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FAQ about MAT General Vocabulary

This page provides an FAQ about the role of general vocabulary on the Miller Analogies Test, the sorts of words used for MAT questions that test general vocabulary, and what you should do to improve your vocabulary for the exam.

For the MAT, how important is it to have a strong general vocabulary?

General vocabulary (as distinguished from words used mainly in specific academic fields) plays a significant role on the MAT. Analogical relationships involving general vocabulary typically account for 15 to 20 percent of all test items. (The percentage varies from one test form to another.) So, you'll need a well-rounded general vocabulary to earn a high MAT score.

What types of general vocabulary words should I learn for the MAT?

For the purpose of gauging a test taker's vocabulary, the designers of the MAT don't bother with everyday words that most people know. Instead, they employ words that you're likely to encounter mainly in college-level textbooks, scholarly journals and erudite works of literature.

Consider, for example, the words suit and racket. Both words are far too common, or everyday, to be useful in measuring an MAT test taker's vocabulary. Contrast these two words with hirsute (covered with hair) and raconteur (an entertaining storyteller), which are just the sort of words that the test makers would employ in designing general vocabulary questions.

Do the test makers resort to a list of their favorite words for creating general vocabulary questions?

Probably not. But if they do, that list is no doubt a very, very long one — which is why trying to save time by memorizing short lists of "high-frequency" MAT words is a poor stand-alone strategy. Of course, there's always a chance that one or two words from lists such as this one will appear on your exam, so by all means learn them. Keep in mind, however, that these words are a mere handful of the many thousands you're just as likely to be tested on.

What is the best way to learn the sort of general vocabulary I'll need to know for the MAT?

If you have ample time to prepare for the MAT, obtain two or three books dedicated to MAT vocabulary and work through them systematically. (See these suggestions for teaching yourself new words for your exam.)

Don't rely on practice testing to develop your MAT vocabulary. Simulated testing can help you improve your test-taking skills and your level of comfort with the test, but it won't help you learn enough new words to significantly enhance your vocabulary.

Wouldn't it be futile to try to learn thousands of new words just in case a handful of them appear on the exam?

The answer to this question depends on how competitive you wish to be in the graduate admissions game. Just one or two additional correct answers might significantly enhance your admission chances, depending on how close your exam score is to the admission-rejection borderline. And learning many new words may actually be necessary if your vocabulary could stand improvement and you're intent on gaining admission to a competitive program with high MAT score requirements.

Why does the MAT place so much emphasis on rote vocabulary?

Actually, it doesn't. MAT questions that gauge vocabulary are designed to measure other skills as well. All MAT questions, including those that focus on general vocabulary, are designed to gauge your ability to understand analogical relationships — a high-level reasoning skill that goes much further than rote memorization of word definitions. So, a strong vocabulary will give you a decided edge on the exam — but only an edge.