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A lot of people think that GRE Verbal questions can have more than one right answer. The GRE itself doesn’t do anything to dispel this myth, since Verbal questions often include wording like which of the following is best supported? or with which statement would the author most likely agree?. These questions make it sound as if you’re supposed to read five pretty good answers and pick the best one, even if the other ones are okay, too. However, this mindset will hurt you on test day. Read more
In the previous article, we discussed two ways for non-native English speakers to excel at the vocabulary-based question types on the GRE. If English isn’t your first language, check out that article first, and try our two recommendations: keep a list of inconsistent or illogical English idioms, and focus on context as you learn vocabulary. Then, read onward for two more ideas! Read more
If English is your second (or third, or fourth!) language, you might find GRE Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence frustrating. However, you can still improve your performance, and you don’t need to study thousands of flashcards to do it. Here are a few ways to address your weaknesses and play to your strengths.
Fool me once…
English is counterintuitive, but native speakers never notice most of the inconsistencies. As a non-native speaker, you’re in a unique position to notice the quirks of English and turn them into useful lessons. Read more
So, in my last post, I discussed finding the core sentence, using punctuation to help us break a sentence into manageable chunks. We looked at two sentences; I’ve re-copied one of them below.
The director’s commercially-motivated attempts to (i)_______ the imperatives of the mass marketplace were (ii)_______, as evidenced by the critical acclaim but low attendance garnered by his film.
We focused on how the comma breaks the sentence in half: one half is the actual core sentence, and the other half describes how the director’s attempts were critically, but not commercially, successful.
This time, let’s dive into what’s happening with that first blank, and now I’ll give you the answer options:
Many, many students in my classes choose ‘secure’, and that really puzzled me. If a class doesn’t know the answer, there’s usually a fairly even division among the choices. What I saw wasn’t students guessing; they thought they had the correct choice in ‘secure’. Somehow, the third option was a trap. How?
I have a theory: ‘secure’ is a trap because students link the first blank to the wrong element, the wrong target. I think many students link that first blank to the word ‘marketplace’, and then think about how someone would want to ‘secure’ a ‘market’ for a product (in this case, a film).
While studying for the GRE Text Completion (TC) and Sentence Equivalence (SE) questions, you naturally want to study vocabulary. After all, that’s what the test is testing, right?
Yes and no. The GRE does test vocabulary, but it also tests your ability to analyze a sentence and divine the author’s intended meaning. (And for those of you keeping score at home, did I use the word ‘divine’ correctly? Are you familiar with this less common usage?)
And so, we preach (sorry, with the word ‘divine’ earlier, I had to!) a method for TC and SE that involves identifying the Target, Clues, and Pivots in the sentence. All well and good, but how do you to this? Here’s where the following limited grammar discussion should help, because although the GRE does not directly test grammar, a little grammar knowledge can be immensely helpful!
We begin with the core elements that every sentence contains: the subject and the verb. Separating the subjecting and the verb from other elements (which I will generically call descriptors) is part 1 of my TC and SE analysis. Part 2 is matching each descriptor to what it describes.
So let’s see two examples. One is a TC example from Lesson 1, the other is a SE example from the 5 lb. Book.
Why do you hate GRE Reading Comprehension so much? You’re reading and comprehending right now, aren’t you? You read thousands of words every day: status updates, tweets, news articles, emails, reports, books, magazines. In fact, much of the time you LOVE to read, losing yourself for hours in a Harry Potter book or a Stephen King novel. So what’s so bad about reading comp?
I know. I know. “Reading Comp is boring,” you say. Dense. Impenetrable. The subject matter is unfamiliar. The questions are tough. The answers are indistinguishable–either all of them match, or none of them match.
Also, the passages are usually poorly edited excerpts from longer pieces, and therefore lack context, titles, summaries, explanations, and transitions. Often the passages are written for a specific audience (archaeologists, literary theorists, science buffs) and therefore use unfamiliar jargon. You’re thrown in the deep end of the pool, expected to process dense material quickly on a stressful day. No wonder your eyes glaze over and you find yourself reading the same sentences over and over again, getting nothing.
Therefore you do it all wrong. You read and reread, trying to memorize very detail in the passage. You waste tons of time trying to understand the densest, most detailed parts of the passage, losing the thread of the argument. You reread again. In a rush now, you read the question too quickly and spend too much time poring over the answers, searching for evidence of each answer in the passage. When you do that, you find evidence for every answer back in the passage, confusing you even more. You waste time reading again. Finally, you pick something that kind-of matches something in the passage and hope you’re right. You get it right sometimes, but for no rational reason that you can explain.
The cure? You have to develop a systematic but flexible approach that allows you to answer the questions accurately. Then, you need to practice that approach until you’re comfortable and confident.
Here’s the secret. If you spend a lot of time practicing Reading Comp, you will improve your score. That’s it. Just practice. Do questions. Check your answers. Pat yourself on the back when you’re right. Find out why you were wrong when you were wrong. Do more passages. Do old passages again. Repeat.
Again. Be systematic, but be flexible.
How to be systematic:
Every time you do a question, follow these 4 steps. Every time. Never skip a step. These steps should be so ingrained they’re second nature.
1) Read the question.
Understand what the question is really asking. Put the question into your own words. Decide if it’s specific or general.
Identify key words from the question to go hunt for back in the passage.
2) Go back to the passage. Read what you need.
For general questions, you’ll have to quickly read the whole thing, focusing on main points, opinions, and structural clues, while ignoring the specific details.
For detail questions, you have to go back and find the specific information that answers the question. Use key words from the question to guide your hunt. Read a few lines above and a few lines below that key word.
Imagine two friends, Gina and Tina, who are going to a speed-dating event. Gina really, really wants a boyfriend. Tina is just going because Gina dragged her there, and she’s only willing to date someone who is perfect for her.
At the event, Gina finds herself liking every guy that she meets: Guy #1 is smart and successful, so it makes sense that he’s proud of his accomplishments. Guy #2 is really funny and clever. The waiter just didn’t understand his jokes. Tina, on the other hand, has a very different impression of these guys: Guy 1 has been bragging about himself the whole time, and seems arrogant. Guy 2 thinks he’s funny, but he’s actually being cruel and making fun of people.
At the end of the event, Gina can’t decide which of the guys she likes best, because she has found reasons to like all of them and she has overlooked any reasons not to like them. Tina, however, was looking for reasons not to date these guys, so she notices these dealbreaker flaws. She has managed to whittle the list down to one person whose personality matched hers.
Of course in real life, dating is subjective, and what might be a dealbreaker for one person might be fine for someone else! On GRE Reading Comprehension, though, there are definitive right and wrong answers, and we have to learn how to spot the wrong ones.
Look for Dealbreakers
When it comes to Reading Comprehension on the GRE, you want to act like Tina, not Gina! You will often be presented with questions whose answer choices all seem to have appealing qualities. If you’re looking for what makes an answer right, you may overlook certain critical flaws, and talk yourself into choosing a wrong answer. If you’re looking for what makes an answer wrong, though, you’re a lot more likely to notice those deal-breaking flaws!
Take a moment to read the following passage*:
Hopefully there are a lot of GRE words you learned in school – particularly because lots of GRE words come from literature, science, mathematics, music and art, and foreign languages. You probably even studied many of them when and if you studied for the SAT and ACT.
But some GRE vocab words aren’t learned in the school curriculum, but in the language of school itself. Here are fifteen words whose content is related to school.
(1) Expel. Most of us know the word “expel” in terms of school – the greatest threat a school has to offer is to expel you, or kick you out.
That’s the context in which we’re used to hearing “expel”, but it could apply any time someone is deprived of his or her membership or even anytime something is removed, gotten rid of, or thrown out. You can expel a gum wrapper from your car window, or expel a drunkard from a bar, for example.
(2) Punctuate. You probably remember learning about punctuation, marks such as commas or periods that you put within text. So yes, to punctuate something means to add punctuation to it. But it also means to occur at intervals throughout a period of time, or to be peppered with.
For example, US history has been punctuated by the passing of Constitutional amendments. They happen sometimes, and when they do, they interrupt or change the course of history. Someone’s speech can be punctuated with curse words, or someone’s life can be punctuated by bad break-ups.
(3) Tardy. “Tardy” is a word I’ve never heard used outside of a school setting. My high school, and all other high schools I know of, didn’t mark you “late”: they marked you “tardy”. Tardy means delayed or late, but it’s not just students who can be tardy. You can send a tardy reply to an email, or a bus can make a tardy arrival at the bus stop.
(4) Valediction. Most of us know that the valedictorian is the student with the best GPA, but that’s sort of a coincidence. That student is not called the valedictorian because he or she has the best grades – he or she is called the valedictorian because he or she gives the valedictory, or valediction, at the graduation ceremony (and is chosen for that job because of his or her good grades).
So what’s a valediction? That “diction” root should tell you it has something to do with speech, and it does – it’s a saying of goodbye. The valediction speech at graduation is a spoken goodbye to high school. So if you wave to someone in valediction, for example, you’re waving goodbye.
If you find it helpful to learn GRE vocabulary words in categories, here are twenty words that are related in some way to the fields of art and architecture. Because most of these words are very visual, a Google image search would be a good way to help keep them in your mind.
Many of the words below are used in non-literal ways on the GRE, so try thinking of them both literally and figuratively.
1. Gargoyle. Literally, a gargoyle is a gothic stone creature often used on the corners of rooftops as a gutter or water spout. Figuratively, it often just refers to a grotesque or scarily ugly being.
2. Upholster. Literally, to upholster something (usually furniture) is to coat it in fabric. Figuratively, to upholster something is to coat it evenly and liberally in something else so that the original does not show.
3. Patina. Literally, a patina is a thin coating of color or shine over something, particularly copper. Figuratively, a patina can be any sort of thin veneer or superficial cover on anything from someone’s words to his feelings.
4. Homage. Literally, an homage is a piece of work done in respect to or honor of someone else, often in the style of their work. Figuratively, the word “homage” is often used less seriously; eating Cheetos and wiping your orange fingers on your pants might be an homage to your dad, who does the same.
5. Pastiche. Literally, a pastiche is a work of art that mimics the art from another style, work, artist, or period. Figuratively, the word “pastiche” is often used to describe things other than art that are copies of someone else’s original.
6. Mosaic. Literally, a mosaic is a piece of art made from small tiles or similar hard material, such as stone or glass, arranged to form a pattern or picture. Figuratively, a mosaic could be any combination of items or ideas that come together to form a pleasant collective idea or picture.
7. Buttress. Literally, a buttress is a support of wood or stone that sticks out from a wall and holds it up. Figuratively, it’s anything that supports something else; a piece of evidence can buttress an argument.
8. Lattice. Literally, lattice is a pattern or trellis made of strips of a material such as wood or metal arranged in a criss-cross pattern, like a pie crust. Figuratively, a lattice is an interweaving of items or ideas into a more formal arrangement or a cohesive pattern.
9. Mausoleum. Literally, a mausoleum is a building, often large and stately, used as a tomb. Figuratively, it is often used to refer to a place that is quiet and “dead”, like a boring office or a party at which no one is having fun.
10. Chisel. Literally, a chisel in a sharp tool used to chip away or break something hard, such as wood or stone. Figuratively, to chisel away at something is to break it down little by little until it breaks or becomes what you want.
11. Monochromatic. Literally, monochromatic means having only one color or one family of colors. Figuratively, it could refer to anything that is dull or similar in tone, such as a boring piece of writing without any surprise or style.
12. Annex. Literally, the annex of a building is a part added to or adjoining the main building. (It also applies to the section added to a document.) Figuratively, to annex something means to add it on or appropriate it.
13. Labyrinth. Literally, a labyrinth is a complex maze. Figuratively, anything puzzling or exceptionally convoluted, complex, or difficult to figure out can be called labyrinthine.
The final words on this list are generally used only in their literal meaning.
14. Fresco. A fresco is a painting made in fresh plaster when the plaster is still wet, so that the painting is embedded in the wall. You might think of the many ways “fresco” is used to mean “fresh” to help you remember what a fresco is.
15. Frieze. A frieze is a band of painting or sculpture along a wall or ceiling, often displaying a story or an historical scene frozen in time.
16. Mural. A mural is a painting on a wall.
17. Papyrus. Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian paper made from reeds, which often has a beige color.
18. Minaret. A minaret is a tall, slender tower on a building, such as the towers on a mosque.
19. Plane. A plane is something level and flat, and to plane something means to cut it with a flat metal blade to make it evenly flat.
20. Parquet. Parquet is a wood flooring generally arranged in a geometric pattern.
Yes, the holidays have come and gone. Welcome to 2014! But having spent the last month listening to Christmas music non-stop, I have lots of these songs still stuck in my head. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, these songs are around this time of year and tend to plant themselves in our minds. So if they’re stuck in your head too, there’s a good chance to learn a little vocab!
Here are seven examples of GRE words in holiday songs. If you find others, share them in the comments!
(1) Terrific. Here’s one of those words that the GRE likes to use for its less-conventional meaning. We usually think of terrific as “great”, but it really means “awesome” in the literal sense: big and awe-inducing, often in a bad or scary way. Like the word “terror”. To be honest, I can only think of one popular culture use of “terrific” in this way, and that’s in “Home for the Holidays,” which tells us, “…from Atlantic to Pacific, gee the traffic is terrific!”
(2) Conspire. In “Winter Wonderland,” the singer says, “Later on, we’ll conspire as we dream by the fire.” So picture the couple in the song, chatting away and planning for the new year. To conspire is to make secret plans together, although those plans are to do something bad… maybe that song is a bit naughtier than the sing-song tone would have us believe.
(3) Incarnate. “Incarnate” means given a body or shape, and it’s usually easiest to remember by thinking of the more-frequently-used “incarnation”. But you could also think of the lyrics to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, which implore the listener to “hail the incarnate deity” when telling the story of the first Christmas.
(4) Cloven. The song “It Came upon a Midnight Clear” is full of great vocab, but one of the best words in “cloven”, which means “cut in two”. We mostly hear this word describing “cloven hooves” – or hooves that are split in the middle, such as those of a cow. The song speaks of angels coming to earth and says, “through the cloven skies they come”, describing the sky breaking in two.
(5) Traverse. “Traverse” means to move to travel across something. “We Three Kings” begins, “We three kinds of Orient are bearing gifts we traverse afar.” And if you’ve always sung that as “travel afar”, you’re already all set on this one.
(6) Lament. To lament is to grieve or be sorrowful, often in a way that involves crying or wailing. In “Good Kind Wenceslas”, the king and his page are traveling “though the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.” That wailing of the winter wind is a great way to remember the word “lament”.
(7) Laud. We mostly hear “laud” used as a verb meaning “to praise or glorify,” but it is also a noun for the praise or glory that is given. It’s used in this way in “What Child is This,” which says, “Haste, haste to bring Him laud, the Babe, the son of Mary.”
There’s a point here far beyond these seven words: GRE vocab is everywhere. When you hear or read a word that you don’t know, look it up! You might find that you start noticing GRE vocab everywhere. And who knows – learning it might be, dare we say it, sort of fun.