GRE Text Completion Challenge: Follow the Clues

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GRE Text Completion Challenge: Fill Three Blanks (Pictured: Child's face in black and white)

GRE Text Completion gives you a sizable chunk of text to parse when you have multiple blanks to fill. Putting all the context clues together can be tricky, and any hard vocabulary that pops up, whether in the text or the answer choices, won't make your work any easier. Get some practice with this challenging three-blank question.

Text Completion: Three Blanks
Difficulty Level: 4 (High)

Question Difficulty
  • Very High50
  • High420
  • Medium
  • Low26080
  • Very Low1100
% of Test Takers Who Answer Correctly

When you look at official practice questions that include a difficulty ranking (that is, the percentage of test takers who got the question right), about half of three-blank questions are around medium-difficulty. This question is probably a little harder than most.


The novelist’s early life remains surprisingly (i)__________ to biographical inquiry, for despite the confessional style that became the hallmark of so much that he wrote, his apparent (ii)__________ often concealed a good deal more than it revealed. His description of his childhood fills fewer than three pages of his autobiography, and the few episodes he chose to recall have a slightly (iii)__________ character about them, colored both by the passing of the years and his life-long vivid imagination.

  • Blank (i)
    1. accessible
    2. exposed
    3. impervious
  • Blank (ii)
    1. mendacity
    2. candor
    3. remorsefulness
  • Blank (iii)
    1. fantastic
    2. nostalgic
    3. innocent

The Explanation

Step 1: Find the context clues. To solve the mystery of the missing words, you need to follow the clues. Words, phrases, and even punctuation marks hint at how to fill in each blank. And with three blanks to fill, you probably have numerous clues to consider. Here's a breakdown of the sentence. Key words and phrases are bolded, and extraneous text is omitted.

  • The novelist's early life remains surprisingly (i) __________ to biographical inquiry,
    • for despite
    • the confessional styleof so much he wrote,
    • his apparent (ii) __________
    • concealedmore than it revealed
  • …the few episodes that he chose to recall have a slightly (iii) __________ character about them,
    • colored both by
    • the passing of the years and
    • his life-long vivid imagination.
  • "surprisingly" signals a CONTRAST between blank (i) and another idea in the text.
  • "for," used here like 'since', indicates a REASON/CAUSE for blank (i), and "despite" signals a CONTRAST—perhaps the one foreshadowed by "surprisingly."
  • "confessional style" contrasts with "concealed", and "apparent" describes the novelist's style, as that style only appears to reveal his early life. So blank (ii) bears some SIMILARITY to "confessional style".
  • "colored" means 'affected'—even 'embellished'. So "passing of the years" and "vivid imagination" are both a REASON/CAUSE for blank (iii).

Step 2: Fill in the blanks BEFORE looking at the answer choices. Now that you have a good sense of how the text and the blanks fit together, you can try to prephrase or predict the correct answers, or at least rough synonyms for them.

For blank (i), closed or resistant fits nicely, since these words oppose the expectation of openness suggested by "confessional style". In blank (ii), something like openness is what you need, since this word agrees with "confessional style". For blank (iii), false or unrealistic may be the sorts of memories the novelist has, given the distorting effects of time and imagination.

Step 3: Select an answer for each blank. Text Completion questions are all or nothing. You must pick all right answers, one per blank, or you get zero credit. So choose wisely!

You're looking for words that match your prephrased answers. So, for each blank, eliminate options that don't match up well with what you have in mind.

  • Blank (i)
    • prephrased answer: closed/resistant
    • (A) and (B)—accessible and exposed—both oppose rather than match closed/resistant. So (C) must be right. And it is: impervious means 'impenetrable'.
  • Blank (ii)
    • prephrased answer: openness
    • (D), mendacity, is a hard word. If you don't know it, focus on the other choices. (E), candor, is an easier word, as is (F), remorsefulness. (F) is somewhat related to confessional. A confession is an admission of wrongdoing, and the confessor might feel remorse. But being somewhat related isn't good enough. The best answer is (E), since candor refers to 'frankness or openness'. (By the way, mendacity means 'habitual dishonesty'—definitely the wrong choice.)
  • Blank (iii)
    • prephrased answer: false/unrealistic
    • (H) and (I)—nostalgic and innocent—both relate to the idea of childhood. Children are considered innocent, and a person might be nostalgic about his childhood, yearning to return to it. Still, neither of those answers matches your prephrase. (G), fantastic, may see incorrect, too, if you're thinking about its informal meaning, 'extremely good'. The GRE tests formal or standard definitions, and fantastic's is 'imaginative' or 'unreal'. So (G) is correct.

Step 4: Reread the sentence with your choices in the blanks. Check your work in steps 1 through 3 by reviewing the sentence with your answers plugged in. If your answers don't sound right, step backward in your analysis to see where you may have gone wrong. Here, (C), (E), and (G) fit the sentence best.

In this challenge, you identified various relationships—SIMILARITY, CONTRAST, and REASON/CAUSE—between various parts of the text. Basic connecting words, such as "for" and "despite", helped you spot these relationships, and the same will often be true on the GRE. You encountered some more advanced words, too, particularly impervious and mendacity. But even if those words were unfamiliar, the correct answers remained in reach.

Ready for another GRE Verbal challenge? Check out these Reading Comprehension posts:

Photo: Childhood, no worries only fun by Premnath Thirumalaisamy.

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