Sentence Equivalence: Find a Partner


Square Dance circa 1944

“Grab your partner…swing them ‘round…do-si-do then promendo…‘til you’re back at the start for another roun’.”

Squaring dancing is a style of dance that appeared around the 17th century in Europe in which four partners (or eight dancers) organize themselves into a square with everyone facing the middle. When squaring dancing reached the shores of America and was bathed in the warm, romanticized image of American cowboys, it became known round the world. Sentence equivalence questions on the GRE and square dancing may appear as dissimilar as Kim Jung-un and the moons of Saturn. But they do share one important parallel–you need to find a partner to be successful in both.

With some questions, the test makers don’t use direct synonyms for answers. The direct synonyms might be placed as traps for the sleepy, bored, and distracted test takers. Instead, the two answers to pick are “partners,” not synonyms and not directly similar, but words with similar connotations. They are partners for special occasions, like a square dance.

Consider this sentence from the article, “Neutron Star And White Dwarf Confirm Einstein’s Theory of Gravity,” about testing Einstein’s theory:

“Some researchers previously believed that under conditions like these, the equations of General Relativity would not prove ________ in determining the level of gravitational radiation.”

Now what word would complete this sentence? The original word used in the sentence was “accurate.” So, we could place direct synonyms into the sentence, like “correct,” “precise,” or “factual.” I would not consider these partners; rather, these are more like brothers and sisters in the same family. Partners are close friends with no blood ties.

A good partner for “accurate” would be one that completes the sentence such that it conveys the same idea. Basically, we want a sentence that says, “Some situations were thought to exist where General Relativity would break down.” So what word should we place in the blank? What about the word “relevant?”

“Relevant” is not a synonym of “accurate,” but both these words do lead to analogous sentences. So “relevant” and “accurate” I would consider partners.

Let’s look at an example question from the ETS paper-based practice test:

From ETS paper-based practice, Section 4

In this sample question, we have some clues for determining what word should be in the blank. Anytime you see a colon in a sentence, pay attention to the information after it. Colons are punctuation marks telling you that something is being defined or elaborated on (Read article on colon usage for more information).

Since the blank comes before the colon, I know that what follows the colon will tell me about the blank: “each refrained…if the other doubted…” Here we find that the journalistic pair work together in reading each other’s pieces and advising each other on whether the articles are ready for publication. Each journalist seems to respect the other’s opinion.

Looking to the answer choices, I see some direct synonyms (“apologist” and “advocate”), but these are not the answers you are looking for. These words don’t contain the idea of trusted advisor that we are looking for—a person who gives a thumbs up or thumbs down rating.

But are there any other direct synonyms? “Intermediary” and “impediment” are fairly different, neither synonyms nor partners. Thus we are left with “check” and “brake.” Now these words are not obvious synonyms. “Check” means “to examine” and “brake” means “to curb or slow down.” However, both these words do contain the sense that we are looking for in this sentence—someone who gives advice on whether or not to proceed. Both of these words lead to two sentences that convey the same idea. In this way, “check” and “break” are partners.

So when you are do-si-doing with sentence equivalence questions, and promenading with the answers, don’t always look for direct synonyms to complete the sentence—you might need to find partners, instead, to complete the dance.



 GRE Sentence Equivalence Questions


Are you familiar with the new sentence equivalence questions introduced in the revised GRE?

These questions include a single sentence, one blank, and six possible answer choices. The blank in Sentence Equivalence questions have two correct answers such that either of the words from the 6 choices would result in a sentence that conveys similar meaning. One important caveat: you will not receive partial credit for only giving one of them.

How should you approach these questions? One thing, do not look in the answer choices for two words that are alike. This can be deceiving for two reasons. Firstly, although the words might be alike in meaning, they may not fit logically into the sentence. Secondly, the correct words may not have the same meaning. All that matters is that the resulting sentences are identical in meaning. Take a look:

Question of the Day

With regard to nations, broadly speaking it is in the poorer ones where disease is more likely to thrive. ________ factors that can mitigate poverty are social services and public health.

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Did you get it right?

 Sentence Equivalence: Question of the day


If you don’t know a word, don’t try to make any assumptions about it without substantial supporting evidence (latin roots, familiar prefixes, etc.) Also, if you can identify the correct answers with certainty, then you don’t have to worry about any other confusing choices! Are there any words you don’t know in this question?

Question of the Day

Inevitably, the reforms raised opposition among Spain’s traditional elites. The response of the ecclesiastical hierarchy struck a/an ______ note even before the Republic had begun to make policy.

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“Paroxysmal” is pretty far out there, but if you’re lucky, then your knowledge of “calamitous” and “disastrous” can get you out of trouble here.