By now you know that GRE preparation, for almost everyone, involves studying vocabulary words. Half of the questions on the GRE verbal reasoning sections are vocabulary-based. You will have to select from an answer choice set of vocabulary words to appropriately fill in the blank/blanks in a sentence. It’s hard to get these questions right without knowing the vocabulary. Unless you are an edacious reader with a prodigious vocabulary, you’ll most likely need to learn a few hundred words.
GRE Vocabulary Preparation Lists
How can you complete such a rebarbative task efficiently? Well, there are myriad GRE vocabulary lists out there for you to study, but I recommend making your own flashcards.
As you practice reading comprehension, both from official GRE practice materials and from other good sources like peer-review journals and college textbooks in the sciences and humanities, make a flashcard for every word you encounter and don’t know.
Don’t worry about sciency words that would only ever be used in one context, like phototransduction. You want nouns, adjectives, and verbs that have broad applicability. Even when you come across an unknown word in the course of working or reading for pleasure, jot it down somewhere (digitally or physically) and make a flashcard later.
Once you get into this habit, you’ll be amazed how often you encounter unknown words in everyday life. Most of us just filter these words out or circumvent them by using context clues to get the gist of what was said. A useful skill – but in this case a deleterious one.
Make a Flashcard for Each Unknown Word
And of course, make a flashcard for every unknown word you encounter in any vocabulary-based GRE practice question.
The very act of making these flashcards will reinforce your memory of the words’ definitions, but as you keep shuffling your deck and studying it over time, your retention will multiply.
It’s important to do this regularly. Build it into your daily routine, and take advantage of odd moments. Waiting for the bus/subway/train? Don’t scroll TikTok – study vocabulary words. Go over some definitions mentally while you brush your teeth. See how many flashcards you can get through while your chicken florentine is in the microwave.
Connect Words that are Synonyms or Antonyms
Another reinforcing practice is to connect words in your flashcard deck that are synonyms or antonyms. You don’t have to group them together for study, but if you’re reviewing a word and realize that it has a synonym or antonym relationship to another word in your deck, see if you can list any other synonyms or antonyms in your deck.
This way your individual “definition knowledge bits” can become mutually reinforcing. And as you know, the two correct answer choices on any sentence equivalence question are synonyms, or at least words that can function synonymously in the given context. You’ll be surprised how often sentence equivalence questions feature synonym pairs you identified in your study deck.
If you get into these vocabulary-building habits, you’ll find that they serve you long after you’ve trounced the GRE. A robust vocabulary makes you a more effective communicator, a clearer thinker, and an all-around cooler person – as long as you don’t flaunt it too much.
To supplement your vocabulary-building efforts, it’s important to have a thorough understanding of the structure and content of the GRE verbal reasoning section. The section includes two types of questions: reading comprehension, sentence equivalence, and text completion. Understanding the different question types and their respective formats can help you approach each question with confidence and efficiency.
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Contributor: Elijah Mize (Apex GRE Instructor)