What are the actual skills that you need to achieve a good GRE score?
Do you need to know the exact meanings of a high number of words or select synonyms and antonyms?
Understanding the GRE and its marking scheme
The Graduate Record Examinations, or GRE as it is more commonly known, is a standardised exam taken to test the abilities of candidates applying for graduate programmes across the world. The GRE General Test has two main parts – Quantitative and Verbal. Since the Analytical Writing Assessment, or AWA, is scored separately, we will focus on the first two parts mentioned above.
The maximum points an examinee can earn on the exam is 340. By default, examinees begin with 260 points. Your scope for scoring is hence limited to 80 points only. Of these, the Maths and Verbal sections carry 40 points each.
The Verbal section tests candidates on their verbal reasoning skills. It is divided into three parts – Text Completion (TC), Sentence Equivalence (SE), and Reading Comprehension (RC). While the TC and SE are 10 points each, the RC section holds 20 points.
Check out: GRE Overview and FAQs
When preparing for the Verbal section of the GRE, most candidates find themselves facing several challenges. Not only do most prospective examinees report that the Reading Comprehension preparation is mundane, but they also balk at the idea of learning thousands of new words.
We are here to tell you that you don’t have to!
- Memorise every word in the English dictionary
- Big fancy words are important
- Learn meanings of every word in the dictionary
Since the GRE is a structured examination, you will be tested only on high-frequency words. Ergo, the need to memorise the dictionary from cover to cover is a common misbelief. In fact, the GRE tests a candidate’s ability to infer meanings based on context. This makes learning the definition of every word a redundant effort as well. While the old GRE format required candidates to develop a large vocabulary including seldom-used words, the new GRE does not focus only on vocabulary.
Let’s explore each part of the Verbal section in detail.
- Sentence Equivalence (SE) comprises two parts – Reasoning and Vocabulary. While the reasoning component focuses on testing a candidate's ability to understand a question, the Vocabulary component tests your actual vocabulary. Since each part is scored out of 10, by focusing only on vocabulary enhancement you are devoting a considerable amount of your preparation time to just 10 out of the 80 marks you can score on the GRE.
- Reading Comprehension (RC) requires candidates to pay strong attention to detail, critical reasoning, and logical abilities. This component of the GRE is scored out of 20 points and does not focus on your vocabulary either. You can, therefore, ace the RC section with your current vocabulary level!
As per Jamboree’s experience, since most Indian GRE candidates hail from an engineering background, they are understandably quite confident in their Maths abilities. It is, therefore, only natural to focus excessively on shortcomings such as English skills. On the contrary, your strategy should include understanding the division of points for the various GRE sections and leveraging your strengths to increase your potential to score higher.
Check out: Memorisation Techniques for the GRE (Video)
- 40 points for the Maths section
- 40 points for Verbal – of which only 10 points are allocated towards the vocabulary section.
By scoring 40 in Maths and 10 in SE (reasoning) and 20 in RC, you have attained your targeted score of 330 – without so much as having learned a new word, let alone the complete dictionary! This is a pretty decent score considering the maximum is 340.
What is tested in Vocabulary?
The vocabulary required for the GRE is hugely different from normal vocabulary. Not knowing the exact meanings of words such as rambunctious, rowdy, and termagant, but understanding that they belong to a family of words that mean loud or energetic (depending on context) is all the skill you need! That is correct. The GRE will not ask you to define words or select synonyms/antonyms for words. It will ask you to fill blanks in a sentence with an appropriate word from a list of choices.
Techniques to make “cramming” scientific!
When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth! What do Sherlock Holmes and the GRE have in common? The process of elimination! We are here to share with you strategies that will make your elimination skills more accurate!
- Family/groups – one of the most efficient ways of improving your vocabulary skills for the GRE is to divide words based on “family/group”. For example, as a word family/group, “excess” can be inferred from 14 words such as abound, barrage, bounteous, copious, glut and so on. By separating words based on similarity in meaning, you can use them relatively accurately.
- Knowing the number of words in a group – by remembering how many words are included in a family/group, it will make it easier to recall them.
- Write and practise – writing is one of the best ways to increase information retention. Making flashcards, for instance, will allow you to separate and write each word group/family, thus increasing your chances of remembering. You can also use this learning aid should you feel the need for a quick revision.
- Using basic roots to identify the tone of words – words are divided into three tones – positive, neutral, and negative. By understanding which group a word fits into, you can correctly select a word. For instance, while words such as harsh, cruel, and ugly are considered to have a negative tone, words such as admiration, humour, and aspiration are considered to be positive. Similarly, words such as demand and sense are considered neutral because they do not convey a positive or negative tone.
- Mnemonics – what do VIBGYOR (International Schools in India) and “My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets” have in common? While VIBGYOR lists the first letters of the colours of the rainbow, the second uses the first letters of each planet name (Pluto included!) to make a story. This is a simple learning tool to make preparation for the GRE Verbal section a fun task!
Check out: Choosing the Most Effective GMAT/GRE Preparation
Example for mnemonics for word families: Each of the words listed below conveys a “negative” tone and can be grouped together to mean something similar to “acrid”.
A - Acerbic
B - Bitter
A - Acrimonious
C - Caustic
U - Unpleasant
S - Scathing
If you love memory games, particularly mnemonics, preparing for the GRE Verbal section will be F(athers) U(nderstand) N(umbers)! Go ahead and give it a try with the Jamboree Vocab App that allows users to make their own quizzes and tailor their difficulty level!