How Can I Improve GRE® Vocabulary?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2019
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The vocabulary section of the Graduate Records Examination® (GRE®) can be fairly intimidating for many testers, but there are some ways in which you can improve your GRE® vocabulary. In general, to improve your vocabulary you should try to read a great deal of different types of materials, including books, newspapers, and magazines. You should try to find material that is challenging for you, such as professional news outlets that are prestigious and written in a vernacular similar to what you might find on the GRE®. There are also a number of books and Internet websites that can help you improve your GRE® vocabulary through lists of words and practice questions.

GRE® vocabulary typically refers to the language and vocabulary section of the GRE®, as well as those words commonly found in this section. While a comprehensive list of these words and the associations between them cannot be provided, since the GRE® tests are kept secret to protect its validity, there are some ways in which you can improve your overall GRE® vocabulary. Many of these methods are ways in which you can improve your vocabulary in general, and you should begin working on these methods months, or even years, before you take the GRE®.


One of the best ways to learn new words and develop your GRE® vocabulary is to read a great deal of different materials. This means you should read both “deep” and “wide.” Deep reading usually indicates works that are difficult in nature and cover ideas and use language that can require more attention and work on your part to read effectively. You should be sure to keep a dictionary near you and look up words as needed to better understand this type of writing and develop a stronger vocabulary.

Wide reading, on the other hand, refers to reading a variety of different types of works on many different subjects. You should read magazines, newspapers, textbooks, and literature to help develop a stronger GRE® vocabulary. This can take a great deal of time, however, which is why it is often best to begin working on this during your first or second year in undergraduate school.

You can also build and enhance your GRE® vocabulary by studying lists of words specifically taken from previous GRE® exams or often seen on the GRE®. There are many books and websites that provide these word lists, and you can use these to study words and have a better sense of what to expect on the test. These resources commonly have practice tests as well, which you can use to improve your GRE® vocabulary and see how these words are often used on the actual test.


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Post 6

@Soulfox-- The other issue that others have not mentioned is that the words asked in the vocabulary section of the GRE can be very unique. They're not really words that one comes across on a daily basis. That's why those who are preparing for the test are advised to read different types of things so that they have a better grasp of uncommon or unpopular words.

Post 5

@Soulfox-- Like the other commentator said, not everyone studies English or some other area where reading is part of the curriculum. Not just English majors but History, Political Science, Philosophy and other social science will develop vocabulary automatically. But that's not so much the case with other majors.

So I think I agree that the testing standards of the GRE need to be updated and made more fair for students coming from different backgrounds.

It's also not realistic to expect students to start preparing for the GRE during their first year of undergraduate school since some students do not decide to pursue graduate school until their senior year.

Post 4

When I was preparing for the GRE, I found vocabulary word lists from GRE preparation sites and made flash cards. I cut the flash cards in half and put the word on the front and the meaning on the back. I would carry these around with me everywhere and study whenever I had a chance. It definitely helped

Post 3

@Soulfox -- some students might not have the chance to develop their vocabularies to the standards assumed by the designers of the GRE. We can assume that, say, English majors develop extensive vocabularies during their normal course of studies, but what of students who stick with sciences?

What seems unfair about the GRE is that some assumptions are made that may or may not be true. The major a student completes in undergrad should be taken into consideration and that clearly is not the case.

Post 2

OK. I'm confused. Shouldn't most students develop their vocabularies considerably while earning a bachelor's degree? If that is the case, then why emphasize developing vocabulary skills for the GRE?

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