Hardest GRE Verbal Question


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The most difficult GRE verbal question I've ever seen...

...is question #8 in the second verbal section of the first ETS Powerprep test. That second section will be the one you see if you get between 7 and 14 questions right in the first verbal section. (Like the real GRE, the second verbal or math section you see will depend on how many questions you get right in the first section of that type.) Anyway, I think this question is particularly hard for a few reasons, but I'll let you try it before I get into those. Here's the passage:

In Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry does not reject integration or the economic and moral promise of the American dream; rather, she remains loyal to this dream while looking, realistically, at its incomplete realization. Once we recognize this dual vision, we can accept the play’s ironic nuances as deliberate social commentaries by Hansberry rather than as the “unintentional” irony that Bigsby attributes to the work. Indeed, a curiously persistent refusal to credit Hansberry with a capacity for intentional irony has led some critics to interpret the play’s thematic conflicts as mere confusion, contradiction, or eclecticism. Isaacs, for example, cannot easily reconcile Hansberry’s intense concern for her race with her ideal of human reconciliation. But the play’s complex view of Black self-esteem and human solidarity as compatible is no more “contradictory” than DuBois’ famous, well- considered ideal of ethnic self-awareness coexisting with human unity, or Fanon’s emphasis on an ideal internationalism that also accommodates national identities and roles.

8) In which of the following does the author of the passage reinforce a criticism of responses such as Isaacs’ to Raisin in the Sun ?

A. The statement that Hansberry is “loyal” to the American dream

B. The description of Hansberry’s concern for African Americans as “intense”

C. The assertion that Hansberry is concerned with “human solidarity”

D. The description of DuBois’ ideal as “well-considered”

E. The description of Fanon’s internationalism as “ideal”

I think this is the hardest GRE verbal question firstly because of the command you must have of the function of each part of the relevant area of the passage. If you're not sure about the answer, my first tip is to, in your own words, identify the function of each of the sentences starting with the sentence beginning with "indeed".

The next layer of difficulty for this question comes from comprehension. Let's say you're down to choices D and E because you've realized the author is using examples to support (or reinforce) her criticism of responses like Isaacs'. But now you have to also realize what "well-considered" and "ideal" are modifying. You also have to remember or realize what Isaacs is criticizing, namely, Hansberry's thematic conflicts. This should steer you toward Choice D, since "well-considered" is describing two things (ethnic self-awareness and human unity) that co-exist, much like Hansberry portrayal of "Black self-esteem and human solidarity" as compatible. In Choice E, calling the internationalism "ideal" doesn't reinforce the criticism, since the criticism is about the success, or lack thereof, of two seemingly conflicting ideas.

Whew! REALLY, REALLY, HARD GRE verbal question, guys. I have never had a student explain this one to my satisfaction, so if you're still having trouble with it, you're not alone. Below is my condensed explanation.

Explanation: Let’s locate what we need. Isaacs’ response is the sentence beginning with “Isaacs”. The author’s criticism of responses such as Isaacs’, not surprising, comes after the responses: it’s the next (and final sentence). She reinforces her criticism later in the sentence, which leaves us with choices D and E. To figure out which one is right, we need to realize the nature of Isaacs’ criticism - he couldn’t reconcile two aspects of the play. Choice D is right because by called DuBois’ ideal “well-considered”, the author is reinforcing her criticism of Isaacs’ response because DuBois’ ideal is two things that co-exist - which is similar to the two aspects Isaacs’ is described as finding difficult to “reconcile”, which has a similar meaning to allow to co-exist. Choice E doesn’t work, since calling Fanon’s internationalism “ideal” doesn’t reinforce anything co-existing in a positive way; it just compliments the internationalism.

- Vince


BTW, if you're looking for some tough GRE reading comprehension inference questions, check out my best explanation of how they work here.

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