When learning GRE vocabulary, we need to arm ourselves with as many approaches as possible to stand a chance against the verbal section:
1. READING FOR VOCABULARY
Why is reading for vocab, compared to the memorizing flashcards, so effective?
In the cozy flashcard milieu, words come to us a lot easier. But, the GRE is far from cozy. When we see a word we’ve seen before, the context — the GRE testing room — is very different. Likewise, when we are reading, we don’t expect to see a given word. It is this element of surprise, this jolt of recognition, that makes reading such an effective vocabulary-learning tool.
2. ACTIVE WORD USAGE
Once you’ve exposed yourself to many new words through reading, you don’t want to just look at them and put them in a notebook for safe-keeping. A technique you can rely on is active usage – a highly effective way of embedding words into long-term memory. If you don’t make active usage part of your arsenal, you are selling yourself short.
The key to active usage is to be creative. So, if vocabulary words start randomly popping into your head, think of where you can use them. Indeed, the zanier the connections you make with words, the more likely you are to remember them (this zanier-is-better approach applies to the next part of the vocabulary arsenal as well).
Suppose there is a really pesky word that you just can’t get into your long-term memory, no matter how many times you see that word. Okay, perhaps you don’t have to suppose, as there are many words that fall into this category. But let’s pluck a word at random from the GRE vocabulary tree: lambaste.
Let’s say whenever you encounter this word, the first four letters, l-a-m-b, throw you off. You picture a docile creature bah-ing contentedly in a pen. When you see the definition — to reprimand harshly — it always surprises you.
Instead of trying to snuff out the image of a lamb, however, you should try using it to your advantage.
Imagine a boss, or anybody who has exerted some power over you in the past (a middle school gym teacher works perfectly). He or she calls you into their office (or lair) and is now berating you for something you did incorrectly. Now, I want you to imagine a large lamb’s head in place of this person’s head.
Or, if that doesn’t quite do the trick, imagine you are cooking. You’re not very adept in the kitchen, but you want to surprise your significant other with his/her favorite dish. Well, in the end, you end up ruining the lamb. Your significant other arrives and, witnessing your culinary debacle, gives you a good going over, “you don’t baste a lamb, you roast one.”
The process of coming up with a creative—and often offbeat—way of remembering a word is called a mnemonic. Above are two mnemonics that I thought of on the spot. What I’ve learned from coming up with mnemonics in front of a class is that the best mnemonics are our own mnemonics. Sure, a few students like my mnemonics, but others devise their own wacky ones up (or lean back slightly, looking at me as though I’ve gone a little mental).
As silly as my mnemonics may sound, the main takeaway is that a good mnemonic is the one that works for you. And by good, I mean it is memorable. Case in point, you may have already forgotten my lambaste mnemonics, because you didn’t think of them yourself. But, if you are struggling with a vocab word, a clever mnemonic will not only make the word easier to learn but will also — hopefully — make the word more fun to learn.
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