With the old GRE learning the definition of a word would often help you, were you to see that word again in an antonym or analogy. Understandably, many prepped by learning as many words as possible, and hoping that the definition of a word would appear in their heads when they saw that word on the actual test.
The new GRE, while not necessarily making this strategy anachronistic, calls for a more nuanced and multi-pronged approach to learning vocabulary. To learn a word no longer means being able to rattle off a boxed definition. Learning the word means being able to understand how that word is used in a sentence. Better yet, if you can correctly use a word, then you should be comfortable identifying how that word functions in context.
You Do Not Know a Word, Unless You Know How to Use It
So you can definitely start with GRE flashcards, but which strategy should we employ, if looking at a flashcard is not sufficient? Well, we want to see how a word is used in context, and what better place then the Internet to provide examples? Of course, I would dissuade you from setting forth willy-nilly on the Internet hoping to fish GRE words out of the blue. A more focused strategy can be to use Google.
For instance, let’s try the word restive. It’s a word that comes up often on the GRE, and, in fact, is the answer to a Sentence Equivalence question in The Official Guide for the Revised GRE by ETS. Also, if you remember, it was referenced in an earlier post: Re: Does not Always Mean Again.
Entering restive into Google, I find several hits, most relating to the recent unrest in Syria.
“The Syrian Army stormed the restive city of Dara’a with tanks…” –NYTimes.com.
“Syrian military tightens grip in restive areas…” –npr.org.
Were I to continue down the hits, I would mostly reference major media publications. These media outlets adhere to a very high standard so you can be sure the word you are seeing is being used correctly. On the other hand, if you’ve never heard of a source—say it’s some random blog (not mine of course!), then I would not rely on it.
One way is to simply use NYTimes.com. For instance, I just entered the word equivocate, a very common GRE word, into the NYTimes.com. Uncannily enough, guess what the word of the day was a few months back? Yep, equivocate.
Serendipity shows us that another great way to see how a word is used in context is the New York Times’ Word of the Day. I’d also recommend dictionary.com.
Anyway, you can see that I am making a game out of using the Internet to find words. Basically, you are becoming a word detective, hunting down sources and seeing how those words are employed in context. What’s just as important is that you find a place to store all the words you look up so you can refer to them later. In fact, using flashcards in conjunction with on-line detective strategy can be effective.
Obviously, though, you do not only need to rely on the Internet. I highly recommend Princeton Review’s Word Smart series. In addition to giving easy to digest definitions, each word has a couple of example sentences that are usually light and fun.
Finally, I encourage you to write sentences yourself. Words are far more likely to stick in your long-term memory this way, and by becoming a word detective, you’ll be able to see how your usage of a word compares to that of a professional journalist.