One of the biggest hurdles to overcome when mastering the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE is vocabulary. The GRE questions that require a strong knowledge of vocabulary words are what primarily separates it from exams such as the GMAT. The words tested are meant to reflect common words that would appear in a Graduate or MBA program.
Although many people are aware of the need to have a strong vocabulary in order to score in the top percentile on the GRE, there are some misconceptions regarding GRE vocabulary words that should be cleared up.
ETS, the creators and administers of the GRE, have never released an official list of GRE vocabulary words they filter through when writing the test. Therefore, every company that has created study material has utilized words that have appeared on past GRE exams. Some companies claim to have the best GRE flashcards because they include a “complete list” of vocabulary, but this is impossible. Beware of the lies.
This means that you can spend countless hours studying 1,000 vocabulary words and still see words on the test you might not know.
Many students feel if they simply memorize vocabulary words they are guaranteed a high score on the Verbal section of the GRE. This is not correct due to the need for critical reading skills.
ETS has constructed questions that do require knowledge of vocabulary; however, what they are truly testing you on is your reading comprehension abilities. If you read a sentence with omitted words or a full-length passage and do not understand the function/purpose of what you are reading, it is very unlikely knowing the vocabulary words will help you get the question right.
However, if you have good reading comprehension skills, you can likely maneuver through questions successfully even without knowing all of the vocab.
You should not be putting much time into memorizing vocabulary words that could appear on the GRE if you have poor reading comprehension skills. Building up your ability to read incomplete sentences or passages and determining the function, tone, purpose, arguments, etc., should be priority number one.
If you have already been working on your reading comprehension skills, then it is time for you to seek out the best GRE flashcards.
The great thing about flashcards is how easily you can take them on the go–they aren’t huge books you have to lug around. Whenever you have a spare moment, such as waiting in line at a coffee shop, you can whip out your flashcards.
Memorizing vocabulary words point-blank can be passive. You want to make sure you use the flashcards as a means to get an understanding of the word but then go out of your way to incorporate the word into your day. Try to use it in several text messages or in conversation. If need be, talk to yourself in the car using the word.
Kaplan uses very straight-forward example sentences and synonyms for the vocabulary words. This is wonderful because it can definitely help students master a word when they learn it in its simplest form.
With that said, the words on the GRE are usually not used in such a straightforward fashion. You will want to keep this in mind as you go through the flashcards. It would have been nice if Kaplan had created two example sentences with one that was a bit more advanced.
If you know vocabulary is not your strong-suit, Kaplan’s flashcards can get you going with learning the basic meaning of many words.
The flashcards are smaller and not very thick. I can see them getting crushed easily in a purse or backpack so take good care of them.
The Princeton Review flashcards are smaller and do not come hole punched (they are a bit flimsy like Kaplan’s). They are very straightforward with the most basic definition of the words and example sentences that are easy to understand. As mentioned, this is good if you struggle with learning unfamiliar words, but you want to keep in mind the GRE will construct much more complex sentences.
One very interesting element to purchasing The Princeton Review flashcards is the online resource you will also get. If you register your purchase on their website, you can then access the notecards online.
Barron created the best GRE flashcards not only for vocabulary, but GRE math as well. Barron’s flashcards are a bit larger and more sturdy than Kaplan’s. Also, they come hole-punched and with a key ring for easy travel.
Barron’s flashcards are interactive. For example, they provide students with a space on the notecard to write in their own context clue for the word they are learning. Also, synonyms are provided along with the antonym (a word that means the opposite). The GRE Text Completion sentences often have context clues that help students figure out if they are looking for a word similar to what they see in the sentence or opposite. Hence, providing opposite meaning words will get students in the habit of processing context clues.
The example sentence has the vocabulary word omitted, which reflects what you will see on test day. Similar to Kaplan, the sentences are much more straightforward than the actual GRE.
The Math facts flashcards provide students with an overview of words such as “integer” or “product.” I found that some of the math facts flashcards went straight to providing examples, which could leave students who struggle with math a bit lost. Some students need more of a definition before viewing examples. With that said, many of the cards pointed out common math traps that students fall into on the exam.
If you are starting from bare bones with math (for example, if you did not know what I was talking about when I said “integer”) I would definitely pair these notecards with Kaplan’s GRE Math prep book.
Kaplan also has math practice questions that come in the pack (question front of card, answer/explantation back of card). Obviously, you will need scratch paper to work many of them out–which can defeat the purpose of having flashcards to take on the go. Overall, I think the vocabulary cards are the most interactive I have seen. However, I would not recommend solely relying on the math flashcards in your prep.
Manhattan prep is the only company that I found that offers “essential” words in flashcard form and “advanced” words. If you are at a point of scoring in the top percentile on the GRE, or close to it, learning the advanced vocabulary words will be well worth your time.
Manhattan Prep’s flashcards are by far the sturdiest I have held. They are similar to Barron’s in that they are pre-hole punched and come with a key ring.
If a word can be used as a verb and a noun, the card will not only tell you but show both usages in the example sentence. Also, every word has a “more info” section where they tell you the origin of the words, its roots, etc. This is something I highly value that separated Manhattan’s notecards from others. Learning the origin or a fun fact about a word can definitely make or break your ability to retain an understanding for it.
Personally, memorizing vocabulary words, even with the best GRE flashcards, is one of my least favorite activities. All I can say is do your best to get creative with it! Perhaps find someone who also wants to expand their vocabulary and see if you can out-joust each other with using the word in a sentence.