You know GRE vocabulary is challenging. But just why are GRE vocabulary questions difficult? How can you master GRE words and more importantly, ace the verbal section of the GRE?
My name is Erika, and I lead our GRE Prep Program. I got a perfect score (V170) on GRE Verbal, and I’m here to teach you to apply the same tactics I used to get a great GRE score. In this guide, I’ll cover…
- Why vocabulary is critical to a great verbal score (and how to improve yours)
- The 3 challenges to acing vocab questions (and how our GRE vocabulary course overcomes them)
- How to access our GRE vocabulary course (for FREE!)
Why Is GRE Vocabulary Critical to the Verbal Score?
Did you know nearly half of the GRE Verbal Section consists of questions that test your vocabulary knowledge? Vocab comes up in every type of Verbal question, including Text Completion, Sentence Equivalence, and Reading Comprehension.
A weak GRE vocabulary base can hurt your verbal score by 20 points. This is a huge difference; 20 points can be the difference between the 99th percentile (170) and the 47th percentile (150), between a full scholarship to your dream graduate program and a swift letter of rejection.
Based on PrepScholar research, we believe nearly 50% of Verbal questions tagged as “hard” by the ETS test your vocabulary knowledge. These high-frequency GRE words are low-frequency in everyday life and known by few native English speakers. You need to study for the GRE vocabulary, or you will run into questions you can’t solve on the GRE.
The 3 Challenges With Studying GRE Vocab
You now know that it’s critical to study GRE vocab. But you might be wondering, how hard can it be? 3 problems make successful GRE vocab study difficult.
Challenge 1: Not Studying the Right GRE Words
There are countless GRE vocabulary lists out there — just do a quick Google search and you’ll find dozens of them. Unfortunately, most of these lists are, frankly, garbage. They’re inaccurate and unrealistic.
Let’s go through some of the common types of GRE vocab lists and what the problems with them are.
#1: The “100-Word” or “50-Word” List
The problem: It’s too short to throroughly prepare you for the GRE.
There are more than 100 vocabulary words on a single GRE exam, and there’s no guarantee the specific 100 words on a given list will all show up.
Even if the list is high quality, you’re still missing out on important vocabulary.
#2: The “900-Word” or “3,000-Word” List
The problem: You’re unlikely to truly master so many words.
Any word list longer than 700 words is too long, because you have no way of knowing which words are really important to memorize and practice.
Working with a long list of words might feel comforting, but it’s the same as flipping through the dictionary and hoping you’ll get lucky. Chances are you’re not mastering the high-frequency words most likely to show up on the GRE.
#3: The Random List of Difficult Words
The problem: The list is probably inaccurate.
It takes meticulous research and frequent updates to generate a list of GRE words that are actually likely to show up on the GRE.
A lack of methodology usually means that the list maker pulled a bunch of “hard” vocabulary words or words from the old GRE.
Challenge 2: Not Applying Words to GRE Questions
Even after you’ve found a realistic, helpful word list, it’s still just a list of words and definitions. A good GRE vocabulary list alone isn’t enough.
Let’s go through some common mistakes people make when studying GRE vocabulary.
#1: Reading Straight Down the Word List
Reading through pages and pages of words can feel productive, but it won’t help your brain make the neural connections you need to remember the words long-term. You’ll get through a lot of words without really understanding how to use any of them correctly.
#2: Flipping Through Flashcards Over … and Over … and Over
Flashcards can be an effective study tool if, and only, if you use them correctly. If you spend a lot of time making beautiful flashcards but flip through them like a word list, you won’t absorb the vocabulary any better than you would with the list. It’s simply not enough to help you to ace the GRE.
#3: Just Memorizing Definitions
When studying vocabulary it can be tempting to just memorize word definitions correctly and then move on. However, if you’re preparing for the GRE, learning words alone isn’t enough. You also need to understand how you’ll see them on the GRE.
Think about it this way: would you memorize every math equation and assume you are going to ace every math question on the GRE quant section? Knowing equations is essential and memorizing definitions is necessary, but the GRE tests how concepts are applied.
It won’t help you to learn a bunch of words unless you know how to apply that knowledge.
Challenge 3: Falling for the GRE’s Tricks and Traps
Unfortunately, you can learn hundreds of vocab words and still get tripped up on actual GRE questions. Why does this happen? There are a few common traps that GRE questions include to confuse you into picking the wrong answer. Learning how to avoid these tricks is just as important as learning the vocabulary, if not even more so.
#1: The Sounds Similar Trap
If you know what kind of word you need to fill in a blank, but aren’t sure what all the answer choices mean, it can be tempting pick an answer because it sounds similar to the word you would put in the sentence. After all, many words that sound similar share common roots and related meanings.
Unfortunately, The ETS knows test-takers often use this strategy and uses it against you by creating traps with words that sound like they mean something completely different than they actually do. For example, “preclude” sounds a lot like “prelude” which suggests it would mean “come before,” but it actually means “prevent.”
#2: The Prefix Trap
You can often piece together the meaning of a word using its parts. Unfortunately, this strategy can backfire on the GRE because prefixes don’t always mean the same thing. For example, “indefensible” and “invariable” mean “not defensible” and “not variable,” but “ingenious” and “invaluable” mean “very genius” and “very valuable.”
The ETS uses these variations to confuse you and trick you into misinterpreting the question.
#3: The Overthinking Trap
GRE test makers know that when you don’t know hard vocab words, you’ll default to an “avoid or embrace” strategy, either ignoring an answer choice because you have no idea what it means or picking an answer choice because it looks so hard it has to be correct.
As such, they’ll trip you up by including the hardest GRE vocabulary words as both correct and incorrect answers. You have to know what the words actually mean in order to answer the question correctly.
Introducing PrepScholar’s Ultimate GRE Vocabulary Course!
The three problems I’ve described above are key barriers between you and a great GRE verbal score. At PrepScholar, our experts have created a FREE GRE Vocabulary Course that solves all three problems to maximize your vocab study.
Solution 1: Methodically Selected High-Frequency GRE Words
To create a list of the vocab words most likely to appear on the GRE, we carefully analyzed data from previous GREs as well as popular lists of GRE vocabulary.
First, we compiled all of the official GRE resources released by ETS and scraped them for words that might trip a student up. Then, we analyzed these words through an algorithm to estimate their likelihood of appearing on a GRE test. Next, we selected the most popular GRE vocabulary lists (Barron’s, Magoosh, Kaplan, Manhattan GRE, and Princeton Review) to identify words that appeared across the board.
Finally, we ranked the total list of GRE vocab words by frequency, adjusting for word list quality, specificity, and other factors impacting their likelihood to appear on the GRE. The resulting list includes the 300 most important words you need to know for the GRE.
Solution 2: Study Strategies Backed Up by Science
Once we’d compiled a list we were happy with, we designed a course around these words. Our approach is based on the latest research on effective study methods and our deep knowledge of the GRE, so we’re confident that the PrepScholar vocabulary course will help you quickly learn key words and how to use them on the GRE.
Studying is the most productive when it is distributed over digestible study sessions, so the words in this course are broken out into bite-sized lessons to create convenient stopping points and promote long-term learning. The lessons are presented in flashcard format to capture the benefits of immersive learning.
To help you actively master and recall the material, every vocab lesson is followed by a quiz that tests how well you know each of the words you just studied.
As a result of this careful design, the words you study will actually stick with you until test day.
Solution 3: Practice in the Context of the GRE
We also ensured that our course allows you to practice the vocabulary in the context of realistic GRE questions.
Each flashcard includes a realistic GRE sentence that uses the relevant vocabulary to help you get used to seeing the words in the context of complex, academic sentences like the ones you’ll see on the real GRE.
The quizzes all feature fill-in-the-blank questions that mirror the style of GRE Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions. These require you to understand multiple vocab words in one sentence and work with vocab words as both right answers and wrong answers, just like you’ll see on the real GRE.
With our vocabulary course, you’re not just memorizing words, you’re learning how to use them on the GRE.
One More Benefit: Our 3 Vocab Categories Help You Prioritize
We categorized our GRE list into three groups: “WILL Appear,” “LIKELY to Appear,” and “MAY Appear.”
Don’t have enough time to memorize all 300 words before your test date? You can focus only on the “WILL Appear” unit, confident that those are the words that will earn you the most points on the GRE.
Preparing far in advance of your test date? Use the full course to maximize your Verbal score!
Access the Ultimate GRE Vocabulary Course (for FREE!)
When you access the Ultimate Vocabulary Course, you’ll get:
- 300 ready-made flashcards for the most essential GRE vocabulary word.
- 300 quiz questions designed to emulate the GRE experience
- A three unit, 20 lesson course that can be customized to any timeline
- Guidance on the most efficient, scientifically-backed study strategies
- Complete, unlimited access, no strings attached!
We designed this course as a $49 product but decided at the last minute that we want to allow all of you to access it for free! The only thing we ask in return is a quick share from you.
Click below to like our Facebook Page or share on Twitter. Once you’re done, the lock screen will turn into a button that will take you to the Course Homepage.
By the way, if you want more expert GRE prep, sign up for the five-day free trial of our PrepScholar GRE Online Prep Program to diagnose your strengths and weaknesses on the GRE and access over 150 hours of lessons and 2,000 practice questions!