Study Tips for the GRE Vocabulary Section

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If you're planning to apply to graduate school, you'll need to pass the GRE General Test, which includes an extensive vocabulary section. Not only do you need to master the reading comprehension questions, you need to knock the sentence equivalence questions and text completions out of the ballpark. It's challenging, but with adequate preparation, you can pass.

Getting Ready for the GRE

The key to success is to allow yourself plenty of time to study for the GRE. This isn't something you can cram for a few days out. Experts say you should begin studying 60 to 90 days before the exam is scheduled. Start by taking a diagnostic test. These exams, which are very similar to the actual GRE, will allow you to measure your verbal and quantitative skills and give you a good idea of what your strengths and weaknesses are. ETS, the company that created the GRE, offers ​free review tests on its website. 

Create a Study Plan

Use your diagnostic test results to craft a study plan that focuses on the areas where you need the most improvement. Create a weekly schedule for review. A good baseline is to study four days a week, 90 minutes a day. Divide your study time into three 30-minute chunks, each that addresses a different topic, and be sure to take breaks in between each session. Kaplan, a company dedicated to helping students review for tests like the GRE, offers detailed sample study schedules on its website. Retake the diagnostic test after four, six, and eight weeks of review to measure your progress.

Hit the Books and Tap the Apps

There is no shortage of reference books available to help you study for the GRE vocabulary test. Kaplan's "GRE Prep Plus" and "GRE Prep" by Magoosh are two highly rated prep books available. You'll find sample tests, practice questions and answers, and extensive vocabulary lists. There are also a number of GRE study apps available, too. Some of the best include GRE+ from Arcadia and Magoosh GRE Prep.

Use Vocabulary Flashcards

Another reason why you want to begin studying 60 to 90 days before taking the GRE is that there's a lot of information you'll need to memorize. A good place to begin is with a list of the top GRE vocabulary words that appear most often on the test. Both Grockit and Kaplan offer free vocabulary lists. Flashcards can be another useful tool.

If you find yourself struggling to memorize a long list of words, try memorizing word groups, a small list of words (10 or so) arranged by theme into subcategories. Instead of memorizing words like acclaim, accolade and venerate in isolation, you'd remember that they all fall under the theme of "praise," and suddenly, they're easier to remember. 

Some people find it useful to organize vocabulary words according to their Greek or Latin roots. Learning one root means learning 5-10 words or more in one shot. For example, if you can remember that the root "ambul" means "to go", then you also know that words like amble, ambulatory, perambulator, and somnambulist have something to do with going somewhere.

Other Study Tips

Studying for the GRE vocabulary test is hard enough by yourself. Reach out to friends who are taking the GRE or have taken it in the past and ask them if they'll spend time helping you review. Start by having them give you vocabulary words to define, then change it up by having them give you definitions and responding with the correct word.

Vocabulary games can also be a novel way to review. Most GRE study apps incorporate games into their study plans, and you can find them online at sites such as Quizlet, FreeRice, and Cram. Are you still finding yourself getting stuck on certain vocabulary words? Try creating picture pages for the words that keep eluding you. Remember, studying for the GRE vocabulary test takes time. Be patient with yourself, take frequent study breaks, and reach out to friends for help if and when you need it.