GMAT Vocabulary: Words to the Wise

Do you need to study GMAT vocabulary?

The short answer:


Need I say more?

OK, I’ll say a little more, but that single word is really the take-away message.   It’s that other graduate admission test, GRE, that scours the most difficult words in the English language.  The web abounds with massive GRE vocab lists.   So, while you may find a few things labeled as “GMAT vocabulary lists” here and there, studying vocabulary is not particularly important for most would-be GMAT takers.  For the vast majority of GMAT takers, your time is much better spent elsewhere.


Business vocabulary

Think about it.  The GRE is a test that every novelist and poet and literary critic has to take —- those are people whose very point in life is to express difficult ideas in obscure ways!  The GMAT is for practical-minded business folks.   Business folks, as a group, are not known for their advanced vocabulary.  Business reports typically are not peppered with verbal acrobatics.  Yes, you have to know the vocabulary of business and economics —- if you have absolutely no idea about basic Economics 101 ideas, say, the Law of Supply and Demand, then you have some homework to do.  If a typical article from the Wall Street Journal is loaded with economic terms you don’t understand, take that as an indication that you should bone up a bit.  Then again, if you know absolutely nothing about business or economics, it begs the question —- why are you applying to business school in the first place?  I imagine knowing basic economic & business vocabulary will not be a problem for the vast majority of folks who have decided to take the GMAT.


Words in GMAT Verbal

Beyond a limited vocabulary of basic economic and business words, beyond the words you would regularly see in, say, the Economist Magazine, you don’t need to study vocabulary for the GMAT Verbal section.   The GMAT Verbal section is not about grilling your vocabulary with a host of difficult words.

The GMAT Verbal section is about the skills you will need in business.  In business you will need to distinguish valid vs. faulty arguments (after all, every sale is an argument!)  In business, you will need to express yourself with powerful, direct, grammatically correct language.    In business, you will need to read challenging material and extract the information you need to formulate your strategies.   In business, you will not need to know whether ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.  In business, you will not need to distinguish metonymy from synecdoche.  You will not need to know difficult words and obscure vocabulary.  If you love difficult vocab, take the GRE and go to academic grad school.  If you are headed for the GMAT and business school, then learn the crucial verbal skills you will need on Critical Reasoning, Sentence Correction, and Reading Comprehension, but don’t worry about vocabulary.



At Magoosh, we don’t have a “GMAT vocab list” because we don’t consider that an important focus for our students.  We do have, say, a “GMAT idiom list,” even an idiom ebook, available to users, but we don’t want our students spending a ton of time memorizing long list of difficult vocabulary words.   There are much more important things to do when you study for the GMAT!

Let us know below if you have experiences with words you felt were difficult on the GMAT, or any questions about the GMAT & vocabulary!


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  • Mike MᶜGarry

    Mike served as a GMAT Expert at Magoosh, helping create hundreds of lesson videos and practice questions to help guide GMAT students to success. He was also featured as "member of the month" for over two years at GMAT Club. Mike holds an A.B. in Physics (graduating magna cum laude) and an M.T.S. in Religions of the World, both from Harvard. Beyond standardized testing, Mike has over 20 years of both private and public high school teaching experience specializing in math and physics. In his free time, Mike likes smashing foosballs into orbit, and despite having no obvious cranial deficiency, he insists on rooting for the NY Mets. Learn more about the GMAT through Mike's Youtube video explanations and resources like What is a Good GMAT Score? and the GMAT Diagnostic Test.

8 Responses to GMAT Vocabulary: Words to the Wise

  1. Ivan January 23, 2014 at 11:08 pm #

    The GMAT does not really have anything to do with Business. The GMAT is just a standardized test , which shows if you are good at taking at the GMAT. Otherwise it has no abilty to predict on how well you are going to do in the business world. The verbal part has many unusual and difficult vocabulary to throw off the reader. The verbal part is similar to the one on the SAT and GRE. So I think it would be helpful to review the GRE vocabulary.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike January 24, 2014 at 11:56 am #

      Dear Ivan,
      My friend, I will respectfully disagree with you on a couple aspects of what you say. First of all, it is entirely true that the GMAT does not and could not predict performance in the business world, but it is a relatively good predictor of the ability to handle the academic aspects of business school. Just because it doesn’t predict business performance doesn’t mean is has nothing to do with business; indeed, if you consider the topics covered in word problems & IR & Verbal, business is far and away the biggest topic area. The RC on the GMAT is much more heavily slanted toward business pieces than are the RC sections on either the GRE or the SAT.
      The vocabulary on the GMAT is not all that different from the vocabulary in, say, the Wall Street Journal or the Economist magazine. For a non-native speaker, some of it would be hard, but for a well-educated native English speaker, there isn’t much that’s too out of the ordinary. The GRE tests much much harder vocabulary. I could easy give a list of 500+ words that one would have to know for the GRE and that would never appear on the GMAT. Studying medium-difficulty GRE vocab might be helpful, but if someone preparing for the GMAT tries to learn all the truly abstruse words on the GRE, that person is wildly overshooting. If you want to learn all the GRE vocab for your own edification, that’s truly laudable, but don’t feel compelled to learn all that for the GMAT.
      Does all this make sense?
      Mike 🙂

  2. Mohammed December 23, 2013 at 7:43 am #


    I find difficulties when taking RC questions because I don’t comprehend the passage because I face a lot of words I don’t understand so I miss the flow of the passage. Also I find this problem when choosing one of the answers.

    In my first trial I got 360 and I want to get more than 600 in my next time.

    pleeeese give me advices.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike December 23, 2013 at 8:44 am #

      Dear Mohammed,
      My friend, it sounds as if you need to build your English vocabulary more. It’s true that, for native English speakers, if you can simply read the financial news, then you don’t need additional special vocabulary for the GMAT. It sounds, though, as if it would be challenging for you simply to read a newspaper in English.
      I think what will help you most is simply a habit of reading. Read English every day, for at least an hour a day. The Wall Street Journal would be an excellent publication to read every day. See this blog for more suggestion on what to read:
      Does all this make sense? Best of luck, my friend.
      Mike 🙂

      • Mohammed December 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

        Thanks a lot Mike,

        you may be surprised if you knew that I got 6.5 in IELTS. However, my major problem is in RC section. I do well in SC since I ‘m quiet good in grammar.

        I have access to hundreds of academic journals, reading many articles and learning more advanced academic words will help me in RC, right?

        • Mike MᶜGarry
          Mike December 23, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

          Yes, reading academic journals is very good, but also make sure to read the WSJ and maybe the Economist magazine for ordinary business vocabulary. That’s more important on the GMAT than is fancy academic terminology. Does that make sense?
          Mike 🙂

  3. Aziz Lalani May 2, 2013 at 6:20 am #

    I was searching for GMAT vocabulary list and found your blog. I liked the way you explained about GMAT vs GRE vocab.


    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike May 2, 2013 at 10:56 am #

      You’re welcome. I’m glad you found it helpful.
      Mike 🙂

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