Top 4 habits of students who ace the GRE Verbal section

GRE Verbal section

Vocabulary is scary. I get that. But the best thing about vocabulary is that once you have even half of it figured out, you already have an edge over other 90% of the people appearing for GRE.

Most of you have a lot of things going on such as exams, projects, internships, and are unable to find time to prepare. Let’s try to understand how to tackle the Vocab problem.

The first question: what level of words should you know?

GRE will not ask you a direct question about what the word means. They will expect you to understand the meaning of word in context. Let me give you a sample:

“GRE is intimidating. I get it. Reading a GRE passage can be a daunting task: comprehending the meaning of a text becomes arduous due to complicated structures and sifting through it is no less a herculean task. The labyrinths of thought and words take the reader in, lead them and mislead them. As if the reader wasn’t confused enough, the answer choices are close and duel for the examinee’s attention.”

GRE Verbal section

Well, if the above scared you, don’t be. The above paragraph means: reading passages are scary and the answer choices are confusing.

With the following tips, you will be able to develop the skill to improve your GRE score without putting in much effort. Some, I insist, some effort will still be required. Taking action on the following will give you a head start on cracking the GRE.

1. Pay attention to words.Period.

The single biggest habit that stops us from learning new words is this: while we are reading an article, and we come across a difficult word, we try to understand the meaning of the word by context and not by what the word is trying to say. While I do agree that words can be understood by meaning, all words can’t be understood and this is where we need to take action.

GRE has changed and though it explicitly does not require you to tell them the meanings of the words, it does expect you to understand the meanings of the words in context.

The problem with context is that most of us don’t like looking for word meanings. While reading, even the most voracious readers skip the words that they don’t know the meanings of. That way, whatever meaning we have in our head gets attributed to the words on the page/screen and this creates a problem in the actual GRE.

So, when we see the same word in another context, we still don’t know the meaning and our ignorance of word meanings leads to an ambiguity in our understanding what is being said.

Action required: Don’t assume that understanding a word in context is enough.

So, how to pay attention to words? Let’s find out.

2. Make a vocabulary notebook

Buy the most beautiful notebook you can afford, and start by writing the words you come across anywhere – movie name, newspaper name, the meanings of which you don’t know. Later on, look for their meanings. You may also do the same on note taking apps. My favorite is Evernote.

Revise the words once in a while.

Let me give you some examples:

  • Inception: Inception means birth.
  • Titanic: Titanic means huge.

How will this help, do you ask?

This will help because since you are writing down the words, the likelihood of you remembering them will be higher. Depending on your current vocabulary levels, this simple activity will improve your GRE score drastically.

Action required: Write down words in a Vocabulary notebook.

3. Learn words by synonyms.

When we start learning words, the sheer number of words is scary. Fact is, it isn’t that difficult. Start learning words by similar meanings and the pace of learning will increase drastically.

Let me give you a few examples:

  • Difficult: Arduous, abstruse and laborious are all synonyms of difficult.
  • Calm (verb): Pacify, ameliorate, mitigate, alleviate, and propitiate are all synonyms of calm.
  • Evil: Sinister, nefarious, amoral, malignant, and abominable are all synonyms of evil.

GRE Verbal section Answer

Since I know what evil is, and that I have connected it to nefarious, I now know the meaning of nefarious as well.

Action Required: Connect new words to words you already know.

4. Learn words by context

So, now you are at the third stage: you have started paying attention to words, have made a vocabulary notebook, and are seeing synonyms of common words all around. What next?

Start learning words in context. When you get stuck and are unable to learn a word, put it in context. Use words to describe things/people/ideas around you.

GRE Verbal section Answer

For example,

  • An acrimonious uncle (means bitter-tempered):You have an uncle who is acrimonious about a property dispute.
  • Acerbic tone (means harsh in tone or speech): His tone while talking to others is acerbic.
  • Malicious intent (means bad intention): Whatever he does, his intention is always malicious.

Now that I have described an uncle who is always in a bad mood, I can co-relate 3 words with him that I was unable to remember previously.

Action required: Connect new words to things/people/ideas around you.  

These are the 4 habits of students who get GRE Verbal scores higher than 157/180. GRE Vocab preparation is possible, in fact it is better this way, with everything else going on in your daily routine. Just that you need to pay attention and work on you vocabulary.