GRE Verbal Reasoning - Text Completion

Text Completion questions are similar to Sentence Equivalence questions in the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE, and used primarily to test understanding of vocabulary in context. Text Completion questions center on the appropriateness of word selection to fit an existing passage. Passages are 1-5 sentences long with 1-3 blanks and 3 answer choices per blank. Some passages have only a single blank, in which case there are 5 answer choices. Answer selection is independent for each blank: chosing one answer does not limit your options for the other blanks. Each blank has its own selection of words, which cannot be used for the other blanks. All blanks for each question must be answered correctly for the student to receive credit for the correct answer – no partial credit will be given for partially correct answers.

To understand a GRE vocabulary word, you must not only know its definition, but also understand how to use it in the context of a sentence as opposed to other, similar words. From a sentence fragment, you must be able to complete an idea while maintaining its tone and message unchanged. While these questions are similar to Sentence Equivalence in that both test vocabulary usage, Sentence Equivalence questions focus more on the meaning of the completed sentence and less on analysis of the question fragment.

Text Completion Strategy

The best strategy for Text Completion questions is to read through the passage to gain an overall impression of its content and tone, but to continually revise that impression as you gain more information. As you are reading, fill in answer choices as you form a complete impression of what the fragment is trying to convey. Fill the blanks in whatever order is easiest or most convenient – the answer to the first blank may not be clear until you have read the entire passage, and it may be easiest to complete later blanks first.

As you are reading, summarize long passages in your head or even on scratch paper, although the passages are sufficiently brief that structured diagramming is probably not worthwhile. You must learn to read by creating an impression – imagine, or even quickly sketch, a picture of each passage, then fill in the blanks that best enhance and complete your picture. Pay particular attention to transition keywords, high-calibre vocabulary in the passage that you recognize from your GRE study, any words that indicate the tone or intended audience of the passage, or any phrases that seem important to what the passage is about or that emphasize the structure of the passage.

In the interest of time management, do not consider every answer combination; rather, try to imagine words or phrases that could fill each blank to complete the sentence, then evaluate the answer choices to see whether any option is similar to your imagination. These passages are short enough that you must pay close attention to the details, but first analyzing the structure and content of passages in a systematic way will highlight the information and argumentative strategies that are most likely to be important for answering the questions. In addition, using a strategy such as this will help you to be consistent in your active reading, which is the most reliable way to get a high score on the Verbal Reasoning sections.

Remember that each blank must contribute to the overall meaning of the sentence or paragraph, so be sure to re-evaluate your choices once all the blanks have been filled. After you have selected your answers, then check the entire passage to ensure that it your choices are coherent and consistent throughout the passage.

Vocabulary Building

The key to success on the Text Completion passages of the GRE is a robust understanding of the English language, including subtle distinctions among various vocabulary words. You must not only understand the definition of presented vocabulary words, you must be able to deploy them in the specific context provided by a passage. This may require you to understand the second or third definition of a word, or to be able to distinguish between minor tonal variations.

The best way to learn vocabulary to succeed on the GRE is to complete a diverse and challenging undergraduate courseload, supplemented by extensive reading of English literature from diverse perspectives, including areas of the world, authorial identities, and time periods. If you are preparing for the GRE, the best way to supplement your vocabulary knowledge is to use a system to identify vocabulary words that you do not fully understand. The simples way to do this is to review vocabulary words with flashcards, and to focus on studying the words that you get wrong in your initial reviews. In addition, Magoosh has a free phone application with vocabulary words of varying difficulty levels, which is intended to help students identify problem words.

Once you have identified words that you need to learn, look them up in multiple online dictionaries. The most comprehensive source for students trying to understand English words is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), known colloquially as the "Bible" for English language scholars. The OED is not only the authoritative text for official word definitions, it also provides usage histories of vocabulary words, showing how they have developed and evolved over time. The OED is accessible online to New York City Library card holders, including the Manhattan Review staff, and it is one of the dictionaries we use to flesh out our students' understanding of the language of the GRE.