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Verbal Question Type that Always Stumps Me!


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So I am practicing for the GRE - my weakness is the verbal section, I think. My vocabulary could use improvement, so I've been working on studying new words. But despite that, even when I know the words in the question, there is one "type" of question that always stumps me.

Namely, I have difficulty when I can see more than one "correct" choice for a sentence completion question. To give an example, take a look at the following question (select two answers):

Reporters described the storm's effect on voter turnout as ___________.

[a] harmful


[c] inconsequential

[d] calamitous

[e] deleterious

[f] beneficial

As some skilled in vocabulary may already know, the proposed answers are [a] and [e]. Sure. Those answers fill in the blanks in such a way that the sentence makes sense.

But what really gets me is that I have a hard time being SURE that these are the "correct" choices, because other options also fit the blanks in a way that makes sense to me.

For example, "Reporters described the storm's effect on voter turnout as benign" appears natural, and so does "Reporters described the storm's effect on voter turnout as inconsequential" also has a similar meaning.

Looking at this sentence alone, both selecting [a] and [e] as a pair and and [c] as a pair seem completely correct to me. I really don't understand how we can say for sure that reporters would say that a storm was "harmful" to voter turnout, but they would not say that it was "benign" to voter turnout. It seems totally dependent upon the situation that is being described...


I don't know if I've described the question "type" that I'm having trouble with sufficiently. But I really don't understand all that well how we can say for sure that, in the example above, [a] and [e] are the correct choices when this seems only one possibility. Again, ( & [c] seem like another grammatically correct pair, which could totally make sense in some contexts...

Can someone please help me?

Edited by kirbata
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Well, one point here is that the test writers aren't looking only for grammatically correct sentences, they're looking for the two answer choices that, when selected, both complete the sentence to mean roughly the same thing. In the example you offer above, choices a and e are the only two choices that are synonymous. Answer choices b and c, on the other hand, while both grammatically correct, aren't synonyms -- "benign" in this context could best be defined as "favorable," while "inconsequential" doesn't imply effect in one direction or the other. So you've got to get past the idea of "Does this word make a sensical sentence?" and on to the question "Do these two words produce sentences that are basically equivalent in meaning?"

Hope that helps!

Edited by edgirl
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I took the old GRE test and I had some similar problems as you -- that is, before I practiced more, I would pick choices that grammatically make sense but don't have quite the best meaning because I didn't understand the full/precise meaning of all the words.

I checked the new/revised GRE instructions on http://www.ets.org/g...erbal_reasoning and found this as the instruction (scroll to the bottom):

Directions: Select the two answer choices that, when used to complete the sentence, fit the meaning of the sentence as a whole and produce completed sentences

that are alike in meaning.

I think you know this but just mentioning it for others who may not be familiar with the new test format (like me).

So to answer your question, I think it's a case of imprecise definitions. benign does not mean the same thing as inconsequential. Benign actually has a mildly positive meaning (http://www.thefreedi...nary.com/benign ), or at least it means "not bad". Inconsequential means "not important"(http://www.thefreedi...inconsequential )

So and [c] do not have the same meaning!

The way I studied for the verbal is to really learn the precise definitions of words. I have forgotten them all now probably.

Just from looking at this question type, I can think of two strategies that might help if you don't know the best synonym right away. First, I would look for pairs of words that are as close synonyms as possible. Maybe group into positive/negative connotations if you are having problems. Then, I would compare for "degree" / "strength". For example, and [f] are both "positive meaning" but [f] is a much stronger word than . Similarly, [d] is also negative but it's much stronger than [a] and [e]. So that leaves [a] and [e] as the answer. And in fact [e] means "harmful", precisely: http://dictionary.re...wse/deleterious

Not all questions will have words that are "positive" or "negative" to divide up but I think the general idea is sound: try to find words that mean the same and then compare the "strength" of the word. Sometimes it's tricky because there are words that are spelled the same way but have different meanings (based on whether it's a noun or verb usually) and you have to use the rest of the sentence to make sure you have the right meaning.

I am no expert on this, especially since I'm from the sciences where we aren't known for our prized vocabulary :P But I recognized your problem as something I had to overcome last year and I hope this helps!

Edit: edgirl -- wow we posted at pretty much the same time :P

Edited by TakeruK
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I have been having problems with this, as well. I also have similar issues in the reading comprehension with picking a choice that is technically "correct" but is not the "best" choice.

I agree with everyone that finding two words that are closest in meaning to each other is the key in these sentence equivalence questions... and I think the only way to improve is to study vocab and do a lot of practice questions. At least, that's what I'm doing! Also, with your example... when it talks about the storm's effect on voter turnout, common sense can tell you that it will probably be negative. So, context clues can sometimes help when you are down between two different "pairs" that seem to make sense.

I haven't taken the GRE yet, though... two more weeks to go! Good luck!

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