GRE Verbal Reasoning - Sentence Equivalence

Sentence Equivalence questions consist of a single sentence with one blank and six word choices. To receive credit, students must select two words that fit the sentence and produce two respective complete sentences of equivalent meaning. There is no partial credit, so to get the answer right you must choose both correct words.

Sentence Equivalence questions are similar to Text Completion problems, and used primarily to test the understanding of vocabulary in context. Sentence Equivalence questions focus on the meaning of the completed whole sentence, whereas Text Completion tests the ability to read by creating impressions and conclude how a sentence should be completed by inferring from incomplete information.

Sentence Equivalence Strategy

It would be relatively easy to pick two synonymous words from a list; Sentence Equivalence questions require students to choose two distinct vocabulary words that fit a sentence in the same way. The accuracy of students' choices is determined by the meaning of the completed sentence, rather than the definition of the chosen words themselves. The answer is correct if the two distinct sentences completed with the two chosen word answers are "equivalent" – meaning they convey the same meaning in the same tone, and could be swapped in any context without losing significance. For example, the Educational Testing Service provides sample questions where the correct pairs of words are "original" and "innovative", or "exacerbated" or "worsened". While these pairs of words would not be synonymous in every usage, in the context of the problem, they both complete the sentence fragment in an equivalent way.

Answer choices may contain synonyms that mean different things in the context of the sentence, or pairs of distinct words that complete the sentence in a comparable way. The best strategy is to read the entire sentence and get an overall impression of it, paying special attention to structurally or syntactically significant words. Then, try to imagine words that are appropriate to fill the blank. Evaluate the answer choices to determine whether any two words matching your ideas are among the answer choices. If you find one word but not a second, discard it and move on. When you have chosen both words, ensure that their corresponding sentences are coherent, consistent, and mean the same thing. The reading passages for Sentence Equivalence are not sufficiently long to justify diagramming or charting the sentences. If you are unsure of an answer, however, you may want to make a note on your scratch paper so that you can revisit your thinking after the end of the section.

Vocabulary Building

For students preparing to take the GRE, vocabulary knowledge is one of the most challenging components to achieving a high score on the exam. The Sentence Equivalence questions pose a unique challenge to test takers because the correct answer does not depend on the definition of the vocabulary words, but rather on their specific usage in context. The key to success on the Sentence Completion and Text Equivalence sections of the GRE is a robust and applied understanding of vocabulary words from diverse contexts. The best way to achieve this sort of vocabulary knowledge is to take a challenging and varied undergraduate courseload supplemented by extensive reading of English literature from different time periods and authorial perspectives. The GRE is not intended to test students' ability to cram vocabulary words – it is designed to evaluate their ability to apply years' worth of complex language acquisition to the purpose of solving novel problems and understanding complex information.

Although the complexity of language knowledge required by the GRE may seem challenging to prospective test takers, through dedicated and systematic studying it is possible to achieve substantial performance achievements on the Sentence Equivalence questions and Verbal Reasoning sections of the exam. The most important component of a successful study plan is to identify an ameliorate your weaknesses; for the GRE Verbal Reasoning sections, this means quizzing yourself from a vocabulary list, increasing the number of words you recognize, and deepening your understanding of as many words as possible. Manhattan Review has a list of GRE Vocabulary Words that you can review, making your problem words into flashcards for practice. In addition, a variety of website and applications offer free vocabulary services, including the phone application Magoosh, which presents words arranged by difficulty level.

Because Sentence Equivalence enables test takers to evaluate knowledge of specific definitions or shades of meaning, vocabulary preparation must substantiate the distinctions and similarities among words and linguistic families. At Manhattan Review, we use the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the most comprehensive reference text available for the English Language, which is accessible online to anyone with a New York Public Library Card. This reference allows to help students craft a narrative to research and to remember specific details of words, and the way that they have been used throughout human history. This depth of understanding contributes to our expertise as leaders in Vocabulary Building, and it gives our students a wealth of knowledge that they can use to build their own skills in preparation for the test and thereafter.