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.