I am considering to appear for GRE. For this purpose, I have bought a vocabulary book containing 5500 words.

It must be mentioned that I work 12 hours per day and thus I have limited free time.

My questions are:

  • What major factors apply rapid study?
  • Is learning by vocabulary an effective technique to prepare specifically for GRE test?
    • If so, how many days would be a realistic target?
    • If not, what are learning techniques which enable me well prepared within the shortest possible period of time?
  • That is over 90 words a day! A pretty tall order.
    – elssar
    Feb 14, 2013 at 16:49
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    Also, not sure if this is on topic.
    – elssar
    Feb 14, 2013 at 16:49
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    I see the comment about moving to ell stack exchange. Is this an ELL (English language learner) issue? GRE words are obscure even for people who know English.
    – Jeanne Boyarsky
    Feb 15, 2013 at 4:07
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    To close-voters: pay attention that above comments about off-topic apply to Productivity.SE. IMHO, here it is a good question, but let me edit it a bit to make more constructive. Feb 16, 2013 at 16:00
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    Possible duplicate of ell.stackexchange.com/questions/3469/… ?
    – Matt
    Mar 19, 2013 at 18:05

4 Answers 4


5500 words?! Most GRE books only emphasize the most common 350 to 1500 words, 5500 seem to be slightly excessive. If you don't have at least 3 months to read that book (still about 60 a day), shift to some other that feature less but more selected GRE vocabularies.

Focus on learning word roots. Stay away from a long list of words in alphabetical order, instead, go for ones that display the meaning as well as the word roots (prefixes and suffixes) of the vocabularies. For example, bene is a prefix that means "good" and it forms words like bene/fit, bene/fiter, bene/ficial, bene/faction, bene/factor or bene/factress, bene/dict (blessed), bene/diction, bene/fice, and bene/volent, etc. That way, you can absorb many more words in one go.

Use flash cards. Thousands of words are hard to review, you can either buy the ready-to-use GRE flash cards, or make your own. Keep the pile with you and review whenever and wherever possible.

Take a mock exam. If you have not researched what taking GRE is like, I'd recommend trying a mock exam just to familiarize with the environment. You can check the GRE site to see if they have one available. Major tutoring companies may also be able to provide a few if you enroll in their prep courses. I have never gone to those commercial prep school, but if you're time-pressed having some professional help may not be a bad thing.

  • 1
    In response to: "Use flash cards. Thousands of words are hard to review[...]" Yes, it is difficult. Programs like Anki can help with managing large decks, though.
    – user230
    Feb 17, 2013 at 10:15
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    I agree; repeat practice over time, and testing yourself - whether with flashcards or practice tests - are the general learning techniques that have evidence showing they work.
    – aedia λ
    Mar 20, 2013 at 22:20

Rather than memorizing an arbitrary list of words, I strongly recommend that you learn each word individually. I’m a visual learner, so the way I learn is by associating words with pictures. For complicated words, I create short stories. Give it a try. It has worked for me.


Play a small game with some of your friend or family members.

  1. Make 3 piles of card where each card has 1-2 words on it with some points.
  2. Now pull one card from each pile. And make a story over these words.

Whoever successfully makes a story will get points.

*Increase the number of cards from 3 to up to 7 later.


Practice is the single thing teachers agree on to help you learn a language. Practice talking to native speakers, practice reading English books, and any time you come across a word you don't understand, look out up in a good dictionary.

It is impossible to predict how fast you will learn, as everyone is different.

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