How to build a killer GRE Vocabulary

Most test takers consider GRE vocabulary the most challenging aspect of their preparation. This is because of two facts. First, GRE tests words in “context” of how the word can be used in a sentence. Second, “normal” people almost never come across, in their everyday lives, the kind of words that GRE tests.

Therefore, knowing what a word means in different contexts and what kind of other words it can interact with are essential parts of GRE vocabulary building.

Build a killer GRE vocabulary

GRE Vocabulary: Illustrative Example

Consider the following question.


The previous CEO, who was known for his aggressive tactics and hostility toward competition, created a lot of antagonists in the tech industry. In contrast, his __________ successor has helped repair relationships with rivalling firms to create a more nurturing ecosystem in the tech industry.

A. emollient
B. repugnant
C. sophomoric
D. peripatetic
E. indigent


Through context it is easy to predict that … in contrast, his “non-aggressive” successor… So a word such as “passive” or “friendly” could work here.

Move to the answers, however, and things get a bit unwieldy. You may not have seen many of these words before. Yet, these are the kind of words that GRE loves to test through its Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions. The answer here is “emollient”, which means ‘attempting to avoid anger or confrontation’.

How to build a killer GRE vocabulary?

Build a killer GRE vocabulary

1. Learn words through context

Vocabulary.com is a great resource to learn what a word, as used in contexts, means. More over, it has a section that provides copious feeds of these words used in actual publications and articles. This helps learn the word in its entirety: context, connotation, usage and everything else!

Try it: Find out the meaning and contextual use of the word emollient.

2. Maintain a vocabulary Notebook

You cannot just mug-up words off a word-list and expect that to be fruitful. You need to be systematic and methodical about your vocabulary building. This means that you keep a record of all the words you are learning. This record should contain the following things.


  • WORD (Part of speech)
  • Definition of the word / Meaningful explanation of the word
  • Real-world (meaningful) usage
  • Etymology / Word Themes / Related words
  • Connotation (Is the word positive, negative, neutral or dependant on context?)
  • Other Side Notes (Is it used only in formal settings? Is it a word that goes along only with other specific words?)
How to maintain a vocabulary notebook for GRE | Plusprep
How to maintain a vocabulary notebook for GRE | Plusprep

Beyond this, ensure that you test yourself on the words you have learned over the week on one day of each week. This will ensure that your understanding of the words and your ability to recall them are cemented.

3. Use Word themes and Etymology

GRE vocabulary tends to consist of words that sometimes fall into similar thematic groups. It also contains a lot of words that are related etymologically (similar origins or roots). By studying this, Vocabulary building can become quite interesting and effective too!


As a follow up to this, we recommend watching the Plusprep GRE webinar on how to build “GRE vocabulary effectively”.

Here we discuss the Challenges involved in learning words, Techniques that can be used to learn words effectively and Tools such as etymology that can help make learning words engaging!


4. Enrol into the Advanced GRE vocabulary builder Course by Plusprep

Contents of the Course

i. Over 300 High value GRE words discussed through word roots (etymology)

ii. Over 150 High frequency GRE words discussed through word-families and themes. (e.g. Words that are derived from names of famous people)

iii. Drills and quizzes through each section of the course to ensure that you have learnt and understood the words accurately.


These should be more than enough to form a solid foundation for your vocabulary building.

Want more vocabulary building resources? Read our article on
Learning GRE Words through themes: Our Solar system

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