More Problems, Please!
One frequent student complaint about GRE preparation is the lack of available, current material to work with. Yes, there are big books of “GRE” problems, except that they’re not; they are problems developed by third parties to approximate GRE questions.
Available, current ETS material is as follows:
- Practice Book for the PBT GRE General Test – ETS
- PowerPrep Online – ETS
- The Official Guide to the GRE General Test, Third Edition – ETS
- Official GRE Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions Volume 1, Second Edition – ETS
- Official GRE Quantitative Reasoning Practice Questions Volume 1, Second Edition – ETS
Recently, ETS unveiled a new option, available for purchase, two additional full length practice tests:
I am a big proponent of practicing with official material as much as possible, especially when dealing with full-length practice tests, because using the real thing is the best way to assess your strengths and weaknesses and to develop a solid, targeted preparation plan.
However, to supplement these practice tests and official material, third party products are often an integral, essential component to a well-rounded preparation approach, in large part because while ETS provides problems and explanations, it offers precious little instruction on how to approach or solve GRE problems effectively and efficiently.
In order better to explain effective problem solving approaches, each week PowerScore will develop, release, and explain a new question, analogous to different situations students will encounter on the GRE. To kick things off, I have developed a three-blank Text Completion problem. Attempt it as a challenge, and then review the explanation below.
Start with the basic approach:
- Read the text to assess the intended meaning of the sentence or short passage.
- Predict the meanings of the blanks based on the context clues.
- Match your prediction to the answer choices. Eliminate options that do not match.
Let’s break it down:
Despite the assumption that advances in medicine have (i)_________ the prognoses of patients facing erstwhile life-threatening maladies, there are some indications that treatments for many of these diseases (ii)________ comparable to their (iii)________; improved outcomes owe more to other factors, such as improved hygiene.
Read it once through to get the meaning or main idea. Explain it to yourself. For instance, your analysis might be something to the effect of:
So, medicine has come a long way; what do people assume about these advances? Maybe these advances have improved the prognoses of patients. But there’s a shift — “despite” — that indicates that maybe these advances aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. It seems like some treatments might not have changed that much. There are other reasons, besides advances in medicine, that people are doing better.
In our analysis, notice that we have come up with a reasonably good prediction of the meaning of the first blank — improved — so let’s get things kicked off with that. Compare “improved” to the answer choices:
“Improved” doesn’t match “corroborated,” so that’s out. “Improved” is in the ballpark of “altered,” but I’m not totally thrilled, because “improved” is more positive than “altered;” however, I’m going to leave “altered” in. “Heightened” sounds positive, and maybe it means there’s been a change, so it’s attractive, but what does “heightened” actually mean?
“Heighten” primarily means “to become more extreme,” which doesn’t match at all. Even secondary definitions do not capture the core meaning we’re going for: “change for the better.” Therefore, “heighten” looks good; it might even sound good; but it is not a match. It is a trap. Go with B.
Next we’re on to the next two blanks. Notice that the meanings of the blanks appear to be related to each other:
“[T]here are some indications that treatments for many of these diseases resemble their antecedents.”
“[T]here are some indications that treatments for many of these diseases constrain their options.”
“[T]here are some indications that treatments for many of these diseases threaten their victims.”
Remember, we need to stick with the meaning of the text. Let’s return to our analysis:
…there’s a shift — “despite” — that indicates that maybe these advances aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. It seems like some treatments might not have changed that much. There are other reasons, besides advances in medicine, that people are doing better.
What did we have to say about this idea in the text? We said that the treatments might not have changed. Let’s use this analysis to come up with predictions for blanks (ii) and (iii). For blank (ii) we might say “are the same as” and for blank (iii) “what came before.”
Let’s match one at a time. “Are the same as” is a good match for “resemble.” “What came before” is a good match for “antecedents.” We did it! Pick the solution and move on.
Notice that in addition to your strong analysis, a good, direct grasp of the meanings of some difficult vocabulary words is essential. You must develop both skills in tandem:
- Develop and master a sound problem-solving strategy for these questions.
- Study and learn relevant vocabulary to get the background knowledge you need.
A great place to start with vocabulary is our