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Sentence Equivalence (SE) constitutes an important part of the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE. You will most likely notice 4 questions of the Sentence Equivalence on each Verbal Reasoning section. And, because these questions can be mastered with a little practice and effort, they are the low-hanging fruits.


1.  What is the format of an SE question?
2.  Strategies to solve Sentence Equivalence questions
3.  Identify the tone of the word
4.  Fill in a word of your own
5.  Pair up words in the options
6.  Plug in and reread the sentence

What is the format of an SE question?

On a typical Sentence Equivalence question, you are provided with a piece of text from which one word is replaced with a blank. You must read the sentence, understand the context, and pick up TWO answer options from the six options provided that would fit appropriately in the sentence. Also, you are scored only when you get both the answer options correct – there are no partial marks awarded for partially right answers.

In short, here is the format of SE questions:

  • A single sentence
  • One blank
  • Six answer choices of which TWO correct answers must be selected

Before we move ahead to the game plan for solving such questions, it is important to look at the instructions that accompany a typical Sentence Equivalence question. So, read the following instructions carefully and take a minute to understand exactly what is required of you.

“Select the two answer choices that, when used to complete the sentence, fit the meaning of the sentence as a whole and produce complete sentences that are alike in meaning.”

If you notice closely, there are two requirements of a SE question. And you must understand these requirements well, so, reread the instructions carefully. SE requires us to pick answers that

  1. Fit the meaning of the sentence
  2. Produce complete sentences that are alike in meaning

Here is an example of a SE question.


Although it does contain some pioneering ideas, one would hardly characterize the work as __________.

  1. orthodox
  2. eccentric
  3. original
  4. trifling
  5. conventional
  6. innovative

Now that you know the format and the requirements of such questions, let’s understand the strategies to solve them.

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Strategies to solve Sentence Equivalence questions

1. Read the sentence carefully

The first and the most crucial strategy to solve SE is to understand the meaning of the sentence. Remember that the intended meaning of the sentence must not change once you fill in the blank.

2. Focus on the transition words

To understand the sentence better, you must focus on any transition words in it. But what exactly are transition words? As the name suggests, transition words bring a transition or a change in the sentence. These transitions could be either a contrast, similarity, cause, or effect, among many other relationships. Transition words are also called connectors, simply because they connect various parts of a sentence.

Once you recognize the transitions in the sentence, you also understand the overall meaning of the sentence better. Words such as however, although, similarly, moreover, like, so, because, and since are all examples of transition words.

Here is a table of a few transition words and their purposes:





However And Because So
Though / Although As well as Since Thus
But / Yet Like As Therefore
On the other hand In addition Due to Consequently
In contrast Not only _ but also As a result
Rather than Just as_so Hence

Let’s understand how transition words help in understanding sentences better. I will take the earlier example.

Although it does contain some pioneering ideas, one would hardly characterize the work as __________.

Notice the use of the transition ‘although,’ which shows a contrast. A sentence that starts with an ‘although’ will have two parts separated by a comma – the portions before and after the comma are in contrast.

Apply this to the above sentence. The contrast would be that although the work contains some pioneering, or new, ideas, it cannot be called original.

Wouldn’t that be the contrast? Do you realize how transition words make life easy for us by working as signposts that give us the direction in which the sentence moves.

Identify the tone of the word

After you have comprehended the meaning of the sentence with the use of transitions, you must identify the tone of the word. Check whether the word must be positive, negative, or neutral. This will help you eliminate options more effectively.

For instance, we know that the word in the blank must be a positive one – a word on the lines of ‘original.’ Any word that is negative can be eliminated easily.

Fill in a word of your own

Would you agree with me when I say that looking through the answer options can confuse you rather than sort things out for you! Oftentimes, when you glance through the answer options, you tend to pick words that you would have never otherwise. I would always recommend that looking at the answer options be the last thing you do when solving both Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions.

So, rather than browsing through the options, try to fill in the blanks with a word of your own. Only then look at the answer options to pick a similar word.

Pair up words in the options

Now, this is an important step to solving SE questions. Bear in mind that you are not awarded any partial marks for partially correct answers. And so, it is imperative that you pick the correct pair of words.

Most often, of the six answer options provided, you will notice two pairs of similar words. The other two words are generally called free-floaters. You must look carefully at the options and pair up the words. Next, you eliminate the incorrect pair and the free-floaters. The pair that remains is the correct pair.

However, here are a few caveats. You have read the instructions of SE questions and you are aware that they do not ask you to pick up similar words. It goes without saying that if you pick up similar words, they would produce similar sentences. However, there could be times when a pair of words that are not similar can still produce sentences that are alike. Also, the possibility of a pair of similar words not even fitting coherently in the sentence cannot be overruled.

So, while picking up a pair of similar words can help you get to an answer quicker, you must remember that such a pair might not always be correct. The end goal is not merely to pick a pair of similar words; it is to pick words that not only fit the meaning of the sentence but also produce sentences that are alike.

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Plug in and reread the sentence

The final step to solve SE questions is to plug in the words back into the blank, read the sentence, and check whether the sentence is logically, grammatically, and stylistically coherent. Also, be certain that the meaning of the sentence does not change when either word is inserted in the blank.

If you have any further questions about how to solve Sentence Equivalence questions and how to prepare for the GRE, Jamboree is there to help. Reach out to us and get assistance from the  best faculty.

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