What’s a GRE test-taker's best defense against a lineup of scary answer choices? A formidable vocabulary. Improving your vocabulary is one of the most important things you can do to maximize your GRE verbal score.

The GRE tests words that ETS (the creator of the GRE) believes the average college-educated adult should know. If you see a word you don’t know while prepping for the GRE or elsewhere, it’s probably a good GRE word. Develop a routine for learning new words, and you will grow your vocabulary in no time.

GRE vocabulary

1. Read, read, read.

Get in the habit of reading good books, magazines, and newspapers. Start paying attention to words you don’t know. You might be tempted just to skip them (as usual), but train yourself to notice them, write them down, and look them up.

2. Learn to love the dictionary.

Get used to looking up words. Don’t assume that the first definition is the only one you need to know! The GRE often tests secondary definitions, so scan through them all.

3. Come up with your own definitions.

Now that you’ve learned the dictionary’s definition of a new word, restate it in your own words. You’ll find it much easier to remember a word’s meaning if you make it your own.

4. Say words out loud.

This might feel strange at first, but it works! Saying a new word out loud will help you remember it.

5. Keep a GRE vocabulary list.

 Keep a list of new GRE vocabulary words on your phone or in a notebook. Writing something down also makes it easier to memorize. Jot down the words when you find it. Copy the sentence in which you originally found the word to remind yourself how the word looks in context.

6. Use GRE flashcards when you’re on the go.

Stick 5 or 6 flashcards in your pocket every morning and use them whenever you can. Stuck on a delayed subway train? Look at your flashcards. Standing in a long line at the coffee shop? Look at your flashcards. We make GRE flashcards easy with our Essential GRE Vocabulary, which contains 500 physical cards in the box, plus access to the full deck online.

7. Prioritize learning words that GRE tends to test.

When you come across new words on a GRE practice test, add them to your list. They have been used before on the GRE and they may very well be used again. You can find a list of some of the most frequently tested works on the GRE in our book GRE Premium Prep.

8. Visualizations help.

Use your imagination to create a mental image to fix a new word in your mind. The wilder the image, the better. For example, if you’re trying to remember the word voracious, which means having an insatiable appetite for an activity or pursuit, picture an incredibly hungry bear eating huge piles of food. The voracious bear will help you to recall the meaning of the word. 

9. Understand word roots.

Many words share similar origins. For example, benbene, and bon mean good or well (and are used in the words benefit, benefactor, and benediction). By learning these common roots, you’ll be better able to work with words you’ve never seen before. This will come in handy when you're trying to narrow down answer choices!

10. Use your new words every chance you get.

Developing a powerful vocabulary requires a lot of practice. Try casually dropping a GRE vocab word into your next conversation. Using a new word (in writing or conversation) as often as you can will help you retain it longer.

11. Don't forget GRE math vocabulary!

Quick—what’s an integer? Is 0 even or odd? How many even prime numbers are there? The GRE loves to test your knowledge of integers, fractions, decimals, and all those other concepts you probably learned years ago. You absolutely need to know this math “vocabulary," so you can understand what the question is asking. Get a preview with these GRE math practice questions.

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