Mastering English Vocabulary for GRE

Mastering English Vocabulary for GRE

The Verbal Reasoning section of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) tests your competence in the use of words in real life scenarios that would help you carry on in American and other predominantly English-speaking countries. Learning vocabulary and mastering it for GRE can appear to be a daunting task, making any aspirant anxious.

This is not as very intimidating as it is made to appear. You can make it a piece of cake if you are going to devise systematic study plans and follow them meticulously. Let us walk you through the strategies to help you become a word master before you sit for GRE.

Use vocab flashcards

Make a batch of your own flashcards including new words and common GRE vocabulary spanning all difficulty levels. Include corresponding example sentences from a standard online dictionary like the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary or Collins American Dictionary.

This will give you a clear idea of contextual meanings – how words are used in sentences. You may add at the back a note about the pronunciation. The advantage of flash cards is that you can put them on your bedside table, leave them on the dresser or toss them into your sling bag, ready to brush up on the vacab anytime.

Build a wordlist with definitions

A good GRE word list consists of 3000 – 6000 words. You need to master it with a thorough knowledge of structures and meanings of the words. You can make groups of words in different ways: alphabetical order, synonyms and antonyms, same prefix/suffix, same spelling but different meanings, same pronunciation but different spellings and meanings, etc. You may try to remember difficult words with associated pictures, experiences or abbreviations.


Homophones are words that sound the same way, but have different spellings and meanings. They are called homonyms sometimes.

Cannon (a large gun) – canon (a general rule)
Mantel (a shelf above a fireplace) – mantle (a sleeveless cloak)


Homographs are words that have the same spelling, but different meanings. They may or may not be pronounced the same way. They are called homonyms sometimes.

Desert (1): n. wasteland (Sahara desert)
Desert (2): v. to leave someone who counts on you

Wound (1): pt of wind
Wound (2): n. injury

Visualize words using image search

We know a picture is worth a thousand words. Use Google Image Search for words for associating them with images that will be etched in your memory forever. Consider printing the image and adding it to your flash card if you think it is going to be handy.

Discover word families

A word family is simple and effective as a tool to better your vocabulary skills. It is a group of words that share a common base – a root/headword; you add different prefixes and suffixes to the headword to form new words. They have a predictable pattern with a rhyming sound. They are also termed phonograms or 'chunks'.

Here are some examples of root words and their families:

Friend: friendly, friendship, friendly, unfriendly
Use: useful, useless, user, misuse, used, using
Auto (Greek root meaning 'self'): automobile, automatic, autobiography, automation
Port (Latin root meaning 'to carry'): porter, portable, transport

Learn synonyms and antonyms

Learning synonyms and antonyms is yet another means to honing your language skills. Synonyms are words that have the same or almost similar meaning. They help you use variety in speech or writing, breaking the monotony of repeating the same word. However, you need a 'feel' for the most appropriate synonym for a particular context, as others may not match the situation.

A few examples of synonyms:

Rich: wealthy, affluent, well to do, prosperous
Baffled: confused, deceived, puzzled, perplexed
Weak: infirm, feeble, fragile, frail

Antonyms are words that have opposite meanings; however, the oppositeness between the two may not be absolute.

A few examples of antonyms:

Arrive – Depart
Arrogant – Humble
Knowledge – Ignorance

Get a study buddy

Practice makes perfect! Building extensive word lists and memorizing them all by yourself will not help you greatly to work on your word skills. You have to put them to use regularly and consciously in day-to-day exchanges and in writing whenever possible.

Make friends and family a part of your study plan. Develop a word-a-day program; analyze new words with relevant definitions and appropriate use. Get social media networks to work meaningfully; exchange new words with like-minded test takers to make it a mutually beneficial association. Another great option is to get specialized and personalized assistance from a reputed online GRE tutoring portal.

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