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New GRE Vocabulary Lists

Update 3/4/2013: Interested in  the trends for this year? Read GRE vocabulary for 2013! Also don’t forget to check out our free GRE flashcards!

Or, for a full list of the most popular vocabulary words, check out our GRE Vocabulary eBook.

Today I’m going to answer the question, “What’s the best way to use a vocabulary word list for the revised GRE?”. Wait a second, you’re probably thinking. Don’t you just read the list? Actually, reading through a vocabulary list is the last thing you want to do. In fact, I tell this to my GRE students with a menacing, authoritarian tone, because I know how easy it is to fall into the temptation of going up and down a list, covering the definition with your hand, and then coughing up the definition. Again (my brow is knitted)- do not do this.

So, what does this injunction mean then? Burn your vocab lists? Use telepathy, or worse pay $200 dollars for that vocabulary software that promises instant recall after one listen? Actually, no. A vocab list can be useful, if used wisely.

To illustrate let’s take two of my former students (I’ll obviously change the names). One was a vocab juggernaut, the other struggled and struggled…and then finally got it. Why? Because he changed the way he learned vocabulary.


Timmy’s GRE Vocabulary Lists

“I’m bad at learning words.” This was Timmy’s common refrain. I would talk to him about the power of mnemonics and word grouping. He would look hopeful for a moment but then horrifically bomb the following vocab test. “I’m bad at learning words” inevitably following each 2/25 score. (The class had to study 25 words a day and the daily quizzes were cumulative).

I pulled Timmy aside after a week of his abysmal performance and asked him the simple question, “How are you studying vocabulary?” He shrugged his shoulders and gave the not very helpful response, “I just kind of study.” I prodded him further, “Well, I read the list and cover it up.” He went on to tell me he usually did this about fifteen minutes before class. “It works at school. I usually pass.”

But Chris’s boot camp wasn’t school – it was a grueling vocab experience that required students to retain thousands of words for when they take the actual exam – not for when they take an in-class quiz. So, I worked with Timmy to help him become more like Shirley.


Shirley’s GRE Vocabulary Lists

Shirley aced every quiz, and could spout out a trio of synonyms for almost any word, sometimes throwing in a clever mnemonic. We probably all had a Shirley in our classes and assumed she (or he) is naturally gifted. While that may be the case, more often than not it is the method, not the person.

Shirley would review words shortly after class. She said she would usually learn about five words at a time, consulting the list only so she could remember those words. Then, she would go about her day, intermittently, thinking back to those five words. Sometimes, she would totally draw a blank on a definition and would have to go back to list, “Oh yes, of course, desultory means rambling.”

In this fashion she would work through the 25 daily words, moving on to another five words every few hours. When possible she would try to use these words to describe something in her everyday life. Basically, the words were always floating around in her head. Just as importantly, she would make sure to revisit the first half of the list throughout the day instead of simply trying to reach the 25th word.

Unlike Timmy, she didn’t hover over the list, covering up the definition. Timmy’s method never allowed him to turn a short-term memory into a long-term memory, much the way we can memorize a phone number only long enough to call that number. As soon as we’ve done so the memory vanishes.

Finally, Shirley would turn to flashcards when she had to study for the 1,000-word vocabulary final (I told you my bootcamp was grueling). Because the words were already in her long-term memory the flashcards helped her maintain those neural connections. She wasn’t using the flashcards for the initial step of taking a short-term memory and changing it into a long-term memory. She worked with a few words at a time getting them into long-term memory before moving on to new words.

Remember that the revised GRE, is a test that requires a cumulative knowledge, not a crammer’s last-minute effort.


Timmy’s Triumph

For Timmy it wasn’t easy going at first. He wanted to revert back to his old method, but through hard work, on both our parts, he soon became more like Shirley. By the end of the bootcamp he was scoring close to 25 out of 25.

So next time you are tempted to cover up a list, remember Timmy (and my menacing brow).



Learning words from a vocabulary list by covering up the answer turns off your brain.

To move words from short-term memory to long-term memory bite off a little at a time, and do your learning away from the list. Meaning, think back on the words and definitions. Then if you forget them, consult the list. We have a lot of lists here on the blog, ranging from basic to advanced to themed lists, so learn from Timmy’s mistakes and apply Shirley’s method from the start!

By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

14 Responses to New GRE Vocabulary Lists

  1. Nir Amar August 25, 2016 at 12:42 am #

    Hello Magoosh,

    Your App is awesome!

    Can I have the list of all words that we are having in ‘Magoosh Flash Cards’ app? It would be easy if I can separate out the words that I feel most confusing from each deck rather than clicking again and again “I knew this word” for the words which I already mastered. It is difficult to find those confusing words alone. In fact, an option in the app would be appreciated if it allows us to put some most annoying words within the deck to place in special chamber or box so as to go through it again in times when we want to revise those difficult words.


    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 26, 2016 at 5:47 pm #

      We don’t have a book that lists absolutely all of our vocabulary flashcard words, but we do have a “best of” GRE flashcard ebook that organizes many of the flashcard words by theme, by frequency, by form, and by letter of the alphabet.

  2. Sumon July 3, 2016 at 12:51 am #

    Hi, I am Sumon from Bangladesh. I took decision of sitting in the GRE. So I started to prepare my self from today. Please help me in vocabulary. I hope I can do this. Please.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 5, 2016 at 9:38 am #

      Hi Sumon! Congrats on deciding to take the GRE! That’s great 😀

      Firstly, to really improve your vocabulary, it’s key to read as MUCH as possible. This will improve your knowledge of vocabulary in context as well as your comprehension. As you read, make flashcards of the vocabulary words that you don’t know, which you can study along with Magoosh’s GRE Vocab Flashcards. And make sure that you stop every so often to recap what you’ve read. For some specific GRE-level articles, I’d recommend browsing through our “GRE Article of the Month” series. And check out this post for fiction and non-fiction book recommendations!

      From Magoosh’s vocabulary resources, I’d suggest that you take a look at our vocabulary flashcards, which I mentioned above, and our vocabulary eBook! Together with that high-level reading practice, they are fantastic tools for bringing up your verbal score 🙂

      I hope this helps 🙂 Happy studying!

  3. Shaleen Sarda August 10, 2015 at 7:37 pm #

    I have just started my preparation for GRE and i am having problem in remembering the words. What should I do and do you also have tips on how to crack RC’s?

  4. Carlos January 2, 2014 at 6:29 pm #


    I am a premium user of Magoosh. I am doing fine on the quant section but I seem to be having some difficulty with the verbal section. The reason for this is because of a lack of vocabulary and not because of sentence structure or analytical thinking. How can I improve my vocab? (I am taking my test in 2 week). Is there other ways other than Magoosh’s 1,000+ FCs?

  5. Rishi August 26, 2013 at 3:24 am #

    I shall be employing this technique from today. I hope this technique works. Thank You

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele August 26, 2013 at 11:49 am #

      You are welcome, Rishi :). Good luck!

  6. Aman March 23, 2012 at 12:08 am #

    Hi Quinn,
    These methods are really beneficial. I would like to discuss my experience; lately the wordlists frightened me a lot. It appeared very prosaic and dull. Then I shifted to Chris’ methodology, tricks, and styles; it has helped me a lot. I tend to remember more words. Moreover, I now enjoy getting familiar with the words.
    It may sound like a teleshopping ad But IT HAS CHANGED MY LIFE… :d

    Thanks Chris

    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 23, 2012 at 11:37 am #

      Thanks Aman for sharing your experience. I’m so happy that my method is working wonders. As you said, learning words in this way is just sooo much more exciting than learning from a list (and our brain awards us with long-term neural connections).

      So keep it up, and let me know whenever you have any vocab-related questions. Indeed insightful responses, such as yours, often inspires new blog posts :).

  7. Quinn January 9, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    Word list are ok with me as a study tool. Has anyone tough of making a list of all the words used in the answer choice from the ETS test prep book. I think it would be a great additional tool.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 9, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

      Hi Quinn,

      You say word lists are ok…they are ok, meaning mediocre. Have you tried using the methods above? From my years experience, I can guarantee that these methods are more effective than reading from a list.

      As for a definitive list from the ETS book, I do not think one is available. You could easily go through the book and pick out those words you do not know, entering them into quizlet as you go along. Indeed, someone on may already have done so.

      Good luck!

  8. Archana December 21, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    Well said!!! Read the list and cover it up would not work for the extensive vocabulary list.

    Can you please suggest some books from which I can read through the wordlist? The online system sometime does not seem to work for me. I am usually used to reading from books.

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