FAQ About GRE and MAT Vocabulary
This page answers frequently asked questions about GRE and MAT vocabulary. Here you'll learn how significant a role general vocabulary plays on each exam, what sorts of words the test makers resort to when designing test questions, and what you should and should not do to improve your vocabulary in preparation for your exam.
For the GRE or MAT exam, 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 in both exams:
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.)
The GRE: The Sentence Equivalence question format is designed as a direct measure of a test taker's vocabulary. The Text Completion format provides an additional, albeit less direct, vocabulary measure. Each of these two question formats accounts for about 25% of all scored GRE Verbal Reasoning questions.
In short, you'll need a well-rounded general vocabulary to earn a high GRE Verbal Reasoning or MAT score.
What types of "general vocabulary" words should I learn for the GRE or MAT?
For the purpose of gauging a test taker's vocabulary, the designers of the GRE and MAT don't bother with everyday words that most people know. Instead, they employ "advanced" 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 a GRE or 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 "vocabulary-centric" test questions.
Do the test makers resort to a list of their favorite words for creating vocabulary-centric test 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" GRE or 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 sorts of words I'll need to know for my exam?
If you have ample time to prepare for your exam, obtain two or three books dedicated to GRE or 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 GRE or 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 GRE or MAT score requirements.
Why do the GRE and MAT exams place so much emphasis on rote vocabulary?
Actually, they don't. GRE and 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.
GRE Sentence Equivalence and Text Completion questions are designed to test not just your vocabulary but also your ability to distinguish between proper and improper diction (whether a word is used properly in context) and between effective and less effective written expression (whether a word gives a sentence a clear meaning without creating undue awkwardness, redundancy or ambiguity).
In short, a strong vocabulary will give you a decided edge on either exam — but only an edge.
Widely recommended for MAT prep:
Widely recommended for GRE prep: