Over the years, I continue to see the same words pop up in practice exams and in test prep books, either those published by ETS or by other big-name companies. This phenomenon is not the result of writer’s block on the part of test writers. Many words on the GRE are words you typically encounter in an academic context and are helpful to know as part of your working vocabulary.
That, however, is not the whole truth. Many words show up with great frequency because they are confusing words. Wait a second…if a word is confusing, then why would it have a greater likelihood of showing up? Surely knowing confusing words has nothing to do with success in graduate school.
This last point is true—knowing confusing words will not help you excel in grad school or navigate complex social situations with aplomb. Confusing words simply make it easier for the test writers to write a difficult question.
Try the following antonym:
Hold On a Sec…
Everyone knows the common definition of perverse (yes, you can chuckle). But, there is a second definition that many do not know. As a result, you probably found yourself going back and forth between the answer choices, maybe choosing (A). Had you known that a second definition of the word perverse is stubborn, then discerning the answer becomes easier—(C) cooperative.
Oftentimes, confusing words are similar to the word perverse in that they have multiple definitions. These words are called homographs and show up often on the test.
Other times, a word is misleading because it reminds you of something else. Perhaps gratuitous reminds you of a restaurant bill. Maybe solicitous conjures up images of a stranger knocking at your door just as you’re finishing up breakfast (it means very eager to help…there is no peddling of unwanted wares).
Then there is infinitesimal, which means very, very small—not, as many are inclined to think, very, very large or infinite.
Finally, there is contentious. Guess what? It doesn’t mean to be content. On the contrary, contentious means argumentative (it comes from the verb contend). GRE loves this word. So don’t forget it (using it in context helps greatly).
Next time you find yourself poring over a long list of GRE words, take solace in knowing that not every word is weighed the same. The more confusing a word is, i.e. the definition is not what you expected, the more likely it is that it will probably show up on the test.