Backup Strategy for GRE Text Completions

The solution to many Text Completions lies in the following approach: identify the keywords, come up with your own word for the blank(s), and match with the answer choice. Yet this strategy won’t always be successful. Sometimes we need to work backwards from the answer choices to see if we can create a sentence with a coherent meaning.

Below is a sentence that you may very well be able to solve the traditional method. Indeed, you should attack every Text Completion by first trying to come up with your own words. However, if you are stymied and are not able to come up with words—or are unsure that your words are even the correct ones—then plug in both answer choices and see if they create a sentence that makes sense.

Apply the Strategy

Were scientific advancement simply a question of the mere accumulation of facts then we have made (1) ______ progress over the last two centuries; however, it is not sheer data alone but rather a scientist’s ability to interpret this information that accounts for the (2) ______ breakthroughs of the last couple hundred years.

(1) (2)
A. inimitable D. diligent
B. scant E. momentous
C. evident F. limited



One way to make this Text Completion easier is by noting that the first blank is either little (as in little progress) or big (as in major progress). The second blank is the exact same. Breakthroughs can either be small or big.

Next, determine whether the blanks are the same (e.g., little…small) or opposite (e.g., major…small).

For the first blank, you probably know the definition to (B) scant and (C) evident. Do not be thrown off by (A) inimitable. For now discount it. Only if neither (B) nor (C) works should you return to (A).

Let’s assume that science has made scant progress (little progress). If that were the case, what word would fit in the second blank? You may be tempted to say ‘big’ because of the word ‘however,’ which reverses the direction of the sentence. However, the keywords, it is not sheer data alone, show that accumulated facts and scientist’s ability together create a certain type of breakthrough. Thus the two blanks are similar.

But does it make sense to assume that we have made little progress, and small breakthroughs? Notice keywords such as scientist’s ability to interpret. Clearly there is a positive connotation. That is scientists have helped science progress through their ability to interpret, not just to collect facts.

Plugging in (C) evident and (E) momentous we can see the sentence makes sense: if facts alone counted for progress then we have made obvious progress. However, momentous breakthroughs require not just facts but scientists’ ability to interpret information.

It is important to note that you should not automatically assume that the second blank is momentous. True, this is a reasonable assumption, as most would agree that science has come a long way since Darwin set sail on the Beagle. For the Text Completion, however, you must base your answer solely on the information in the Text Completion. Oftentimes, your “reasonable” assumption may backfire. That is there will be specific words in the sentence that go against your assumption. So remember—the answer to any blank will always be in the sentence.

This post was written by Chris Lele, GRE Expert at Magoosh, and originally posted here.


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