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open dictionary looking at GRE vocabulary words

7 Best GRE Vocabulary Tips & Tricks

Many individuals find the GRE vocabulary (sentence equivalence and text completion sections) of the GRE tricky since there are so many possible words on the exam. However, since studying the entire dictionary is not feasible, this blog post breaks down a step-by-step process to tackle the GRE vocabulary questions with just the knowledge that you may already know!
To tackle the sentence equivalence and text completion vocabulary types of questions, you must first break down the sentence to understand what types of words should be in the blank, and then you’ll need to deduce the definitions of the words to see which word matches the context of the sentence. Therefore, I created a foolproof step-by-step checklist of 7 steps to tackle any vocabulary question on the GRE exam.
How to tackle text completion and sentence equivalence

Understanding the Sentence Structure:

The first step is to break down the sentence structure using the following two techniques.

1) Transition Words

Transition words are important to understand because it tells you if you are contradicting something in a sentence or adding to the existing topic. For instance, if the sentence says “Although it is raining outside, I _____ walked to work” and you have to choose between “did” or “did not” in the blank, you can see that the blank needs to contrast the first part of the sentence due to the word “although.” Therefore, the correct answer would be “did.” This is a simple sentence, but it proves the point that transition words are important. Below I have listed common transition words that can help you navigate the sentence structures.
Contrast Words Addition/Support Words Cause and Effect Words

even though
in contrast
on the contrary
on the other hand
rather than


in order to
as a result

2) Modifiers

Modifiers are the words that are directly next to the blank. These are key indicators to tell the reader exactly what the blank is referring to. For instance, if the sentence says “The ________ discovery proved that the world is not solely about them” then we can clearly tell that the blank is modifying or describing the discovery. Therefore, if you had to choose between the word “interesting” and “selfish”, you would choose “interesting” because even though it is referring to a selfish quality that the discovery identified, the discovery itself is not selfish.

Understanding the Definitions:

Now that you understand what the sentence is trying to say, use this checklist to deduce the definitions of the words.

3) Definitions

The first step is crossing out or selecting an answer choice based on the definitions that you may already know. Even if you know only one or two of the definitions, that’s okay! Process of elimination is key for this exam. The goal is to eliminate one or more answer choices using this strategy and then more word(s) using another strategy until you eliminate all answer choices besides one

4) Similar Words in English

Do you ever hear a word and think, “wow, that word sounds very similar to another word that I know.” For instance, maybe you hear the word “literati” and think that sounds like “literature” or “illiterate”. Notice, both of those words that you already know the definition to have a meaning about words. “Literature” means “written works” and “illiterate” means “unable to read or write”. Therefore, even if you don’t know the definition of “literati,” you can infer that it means something about words. In fact, the formal definition is “well-educated people who are interested in literature.” Thus, even though at first you didn’t know the definition of the word, you were able to deduce the definition by relating it to other words that you already knew. This same concept you want to apply to any familiar word on the exam.

5) Other Languages

Many of the words on this exam come from Latin roots. Spanish, French, and many other languages also come from Latin roots. Therefore, if you know other languages, you can use that to understand words on this exam. For example, the word “dulcet” was used on a sample test. In English, this word means sweet and soothing. In Spanish, this word means sweet or candy. In French “doucet”, which comes from “doux,” also means sweet. As you can see, all these words, despite their language, have a similar meaning. Therefore, this shows that you can use your knowledge of other languages to help you deduce English words on this exam and in general.

6) Prefixes/Suffixes/Roots

This is one of the only strategies on this blog post that requires studying instead of innate knowledge. You can study prefixes, suffixes, and roots to break down the meaning of the words. For instance, let’s say we did not know what the word “misplace” meant. By knowing that the prefix “mis” means “wrong” and knowing the definition of “place” you can understand that the definition of “misplace” is “wrong place.” Let’s take a look at another example. If you break down “submarine” you can see “sub” means under or below and “marine” means “sea”. Therefore, you can see “submarine” means below the sea. Now, even though this isn’t the direct full translation of the word, it can still give you a better idea of the concept of the word and/or the connotation of the word, which brings me to the next point.

7) Connotations

Connotation is “an idea or feeling that a word invokes”. Therefore, understanding if a word is positive, negative, or neutral allows you to better eliminate answer choices. This isn’t a foolproof method as it does factor in your gut instinct of how the word makes you feel; however, when you have gone through all the other methods above and you still have not narrowed the choices to one final answer, this is your last resort to eliminate answer choices.

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