Tricky GRE Words

The following GRE vocabulary words all have common definitions, but they’re tricky because they also have some not-so-common definitions. The Revised GRE cares about the latter, of course. Make sure you know the second definition of these words. Better yet, feel free to pepper (second definition) your conversation with these words.



To stem means to hold back or limit the flow or growth of something. You can stem bleeding, you stem the tide (or at least attempt to). Do not stem the flow of vocabulary coursing through your brains. Make sure to use these words whenever you can.

To stem the tide of applications, the prestigious Ivy requires that each applicant score at least 330 on the revised GRE.


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If you blink a lot you are likely to miss something. Indeed your view would be very limited. Extending this meaning, we get the definition of blinkered: means to have a limited outlook or understanding.

In gambling, the addict is easily blinkered by past successes and/or past failures, forgetting that the outcome of any one game is independent of the games that preceded it.



To check something is to stop its growth (similar to stem but with more of a focus on growth than flow). If something is left unchecked, then it grows freely.

Deserted for six months, the property began to look more like a jungle and less like a residence –weeds grew unchecked in the front yard.



The meaning of checkered is completely unrelated to the meaning of check above– very tricky, so be sure to know the difference between the two. A checkered past is one that is marked by disreputable happenings.

One by one, the presidential candidates dropped out of the race, their respective checkered pasts – from embezzlement to infidelity – sabotaging their campaigns. 



A raft is an inflatable boat. It can also mean a large number of something. I know – it doesn’t really make much sense. But a good mnemonic – imagine a large number of rafts and you have a raft of rafts.

Despite a raft of city ordinances passed by an overzealous council, noise pollution continued unabated in the megalopolis.



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3 Responses to Tricky GRE Words

  1. Prasad N R April 1, 2018 at 12:09 am #

    Thank you Chris. Nothing can get this point in my head better than this – “To stem the tide of applications, the prestigious Ivy requires that each applicant score at least 330 on the revised GRE.”. That statement should probably be capitalised with font size 200 and set as screen-saver on my computer.

  2. Chris Lele
    Chris January 5, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    Those are definitely good ones. In fact, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of words in the English language that have secondary meanings. I will have more coming soon!

  3. Vaisnavi January 3, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    Words like academic,champion,discount and many more do have their secondary meanings.

    1) Academic- related to school, and not practical or directly useful.

    2)Champion- the most important secondary meaning is to support militantly.

    3)Discount- the secondary meaning is to disregard.

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