Last Updated On: May 17th, 2020

Take a look at this sentence completion question:

Because postmodernist critics often rely on___________ language, their prose frequently seems ______________ to nonspecialists who fail to comprehend its meaning.

A) accessible….abstruse
B) arcane……unequivocal
C) esoteric…..impenetrable
D) hackneyed…..exotic
E) lucid…..grating

When we first take a look at this question, it looks intimidating. We have a sentence with two blanks and a set of answer choices filled with difficult vocabulary. Okay, we take a breath and review our technique. We have learned to initially read the question and attempt to answer the blanks with our own words, before looking at the answers. This is challenging though because the first blank is hard to determine if it is a positive or negative word. We cannot truly determine its meaning from the context. So, we look at the second blank.

“Their prose frequently seems_________________ to nonspecialists who fail to comprehend its meaning. “ Alas, there is a contextual clue in this portion of the sentence. The text reads that the nonspecialists fail to comprehend its meaning. We can assume that the word we are looking for is a word that is synonymous with hard to understand or challenging. Following this technique, we look to the answer choices and focus on the second word. Choice A is abstruse which does mean secret or hidden. We will hold on to that answer choice. You can circle the letter A. Choice B is unequivocal which means unambiguous or clear. That is really the opposite of what we are searching for so we can cross of that choice. If you want to actually put a line through the B that is a good idea. Choice C is impenetrable which means cannot be pierced or cannot be understood. Let’s hold onto that choice. Circle the letter C. Choice D is exotic which means something that is foreign or unusual in nature or appearance. This does not really fit the mold of what we need. You can cross out D. Choice E is grating which means harsh or irritating (when it is used as an adjective). This also does not fit our mold so you can cross out E.

Following the technique, we must now look at the choices that we have kept. We decided to keep choices A and C. We must now attempt to decipher the first blank. If we try choice A, the sentence would read: Because postmodernist critics often rely on accessible language, their prose frequently seems abstruse to nonspecialists who fail to comprehend its meaning. That does not make a great deal of sense. If the critics are using accessible or easy to understand language, their prose would not be very hard to comprehend. If we try choice C, we would have: Because postmodernist critics often rely on esoteric language, their prose frequently seems impenetrable to nonspecialists who fail to comprehend its meaning. That makes much more sense. Esoteric means secret or understood by only a few. It would follow that because the language used by the critics is difficult to understand, nonspecialists would not be able comprehend it.

We can safely choose choice C.

Remember, when you are dealing with sentence completion questions with two blanks, several choices may work at first. It is important on your first pass to eliminate the wrong answer choices. Then go through the question again, and check the answers that you kept to see which one fits the best.

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