The following is a GRE sentence completion question.

In failing to see that the justice's pronouncement merely ______ previous decisions rather than actually establishing a precedent,the novice law clerk overemphasized the scope of the justice's judgement.

  1. synthesized
  2. qualified
  3. recapitulated

The correct answer is 'qualified'. But 'recapitulate' also fits, right?

The judge may summarize (recapitulate) his previous decisions rather than forming new ones or he can qualify them. So why is recapitulate wrong? What is it that makes recapitulate wrong here?

  • Have you looked up "qualified" in a dictionary? What part of the definition are you confused by? – Catija Jun 2 '15 at 17:57
  • Okay ! I get the meaning of qualified.But why is it not recapitulate? – Amrapali Jun 2 '15 at 18:03
  • Show your work to understand the question by explaining your understanding of what the two words mean. – Catija Jun 2 '15 at 18:05
  • Okay.The judge may summarize(recapitulate) his previous decisions rather than forming new or he can qualify them.So why is recapitulate wrong?What is it that makes recapitulate wrong here? – Amrapali Jun 2 '15 at 18:11
  • 1
    I think the context is what makes the difference here: the second clause. The novice law clerk would not have "overemphasized the scope of the justice's judgment" were the justice recapitulating previous decisions since recapitulation tends to be more apparent than qualification. – Paul Rowe Jun 2 '15 at 18:43

The main clause makes clear that the justice is making a judgment, but not one that creates a new precedent. "Qualified" suggests the justice made a judgment, but one which limits the applicability of prior decisions, rather than setting a new precedent. On the other hand, "recapitulated" suggests a mere recounting, not an act of judgment leading to a new precedent, so it does not make sense in the context of judging in the main clause and so could not be the correct answer. "Synthesized" does connote a judgment creating something new by articulating the existing decisions, so it could not be properly qualified by the word "merely" in the prepositional phrase. So, the only correct answer must be "qualified" -- it is a judgment, but not one that creates a new precedent, which is what the novice clerk erroneously asserted.

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