Here we will highlight two sentence completion fundamentals
that are integral to mastering Sentence Completions on the
- 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:
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 form:
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
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
Siberian tigers are considered among the most ________
of animals; their striking coloration, powerful musculature,
and regal bearing leave many people ________.
(A) obsequious . . defiant
(B) anomalous . . fearful
(C) desultory . . captivated
(D) splendid . . indifferent
(E) 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 either.
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