This is a question I get all the time. People want me to give them a straightforward answer like The Super List of All the Words You Will See on the GRE List. Unfortunately, no such list exists. When I hem and haw people offer up some of their own ideas: What about the Barron’s 3500 list? While studying the Barron’s 3500 list probably won’t hurt your score, it will probably not be the most effective use of your time. Indeed, just about any list—and by list I mean that stagnant, unchanging, often alphabetized list of vaguely defined words—will not be the most effective way to go about prepping for the GRE.
Our brains like novelty. And a list is probably one of the best ways to deprive a brain of novelty, and induce sleep. The words never change places and your brain begins to remember words based on where they appear. “Abstemious” doesn’t become a word that you can whip out on the fly, but that weird looking word that is next to acrimonious. As long as you see the familiar acrimonious, you correctly cough up the definition for abstemious. Were you to encounter abstemious in a different context, your brain would not even realize it was that very word that was next to acrimonious (and were you to encounter acrimonious in a random text you probably would not even recognize it either).
Flashcards correct for this unfortunate effect by keeping your brain constantly alert. After all, you never know what word is coming up next. Your brain really takes in the contours of the word, each letter of the word and the sound of the word (did you notice, by the way, that abstemious has all five vowels in order, the only word to be able to claim such a distinction besides facetious?).
So to answer the question above: I don’t recommend any lists—I recommend flashcards. But I don’t recommend just any flashcards. After all, vague definitions aren’t going to help you much on the GRE. You have to understand how a word is used in context. Example sentences are the lifeblood of your vocab prep. Luckily, Magoosh is there. Our 1,000 GRE vocabulary flashcards replete with clear (and sometimes colorful) example sentences will ensure that you are getting a sense of the way a word works in context. Of course, you should always follow up using the excellent vocabulary.com, which have example sentences taken from some of the best online writing (New York Times and the gang, basically).
Of course this blog isn’t just a plug for Magoosh. Manhattan GRE has excellent flashcards as well. There 1,000 words aren’t exactly the same as ours—though there is some overlap. They also have great example sentences and mention related words. So the best list to use? A deck of good flashcards.
Bonus: Check out this video for the top 3 GRE vocabulary study tips: