I’ve long anticipated this retrospective of the artist’s work, hoping

I’ve long anticipated this retrospective of the artist’s work, hoping that it would make (i)____ judgements about him possible, but greater familiarity with his paintings highlights their inherent (ii)______ and actually makes one’s assessment (iii)______.

Blank (i)

  1. modish
  2. settled
  3. detached

Blank (ii)

  1. gloom
  2. ambiguity
  3. delicacy

Blank (iii)

  1. similarly equivocal
  2. less sanguine
  3. more cynical

So, you were trying to be a good test taker and practice for the GRE with PowerPrep online. Buuuut then you had some questions about the verbal section—specifically question 4 of the second Verbal section on Practice Test 1. Those three-blank text completion questions are the WORST—but never fear, PrepScholar has got your back!

Hmm. We must have done well on the first verbal section, because it seems the test has given us the “hard” second section. At first glance, this problem is a little tricky because all of our blanks could be clues for one another. Still, we need to scan the sentence for clues as to how all of our information relates to determine what we do know in order to make some predictions about what our blanks might say.

This question is one long sentence that hinges around the word “but,” which is a word that signals a contrast. So, we know that what this person was hoping for was different from the reality. However, our first blank describes what the subject “hoped” the retrospective would do for her judgment of the artist’s works, while the third blank describes what it actually did for her assessment. In other words, we know these blanks should contrast, but it’s hard to know exactly how since neither blank is filled in. Our middle blank should describe something that the retrospective “highlights” about the artist’s works and provides a reason for our final blank.

So, at least we know how our blanks relate, but, where should we start? Well, our first blank is isolated on one side of our sentence while the second and third go together. If we can just crack one blank we could find answers to the other two. Let’s see if we can figure out the first blank—if not, we can move to another. The first blank is something that the speaker was “hoping” the retrospective would do for her interpretation, so we know this blank should be something positive. When we can’t come up with a prediction for our blank predicting the tone can be a good secondary strategy. Let’s see if there are answers we can get rid of based on the fact that our first blank should be a moderately positive way to describe “judgements.”


“Modish” is a synonym of “stylish” or “fashionable.” While this word is certainly positive and opinions or “judgments” can be fashionable, it’s a little unclear in this context. How might looking at the artist’s work as a whole make the speaker’s opinion more “fashionable.” Without clues, it’s hard to definitively say that A is wrong, but it seems pretty unlikely.


“Settled” is also moderately positive, but it maybe makes a little more sense in context. A “retrospective” is a look back at an artist’s career, and it’s a little bit more logical to say that looking back at an artist’s works in context of their full career would help the speaker settle or land on a judgement of the artist—in other words, it could logically be hard to form a complete opinion of the artist if one only saw one piece at a time. Let’s keep B since it seems pretty logical.


Hmm. To be “detached” is to be removed from something either physically or emotionally. This answer isn’t really positive; it seems unlikely that the speaker was hoping that the artist’s retrospective would allow her to have “detached” judgment of the artist’s work—if anything, being able to see all the work at once should help the speaker connect to the artist. C seems the least likely of these answers.

Ok, let’s see what our sentence looks like if we plug in B.

“I’ve long anticipated this retrospective of the artist’s work, hoping that it would make (i) settled judgements about him possible, but greater familiarity with his paintings highlights their inherent (ii)______ and actually makes one’s assessment (iii)______.”

Ok, so the speaker was hoping that she’d be able to get a more “settled” or clear judgement of the artist’s work, so that must mean our second and last blanks have something to do with making it difficult to have a “settled” assessment of the artist’s works. Let’s see if there’s something for our second blank that could make sense with “confusing” or “unclear”; if there isn’t, perhaps we should rethink “settled” in our first blank.


Hmm. If “greater familiarity” with the artist’s works makes it clear how “gloomy” they are, then it might be possible to come to a “settled judgment” about his works. We’re looking for something that would make it hard to form a strong opinion of his work, but if any one thing stands out it seems that would make it easier. We can eliminate a B and D combination.


Aha! “Ambiguity” refers to a lack of clarity in meaning or expression. If the artist’s work or his aesthetic isn’t clear, then it might be hard to form a solid or “settled” judgment about him. E could possibly work, but we’ll have a better idea once we see if there’s a corresponding answer for our third blank.


Like “gloom,” this answer implies that there was something that stood out about the artist’s paintings, which might make it easier to form an opinion about them. E seems like a better answer than either D or F, assuming that we were right about our first blank.

Alright, so finally we want to see if there’s an answer for our third blank that could match the idea that the speaker was not able to form a “settled” judgment about the works because of “their inherent ambiguity.” Let’s see if see if there’s an answer that is similar to “unsettled” or “ambiguous.”

similarly equivocal

“Equivocal” is a good one to know for the GRE and perhaps an easy word to remember based on its etymology. The “equi” part is from the same root as “equal” and “vocal,” from the Latin vocare, “to call,” is a word we’ve adopted on it’s own. So we can think of “equivocal” as literally of equal voices, or in other words, ambiguous. Therefore, “similarly equivocal” would DEFINITELY match “ambiguity” in our second blank, and seems to contrast with the idea of being able to form “settled judgments.” If we’ve been right so far, and it’s starting to look like we definitely were, then G seems like a good answer.

less sanguine

Another word we see a lot in standardized tests, “sanguine” means optimistic or cheerful (it’s also a word with an interesting origin, but we won’t get into that now). “Less sanguine” might pair well with “gloom” in blank (ii), but then there wouldn’t be a good contrast to this is blank (i). We can eliminate H.

more cynical

Hmm. Another hint here—”sanguine” and “pessimistic” are opposites, so “more cynical” is effectively the same as “less sanguine.” Neither of these answers could be correct then! G must be the correct answer to blank (iii) meaning we must have been right all along! But let’s double-check these answers in the sentence just to be sure.

“I’ve long anticipated this retrospective of the artist’s work, hoping that it would make (i) settled judgements about him possible, but greater familiarity with his paintings highlights their inherent (ii) ambiguity and actually makes one’s assessment (iii) similarly equivocal.”

Indeed, the sentence now tells us that the speaker had hoped that seeing the artist’s career all at once in front of her would help her form a decisive opinion about his works, but in actuality, his aesthetic was so unclear as to make her opinion similarly difficult to nail down. B, E, and G are correct.


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