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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Tough GRE Words

A good way to test the fitness of your vocabulary is to define a word without context clues. It helps, of course, if those words are relatively difficult, to give you a sense of just how “fit” your vocabulary really is. As a GRE student, you’ll be facing some very tough words. So instead of providing the quotidian GRE words (quotidian being one), I have chosen six difficult words.

Before diving into the descriptions, take a moment to see if you can accurately define the words just be looking at them. If you can define four out of the six, you have a very strong vocabulary. Two out of the six and you are doing pretty well, and probably know most of the quotidian GRE words. If you can’t define any, don’t despair. You’re here to learn, and the words below are most likely to come up on the very difficult GRE verbal section, which you’ll get only if you are scoring at the high-150’s +.


Somewhere between the ominous tyranny implied by “brainwash” and the virtue peddling of “instill” sits inculcate, which means to teach an idea of attitude through frequent repetition. At Magoosh, I endeavor to inculcate students with sound testing strategies, repeating many of the same techniques throughout my blog posts. If you have been brought up in a religious household or milieu, then you’ve likely had the tenets of that religion inculcated in you. Likewise, you’ve probably been inculcated, at some in your life, with values you hold dear—someone once repeated them to you constantly so that they sunk in so much as to seem an inextricable part of your psyche.


Evince is a formal way of saying to display or reveal. For instance, if I use the word “evince” when I write, I’m evincing that I’m a serious writer writing about a serious topic. That doesn’t mean I can’t evince humor in my writing or, for that matter, any quality. I’m probably just writing for the New York Times, or some other rag that courts high style. Of course “evince” doesn’t have to relate to writing. Through your body language you can evince any number of attitudes. Sweaty palms? You’re evincing nervousness.


At this level, there are quite a few words that really aren’t used to often because they can be expressed far more simply—and in the case of “desideratum”—far less pretentiously (try slipping in “desideratum” into conversation without raising a few brows). Desideratum means something that is desired. The desideratum of graduate school is to equip graduates with the skills necessary to excel in their chosen field. The desideratum of GRE prep is quite simple: a higher score (though learning new words along the way doesn’t hurt).

Dropping the plural form, “desiderata”, into polite combination, might make you come across as even more foolish, an outcome that is rarely the desideratum of social interactions.


A lot of people struggle to remember this word, because they keep thinking that it means “doctrine”. That association, however, shouldn’t actually hurt you. Indeed, knowing that “doctrinaire” means very inflexible in one’s thoughts, and pushing one’s idea on others makes sense: you are ramming your doctrine down other people’s throats.


Another word you probably don’t want to drop into conversation, unless you are surrounded by a bevy of intellectuals, “simulacrum” describes something that represents or is an image of another thing. For instance, a simulacrum of a soccer ball rests atop the World Cup trophy (yes, I’m still in the throes of World Cup fever). The word can also carry a connotation of a shoddy or sham substitute. To a true soccer player, Foosball is a simulacrum of the Beautiful Game (a nickname given to soccer). Though for somebody who doesn’t want to get roughed up on the pitch, Foosball is a perfectly acceptable substitute.


A word that likely to leave you bewildered, “nonplussed” doesn’t mean what many people think it does: to feel in control and not flustered. This is a colloquial definition that, according to my dictionary, has crept into certain regions of America. This definition is flat out wrong. “Nonplussed” means to feel bewildered and flustered. So if you disabuse a person who has been using “nonplussed” incorrectly, he or she is likely to feel nonplussed (the correct definition).


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.

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