSPICACIOUS : INSIGHT ::
(A) ardent : quickness
(B) warm : temperature
(C) wealthy : scarcity
(D) rapacious : magnanimity
(E) churlish : enmity
PERSPICACIOUS and INSIGHT are synonyms, both mean "sharp, keen of mind."
Similarly, CHURLISH and ENMITY are synonyms; both mean "dislike, rudeness."
The answer is (E).
Antonyms are words that have opposite meanings. Just as there are few
(if any) exact synonyms, there are few (if any) exact antonyms.
In the antonym pair EGOIST : ALTRUISM, an EGOIST is one who thinks only
of himself, whereas ALTRUISM is characteristic of one who thinks of all
humanity. Often, however, the antonym pair are direct opposites as in the
pair REMAIN : DEPART.
Example: UNPRECEDENTED : PREVIOUS OCCURRENCE ::
(A) naive : harmony
(B) incomparable : equal
(C) improper : vacillation
(D) eccentric : intensity
(E) random : recidivism
UNPRECEDENTED means "without PREVIOUS OCCURRENCE." Similarly, INCOMPARABLE
means "without EQUAL." The answer is (B).
Note: In the other answer-pairs there is no clear relationship between
the words. Hence, this problem can also be solved by elimination, without
even knowing the meanings of the original pair.
C. MEMBER AND CLASS
Member and class analogies are usually easy problems (the first third
of an analogy section). In this type of analogy, the first word may be
an element of the class that the second word describes, or vice versa.
This category can also be classified as "Type Of."
Example: LIMERICK : POEM ::
(A) monologue : chorus
(B) sonnet : offering
(C) waltz : tango
(D) skull : skeleton
(E) aria : song
A LIMERICK is a type of POEM. Similarly, an ARIA is a type of SONG. The answer is (E). The eye-catcher is SONNET since it is a type of POEM. However, there is no relationship between SONNET and OFFERING.
D. DEGREE OF INTENSITY
The writers of the GRE consider these problems to be hard. However,
once you get used to them, they can become routine. In a degree-of-intensity
analogy, the two words express a similar concept, but one word is stronger,
harsher, or more intense than the other.
Example: INTEREST : OBSESSION ::
(A) faith : caprice
(B) nonchalance : insouciance
(C) diligence : assiduity
(D) decimation : annihilation
(E) alacrity: procrastination
OBSESSION is extreme, unending INTEREST. Similarly, ANNIHILATION is
complete DECIMATION. The answer is (D). Note, DECIMATION does not mean
complete destruction; it literally means the destruction of one tenth of
a population. By extension, it means widespread, but not complete, destruction.
Note, the degree of intensity in the answer-pair must be the same as
in the original pair. In the pair INTEREST : OBSESSION the degree of intensity
is from moderate to extreme; the same is true of the pair DECIMATION: ANNIHILATION
E. PART TO WHOLE
In this type of analogy, the first word is part of the second word.
The order can also be whole to part.
Example: ACTORS : TROUPE ::
(A) plotters : cabal
(B) professors : tenure
(C) workers : bourgeoisie
(D) diplomats : government
(E) directors : cast
A TROUPE is a group of ACTORS. Similarly, a CABAL is a group of PLOTTERS.
The answer is (A). Be wary of the pair DIRECTORS : CAST it's an eye-catcher:
CAST reminds one of TROUPE. In fact, a TROUPE is a CAST.
This is probably the most common type of analogy problem. In a definitional
analogy one of the words can be used to define the other.
Example: COFFER : VALUABLES ::
(A) mountain : avalanche
(B) book : paper
(C) vault : trifles
(D) sanctuary : refuge
(E) sea : waves
By definition, a coffer is a container in which to store valuables.
Similarly, a SANCTUARY is by definition a place of REFUGE. The answer is
Sometimes the definition is only partial: stating only one of the characteristics
of the word.
Example: LION : CARNIVORE ::
(A) man : vegetarian
(B) ape : ponderer
(C) lizard : mammal
(D) buffalo : omnivore
(E) shark : scavenger
A defining characteristic of a LION is that it is CARNIVOROUS, meat-eating.
Similarly, a defining characteristic of a SHARK is that it is a SCAVENGER.
The answer is (E).
G. LACK OF
This sub-category of the definition type of analogy is important and
common enough to warrant a name. In this type of analogy one word describes
the absence of the other word.
Example: DISHEARTENED : HOPE ::
(A) enervated : ennui
(B) buoyant : effervescence
(C) amoral : ethics
(D) munificent : altruism
(E) nefarious : turpitude
DISHEARTENED means without HOPE. Likewise, AMORAL means without ETHICS.
The answer is (C). Note, AMORAL does not mean immoral. If you commit an
AMORAL act, you are not aware that you actions are unethical; whereas if
you commit an immoral act, then you realize that your actions are wrong.
This type of analogy describes the manner, way, or style by which an
action is accomplished.
Example: PRATTLE : SPEAK ::
(A) accept : reject
(B) stomp : patter
(C) heed : listen
(D) promenade : walk
(E) ejaculate : shout
PRATTLE means to SPEAK in an idle, casual manner. Similarly, PROMENADE
means to WALK in a casual manner. The answer is (D). Note, the pair EJACULATE
: SHOUT is an eye-catcher since both words describe a manner of speaking.
This type of analogy describes the purpose or function of something.
Example: MNEMONIC : MEMORY ::
(A) demonstration : manifestation
(B) pacemaker : heartbeat
(C) sanction : recall
(D) rhetoric : treatise
(E) impasse : fruition
A MNEMONIC functions to aid MEMORY. Similarly, a PACEMAKER aids in the
regulation of one's HEARTBEAT. The answer is (B).
J. ACTION & SIGNIFICANCE
In this type of analogy one word describes an action and the other word
indicates the significance of the action.
Example: CURTSY : REVERENCE ::
(A) assume : disguise
(B) bestir : deferment
(C) fret : contentment
(D) forgo : diversion
(E) fidget : uneasiness
A CURTSY (bow) is a sign of REVERENCE. Similarly, FIDGETING is a sign
of UNEASINESS The answer is (E).
K. PERTAINING TO
In this type of analogy, one word refers to the category or class the
other word belongs to. An example will illustrate.
Example: DIDACTIC : TEACH ::
(A) specious : revile
(B) cunning : steal
(C) forensic : debate
(D) troubled : broach
(E) puissant : injure
DIDACTIC refers to the teaching process. Similarly, FORENSIC refers
to the debating process. The answer is (C).
L. SYMBOL & REPRESENTATION
In this type of analogy, one word stands for or represents a concept,
action, or thing. An example will illustrate.
Example: CARET : INSERT::
(A) colon : sever
(B) pie : exponentiate
(C) gun : lance
(D) period : stop
(E) scalpel : delete
A CARET (^) is an editing symbol that indicates where a word should
be INSERTED. Similarly, a PERIOD is a grammatical symbol indicating a STOP.
The answer is (D).
The sentence completions form the most straightforward part of the GRE, and most students do well on them.
Before You Look At The Answer-Choices, Think Of A Word That "Fits"
Crestfallen by having done poorly on the GRE, Susan began to question
her abilities. Her self-confidence was ..........
If somebody is crestfallen (despairing) and has begun to question herself,
then her self-confidence would be destroyed. Hence, the answer is (B).
Be Alert To Transitional Words.
Transitional words tell you what is coming up. They indicate that the
author is now going to draw a contrast with something stated previously,
or support something stated previously.
A. Contrast Indicators
To contrast two things is to point out how they differ. In this type
of sentence completion problem, we look for a word that has the opposite
meaning (an antonym) of some key word or phrase in the sentence. Following
are some of the most common contrast indicators:
Although the warring parties had settled a number of disputes, past
experience made them .......... to express optimism that the talks would be a success.
"Although" sets up a contrast between what has occurred--success on
some issues--and what can be expected to occur--success for the whole talks.
Hence, the parties are reluctant to express optimism. The common word "reluctant"
is not offered as an answer-choice, but a synonym--reticent--is. The answer
B. Support Indicators
Supporting words support or further explain what has already been said.
These words often introduce synonyms for words elsewhere in the sentence.
Following are some common supporting words:
Davis is an opprobrious and .......... speaker, equally caustic toward friend or
foe--a true curmudgeon.
"And" in the sentence indicates that the missing adjective is similar
in meaning to "opprobrious," which is very negative. Now, vituperative--the
only negative word--means "abusive." Hence, the answer is (B).
C. Cause And Effect Indicators
These words indicate that one thing causes another to occur. Some of
the most common cause and effect indicators are
||If , Then .
Because the House has the votes to override a presidential veto, the
President has no choice but to ..........
Since the House has the votes to pass the bill or motion, the President
would be wise to compromise and make the best of the situation. The answer
This rather advanced grammatical structure is very common on the GRE.
(Don't confuse "apposition" with "opposition": they have opposite meanings.)
Words or phrases in apposition are placed next to each other, and the
second word or phrase defines, clarifies, or gives evidence to the first
word or phrase. The second word or phrase will be set off from the first
by a comma, semicolon, hyphen, or parentheses. Note: If a comma is not
followed by a linking word--such as and, for, yet--then the following phrase
is probably appositional.
Identifying an appositional structure, can greatly simplify a sentence
completion problem since the appositional word, phrase, or clause will
define the missing word.
His novels are .......... ; he uses a long circumlocution when a direct coupling
of a simple subject and verb would be best.
The sentence has no linking words (such as because, although, etc.).
Hence, the phrase following the semicolon is in apposition to the missing
word--it defines or further clarifies the missing word. Now, writing filled
with circumlocutions is aptly described as prolix. The answer is (A).