Back in January, I wrote about a challenging quantitative problem from one of our free GRE events, the GRE Bootcamp. As we held another Bootcamp recently, let’s take a look at another hard problem from the event — a verbal one this time!
The _______ preconcert celebrations did not seem to suit what followed; the concert itself was low key, acoustic, and featured only one performer.
Since there are six choices, you know what kind of problem this is: a Sentence Equivalence. Your task is to pick two words that both fit the sentence and produce an equivalent effect. Don’t start with the choices, though: start with the sentence. Look for clues and try to figure out the meaning of the blank yourself.
The sentence is about a concert, and the blank describes the party that happened before the concert. Now, what clues have you got? Well, the celebrations “did not seem to suit” the concert. And what was the concert like? “Low key, acoustic, and [featuring] only one performer.” So the missing word has to be the opposite of that.
Sometimes, on more challenging GRE verbal problems, you need to prioritize your clues. The opposite of acoustic is electrically enhanced, so unless a bunch of people at the party were sticking forks into sockets, this clue doesn’t help. The part about featuring “only one performer” isn’t terribly helpful, either; all this tells you is that more than one person was at the party, which is kind of already the definition of a “party.”
But low key – now that is a helpful clue! Imagine going to a “low key” gathering. Now imagine what would be the opposite of that: crazy, perhaps? Loud? Okay, there’s your prediction. The two words you select should indicate that the party prior to the concert was a crazy, loud, and all-around extravagant affair.
Like all challenging short verbal problems, this one features outrageously difficult vocabulary. Whenever this happens, gravitate to the words you know and see if you should pick them or cross them off. You should experience no hesitation whatsoever when you do this: if it’s a word you know, either it matches what you predicted or it doesn’t. If you haven’t yet reached this point of no-hesitation, that’s okay. That’s what practice is for!
Let’s suppose you only know the three easiest words in this list: corrosive, garish, and exquisite. Acids are corrosive — they eat things away — so that doesn’t make any sense. Cross it out.
Garish has several definitions, but as it would pertain to a party means “showy, excessively elaborate, and loud.” Just what you were looking for to describe this party. Select!
Finally, exquisite means “particularly excellent,” and that’s a distraction in this problem. The test makers are exquisitely good at loading up the choices with distracting words like this (which is why you shouldn’t look at the choices first!). Just because the party was (to borrow the dictionary for a moment) “extraordinarily fine or admirable” doesn’t mean that it was loud, extravagant, or any other opposite of “low key.” I consider fruit snacks exquisite, but they don’t call attention to themselves. They are both exquisite and low key. Cross this choice out.
Even if you had no clue about the other words, you’d know to pick garish and one of the remaining three choices. That’s 1 in 3 odds, which is five times better than the 1 in 15 odds you’d get by stone-cold guessing. In the long run, improving your odds like this will pay off in more right answers and more points, even if you have to guess.
Let’s suppose that you’ve been keeping a vocabulary notebook, though, and did a monster job beefing up your vocabulary before Test Day. The word ersatz means “synthetic” or “artificial,” so that makes no sense. Another word that makes no sense in this sentence is resplendent, which means “gleaming” or “splendid.” This word produces an equivalent effect in the sentence as exquisite, but it’s the wrong effect! Cross it out.
Boom. The only word left is robustious, so that must be your synonym. Pick it with garish and celebrate an added point to your GRE score.
Who else is waiting impatiently for Season 3 of the BBC’s Sherlock? Rumor has it that filming of the new season will begin on March 18. If you are Sherlocked like me and pacing the floors, desperate to find out how he survived, here’s something that can keep you occupied until our beloved Holmes and Watson return to us.
Find solace in what Sherlockians refer to as The Canon – the original works and writings by Arthur Conan Doyle. I recently read A Study in Scarlet (you can read it for free here) and not only was my Sherlockian soul sated, but I also discovered many gems of GRE vocabulary tucked into the text. Give it a read, and keep your vocabulary notebook nearby, as you’re sure to find plenty of words to add to your “To Be Looked Up” list.
Cases of mysterious vocab you will find within A Study in Scarlet include:
Next up: The Sign of Four. I’m eager to discover the lexicographic lovelies that await me there.
In closing, some words of wisdom for your prep:
“Study for the GRE if convenient. If inconvenient, study all the same.”
If you’re reading anything that has good GRE vocab in it, we’d love to hear about it! Please share in the comments below.
The #1 mistake you can make on GRE short verbal problems is looking at the choices too soon. When you solve a short verbal problem, whether it’s a text completion or a sentence equivalence, you should figure out what kind of word should go in the blank before you look at the choices.
Think of it this way: the test makers aren’t your friend. They’re not trying to help you out. So they’re not just going to write random wrong answer choices; they’re going to write wrong answers that will influence your thinking. Don’t fall in for that nonsense.
Here’s a relatively easy problem that turns ugly if you look at the choices too soon:
The Leonidas Achievement Award, though ostensibly prestigious, is held in low repute by some scholars who claim that favoritism runs rampant and that the judges are ______.
E) Ugly. Like, really, really ugly.
Did you read the choices before solving the problem? You need to break that habit. Focus on the sentence: the judges are [blank], and the only clue you’ve got is that “favoritism runs rampant.” So, you need a word that indicates that the judges are not fair. Now look at the choices: even if you don’t know that partisan means “partial to a specific person,” you can confidently pick it because none of the other words mean “unfair.” Easy problem. Ba-da boom, ba-da done.
If you look at the choices first, though, the story is much uglier. You could argue that the role of a judge is to be impartial, so a judge who plays favorites is bad at her job (B, incompetent). You could argue that people trust judges to be objective, and a judge who betrays that trust is a bad person (C, immoral) or foolish for attaining such a noble responsibility and then shirking it (D, stupid). You could even argue that the judges are ugly, like really really ugly (on the inside).
In short, you could argue a lot of things. And as I wrote last year, any time you find yourself arguing with the GRE, you’re wrong. Look at it this way: either you’re wrong, or the person who literally makes a living writing the test — and can probably score double 170′s in her sleep — is wrong. Let your competition waste their time arguing with the GRE; you have an ego to put aside and points to score.
On the verbal section, that means you need to stop being creative and start using the clues the test makers give you. Don’t argue: use. The sentence says the judges were unfair. So the right answer has to mean “unfair.” Ba-da boom. Ba-da done.
When asked recently for a student success story, I immediately thought of Heather (not her actual name). Like a sizable portion of students who come to Kaplan, Heather had already taken the GRE after preparing on her own, and her scores were not high enough. She was a senior in college, with a hefty course load and a time-consuming job in her field that required a lot of travel.
Right from the start of class, Heather and I were in frequent email contact, figuring out how she should structure her study time so she could take her test a couple weeks after the end of a twice a week class. She was a diligent, goal-oriented student.
Her Test Day came, and she fell short of the scores she needed to be considered for the grad program she wanted. Her math score was a little over what she needed, but her verbal score was significantly below an acceptable level.
This is the point where too many potential graduate students passively accept their inadequate score fate, feeling powerless over what seems like an insurmountable obstacle.
“I’m over this test” she wrote to me. I replied, “You don’t strike me as someone who just gives up. Give yourself the day to stew, and then let’s get practical.” I sent my phone number, she sent hers, and although I was away on vacation, we arranged for a good time to talk.
Heather also wrote back that she’d calmed down after a run and talking to her parents and to a fellow student, a year ahead of her, who took the test 4 times until she got a barely adequate score, and now she’s in grad school.
We worked together to set up a specific set of strategies and a study schedule. Heather repeated some class sessions, partly to see if she could get some new insights, and partly just to keep up her studies. She committed to learning as many of the top 500 vocabulary words as possible (she got all but about 30 of them). She practiced eliminating wrong answer choices to improve her chances of getting right answers with strategic guessing.
To hone her reading comprehension skills, we came up with the idea of reading articles from economist.com, newyorker.com, ft.com and terryteachout.com. The idea was to read challenging writing quickly, actively and critically.
She stayed in touch, reporting on what she was working on. You can do something similar with a friend or family member; the point is to have someone–a “coach”– who’ll keep encouraging you to stick with your work and help you past the times when you feel stuck or frustrated.
Test Day #3 arrived, and I have to admit, I was nervous! The phone rang late that day, with Heather’s number on the caller ID. She did it! She maintained her math score and improved her verbal score so significantly that she could have her applications considered.
Today, Heather is in the middle of her first year in her first choice grad school program. She grabs me on Gchat periodically to catch up and let me know how things are going in school. Hearing from her always makes my day, and I’m glad to be able to share her story with you. My hope is that you can take a cue from the Heather’s persistence and focus in order to drive you toward GRE Test Day success.
So, you are preparing yourself for the GRE and you need to add some egghead words to your prodigiousand more commonly utilized line-up of text-speak, pop culture jargon, and 4-letter expletives (hey, studying for the GRE can be stressful!) Certainly, you are aware that there are tools for such a task to be found on many websites – Kaplan, of course, includes in our course offerings many effective means to increase and enrich your vocabulary.
Additionally, reading novels and certain newspapers and magazines (the ones that don’t cater to a fifth-grade reading level – all apologies to USA Today and People magazine, which are just fine for their purpose of informing and entertaining) will aid you in realizing heretofore unexplored words. However, perhaps even better fodder for the acquisition of headier, grad-level words can be found by examining trade journals and works of non-fiction. Try delving into the dense prose that can readily be found in such word hordes as The Wall Street Journal or Architectural Digest. Not into mergers and acquisitions? Is the study of buttresses not to your liking? Indeed, if you search with the slightest zest, you can locate a vocabulary-invigorating periodical that may actually speak to your own interests.
Moreover, since the New GRE Verbal section is known to traffic in questions concerning the logical analysis of arguments, your reading and appraising such content in political or economic publications, for instance, can’t help but serve you synchronous benefits.
Acquiring a rich and test-ready vocabulary via contextual clues found within the writing of an intelligent author rather than simply studying the dry drudgery of flashcards or daily list o’ words repetition is much more intuitive, organic, and heaven forbid, fun!
After all, The New GRE now limits its assessment of your word knowledge to sentence equivalence, text completions and words-in-context of reading comp passages. Since the GRE has retired its tired format of testing words in a vacuum (antonyms and analogies), why not learn them in a similar manner to that in which they are tested?