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What Vocabulary List Should I Use?

This is a question I get all the time. People want me to give them a straightforward answer like The Super List of All the Words You Will See on the GRE List. Unfortunately, no such list exists. When I hem and haw people offer up some of their own ideas: What about the Barron’s 3500 list? While studying the Barron’s 3500 list probably won’t hurt your score, it will probably not be the most effective use of your time. Indeed, just about any list—and by list I mean that stagnant, unchanging, often alphabetized list of vaguely defined words—will not be the most effective way to go about prepping for the GRE.

Our brains like novelty. And a list is probably one of the best ways to deprive a brain of novelty, and induce sleep. The words never change places and your brain begins to remember words based on where they appear. “Abstemious” doesn’t become a word that you can whip out on the fly, but that weird looking word that is next to acrimonious. As long as you see the familiar acrimonious, you correctly cough up the definition for abstemious. Were you to encounter abstemious in a different context, your brain would not even realize it was that very word that was next to acrimonious (and were you to encounter acrimonious in a random text you probably would not even recognize it either).

Flashcards correct for this unfortunate effect by keeping your brain constantly alert. After all, you never know what word is coming up next. Your brain really takes in the contours of the word, each letter of the word and the sound of the word (did you notice, by the way, that abstemious has all five vowels in order, the only word to be able to claim such a distinction besides facetious?).

So to answer the question above: I don’t recommend any lists—I recommend flashcards. But I don’t recommend just any flashcards. After all, vague definitions aren’t going to help you much on the GRE. You have to understand how a word is used in context. Example sentences are the lifeblood of your vocab prep. Luckily, Magoosh is there. Our 1,000 GRE vocabulary flashcards replete with clear (and sometimes colorful) example sentences will ensure that you are getting a sense of the way a word works in context. Of course, you should always follow up using the excellent, which have example sentences taken from some of the best online writing (New York Times and the gang, basically).

Of course this blog isn’t just a plug for Magoosh. Manhattan GRE has excellent flashcards as well. There 1,000 words aren’t exactly the same as ours—though there is some overlap. They also have great example sentences and mention related words. So the best list to use? A deck of good flashcards.
Bonus: Check out this video for the top 3 GRE vocabulary study tips:


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.

30 Responses to What Vocabulary List Should I Use?

  1. Morteza Pishnamazi September 29, 2016 at 7:55 am #

    Seeing that the question “Whether advanced words are necessary or not?” has been repeated a few times on the comments section, I decided to share my experience regarding GRE vocabulary.

    First of all, just follow every single advice that people at Magoosh offer, they are the best!

    Reading vocabs for GRE can get ugly, there is no limits on the extend of words covered in the test and no matter how much you study there will be odd words at the exam. This fact by itself justifies that the test is no about vocabulary itself so there is no point in aiming for perfection, vocab wise.

    I started studying vocabs by using magoosh’s wonderful app. I covered the common and basics sections, but did not dare to start the advanced section. Seeing that there might be gaps in my intermediate level vocabulary skills, I covered Maggosh’s TOFEL Vocab flash cards and also Barron’s essential words fotlr the TOFEL. Still feeling that the words are slipping out of my mind, I reviewed the common and basic GRE words, again not daring to take on advanced words. I started workimg on 333 essential GRE words on and I started to see some overlap with Magoosh material. This was a great source of reassurance. Then I moved to Barron’s 1100, it was a big pill to swallow and quite frankly I could not master all the words. What I did? I just focused on overlappimg material. You might have gotten the sense that OVERLAP is the keyword here. What served me best was to study the same words under different sources. Magoosh’s descriptions and example are inevitably the best, however studying the same words in other sources will emphasize the nuamces in meaning and use.
    When I got to the last 5 days to the exam, I still found it more beneficial to review rather than starting new advanced words. So the final decison, I DID NOT STUDY MAGOOSH’S ADVANCED WORDS AT ALL. This was a tough decision since Magoosh app has served me well. But the outcome was totally satisfactory.
    I earned 168 in verbals on the real test. Yes, there were words that I didn’t know the meaning of but I believed I managed to deal with them based on context and analytical skills.

    My final advice is to pick up a reasonable amount of vocabulary and try to really work them through, learning them by heart and use them in your everyday life and do not fret over whether you know ALL GRE WORD LISTS out there.

    Thank you Magoosh for your invaluable materials
    Keep on the good job.

  2. chandu June 20, 2016 at 1:41 am #

    Hi chris,
    I have learnt basic and common words from magoosh flashcards.Is it necessary to learn advanced words also???

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 20, 2016 at 10:03 am #

      Hi Chandu,

      Thanks for writing Magoosh! I’m happy to help 🙂

      This is a good question but one that’s tough to answer! Remember that the GRE is not a vocabulary test, so there’s no set number of word you should memorize for the GRE. It really all depends on you. Whether or not your current vocabulary level is enough depends entirely on your starting vocabulary—the GRE can include many, many other words than what is in our list (or any list) of GRE vocabulary, which is why reading extensively is VERY important no matter what level your vocabulary is at. 🙂

      Again, try not to think of the GRE as a simple vocabulary test. In part, the GRE tests English vocab in general, not just “GRE words,” and even then, there’s more involved! Throughout the verbal section, you’ll face twisted, complicated sentences, often even filled with really easy vocabulary. You need to be able to decipher these. My recommendation is to finish the flashcards and worry more about getting as much reading practice in as possible between now and your test day.

      I hope this helps! 🙂

  3. Sanvika April 22, 2016 at 8:28 am #

    Hi Chris,
    I have just 5 days left for my GRE and.. Im done with basic and common words of GRE magoosh flash cards.. Advanced words are bit hard to digest..shall I try reading all advanced words or just revise all common and basic flash cards? Are basic and common enough to score 150+ in verbal?
    Please reply I have very less time!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 22, 2016 at 11:30 am #

      Hi Sanvika,

      Congratulations on making it to the last 5 days! 🙂

      It is going to be hard to learn anything new and apply it on the test day, so you should focus on revising what you’ve already been learning. It is definitely possible with the words you know and some good verbal strategy that you can get a 150+ score in verbal. It will be equally about problem solving during the verbal section as it will be about knowing words.

      Everyone here at Magoosh wishes you luck, Sanvika! 🙂

      • Sanvika April 22, 2016 at 11:35 am #

        Thank you.. Thanks a lot!

  4. Hammam September 18, 2015 at 3:41 am #

    thanks a lot for your advice,
    i’m doing the GRE after 4 months, i’m pretty excellent in quantitative section, but weak in vocabulary,
    i downloaded the GRE magoosh application and i started to read articles daily for 1 hour,
    will this work out with me to get a good score in vocabulary section ?

  5. Upasana July 30, 2015 at 2:23 am #


    I have two Magoosh apps in my mobile – flashcards app and vocabulary builder app. But i have followed vocabulary builder app for learning new words for my gre exam. I found this app more interesting as it feels like a game. But recently i started the flashcard app and there are so many new words. I have only 10 days to prepare before my exam. So which app should i follow?

  6. stuti sareen July 1, 2015 at 6:46 am #

    I have about two months to the test and have done only 300 words from barrons ( by making my own flashcards , not the list ) which i am confident about . But I don’t think I will be able to perfect 3500 words .

    Mangoosh has two sets of flashcards on amazon – essential words and advanced words each consisting of 500 words . Which one should I start with first ?

    I would be grateful for your guidance

  7. Hamsika April 1, 2015 at 9:07 pm #

    Hi Chris

    I was pondering over which list of words I should study for the GRE for a long time, and finally decided to read the Magoosh Word list, Barron’s 800 essential words for the GRE and substantiate it by working with “Word Power made easy” by Norman Lewis.

    Do you think this would suffice or would you suggest something else?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 3, 2015 at 3:41 pm #

      Hi Hamsika,

      I think that should suffice! If you encounter words you don’t know as you prep, you should make flashcards using But as far as word lists go, those resources should be enough.

      Good luck 🙂

  8. bhavya October 3, 2014 at 4:36 am #


    So I have learnt the 6 decks of flashcards of COMMOM WORDS with 50 words each (so approx 300 words) from Magoosh.
    I still have time for my test.

    My question is: Are these enough? (I ask this because my memory is horrible and learning new vocab for me is a huge task)

    Ofcourse I understand that it is a very vague question and the more words one does the better he can perform.

    But I am still going ahead with this and asking:

    Will these 300 suffice to get a score around 155 in verbal ? (considering I have done the other parts which need to be done for the verbal thoroughly)

  9. Shalini September 30, 2014 at 11:56 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I have been using the Magoosh Flash Cards application and the Magoosh Vocabulary Builder for the past month. It has helped me quite a lot, although there are still a few words that I am not too confident of specially ones which have a subtle secondary meaning.

    Here are my questions for you:
    1. Should revising the Magoosh Flash Cards (Common words, Basic words and Advanced) be good enough at the moment? (I have ten days left to appear for my test!!!)
    2. Are these flashcards updated as per the 2014 version?

    3. I initially studied the Barron’s text book (they have more than 4000 words!), is learning 1000 words (Magoosh flashcards) good enough for the test? It’s extremely difficult to remember almost everything from Barron’s!


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 2, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

      Hi Shalani,

      Good questions!

      Reviewing the Magoosh words should be helpful, making sure to supplement any words (the more context the better!) with Just go to the homepage and look up whatever you need more insight into.

      The flashcards are definitely relevant for the 2014 GRE 🙂

      Barron’s book is overwhelming and you don’t need to remember all of those words. The definitions are also somewhat vague so you’re not really getting context. Honestly, a lot of the vocab section test day will come down to you being able to differentiate between common words, determining which one correctly goes in the blank.

      Hope that helps 🙂

  10. opeyemi June 6, 2014 at 3:14 am #

    I can’t seem to find the MGRE 1000 words flash cards. I only found the 500 advanced words. Apart from MGRE, what are other flash cards you would highly recommend for studying.

    Thank you.

  11. Apurva November 9, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    This is so true! I remember where words are located on my Barrons book but dont always remember the meaning. So now I am making a list of all difficult words I encounter while practicing Magoosh’s Verbal questions (which by the way are helping me to a great extent). Im using Quizlet for this.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele November 12, 2013 at 10:39 am #

      Great! Quizlet is definitely a lifesaver :).

  12. shahram October 22, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    I have been studying 1000 words flashcard for weeks.

    within the example sentences there are several words that are new for me.

    as I am studying more, the number of that new words are increasing and I am ambivalent about whether study them or just focus on the main words.

    are those words inside the example sentences also important for GRE and Do you suggest studying them?

    isn’t it better to skip studying that words within the sentences and finish the main 1000 words then start studying other lists that has been made straight to GRE. ?.

    thank you

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 24, 2013 at 11:52 am #

      Hi Shahram,

      Actually, it is a good idea to study the words in the sentences themselves. They might not be as high-frequency words as the 1,000 words but you should make sure to learn them too :). Since you are already encountering these words, your brain will be more likely to learn them, since they are already embedded in context the way the 1,000 words are.

      You can use to make extra flashcards. I’m guessing you may only have about 100 to 150 extra words, but these words are invaluable too.

      Good luck!

  13. Rana October 19, 2013 at 6:17 am #

    English is my second language so it is very difficult for me to remember 1000 words and
    I have only 60 days to prepare (for verbal+ quant)
    My previous score 149 math
    141 verbal and 2.5 writing
    Any advise

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 21, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

      Hi Rana,

      You don’t necessarily have to learn 1000 words. Learning 500 words can also help you a lot test day. Make sure to do plenty of practice exercises and to learn your vocabulary using flashcards that provide helpful example sentences (like Magoosh’s :)).

      Good luck!

  14. Nick M October 14, 2013 at 8:12 am #


    I’ve been using the Magoosh 1000 flashcard app and it has been an amazing learning tool. 50 words learned at a time, really quickly.

    I was curious where the 1000 words come from. Are there any that are more likely to be on the exam?


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 14, 2013 at 11:24 am #

      Hi Nick,

      I’m happy things are going well with the app!

      The words are gathered from GRE tests that ETS has been using for awhile–including the old GRE. They are also words that show up a lot in academic contexts. In terms of high frequency, a good place to find those words are on this blog. I’ve written a few high-frequency GRE vocab posts over the years.

      Hope that helps!

  15. Anish October 13, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    Thanks Chris for letting us know of the Magoosh Flashcards. It is quite helpful to know quite a number of advanced words.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 14, 2013 at 11:21 am #

      You are welcome 🙂

  16. Gayathri October 11, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

    I still have a question 🙂 If I follow magoosh flash cards for vocabulary would I still need to learn the words from Manhattan ? Please help.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 14, 2013 at 11:21 am #

      Hi Gayathri,

      It wouldn’t hurt if you learnt the words from Manhattan as well. The more words you learn before the test, the more words you are likely to know on the test.

      With Magoosh’s flashcards, you should still be in pretty good shape :).

  17. Kshitiz October 7, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

    Thank you!
    This answers my question.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 14, 2013 at 10:59 am #

      You’re welcome!

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