How do I improve my vocabulary?

Learning vocabulary can feel daunting, especially when you see GRE vocabulary lists that comprise thousands of words! Thankfully, you don't have to learn 5000 words to be a GRE verbal ace. You can study vocabulary in effective, low-stress ways that will pay off on test day.

There's a lot that goes into improving your vocabulary, so get comfortable :)

Where to Start: Reading

Reading is the best way to improve your vocabulary. You learn and retain new words best when you read them in context. Thus, don't learn vocabulary through flashcards alone — you won't recognize different uses of a word, or you'll be caught flat-footed by complex sentence structures. Here are two blog posts that discuss where to begin reading vocabulary in context:

1. Reading Vocabulary in Context — Where Should I Start?

2. Vocabulary in Context

Try using an app, such as Anki or Quizlet, to make flashcards of words you don't know while you're reading. Reading is a big part of learning vocabulary, so here are a few of the ways you can read to improve your vocabulary:

  1. Read articles from the following websites (but also note which kinds of articles to avoid, as told by our own Chris Lele):

    1. The New York Times
    2. The BBC
    3. The Economist
    4. Arts and Letters Daily
    5. The New Yorker
    6. The Atlantic
    7. The Wall Street Journal

  2. Read a book! Here are a few ways to choose books that can help improve your vocabulary:

    1. Ask your librarian! They're really good at recommending books to challenge your reading and vocabulary limits. 
    2. Pick a book that you want to read, and check out the reviews — if it's a major award winner in fiction or non-fiction (with the exception of most young adult novels), it's probably worth your time!
    3. Check out some of the greatest books of all time and see what different sources say! We have some recommendations too

  3. Check out our GRE Article of the Month series! Chris Lele covers one article a month and identifies key vocabulary words. There's also a brief discussion, which is great for working on your summarizing skills!

Magoosh Vocabulary Resources

Many students are think they have to buy a vocabulary book to prepare for the GRE. In fact, this isn't the case :)

We've put together a ton of free resources for you so that you can get right to learning the most important and useful words! Before you dive into our resources, start by installing our free Google Chrome extension, which highlights words from the 1000 high-frequency GRE word list we've curated. It highlights these words directly in your browser so that you 1) learn the words in context and 2) see how common these words are. Once you've done that, check out our free resources:

The Vocabulary Builder and eBook are two of our best resources, and will absolutely improve your verbal score if coupled with good reading practice. If you're wondering what the difference between the Vocab Builder and the Flashcards is, see this article.

Other Resources and Tips

Consider using tools that quiz you in "both directions" — that is, they require you both to identify a word based on its definition and to identify the definition of a given word. Our flashcard apps and the apps above do this :)

When you're learning new words, make sure to take a moment to treat a word as you would a Text or Sentence Completion question. When you come across a new word in context, before looking up the definition, try to decide what it means based on clues from how the word is being used. After you've done so, look up the word on Wordnik or

There are also tons of high-quality Word of the Day sites and other free resources. 

If you have any other questions about vocab, check out some of our other Help Center articles or get in touch with our team :D

Good luck!

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  • 0

    A great article is very useful for those of us looking to get more ideas for vocabulary. Words like fetish are always forgotten about in these types of articles though but sometimes when using tools like dictionary and Wikipedia they do have a place for them