How to Improve Vocabulary for the CAT

How to Improve Vocabulary for the CAT

CAT vocabulary study is a tricky topic. On the one hand, English isn’t the native language of many students taking the test. Furthermore, some of the business-based vocabulary may be unfamiliar and full of jargon even for those who did learn English as a mother tongue. But on the other hand, memorizing lists and lists of words out of context is unlikely to help you while taking the official exam. So what can you do? How to improve vocabulary for the CAT? A few simple tips will set you in the right direction.

Vocabulary Lists Don’t Help…Much

As Mike so wisely points out in this post about GMAT vocabulary, studying enormous lists of complex words doesn’t help students much on that test. The same goes for the CAT. As he explains, learning basic economic and business vocabulary is essential, but you can do that reading publications like The Economist.

This has the added benefit of showing you the word in context, often in articles similar to the kinds of passages you’ll find in the CAT Verbal section. Because…

Reading Is Better than Memorizing

When you read a word in context and look up its meaning (or figure it out from the surrounding material), you’re more likely to remember it than if you’d just memorized a dictionary definition. Furthermore, you’re more likely to know how it’s used properly. A lot of words have similar meanings but different connotations in different contexts. Starting your reading early is key to this vocabulary strategy, but even as little as 15 minutes a day will help your performance on the exam. For more ideas on what to read, check out our GMAT experts’ suggestions.

Next Steps

Once you’ve read an article and identified the words you don’t know, and figured out or looked up their meanings, then you can go ahead and make flashcards. You’ll find that you remember the words a lot better. As a bonus, try putting the entire sentence on the flashcard, with the word in question circled or underlined. This will help you remember how it was used in context—which, as we’ve seen, is by far the most important thing.

But If You’re Dead Set on Memorizing Lists…

There are lots of GMAT word lists out there, and the terminology does reflect what’s on the CAT as well. For example, the Manhattan Review has a list of more than 100 pages of terms for the exam here.

What’s that? You checked it out, got overwhelmed, and now you’re back here? Most people will be. At the end of the day, memorizing words from a list is far more boring than learning them in context. And when things are boring, we’ll procrastinate, let our minds go blank, and waste time with inefficient practice. Do yourself a favor and work on improving your reading skills holistically—your brain will thank you for it.

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