GRE Vocabulary Study Tip: Word Groups

March 16, 2012
Jennifer Land

The GRE tests your vocabulary in various ways. To correctly answer Sentence Equivalence and Text Completion questions, you have to know something about all of the words in the answer choices. Students often ask, “How can I increase my vocabulary before Test Day?”

The Kaplan answer to that is simple: Think like a thesaurus, not like a dictionary. Knowing detailed definitions for 100 words is not as useful as knowing approximate synonyms for 200-300. Kaplan offers an inexpensive app for learning vocabulary. Kaplan’s Verbal Workbook has a chapter devoted to vocabulary, and in it are several pages of word groups. For example, grouped under “Difficult to Understand” are 14 related words, including abstruse, cryptic, and enigmatic. If you learn this group you will recognize any of these words on Test Day.

There are different ways to practice learning word groups. I prefer a “reverse flash card” method, and I especially recommend it to my students who are not native English speakers.

  1. First, read the word group.
  2. Then, write the heading on one side of a card.
  3. Then, on the back of the card, write ONLY THE WORDS YOU RECOGNIZE from the list. As you learn the definitions of other words, add them to the card as well.

As an example, looking at words that mean “Antagonize” on page 260 of the Verbal Workbook, you would write Antagonize on the front of the card, then on the back write the words you recognize from this list:

ANTAGONIZE: To annoy or provoke to anger


If you don’t know a word, look it up. Once you are comfortable with it, add it to your flash card. In the end you have a stack of cards with word groups you know, so you can flip through them at any time to reinforce vocabulary you have already built.

If you try this method and it works for you, please leave a comment below to let us know!

Jennifer Land

Jennifer Land Jennifer Mathews Land has taught for Kaplan since 2009. She prepares students to take the GMAT, GRE, ACT, and SAT and was named Kaplan’s Alabama-Mississippi Teacher of the Year in 2010. Prior to joining Kaplan, she worked as a grad assistant in a university archives, a copy editor for medical web sites, and a dancing dinosaur at children's parties. Jennifer holds a PhD and a master’s in library and information studies (MLIS) from the University of Alabama, and an AB in English from Wellesley College. When she isn’t teaching, she enjoys watching Alabama football and herding cats.

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