Sentence Equivalence questions on the GRE Verbal test seem fairly straightforward: you're given a sentence that has a word missing, and you have to choose from a list of words to fill in that blank space. Sounds easy, right? Well...

The tricky part is that you have to choose, not one, but two words for the blank, and both of your choices have to result in sentences that have the same meaning! Half of the challenge will be in interpreting the sentence, and the other half in sorting through the vocabulary.

When working through a Sentence Equivalence question, you should do the following:

  • Look for clues in the sentence to determine its meaning.

  • Look for the use of irony, figures of speech, and formal diction.

  • Break the sentence into smaller pieces to make it easier to parse.

  • Check one word blank at a time to eliminate answer choices.

You should also watch out for trap word-choice answers that

  • Appear to fit the sentence but don't support its meaning

  • Support the meaning of the sentence but aren't used properly

  • Appear to have one meaning but actually mean something else, such as "condone," which means "approve"

Here are some practice questions for you to try.

Practice questions

  1. The students loved the teacher's _______ style of teaching because they never knew what the lesson would be like on any given day.

    A. humdrum

    B. knowable

    C. trite

    D. whimsical

    E. capricious

    F. innovative

  2. Being confident in your ideas is a good characteristic for a boss, but if you possess a ________ attitude, you hinder your ability to learn from others and improve yourself or the business.

    A. lenient

    B. doctrinaire

    C. dogmatic

    D. prejudiced

    E. generous

    F. partisan

Answers and explanations

  1. D. whimsical; E. capricious

    The teacher's style kept the students guessing about what the day would bring. The missing words emulate a sense of impulse. Thus, humdrum, knowable, and trite, Choices (A), (B), and (C), would be the opposite of the teacher's style. Whimsical, Choice (D), means imaginative and unpredictable. That works. Capricious, Choice (E), also lends to the idea of unexpectedness. Innovative, Choice (F), means new or advanced. An argument could be made that the teacher is innovative, but there is no matching term for it. Choices (D) and (E) are the best answers.

  2. B. doctrinaire; C. dogmatic

    If your attitude hinders your ability to learn from others and improve, you are likely closing yourself off to other ideas. Which words describe this behavior? Lenient, Choice (A), is the opposite. Doctrinaire and dogmatic, Choices (B) and (C), fit the meaning and match each other. Peruse the other words to make sure these are the best choices. Prejudiced, Choice (D), is close, but it doesn't have a match, and generous and partisan, Choices (E) and (F), are out of scope.

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