Test-Day Tips

GRE
6/12/2017

How To Stop Looking At GRE Moles

 

 “There’s a bloody mole winking me in the face!” said Austin Powers in Goldmember, when he could no longer stand looking at the mole boy’s mole. “I’m going to chop it off and cut it up and make it into some guaca-MOL-E!”.

When you’re new to GRE sentence equivalence and text completion questions, you might get hung up on the large and looming presence of the blanks. Like Powers, who could not even look at the boy without staring at his mole, I could not look at these questions without staring at their blanks. This question, taken from page 80 of the ETS Verbal Reasoning workbook, was one of those times:

Retrofitted with stabilizing devises, some of which ________ its aesthetics, the bridge has been reopened, no longer prone to the excessive swaying but not quite the breathtaking structure it originally was.

A impair

B resist

C improve

D enhance

E restore

F compromise

Even when I would go back and read the question for second or third time, I’d again get stuck on that blank. Instead of comprehending what the rest of the sentence had to say, I would read “Retrofitted with stabilizing devices, some of which BLANK its aesthetics…Retrofitted with stabilizing devices, some of which BLANK its aesthetics…stabilizing devices, BLANK,  of which BLANK. BLAN-KAY BLAN-KAY BLAN-KAY.” I was like Powers, who couldn’t help saying, “MOL-EY MOL-EY MOL-EY!” when the man he had just met turned to leave. It was pretty clear Powers had understood nothing the man had actually said.

Let’s take a look at how Foxxy Cleopatra, Powers’ competent sidekick, handles herself in the presence of the prominent facial mole. Like Powers, she is in a similar moley dilemma. But instead of getting hung up on the mole like Powers does, she focuses on the parts of the face that do not contain the mole.

Retrofitted with stabilizing devises, some of which ________ its aesthetics, the bridge has been reopened, no longer prone to the excessive swaying but not quite the breathtaking structure it originally was.

Ah, much better—now we can just focus on the part about the bridge. Since it is no longer “the breathtaking structure it originally was,” we can infer that something was done to the bridge to make it kind of ugly. Now, let’s look at the first part of the sentence.

Retrofitted with stabilizing devises, some of which ________ its aesthetics, the bridge has been reopened, no longer prone to the excessive swaying but not quite the breathtaking structure it originally was.

Now we’re flirting with the mole. We can see there is something about aesthetics, and that the bridge was retrofitted. Awesome—since our prediction was that something was done to the bridge, and that it had to do with the bridge’s appearance. Now, we can predict that the aesthetics were perhaps reduced or damaged. We’re not looking for a word like destroyed or obliterated, which would imply the bridge is now ugly; we are told it is merely “not quite” as breathtaking as it used to be.

Fitting our prediction, the correct answers are impair and compromise, which in this case most nearly mean “reduced or damaged.”

Unless you’re planning to become a dermatologist, you might want to adopt Foxxy Cleopatra’s strategy. To approach a GRE fill-in-the-blank question, you must focus on the parts of the sentence that don’t contain the blank. Sometimes you’ll get entire sentences, and sometimes just clauses, that don’t contain blanks. Focus on these first, then go back to the blank.

Moles in Reading Comprehension

You also might get a reading comprehension question where answer choice A is worded in a really confusing way, but maybe the correct answer is Answer D. Instead of gaping at the moley aspects of answer choice A, move on and come back, if you need to. For all you know, Answer choice D could be really obvious, once you get there. Sometimes the GRE intentionally cloaks its correct answer with unexpected wording, but you don't always need to untangle all the wrong answers. There’s also no need to spend time focusing on big words or irrelevant details, even if they are as interesting and prominent as big, hairy moles.

Here’s a particularly moley sample from page 28 in the reading comprehension section of the ETS Verbal book.

“Supernovas in the Milky Way are the likeliest source for most of the cosmic rays reaching Earth. However, calculations show that supernovas cannot produce ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays (UHECRs), which have energies exceeding 10^18 electron volts. It would seem sensible to seek the source of these in the universe’s most conspicuous energy factories: quasars and gamma-ray bursts billions of light-years away from Earth. But UHECRs tend to collide with photons of the cosmic microwave background—pervasive radiation that is a relic of the early universe. The odds favor a collision every 20 million light-years, each collision costing 20 percent of the cosmic ray’s energy. Consequently, no cosmic ray traveling much beyond 100 million light-years can retain the energy observed in UHECRs.”

Okay, phew. There is a lot of scientific language used in this passage: supernovas, UHECRs, electron volts, quasars, gamma-ray bursts, photons and cosmic microwave background. When I first read this, all I read was, “SCIENCE SCIENCE MOL-EY MOL-EY!” The UHECR acronym was the worst: it was an eyesore, unpronounceable, and I couldn’t remember what it meant. Its size alone suggested an immediate referral to the dermatologist!

You can see below I airbrushed out the mole and other distracting parts of the passage for a better understanding of the main idea. On paper, I’d suggest lightly crossing out (but not blacking out) these parts. On the computerized test, you’ll need to use your imagination.  

“Supernovas in the Milky Way are the likeliest source for most of the cosmic rays reaching Earth. However, calculations show that supernovas cannot produce ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays (UHECRs), which have energies exceeding 10^18 electron volts. It would seem sensible to seek the source of these in the universe’s most conspicuous energy factories: quasars and gamma-ray bursts billions of light-years away from Earth. But ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays tend to collide with photons of the cosmic microwave background—pervasive radiation that is a relic of the early universe. The odds favor a collision every 20 million light-years, each collision costing 20 percent of the cosmic ray’s energy. Consequently, no cosmic ray traveling much beyond 100 million light-years can retain the energy observed in ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays.”

Ahh, much better. The science-y descriptors or details are crossed out, leaving the main ideas. We can always look back at what was taken out if we encounter a detail question. But now, it's easier to understand the gist of the passage.

Math Moles

Now, onto moles in math. There are more moles than ever in the quantitative section, as there’s just so many concepts they can test! Now, when you’re unfamiliar with a mole—er, a concept—you’re more likely to get hung up on it.

For example, if you’re unfamiliar with the concept of the denominator never being equal to zero, then you might focus on factoring the equation from problem #1 taken from page 67 of the ETS Official Quantitative Reasoning workbook:

That messy denominator---the bottom half of the fraction--is our mole. The way it’s hiding down underneath the numerator even reminds me of the animal type of mole.  Now, let’s use our Foxxy Cleopatra strategy:

Okay, so our fraction has to equal zero. This means that we only need to look at the top half of the fraction. This is because if the top half equals zero, the fraction equals zero, but if the bottom half equals zero, then the fraction becomes undefined—not zero! Dividing something into zero pieces is a different concept than dividing zero pieces. Six divided by three is two, three times, or 2 + 2 + 2. Zero divided by three is zero, three times, or 0 + 0 + 0. Three divided by zero is three, zero times, which is…well, what do you get when you write down a 3 then erase it? Think about it.

So, we’ve blocked out the mole for good, and now the problem is simpler. Because any number times zero is zero, when x = 0 or (x-2) = 0, the equation is satisfied. Recall that the problem asks to compare x (Quantity A) to -2 (Quantity B). Since either value of x (2 or 0) is greater than negative 2, we can conclude Quantity A is always greater than Quantity B.

The strategy with moles, whether you’re working on a verbal or quantitative problem, is to look at the parts of the face that are a little easier, and easier on the eye. In sentence completion questions, moles can be the blanks: visual distractions that sever the flow of an otherwise normal sentence. In the verbal section, they can pop up anywhere as attention-demanding words, language, or terminology. In math, they might be messy equations that are overwhelming until you find the trick.

Don’t be like Austin Powers - be like Ms. Foxxy Cleoptra, played by Beyonce Knowles, and remember to focus on the questions, sentences, or passages as wholes.

- by Soph Lundeberg


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