Vocabulary for GRE – A Detailed Approach
What is the best way to study Vocabulary for GRE ?
If there is ONE question for which GRE test takers wish they knew the answer, it would be this.
In this blog, we will see the biggest mistake GRE test-takers commit while studying for the test. We will also show you some great ways (and resources) to study vocabulary for GRE.
Before we go any further, let’s address the elephant in the room!
Is GRE Verbal all about mugging up words?
A huge misconception that students have about preparing for GRE Verbal is that it is all about mugging up words. After all, it took some creativity by someone at the UP ministry of tourism to approve this ad on twitter:
However, if you think the GRE is just about mugging up words and throwing them together to form a sentence, you could not be more wrong!
As part of a graduate program – a Master’s or an MBA – you are required to not only read a lot of journals and books but also to write lengthy theses and project reports. You need to be clear, crisp, and concise in the words you choose. Hence, it is important that you understand words in proper context.
If you think the vocabulary for GRE is just about mugging up words and throwing them together to form a sentence, you could not be more wrong!
What is the difference between
“John is firm”
“John is obstinate”
The first sentence is a positive statement about John while the second sentence is negative. The meaning could be similar but there is a huge difference in the tone. This is the stuff that the GRE expects you to know, and differentiate while reading or writing English.
Expertise in Verbal Reasoning becomes very important when your next work gets published in a scientific journal – ready to be scrutinized by PhD holders who have spent more time reading books than you have spent binge watching “Game of Thrones”!
The meaning could be similar but there is a huge difference in the tone. This is the stuff that the GRE expects you to know, and differentiate while reading or writing English.
This brings us to the next elephant (or wait, is it a hippo?) in the room:
What is wrong with preparing from GRE word lists?
We have had students who sometimes come to us and say “I’ve learnt words until “P”!
There are two sections on the GRE that test you on words and their meanings, Sentence Equivalence (SE) and Text Completion (TC). Both these sections test you on the nuances in meaning; a word can have the same functional meaning but different connotations. Let’s look at an example to better understand this statement:
This is the definition of Transcended according to Wordweb :
“Be greater in scope or size than some standard”
Does it make any sense to you? Not to me!
However, let us see how the same word in context:
“Dante embodied all the learning and thought of his age and transcended them : he went far ahead of all his predecessors, contemporaries, and successors.”
Dante went over and beyond what his contemporaries were doing so he was greater than the “standard”.
Does it make sense now?
So the point is: Context matters!
There are two sections on the GRE that test you on words and their meanings, Sentence Equivalence (SE) and Text Completion (TC). Both sections test you on the nuances in meaning.
And most students DON’T learn context; they only bother about the definition. On the day of the test, a student will recognize the words but will not be able to take a call because the student is unsure of the contextual use of the words.
Even if you know more than 3000 words, on the GRE, you WILL see a word you’ve never seen before. The key is not to become too dependent on REMEMBERING words but to know exactly WHY you are building vocabulary – to be able to take a call while answering the Vocab intensive questions. We’ll see how to develop an approach by which we can do that even if you aren’t sure of one or two.
Even if you know more than 3000 words, on the GRE, you WILL see a word you’ve never seen before.
Here are three reasons why studying for the GRE using word lists is a bad idea:
1.Words are presented in Alphabetical order: lack of any pattern
2.Superficial information about the word’s meaning: half knowledge
3.Lack of Context: Connotation, Register and Degree of Effect
How to build your vocabulary for the GRE Verbal section in a short time?
In an ideal world, you should be building your vocabulary through years of exposure to good quality reading such as The Economist, and The New York Times. Vocabulary building needs to be deep and meaningful. Spending a couple of weeks with a wordlist and cramming words is NOT going to help.
However, this is not an ideal world, and you are probably worried because you have not done so.
You realize it is too late. You just need a bandaid that will get you a good GRE verbal score.
In an ideal world, you should be building your vocabulary through years of exposure to good quality reading…
Here is the good news!
Though reading books and newspaper articles, watching movies, and engaging in conversations in everyday life will give you proper context to use words, and is the most effective method of learning, trying that method at this point has pitfalls, which are:
1. “It takes like forever!”. We have just a few months (and in some cases just a few weeks) to prepare for the GRE, and surely, this is not the time to change your “behavior”.
2. Do we really read and watch such enriching content? Let’s be honest: the kind of words you see on the GRE may not be the ones you come across in everyday life. This is sort of an inside joke: Recondite, Esoteric and Arcane all mean – not found or seen in everyday context!
So how do we make it easier to learn new words?
For that, you have to “trick” your brain. Yes! Here are some ways in which you can build your vocabulary for the GRE, and make it fun while you are doing so. The idea is to make studying of words as interesting as possible.This is because your brain craves novelty.
Your brain doesn’t bother saving boring things; they never make it past the “this is obviously not important” filter.
Let’s be honest: the kind of words you see on the GRE may not be the ones you come across in everyday life. This is sort of an inside joke: Recondite, Esoteric and Arcane all mean – not found or seen in everyday context!
This brings us to the next important aspect of learning for the Vocabulary for GRE section,
How to make learning GRE words fun?
Here are some great vocab building techniques:
1. Learn GRE words with pictures
The dictionary definition of the word “mnemonics” is “the study and development of systems for improving and assisting the memory”.
The basic premise behind using mnemonics is that if you can get as many senses involved in the learning process, the easier it is for your brain to remember.
For learning Vocabulary for GRE, we would employ visual and phonetic mnemonics.
The basic premise behind using mnemonics is that – if you can get as many senses involved in the learning process, the easier it is for your brain to remember.
2. Learn Vocabulary for GRE through Word Roots
The more we know about a particular word, its origin, and the various ways in which it’s used, the better we will be able to remember it
You can know about the etymology of words on the GRE through this video:
You may also read this blog:
Do you know the fancy sounding “Mulligatawny soup” is nothing but mullagu (pepper) thanni (water) aka Rasam in India?
Learn about some more interesting words through the roots from where they originate. You may encounter these words on the GRE:
3. Learn Theme based GRE Words
What if I were to ask you to name 30 friends?
Even for the most gregarious people, this can be a hard task! Here’s a trick:
Think of 10 friends from college.
Now, think of 10 school friends.
Now, think of 10 friends from your neighborhood.
It’s a lot easier to group people with similar backgrounds. This is the same logic behind learning theme based words on the GRE.
However, there are a few things you need to be careful about while learning words in a group. There is a danger that you might end up thinking that ALL the words have the same meaning.
Audacious could mean either willing to take bold risks OR it could mean lack of respect. So, although it is replaceable by Brave in most cases, you need to be careful.
Here is a great blog on how to use “inclines” to know the subtle differences between such words:
Another problem GRE aspirants often face is confusing words that are similar sounding but mean totally different things. I hope you agree, in principal principle.
Here is a blog to clear the confusion:
I hope you found this blog useful.
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Also, I would love to know if you have any questions about Vocabulary for GRE, so go ahead, and let me know in the Comments section.
That’s all folks!