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A quick search for GRE vocab lists on the internet will yield a large number of them, some as long as 4,759 (Barron’s), others just numbering a mere 20 or 50. As a diligent student, you compare them and realize that the words don’t always overlap; what’s worse, some of these words are so obscure that you’ve never seen them, much less encountered them in your GRE practice tests.

What to do? Even if you have some time to spare before your GRE test, memorizing thousands of words is not necessarily the best strategy.

In this post, we recommend three main ways to improve your GRE vocabulary. At the end of the post, we include a link to a list of what we think are 300 essential, common words to be acqurainted with for the GRE test.


1. Constantly build your own vocabulary bank

As mentioned in a previous post (How to improve your GRE Verbal Reasoning score), building your own vocabulary bank is an important aspect of assuring excellence at the test. But what does it specifically mean, building your vocabulary bank?

There are three aspects to this: a) identifying unfamiliar or important words in your reading and practice, b) defining them and constructing phrases or examples from them, and c) relating them to other words.


For example, you chance across equivocate in your past GRE practice tests. You define it as “to speak vaguely or ambiguously, usually to remain non-committal”, and supply an example such as “equivocate on a subject”. You can then link this to other words such as prevaricate (to speak evasively or misleadingly, usually with an intention to conceal or lie), vacillate (to waver) and palter (to make unreliable statements or insincere promises).

Such habits allow you to learn groups of words and differentiate between them. Grounding difficult words in contexts and associating them with similar words is often a much better way of learning and remembering them than memorizing lists.

2. Regular revision

Always revise the words that you have just learnt. Do this at regular intervals—1 day later, 3 days, 1 week, 1 month and generally in the final three overall revisions.

Immediate short-term revision (at regular intervals within the first week or so) is absolutely crucial for long-term memory.

3. Practice, practice, practice

While you build up your vocabulary bank and reinforce the new words with constant revision, do not forget to supplement your preparation with constant practice of past year papers and new supplementary material. This not only allows you to further enrich your vocabulary bank, it also builds up your confidence as you begin to cope better with difficult words.

Many times, it is a matter of identifying enough clues from the sentence context and eliminating misleading options that brings you to the right answer. The GRE comes up with many obscure words every year—do not be disheartened if there are words that look completely foreign to you even by the time you attempt the last practice test!

Lastly, a quick glance at vocabulary questions you used to struggle with is also very helpful to further reinforce understanding of difficult words. But more often, this revision strategy allows students to realize that they can now tackle some of these sentences more quickly and confidently without knowing the difficult words per se. Consistent reading, and learning of words with word groups and examples strengthen your grasp of vocabulary in a very cohesive way.

Now that you have an overall understanding of how to improve your vocabulary, do take a quick look at our list of 300 essential, common words to be acquainted with for the GRE test, and how you can make use of it in your preparation.

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