Equivalent Effect in GRE Sentence Equivalence
I consider Sentence Equivalence the tougher of the two “short” question types of the GRE verbal section. That’s because in a Text Completion, all you have to do is pick the right words — but in a Sentence Equivalence, you have to pick the right words and make sure the words you pick have an equivalent effect on the sentence. It’s this “equivalent effect” requirement that can sometimes make SE’s so maddening to students, and the logic behind it is what I’d like to clarify in this entry.
Let’s start, as we often do, with an example problem:
The professor’s delivery was so _______ that no student was happy, and some walked out before the lecture was half over.
In short verbal problems, find clues in the sentence and try to predict the blank before looking at the choices. Here, you know that “no student was happy” and that some even walked out on the professor. Clearly, then, the professor’s delivery wasn’t very good. However, you can’t predict exactly what it was about the professor’s delivery that made her lecture so bad. There are many ways in which a lecture could displease students, and that’s where this problem gets tricky.
For starters, let’s kick out galvanizing (“energizing”) and enlightening, which are positive words. That leaves soporific, offensive, boring, and demoralizing.
If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you might remember what soporific means. But let’s suppose you don’t. What can you do about offensive, boring, and demoralizing? You might get frustrated here because those all seem like reasonable words to put into the sentence. Lectures that offend, bore, or cause students to lose hope could all drive students out of the classroom. But those things are all very different. While all of those words produce a reasonable meaning in the sentence, no two of them produce the SAME meaning.
Thus, even if you don’t know what soporific means, you should be able to tell on GRE Test Day that it MUST be one of the correct answers, since no pairing of the other three satisfies the “equivalent effect” requirement. It so happens that soporific means “sleep-inducing,” so the partner word that yields the same effect is choice C, boring. Choices A and C are the winners.
Sometimes the hardest thing about solving a GRE problem is understanding its requirements. If you’re still confused about Sentence Equivalence, ask here!