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Dealing with Analogy Questions

Analogies are a gift. Manna from heaven. Freebies. For most students, analogies are the place to rack up the points big time. The number of analogies on the computer-based GRE can vary, but you almost certainly have at least seven.

The great thing about analogies is that they are doable. Some of the Reading Comprehension passages are ridiculously hard. Some of the Sentence Completion questions are so long you may be tempted to take a snooze in the middle of them. But analogies are great. You read 12 words, apply a few tricks, and you're outta there.

When you see an Analogy question on the GRE test, take this very straightforward, two-step approach:

1. Use both words in a descriptive sentence.

Make a sentence using the words. Avoid something vague and useless such as "has." For example, do not say, "A pig has a sty." That sentence you nothing — you have no idea what the relationship between a pig and a sty is. Pretend that a Bulgarian exchange student comes up to you and says, "Excuse me, please. What is the connection between a pig and a sty?" If you answer that a pig has a sty, the Bulgarian may go away thinking that a sty is a curly tail, a snout, or a big stink. But if you say, "A pig lives in a sty," your Bulgarian buddy now understands the relationship. A good sentence paints a mental picture: You can actually see the scene in your mind.

2. Apply the exact same sentence to each answer choice.

Go through each of the answer choices using your sentence.

(A) A teenager lives in rubble.

Maybe you flash back to your teenage years and recall having to wade through the detritus (trash, rubble) of your bedroom to get to the door, but this is the GRE. The test-makers assume that all of you were sweet little kids who obeyed your parents, respected traffic signals, and didn't ever use the middle finger of your hand for pointing or otherwise gesticulating. By the way, rubble is the ruined remains of a building, such as knocked-down bricks and junk. If you forget this word, think of Barney Rubble from the Flintstones. He's short, like a knocked-down pile.

(B) A roommate lives in the bathroom.

It may seem like it sometimes, but it ain't so. Any answer that is funny, witty, or charming is almost certainly the wrong answer. (The GRE has noooooo sense of humor; count on it.) If you think that an answer is funny — or desperately trying to be funny — you can be sure that it's wrong.

(C) A bird lives in a nest.

Sounds pretty good, but you have to go through all the answer choices, just in case. Just like not marrying the first person you kiss, don't immediately choose the first answer that looks good. Something may come along later that makes you happier.

(D) A swine lives in a house.

The trap here is that a pig (from the question) and a swine are much the same. Be careful: Just because words are connected in meaning does not mean that the answer is right. The relationship between the words is being tested. For example, the question may be about perfume, and the correct answer may involve sweat socks. No connection.

(E) A barnacle lives in a barn.

If you don't know what a barnacle is, you may be tempted to choose E, but C is the right answer. A barnacle is a creature that lives in the water (not in a barn) and often attaches itself to the bottoms of ships. You scrape the barnacles off the ship periodically to clean the ship's hull. Correct Answer: C.

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