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TOEFL and GRE Vocabulary and Reading Activity

Hello Magooshers! I bet a lot of you were excited to hear the news that Magoosh is offering a new study schedule. It’s for people who need to prepare for the TOEFL and the GRE at the same time! A lot of the students I talk to have been asking for something like that, and it’s great to finally have a study schedule I can show them.

To celebrate this Magoosh milestone, I’ve created a vocabulary study activity designed to help you build practice for both the TOEFL and GRE Verbal. Read on…


Step 1:

Study the following words on These words are a mix of TOEFL and GRE level words. Some of the words could probably be found on either exam:

accentuate, clique, conglomeration, connotation, consternation, covert, debase, decorum, demean, disparate, embroil, fissure, frivolous, gallant, inconspicuous, latitude, luster, opulence, overt, pertinent, placebo, preface, purport, quaint, regress, semantic, shoddy, succinct, tantamount, vehement


Step 2:

Read the following passage, which uses all of the words in the list above. This passage is at a difficulty level that is somewhat TOEFL-like, but also somewhat GRE-like. You can consider the reading level to be halfway between the two exams. Pay special attention to the words in bold. Those words are taken from the vocabulary list above. However, in the passage different forms of the words may be used. If you need to, review the words again on as you do your reading.

The Mission Begins

Special Forces Commander Roger Prestwich looked out at the battle field where his team was assembled. It was greatly different from the opulence of his home office, where he was a professor at Westpoint Military Academy. His home office had expensive furniture and murals of his family, with its luster accentuated by quaint 1700s-era wood trim.

In many ways, taking this officer out of his administrative job and embroiling him in a dangerous, top secret covert military mission was unfair. It seemed tantamount to taking a small child and putting the child in the wilderness with no adult caretakers.

The commander was overtly uncomfortable as he looked at the men he had to lead into battle. He frowned in consternation, unhappy and worried that he had to command these men. He was a weakling and a coward. These men were strong and heroic, so much more gallant than him!

He felt like crying, as if he really was a child. He then felt embarrassed at the temptation to regress to a childlike state. But he realized he shouldn’t debase himself so much. He had been chosen to lead this mission for very pertinent reasons. He was there because all of the soldiers wanted him to be their leader. And they had not chosen him as their leader frivolously. Instead, the soldiers under his command and his own supervisors had put a lot of thought into making him the boss of this team of friends, this clique of strong fighters.

This is because this conglomeration of soldiers had vehemently asked for Prestwich to be their leader. They had prefaced this strong request by first saying that they wanted a leader who was a teacher, not a fellow soldier. Purportedly, this was because they wanted someone who was more intelligent than them, and better at wartime strategy. In reality, it would be demeaning to believe this— to believe these soldiers were less intelligent than the military academy professor they requested as their leader.

The soldiers were in fact all highly intelligent. In spite of their disparate backgrounds, they were smart enough to learn how to cooperate with each other well and set aside their differences. There was no chance of any fissure developing between them. They were too good at group strategy to let disagreements divide them. And they were all highly skilled in being inconspicuous in secret missions. Additionally, while their team name “The Wild Cards” had a connotation of rebellion and a refusal to follow rules, the soldiers were in fact well-trained in military decorum. They knew the rules of interaction with their peers and their leaders, and they followed those rules very well.

No, their claim that they wanted someone smarter than them was a shoddy one. The real explanation for why they chose a weak, soft leader with a PhD was very simple. To put it succinctly, they actually wanted a leader who knew less than them. They wanted someone who would not know what they should do. Such a leader would give them the latitude to make decisions on their own.

The soldiers’ only worry was that their leader would prove to be too afraid, and not be able to even protect himself. They knew that Commander Prestwich was not naturally brave. But they hoped that Roger would grow to see his usual title of “Professor” as a semantic one.  They hoped he would embrace his new, temporary title of “Covert Operations Commander.” They wanted his new title to temporarily allow him to believe that he was stronger than he was. As it was mentioned, these soldiers were intelligent and experienced. They had seen a temporary title with a connotation of strength act as a placebo on otherwise weak leaders before.


Step 3:

Now, write the definitions of each word in bold from the passage above. When a word has multiple meanings, write only the definition of the word as it is used in the context of the reading. Make sure you write the meanings in your own words. But review the passage and consult a dictionary if you need to.


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