How to Study for GRE Vocabulary?

Posted by on December 20, 2013 in GRE Vocabulary | 10 comments

At the end of the very first class of every new GRE batch, almost every student comes up to me and asks “Tell me a good book for learning GRE vocabulary?” This initiates the same discussion that I always have with every new GRE student and therefore I decided to write the answer to this age old question – so that it saves me the effort to answer the same question over again 😉

Before I rattle on, my answer to the above question is; DO NOT learn vocabulary from a vocabulary book or a dictionary. Let me tell you why!

I recall Ammar from my August GRE session who also asked me the same question — and despite my advice did not pay attention to it. He was worried about his vocabulary and he bought many GRE flashcards for learning arcane words that come on the test.

Ammar worked his way in 2 months and learned nearly 3000 new words for the GRE test and I started calling him a “walking dictionary”. He spent little or no time doing reading passages and critical reasoning for the GRE but had an impressive vocabulary. Ammar was very confident that he could go into the GRE test room and ace it.

When Ammar walked into the exam room he knew the definitions of many words but had no idea of how to relate them to the text completion and equivalence questions on the test. As expected he scored a meager 154 on the GRE verbal section and then realises the advice I gave him on the first day he walked into my GRE class.

Crestfallen, Ammar comes out of the GRE exam room only to find out that Rabya who did not knew a lot of vocabulary (she learned a mere 600-900 words) had scored a 161 on the GRE verbal section.

So now let’s see what Rabya did to get a mammoth 161 on the GRE verbal section.

Just like Ammar, Rabya too was worried about the vocabulary and the verbal section on the GRE. But she paid heed to my invaluable advice ? Rabya has been out of school for more than 6 years and she works in an environment where she cannot read much.

Rabya starts to learn 20-30 new words every day using the same set of flashcards that Ammar uses – but she aims to apply each word on some text completions and sentence equivalence GRE questions. She tries to apply and use every word she learns – she even looks up how each word is used and in what context it is used. Soon she is using the words naturally – “Wow, the birthday party I attended last night was so pompous – it was full on garrulous people too.”

Rabya makes relation between words and always tries to work through as many GRE vocabulary based questions as she can. She learns 30 words a day and practices 10 text completion and sentence equivalence questions.

In the 4th week of her preparation she puts her foot on the accelerator and starts doing up to 30 questions a day, including many 3 blank questions. If she encounters unknown words, she adds them to her flashcards and starts learning them as well.

Rabya keeps learning words and practices questions simultaneously and also starts reading a couple of high quality novels in her 3rd week of preparation. She tries to finish 10-15 pages from a novel each day just to make sure that she improves her reading and comprehension ability.

Although there are many words that she doesn’t know but she eliminates wrong answers with more confidence. Moreover since she is reading a lot, she is also able to comprehend the structure of the text completions on the GRE.

On the actual test day she gets a really good score despite not knowing many words. But she is a master at eliminating from what she knows.

Lesson learned

  • Don’t just rote learn words from flashcards or word lists
  • Read a lot – especially from novels and GRE reading passages
  • Keep practicing actual GRE-like questions, especially text completions and sentence equivalence


  1. Avatar

    What were those high equality Novels?

    • Avatar

      Read “The Great Gatsby”

      • Avatar

        I have already ready read the great Gatsby. Can you suggest some other novels?

        • Avatar

          In that case I would say read book critiques on the monthly atlantic website!

  2. Avatar

    IS it effective way to learn a word with its 5 or 6 synonyms

    • Avatar

      2-3 synonyms at max is good but not too many – else you will not be able to retain them

  3. Avatar


  4. Avatar


    The flashcards are not displaying on your website.

    Please check the issue.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *