Strategies to Crack Sentence Equivalence

Strategies to Crack Sentence Equivalence

Strategies to Crack Sentence Equivalence

Over the previous 2 blogs, we covered comprehension and sentence completion. The third and final type of question in the GRE verbal section is sentence equivalence. The comprehension is 50% of your verbal score but sentence completion and sentence equivalence are more scoring. Therefore, we need to focus on all 3 equally.

Sentence equivalence may sound complex and intimidating but actually it’s quite the opposite. Sentence equivalence is 1 of the 3 question types you will encounter in the GRE verbal section. Sentence equivalence tests your ability to conclude a passage based on partial information. You will get 1 sentence with 1 blank, and 6 options from which you have to choose 2. These 2 words that you choose must mean the same when inserted into the blank and must form complete coherent sentences. There are approximately 8 sentence equivalence questions (4 in each verbal section) and you have approximately 45 seconds to 1 minute to answer each one.

If your vocabulary is good, half the battle is won. Sentence equivalence depends on your vocabulary. If you do not know the meaning of the words and cannot find the synonyms, you will be in quite a fix and then it’s just a guessing game. However, improving your vocabulary is not as impossible as it may seem. Like mentioned in the previous blog on sentence completion, you do not have to stuff a 3500-word list into your head. The answer is reading. Keep reading. Read whatever interests you – books, newspapers, articles etc. Be aware of the words you read and hear around you and look them up in a dictionary if you don’t understand them. Even when watching TV shows, listen to the words being used and also keep in mind the context. All it takes is 15-30 minutes of reading a day and you will significantly improve your vocabulary.

Here are 5 strategies that can help you crack Sentence Equivalence:

1) Synonymous Sentences

The trick in this section is to find 2 synonymous sentences and not just synonymous words. Synonyms are words that mean the same but can have different connotations. Synonymous sentences are entire sentences that have a similar meaning. The pair of words that you select must each individually fit into the sentence. The context of the sentence must be taken into consideration. The best fitting words should be the ones selected.

2) Positive and Negative

Try and figure out the tone of the sentence. Is it positive or negative? Once you understand this, eliminating in the options will become much easier. For example, if the tone of the sentence is positive, and you have 2 words with negative connotations in the options, you can eliminate those. This narrows down the answer.

3) Watch for transition words and verbs

Transition words alert you that there is a twist in the sentence or something important is about to be said. The tone can change after these words and the meaning can also change. These words will give you an idea of the main idea of the sentence. Also watch out for punctuation marks. Generally, there will be a punctuation mark when the sentence transits. Examples of transition words are – although, moreover, but, because, so, like, yet etc. Certain verbs that describe the action of the sentence should also be watched for. Verbs are the heart of the sentence. They tell you what the subject of the sentence is doing, which is another clue to the answer.

4) Put your own word in the blank

Once you understand the context of the sentence, you can insert your own word before looking at the options. By doing this, you know that the options should then be similar to your own word. This makes you understand what you are searching for and removes confusion when looking at the options.

5) Pairing Strategy

The pairing strategy has proved to be very useful in finding the answer. When reading the options, look for synonym pairs. Generally, there will be 2 of these pairs. Once you identify those 2 pairs, the 2 remaining options can be discarded after checking that they are not similar in meaning. Voila. Now you have a 50% chance of getting the answer right. Then look at the sentence to see which pair fits.

Now using these strategies, take a look at the following examples. The important words are highlighted in the explanation for your convenience. (Examples taken from

I) Although it does contain some pioneering ideas, one would hardly characterize the work as __________.

  1. A) Orthodox
  2. B) Eccentric
  3. C) Original
  4. D) Trifling
  5. E) Conventional
  6. F) Innovative

The sentence starts with the word ALTHOUGH. This is a transition word and is the most important part of this sentence. According to the sentence, it does contain pioneering work but apparently not entirely. The 2 pairs of words with similar meaning here are ‘orthodox’ and ‘conventional’ and ‘original and innovative’. So, the other 2 remaining options can be discarded. Out of these 2 pairs, orthodox and conventional don’t fit in the context of the sentence. Therefore, option C and F are the correct answer.

II) It was her view that the country’s problems had been _______ by foreign technocrats, so that to ask for such assistance again would be counterproductive.

  1. A) Ameliorated
  2. B) Ascertained
  3. C) Diagnosed
  4. D) Exacerbated
  5. E) Overlooked
  6. F) Worsened

In this sentence there is a piece of reasoning being given after the words ‘so that’. This is the transition word. Asking for assistance from foreign technocrats would be counterproductive because of the effects that these technocrats have had already. So, we know that the effects that they must have had in the past were negative. Therefore, we can select ‘exacerbated and worsened’ as they also fit into the context of the sentence.

Sentence equivalence, if understood, can be highly scoring. This is where you can capitalise on your marks. Don’t miss out.

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