Tag Archives: Verbal GRE

The GRE Verbal Vocabulary: Just Memorize It

memorize_wordsOne of my great frustrations with the Verbal GRE was that there is really no way to truly do well on the vocabulary section without buckling down and memorizing those words.

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.

How to Prepare for the General GRE

The best recommendation I can give for taking the GRE is to buy the Princeton Review’s study book and read their strategies as well as take as many practice tests as possible. I used both the Kaplan and the Princeton study books and felt the Princeton helped me more, but that may just be the way I learn. The GRE is a test that prays upon test “over thinkers.” The best thing you can do if this describes you is to prepare by taking practice tests. These will help you go into the test with more confidence and trust your instincts when in doubt.

Analytical Writing


– 30 minute “Analyze an Issue” essay
– 30 minute “Analyze an Argument” essay

– Scale of 1 to 6, in half-point increments
– 5.0 is in the 93rd percentile, while 4.5 drops to the 78th percentile

– Plan before you write, logical organization is everything
– Go with your gut answer to the question and don’t take time to contemplate the question too deeply
– Make sure your examples clearly illustrate your point, now is not the time to get too theoretical
– Consider a counter example that is easily dismantled and refute it
– These prompts are meant to be highly debatable, the “best” answer is the one that you can articulate clearly with supportive examples the fastest

Verbal Section

– Two 30-minute sections
– 20 questions per section
– Mean score of ~100,000 examinees: 3.61

– Types of questions:
reading comprehension – read a passage and answer the analytical questions
sentence equivalence – picking two words that both give the sentence the same meaning
text completion – fill in the blank with the word that makes contextual sense

– Scale up to 170
– 163 is in the 91st percentile
– Mean score of ~100,000 examinees: 150.75

– Memorize the definitions of as many GRE words as possible
– Don’t over think and convince yourself of an answer that is theoretically possible, but not “provable” based on context
– Take as many practice tests as you can

Quantitative Reasoning Section

– Two 30-minute sections
– 20 questions per section

– Types of questions:
Comparisons – pick whether one of two sums is greater, smaller, equivalent, or not enough info to tell
Problem solving – answer a standard math problem (i.e. solve an algebra problem for a variable)
Data interpretation – analyze the implications of a graphic, table, etc.

– Scale up to 170
– 165 is in the 91st percentile
– Mean score of ~100,000 examinees: 151.91

– Review common equations such as the area of a circle and geometric principles
– The multiple choice answers are purposefully given to trick you if you make a common mistake, so when make sure your answer makes sense in terms of the problem
– If a problem takes you more than 2 minutes, pick your gut answer and come back to it only if you have extra time