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5 Quick Tips for GRE Vocabulary Questions

One aspect of the GRE that makes it different from other standardized graduate exams is that it places a heavy emphasis on testing vocabulary in its Verbal section. Because of this, many GRE test takers assume that they must treat this exam like they would a typical vocabulary exam that one might encounter in school - by spending a ton of time memorizing as many large words as possible through the use of flashcards, vocab quizzing, etc.

Trust us - there are more efficient ways that test takers can ready themselves for the vocab questions they are sure to encounter on the GRE. Let’s go over the types of GRE vocabulary questions you’ll see in the Verbal section, as well as 5 of our best tips for tackling these questions.


Types of vocab questions you’ll encounter on the GRE

The GRE Verbal section contains three types of questions - Reading Comprehension questions, Text Completion questions, and Sentence Equivalence questions - and you will need strong vocabulary skills to be able to tackle all three types. Let’s break down how each of these question types will test your vocab abilities:

Reading Comprehension Vocabulary Questions:
Like the name suggests, Reading Comprehension questions require you to read a given passage and answer questions pertaining to that passage. Unlike the other two Verbal question types, Reading Comprehension questions require you to read a passage first, and then answer questions about that passage after. While not all of these questions will directly pertain to vocabulary words (some will be about the theme of a passage, the tone of a writer, etc.), some of them will ask you to identify what a particular word means in the context of the passage.

Text Completion Vocabulary Questions:
Text Completion questions are a type of multiple choice question - with these, you are given a one- to five-sentence passage that has one to three blank spaces in it. You are asked to fill in the blanks with words, and will have three possible answer choices per blank space. There is no partial credit given for these questions, so if a particular question has three blanks in it and you get two out of the three blanks correct, you still get the whole question wrong. With text completion questions, you definitely need to have strong vocabulary skills, as many of the answer choices you are given will probably involve the use of vocabulary words.

Sentence Equivalence Vocabulary Questions:
Sentence Equivalence questions are similar to Text Completion questions. With these questions, you are given a single sentence that has one blank in it, and you are asked to choose two words (from six possible answer choices) that, when used to complete the sentence, fit the meaning of the sentence and create sentences that mean the same thing. Like with Text Completion questions, many of the answer choices will be vocabulary words.


Now that you know where you will encounter vocabulary questions on the GRE, let’s dive into the steps you should take when you encounter a vocabulary question on the GRE:

1) Prepare properly: When they hear that the GRE is a vocab-heavy exam, many GRE test takers immediately assume that the only way to prepare for this part of the exam is to make a giant stack of flashcards and memorize as many vocabulary words as possible. While, to an extent, this is a decent strategy (you really should have a large vocabulary going into this exam), it’s not the most useful and definitely not the only strategy you should be employing when preparing for this exam. The best way to prepare to answer these questions is to take a practice exam. Taking a practice exam will allow you to see the type of vocab words you will encounter on test day, so you don’t waste your time trying to memorize rare words that you won’t actually be tested on.

2) Consider the context: When you encounter a GRE vocabulary question, it is important to consider the context of the sentence that the word appears in. This is especially true on Sentence Equivalence and Text Completion questions. It’s not enough to simply know the definition of words, as words can change meaning depending on what context they are in. As such, make sure you truly understand the meaning of a sentence before you start choosing vocabulary words to be used in them.

3) Expand your vocabulary through reading: One of the best ways you can do well on GRE vocabulary questions is to be well-read. While the GRE used to be an exam that tested rare, obscure words, this is no longer the case - most of the words you will encounter are ones you might also encounter in newspapers, novels, and other reading materials. By keeping up with your reading, not only will you be learning new vocabulary words, but you will understand how they are used in context as well.

4) Skim the answer choices before you read the passage: One of the great things about the GRE exam is it allows you to read the answer choices to a Reading Comprehension question before you read the passage the question pertains to (not all tests do this). This will allow you more time to actually answer GRE vocabulary questions, as you will not be wasting time scanning the passage to find the words you are being asked about.

5) Note small differences between similar words: The GRE is notorious for including words in the answer choices of Verbal questions that have similar meanings. As such, it is crucial that you examine each answer choice and note any potential difference between them. These nuances may be the difference between quickly getting the answer correct, and losing valuable time or missing the question entirely.

If you still need help sharpening your vocabulary skills for the GRE, Veritas Prep is here to help. Our GRE courses cover many more strategies for tacking GRE vocabulary questions, or, if GRE vocabulary really is your biggest concern, you can work with a GRE private tutor to focus on this area of weakness and turn it into a strength.