Vocabulary has always been one of my strengths in both writing and orating. Not only do I read constantly just by virtue of being a literature major, but one of my concentrations in my undergraduate degree was the study and translation of ancient languages. The study of Latin and Old English as well as word etymology generally allows me to figure out the meaning of most English words in context. If I don’t know the meaning of a new word, I make an effort to look it up. I knew I was going to be rusty on the math, but my repeated failure on the vocabulary section of the practice tests baffled and frustrated me.
The reason I did not do as well on the vocabulary section as I had hoped was because the GRE likes to throw out “red-herrings” for people who know the roots of words. For example, if you know “pedantic” has some relation to teaching, but are not aware that this word has a negative connotation, this will hurt you more than help you. The GRE will purposefully tip you off that the correct word will have some relation to teaching, but pedantic will not be the correct answer because it is “the quality of being excessively concerned with minor details and with displaying academic learning” and context deems the word must be a positive quality. The GRE rendered my knowledge of word etymology practically useless.
Moreover, the GRE does not like to use words that you might be acquainted with from reading scholarship or literature, or else they will pick a definition of a more common word you might be less familiar with. The moral of my story is that unless you are a dictionary-memorizing word whiz, a working knowledge of vocabulary will not help you get top scores on the GRE.
Once I deigned to get out the flashcards and start memorizing, I saw immediate improvement on the vocabulary sections. In fact, more often than not I would get perfect scores on the vocabulary parts of the practice tests. Become acquainted with the way that works best for you to memorize. I’m a visual learner with a photographic memory, so I would write the words alongside their definitions in as close proximity as I can. Flashcards were useless to me because it is harder for me to link the words with their definitions in my mind since I couldn’t pair the words visually with their definitions. However, a lot of people find flashcards effective in memorizing mass amounts of words.
A daily routine of memorizing words is the easiest way to do well on the Verbal GRE. Don’t rest on your laurels and assume a good working vocabulary is enough to succeed on the GRE. Set down that Charles Dickens novel you’ve been reading to build your vocabulary and pick up the flashcards.