Learning vocabulary words the GRE is a pretty daunting task. Just looking at the immense vocabulary lists offered in prep books can discourage you from starting a study plan. If you’re serious about studying vocabulary, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your time.
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If you have the opportunity, spread out your vocabulary studying over a long time. In general, cramming is not very effective, especially when it comes to learning new words.
Flash cards may sound a little old fashioned, but they are still one of the most effective ways to learn new words. First, write the word you need to learn on the blank side of the card. If you have a hard time pronouncing it, write the word phonetically under the word (e.g. propitiate = pruh-PIH-shee-eyt). This may sound unnecessary for a written test, but knowing the correct pronunciation will allow you to use the word with confidence and correctly identify the word if it is spoken. On the lined side of the card, write a short, easily understandable definition. If you have trouble with the word, add a little phrase or sentence to help you remember the word’s proper use, or add a note that helps you remember that particular word (e.g. when I hear the word “tyro,” meaning “an inexperienced person / beginner / newbie,” I think of my friend “Tyler,” who just started learning to skateboard; or, when I hear the word “vociferous,” which means offensively loud, I think “vociferous=voice ferocious”).
I consider this step one of the most important and most overlooked. Whenever you come across an unfamiliar word that might be included in a GRE vocabulary list, write it down. Whether or not you heard it on the street or in a conversation, read it in a magazine or in a textbook, write it down somewhere–scrawl it on a napkin, type it on the computer, or even text it on your cell phone. When you practice, copy the unfamiliar words you encounter–found in both the questions and answer choices–in a separate document. Make this document your official personal word list, and build to it and study from it every day.
Studying vocabulary in a group or with a friend makes the often tedious task a bit more fun. All you have to do is take turns saying the word aloud and having the other person define the word. Or, you can switch it up: say the definition and ask for the word. If your buddy is up for a challenge, encourage some friendly competition; creative, competitive games may help you forget that you are studying in the first place.
Many GRE vocabulary words contain easily identifiable word roots that help you with the answer. For example, the word “soliloquy” contains the roots “sol / solo,” meaning alone, and “loquy,” meaning speech. Without looking in the dictionary, you can figure out that soliloquy means a speech you make alone or to yourself, i.e. a monologue. Once you learn these roots, which can be learned online or in test prep books, write down the roots and their meanings on the flash cards.
Once you’ve “finished” learning a group of new words, don’t just set it aside. You may think they are locked in your brain, but chances are you may forget their meanings if you don’t keep reviewing. Studying vocabulary should always be a cumulative process. When you are ready for a new list, add them to an existing list. Don’t neglect the words you’ve learned.
This may be the most challenging task in the list. If you really want to know these words, try to implement them into casual speech. It may be easier to implement them into an essay or a volunteered comment in class. Around the right crowd, though, trying out some of these big words will be welcomed; at the very least, it’ll get a laugh.