If a stranger stops you in the street and asks, “Is the new GRE harder than the old one?”, say yes. On the whole, the new GRE is more difficult, but it’s not more difficult in every individual respect. The most notable way in which its content has been simplified is that vocabulary is no longer a nightmare.
Vocabulary has always been a blessing and a bane to standardized test takers. There’s something irresistibly romantic about the notion that a higher score may be as close as one or two memorized definitions away, but the words you memorize never seem to come up on the test, do they? Back in high school, I memorized what felt like a billion words in preparation for the SAT; only one of them appeared. (Though I still remember it to this day: soporific. Sleep-inducing.)
Since the old GRE could just as easily spring up ten of the words you studied or none of them, the dread of tackling the English language’s prodigious vocabulary tended to outweigh the promise of easy points. In the new GRE, antonyms and analogies are gone, and with them goes the pressure to memorize a billion potentially useless words.
Now, to anyone studying for the new GRE, this may not appear to be the case. Antonyms and analogies are gone, yes, but haven’t sentence completions morphed into the admittedly scarier text completion and sentence equivalence problems? How is vocabulary less of a threat?
The key is that the bygone antonyms and analogies tested vocabulary knowledge in a much more isolated fashion than sentence-based problems do. Consider this antonym question:
If you don’t know what “soporific” is, you’re more or less out of luck, even if you know what some of the other words are. Now look at what happens when we use the same exact words in a sentence equivalence problem:
The professor’s lectures were so ________ that Geoffrey couldn’t stop from dozing through them despite his passion for the subject.
With practice, you can predict what kind of word should go in the blank on any sentence-completion problem, regardless of the choices. Here, since Geoffrey has a passion for the subject, you’d expect him to be wide awake during the lectures; instead he’s dozing, so the lectures must be very BORING. Even if you don’t know what soporific and enervating (the correct answers) mean, you might see that excruciating (painful) and truncating (cutting short) and generous certainly don’t mean “boring,” and eliminate them from contention.
What remains is to sift through what are arguably the toughest vocabulary words in the problem –galvanizing, enervating, and soporific – and guess which one is the rotten apple. Those are 33% odds, much better than what you had on the antonym problem. If you happen to know that galvanize and energize are synonyms, then you’re home free without knowing either of the correct words.
Critical thinking matters more on the new GRE than vocabulary does. Study some words, but don’t let them put you to sleep.
In my pre-Kaplan life I was a copy editor, and one of my tasks was creating style guides for the various publications I worked for. I’m going to use this blog space to share some editorial nuggets. Knowing the correct words and constructions is key to writing successful GRE essays, as well as statements of purpose, cover letters, and any academic and professional communications you will put forth in the future. So let’s brush up on grammar and style.
Understanding where words come from can help you determine their meaning. This can help you with Sentence Equivalence on the GRE, and it comes in handy when reading and writing while you’re in graduate school, too. Many of our common word roots come from Latin, which means a knowledge of Latin or its descendents, the Romance languages, will give you a leg up. Some of our most commonly used words are of Greek origin.
Grouping words with similar meanings is a great way to expand your vocabulary, and recognizing words with common roots is a great way to start. Here are a few examples.
- PLAC. If you know that this root means “to please,” you know placate has something to do with pleasing. And you’d be wise to extend your understanding a little further by looking for other words that share the root: placid, placate, placebo, etc. What about implacable or complacent? Yep, they share that root as well. All mean something related to pleasing, soothing, or peaceful.
- VER. Words with the root ver- mean something to do with truth. Verify means “to determine the truth of,” veracity means truthfulness, and veracious means truthful. Aver means “to state as truth.” And in an ideal legal system, a verdict would be the rendering of a truthful decision.
- DICT. Verdict incorporates another common root as well. What do the meanings of verdict, dictionary, prediction, and benediction have in common? They all relate to words. Truthful words (verdict), a book or collection of words (dictionary), a statement of something that is going to happen (prediction), and good words (benediction, which is another word for a blessing).
- GNO/GNI. Cognizant, cognate, and cognition all share this Greek root, which means “to know.” In fact, the English word know is simply a different spelling; they are pronounced the same way. All of these words share something with knowledge or knowing — and, by extension, with the brain or mind.
Being mindful of how words are related to one another helps you prepare for the GRE as well as for your academic and professional life beyond Test Day.
Have a question about grammar, punctuation, usage, or style? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “blog question” in your subject line. Then look for a response here!